From the Navy to the OR: SGU Grad Trades Uniform for White Coat

A high-pressure environment. Critical problem solving. A wide array of challenges. The operating room was exactly the type of workplace atmosphere that Georgios Mihalopulos, MD ’18, set out to find when he began working toward a career in medicine. It also mirrored his life as an officer in the Canadian Navy, a position that he held before and during medical school.

“I always say I love stress and I hate sleep, so that’s why surgery is the perfect field for me,” said Mihalopulos, a second-year surgery resident at Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut. “It just seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to do.”

His military career began in 2008 when, while completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario in London, he joined the Canadian Navy Reserves, convinced by a friend that it would be “the greatest adventure of a lifetime.”

He wasn’t wrong.

“I thought this was something I would do just for two or three years while I was at university,” Mihalopulos said. “But after I graduated, I took an additional two years off and worked for the Navy full-time. I just fell in love with it—the atmosphere, the training commissions, and the unique opportunity that it was. It was a great experience and I think it was the one thing that prepared me the most for medical school.”

Dr. Mihalopulos joined the St. George’s University of Grenada School of Medicine/Northumbria University Four- and Five-Year Program, which offered him the opportunity to learn a new healthcare system, enjoy smaller class sizes, and immerse himself in European culture. As an added bonus, he was able to work with the British Navy, with a naval reserve unit only a 10-minute walk from the NU campus.

“Through our embassy and theirs, we were able to coordinate an exchange program where I got to work with British sailors, do a couple of exercises and learn how they do things, as well as show them how we do things in Canada,” he said.

Dr. Mihalopulos spent 10 years in the Navy, graduating to become a fully qualified naval warfare officer responsible for the day-to-day navigation of the ship, coordinating its activities, and managing inter-ship operations. He has drawn comparisons between the operating room and his military background in how they function day-to-day. The bridge of the ship and the operating room are a lot alike in gathering information, working with a team to coordinate the best course of action, and making critical decisions within a short space of time.

After residency, he will look to complete a fellowship in plastic surgery, and hopes to work with fellow surgeons and medical personnel to coordinate a multi-disciplinary approach to upper- and lower-lip trauma.

“What we’ve found in our research is that if you can have the best people from multiple disciplines approach a problem together you get better results,” he said. “It’s amazing to take muscle or bone from one part of the body and use it to reconstruct another part of the body. You really have the ability to change somebody’s life.

“There’s a saying: ‘the general surgeon can save your life while the plastic surgeon can give you your life back,’” he continued. “You see it especially with breast cancer, which is such a life-changing experience for the patient. I enjoy doing anything that helps get patients back to where they were and get their confidence back.”

–Ray-Donna Peters

 

 

St. George’s University School of Medicine to Welcome First April Class of Students

St. George’s University School of Medicine announced that it will launch a new spring class that will allow students to begin pursuing their medical degrees in April.

“St. George’s is a leader in medical education, and our new April Class will enable us to offer our world-class educational experience to even more students from all over the globe,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor of St. George’s University. “We look forward to welcoming a diverse group of talented students seeking a more flexible medical education to campus this spring.”

Students who enroll in the April class will become part of an intimate learning community that will help them adjust to the rigors of medical school. Members of the April Class will have access to all the same academic supports and services as students who enroll in January and August. Additionally, each student who enrolls in the April class will receive an Inaugural April Class Grant and are eligible to receive other merit- and need-based scholarships.

April enrollees have additional time to prepare for Step 1 and Step 2 of the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam, just as those who start in January do. They’ll also have more time to prepare for residency. They will have the opportunity to complete more electives in competitive specialties and will gain increased exposure to residency directors prior to the match process.

St. George’s is the second-largest provider of licensed physicians to the U.S. healthcare system.[1] In 2019, its graduates matched into residency programs in 18 different medical specialties across 42 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.[2]

“St. George’s strives to make medical school accessible for aspiring physicians from traditional and non-traditional backgrounds alike,” Dr. Liebowitz said. “We are excited to help a new class of students fulfill their dreams of becoming doctors.”

[1] https://www.fsmb.org/siteassets/advocacy/publications/2018census.pdf p. 13-14

[2] https://www.sgu.edu/academic-programs/school-of-medicine/graduate-success/

US News Shines Light on “What to Know about Caribbean Medical Schools”

US News & World Report recently published a news story titled “What to Know About Caribbean Medical Schools,” in which it outlined the success of institutions such as St. George’s University and identified criteria by which aspiring physicians should evaluate all of their options, in the US and beyond.

In the story, reporter Ilana Kowarski spoke with Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of SGU, and Robert Ryan, Dean of Admissions about what separates SGU from other often non-accredited Caribbean schools that haven’t demonstrated a clear path to residency and a career in medicine. They also shed a light on the many qualities that SGU is looking for on applications.

“We often see that our very strong students after year one and two are those that we took that chance on and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you that opportunity to show us that you can succeed in medicine,'” Mr. Ryan said.

In addition, Ms. Kowarski interviewed Ashley Steinberg, MD ’11, who graduated from SGU and now serves as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at The Clinic for Plastic Surgery in Houston.

“The best indicator of how good a school is would be where its recent graduates matched into residency and what they are doing now,” Dr. Steinberg said.

SGU Year in Review: A Look Back at the New Stories that Defined Us in 2019

2019 was a monumental year for students, faculty, and alumni of St. George’s University. SGU became the second-largest source of doctors for the entire US workforce. We placed 979 graduates into US and Canadian residencies—our highest number to date.

But that’s not all.

The School of Veterinary Medicine received full accreditation by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), and is now one of the few schools in the world that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association in the United States and RCVS in the UK. The School of Arts and Sciences welcomed its first Caribbean national as dean.

SGU profiled many graduates who are making waves in human and animal healthcare industries—showcasing the diversity and reach of our global alumni—and how becoming a doctor (or veterinarian) has changed their lives and the lives of their patients.

These are the stories that underscore SGU’s strengths and define us as a University as we aim to enhance student success and grow the number of healthcare professionals around the world. Read on to see the top news stories of 2019 on SGU.edu.

Match Day 2019

On Match Day 2019, hundreds of SGU students secured first-year residency positions in the United States. Students matched into highly competitive positions in fields such as anesthesiology, child neurology, diagnostic radiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, internal medicine/emergency medicine, internal medicine/pediatrics, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pathology, pediatrics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychiatry, surgery, urology, vascular surgery. They joined residency programs in 42 US states and the District of Columbia over the summer.

In addition, SGU students and graduates obtained first-year residency positions through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS).

Profound Impact: SGU Educated Second-Most Licensed Physicians in US In 2018

For more than 40 years, St. George’s University has provided highly qualified physicians to the United States, and never before has its impact been more evident. According to a report published in the Journal of Medical Regulation, SGU educated the second-most licensed physicians in the United States in 2018.

SGU Commencement 2019

In June, the School of Medicine’s newest class of physicians convened together one last time in New York City for SGU’s annual commencement ceremonies. Family and friends gathered at Lincoln Center to watch the graduates join an alumni network of more than 17,000 physicians who have gone on to practice in all 50 United States and in over 50 countries worldwide.

In addition, animals of all shapes and sizes gained caretakers and advocates when the SGU School of Veterinary Medicine granted Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees to 83 new veterinarians in New York City. New veterinarians joined an alumni network of 1,670 veterinarians who built a foundation for their careers at SGU.

In Grenada, graduates from 31 countries were among the 2019 class that included more than 230 students from the School of Arts and Sciences, and 110 from the School of Graduate Studies, with one PhD graduate in attendance.

DVM Program Gains Full Accreditation from Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

Adding to its growing list of achievements, the St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program received full accreditation from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the organization that sets the standards of veterinary care in the United Kingdom, through 2024.

Grenada-Born SGU Alum Returns Home to Care for His Nation’s Heart

As a practicing cardiologist, Diego Humphrey, MD ’84, a native Grenadian, serves the retired men and women of the US Armed Forces at the Jack C. Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Muskogee, OK. Yet Dr. Humphrey, who never forgot his roots, returns each year to donate his time and expertise to the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network.

Commonwealth Conference Focuses On Student Success

More than 350 educators from Grenada and around the world descended on SGU for the Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC) 2019 annual conference. The 2019 conference marked the first time that the CEC’s annual event had been held in the Caribbean region.

Mother’s Cancer Battle Motivates SGU Grad to Become Breast Surgeon

Joseph Di Como, MD '14

A doctor delivered the news—cancer, an aggressive form. Joseph Di Como’s mother, a cornerstone of the family, would have to undergo surgery and many months of treatment. Her struggle changed the course of his life forever. More than 15 years later, now a doctor, Joseph Di Como, MD ’14, is providing important care and instilling hope in patients as a breast surgical oncology fellow at Brown University, Women and Infants’ Hospital of Rhode Island.

Major Canadian Hospital Joins SGU’s Burgeoning Clinical Network

Adding to more than 70 clinical training locations across North America and the United Kingdom, St. George’s University finalized an agreement with Pembroke Regional Hospital in Ontario, Canada that will offer fourth-year students a range of disciplines to choose from for their clinical electives.

Eugene Becomes First Caribbean National to Lead SAS

As the new Dean of St. George’s University’s School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), Dr. Lucy Eugene is deeply committed to its growth. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, she is the first Caribbean national to become the school’s dean.

Equine Veterinarian Shares Path to Horse Country

When S. Heath Soignier, DVM ’12, CVMST, isn’t visiting his equine patients, one can usually find him practicing new holistic veterinary medicine techniques on his quarter horse, Margarita.

“To me horses and dogs are two of the best animals: if you trust them completely, they are most willing to reciprocate that trust. Not a lot of animals are like that,” Dr. Soignier said. “I love that I get to work with horses all day long.”

—Laurie Chartorynsky

Global Touch of Medicine Selective Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary

This past November, faculty members with the St. George’s University of Grenada School of Medicine/Northumbria University Four- and Five-Year MD Program celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Global Touch of Medicine (GToM) selective, hosting its landmark 150th event.

Professor Steve Clark, a consultant cardiopulmonary surgeon at Newcastle Hospitals, delivered a lecture as part of the Global Scholars Lecture Series, speaking on the topic of “Robotics in Heart and Lung Surgery – Friend or Foe?” A regular contributor to the GToM selective, Professor Clark is one of over 60 physicians and scientists who have given presentations to the students studying in the SGU/NU program. Other examples of regular contributors include Professor Alan Fenwick from Imperial College, London on “The Fight Against Neglected Tropical Diseases”; Professor Simon Bailey, consultant paediatric oncologist at The Great North Children’s Hospital on “Children with Cancer in Malawi”; and Professor Deiary Kader, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, SW London Elective Orthopaedic Centre, on “The Work of the Newcastle-Gateshead Medical Volunteers in Orthopaedic Surgery in Iraq and the International Red Cross in The Lebanon.” Topics have ranged from the Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs and practice relating to “Blood Conservation and Non-Blood Management” to the work of Medecins Sans Frontieres in South Sudan, Haiti, Bangladesh, and Sierra Leone).

Students taking the GToM selective have also benefitted from hearing presentations by some of their fellow students who have been on SGU’s international selectives in India, Kenya, Prague, Thailand and Sweden. The accounts of the experiences of these students are delivered with professionalism and enthusiasm and have inspired many students in their audience to also participate in such selectives when the opportunity arises.

The Global Touch of Medicine selective was initiated in the early years of the Global Scholars Program by SGU faculty members, Drs. Robbie Hage and David Holmes, with the aim of giving the SGU MD students studying in Newcastle the opportunity to learn more about various aspects of global medicine. The Global Scholars Lecture Series has welcomed eminent physicians and scientists to present their experiences of working in various countries worldwide and give students and faculty the opportunity to learn about medical practices in the developed world that may be applicable globally, now or in the future. Selective activities have also included workshops on global medical issues (e.g. FGM and malaria), visits to medical museums in the UK (e.g. The Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh), and attendance at the North of England Physicians Symposia at various hospital locations in the North East England.

Cardiology in Ghana

In terms of knowledge and understanding of global health issues, the SGU/NU MD students taking the GToM selective benefit in many ways, not least in the appreciation of the humanitarian ethos that is so fundamental to medical practice. The following account of the work of a group of local UK physicians carrying out cardiac surgery in Ghana, presented in another Fall 2019 GSLS lecture, is a good example of the ethos that the GToM selective attempts to instill in its participants.

In September, students and faculty from the SGU/NU program were privileged to hear a presentation by Mr. Enoch Akowuah, clinical director and cardiothoracic surgeon at South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, about the work of his team in performing heart operations in an under-resourced region of Ghana. His team included cardiologists, surgeons, an anesthesiologist, intensive care nurses, and technicians. Their destination was Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city, which they visited in February 2019. The audience learned that Ghana’s only functioning cardiothoracic center is located in southern city of Accra. In central and northern Ghana—the area served by KATH—there has been no access to cardiac surgery for the 15 million people who live there. Although KATH had recently appointed a cardiac surgeon, there was a severe lack of the equipment required to carry out heart surgery for the many patients who require operations.

The incidence of acute rheumatic fever in Ghana is very high, with 13 percent of the population being throat carriers of Group A Streptococcus, 40 percent of whom develop rheumatic heart disease. In KATH itself, rheumatic heart disease accounts for 22 percent of all admissions with heart failure. By contrast, the mainly Western condition of ischemic heart disease accounts for only 4 percent of cases. The median age of patients admitted with heart failure is 29 and, of all deaths in KATH, 29 percent are due to heart failure resulting from rheumatic heart disease. Until the visit of Mr. Ahowuah’s team, no patients received surgery for this condition.

The Teeside team was inspired by the work of Dr. Emily Farkas, a US cardiac surgeon famed for her humanitarian work in developing countries. Dr. Farkas’ CTSNet video on her work in Nigeria was the trigger for Ghanaian-born Enoch Akowuah to bring together a team for the medical mission to Kumasi. Indeed, Dr. Farkas was present on the team’s arrival at KATH to support them with her wealth of experience in similar missions throughout the world.

Mr. Akowuah explained to his audience that, before the mission could start, £30,000 needed to be raised to fund the equipment and medical supplies required for the intended operations. His videos about the logistics of raising that sum of money, together with the purchasing, storing, transporting, and unpacking the equipment in Ghana, allowed the audience to appreciate the amount of work and planning required even before the mission began.

Videos were also shown of the South Tees team enacting a “practice run” operation on a manikin; this highlighted issues, particularly in resources, that needed to be resolved before surgery was performed on real patients. Mr. Akowuah then showed clips of operations involving both heart valve replacement and the fitting of pacemakers on actual patients.

It was sobering to hear that the cost of a pacemaker is about $6,000 whilst the average annual income in Ghana is $2,200. Not surprisingly, the many young adults in the locality who have rheumatic heart disease cannot afford treatment. However, the work of this volunteer team is ongoing, and they hope to continue to fund the equipment required for the operations, including artificial heart valves and cardiopulmonary bypass circuits. In addition to the work the team carried out in Ghana, 10 KATH doctors are currently being trained at the Teeside University hospitals, with the intention of them being able to carry on the work of Mr. Akowuah’s team in the future. Indeed three of the physicians from Kumasi—Dr. Yaw Adu-Boakye (cardiologist) Dr. Lambert Appiah, (cardiologist), and Dr. Samuel Kontoh (pharmacist)—were present at the lecture and were able to have further discussions with the SGU MD students afterwards, including the possibility of raising funds for the vital work being carried out in Ghana.

Learn more about this initiative by visiting justgiving.com/crowdfunding/heartsurgerymissiontoghana.

SGU Physician Humanitarian Network Gives Back to Host Nation

Many SGU graduates feel a strong desire to give back to a nation that they credit as playing a major part in successfully achieving their dreams. Now in its 12th year, the St. George’s University Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN) continues to allow them to do just that.

Over the years, the program’s visiting specialists have donated their time and expertise to providing much-needed healthcare services, pharmaceuticals, supplies, and other medical equipment to the Ministry of Health and Government of Grenada in efforts to facilitate substantial improvements to the island’s healthcare infrastructure. This year was no different.

“2019 has been another productive and impactful year for the SGU-PHuN in physician participation by our graduates and associates,” said Brendon La Grenade, vice provost for institutional advancement. “SGU-PHuN captures the community spirit of SGU in a very direct way. Our graduates continue to return to the island to deliver a vast array of voluntary specialty medical care including ophthalmology, cardiology, endocrinology, and neurology to name a few. The value in these programs is not measured in the millions of dollars in donations and services delivered but more so in the lives of the individuals we impact in a positive way.”

“For 2020, St. George’s University will continue to collaborate with the Government of Grenada and the Ministry of Health in tackling the most critical issues on our priority list,” added Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of SGU. “Working with our alumni and growing network of support, SGU-PHuN will continue assisting with the improvement of healthcare with the goal of ensuring that Grenada and our St. George’s family are given the level of healthcare that everyone expects, and everyone needs.”

With more than 25 visiting physicians, this year cardiology and ophthalmology continued to flourish as the flagship programs, benefitting more than 1,000 patients with 113 surgeries performed. Other specialty visits included OB/GYN, neurology, endocrinology, podiatry, and a first-time otolaryngology visit during which 81 patients were screened. These are all procedures that were once unavailable to the people of Grenada due to lack of access to specialists and the funds to attain these required surgeries.

Particularly noteworthy this year was the new collaboration with Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International, a non-profit organization that treats a variety of sight-impairing conditions around the world. The partnership spearheaded by the father-daughter duo of Orazio Giliberti, MD ’82, and Francesca Giliberti, MD ’10, performed a two-week clinic with six visiting surgeons who evaluated approximately 250 patients and performed 49 surgical procedures, including cataract surgery. Considerably the largest eye care event in Grenada’s history, the overall donation provided free of charge to the clinic, including airfare, shipping costs, patient visits, and ophthalmic surgeries, totaled over $750,000 USD.

“In an amazing outpouring of philanthropy, our team and SGU’s Division of Ophthalmology secured an additional operating scope, slit lamp, phaco machinery, and microinstruments, as well as, pharmaceutical donations to the SGU-PHuN clinic,” said Orazio Giliberti, MD ’82, FACS. “These machines and materials mimic a US-style operating room, which will allow future graduates, physicians, and SGU friends and guests to provide essential ophthalmic services.”

Interventional cardiologist, Mark Lanzieri, MD ’85, was also recognized this year for his 20 years of service, receiving an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his selfless contributions of cardiology services free of charge to Grenadian citizens. As the founder of SGU-PHuN’s interventional cardiology program, Dr. Lanzieri and his team, which includes his wife, Annie; an X-ray technologist; and cardiovascular specialist, have seen a wide variety of patients since the program’s inception. The value of their time and the equipment donated has exceeded $1 million and resulted in countless lives saved.

“For many people, this is life changing, whether it is a single-chamber pacemaker, a stent, or simply something that allows them to go back to work or keeps them out of the hospital,” said Dr. Lanzieri, staff cardiologist, Steward Health Care in Massachusetts. “This work is important because there are immediate benefits conferred to patients who do not need to leave their family and social support networks. It is pure humanitarian medicine at its best and I love what I do.”

Highlights from this year also included, visits from two top-tier Grenadian-born physicians, endocrinologist Dwight Matthias, MD ‘92 and Diego Humphrey, MD ’84. The program also hosted a number of legacy visits, as several graduates returned with their children to participate in giving back to Grenada, such as interventional cardiologist Thomas Vazzana, MD ’85 and his daughter Virginia Vazzana, MD ’17, OB/GYN Philip Lahrmann, MD ’81 and his son Jeffrey Lahrmann, MD ’15, and ophthalmologist Dr. Fred Lambrou, whose stepson is currently a student in SGU’s School of Medicine.

According to Mr. La Grenade, 2019 saw tremendous growth both of the program and the University as a whole. With SGU grads now participating alongside their children, this highlights SGU-PHuN as an incredibly worthwhile venture and showcases the reach of SGU and the value it places on the Grenadian community. Continuing to build on the past 12 years of achievements, the program is poised to provide even greater improvements in the future, further strengthening its connection to Grenada’s medical community and reinforcing the bond between the University and its host country.

“SGU, through SGU-PHuN, is all about working with the Grenadian community toward improving access and expanding the range of available healthcare to its citizens,” Mr. La Grenade said.

–Ray-Donna Peters

Dermatology Center Becomes Fourth Clinical Elective Site in Canada

St. George’s University has signed an agreement with North Bay Dermatology Centre to expand opportunities for fourth-year students to gain specialized clinical training in Canada. The center is SGU’s fourth clinical site in the country and one of the more than 70 clinical sites across North America.

Students who choose to do a rotation at North Bay Dermatology Centre, located in North Bay, Ontario, will gain general dermatology experience including treating patients with different types and stages of skin cancer as well inflammatory skin conditions. Run by Dr. Les Rosoph, the Centre also sees patients with psoriasis, dermatitis, rosacea, actinic keratosis, infections, connective tissue diseases, hair loss, acne, benign lesions as well as rare conditions.

“We are thrilled to add North Bay Dermatology to our growing list of impressive elective sites in Canada for students,” said Sandra Banner, SGU’s director of admissions for Canada, adding that she first met Dr. Rosoph in Grenada during Family Weekend when he was visiting his two daughters who are also med students at SGU.

“Through a two-to-four-week rotation with Dr. Rosoph and his team, aspiring physicians will be mentored in a highly specialized field and be able to do procedures once they are comfortable with the practice,” she said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our students seeking to learn more about the dermatology discipline and further gain experience in the Canadian healthcare system.”

Dr. Rosoph said by accepting fourth-year students through the elective rotation, students can get a strong hands-on experience in the field of dermatology, which can be beneficial to those who choose primary care or a specialized field.

“I really believe in giving people opportunity and letting them make their own future,” Dr. Rosoph said. “For students that want to dive right in, we have lots for them to do.”

He also hopes to entice aspiring physicians to come north once they graduate.

“There’s really a need to bring doctors to northern Ontario,” Dr. Rosoph said. “Canada is so short of physicians once you leave the larger centers, and there are huge numbers of patients that never have access to primary care here. I’m hoping students will come and see Ontario and they will decide to relocate here.”

Located three hours north of Toronto, North Bay’s hospital and several clinics, including the dermatology clinic, serve as teaching units for the North Ontario School of Medicine’s undergraduate students and postgraduate programs. Dr. Rosoph also teaches at North Ontario School of Medicine.

SGU has been building its clinical network north of the US border. In November, St. George’s University finalized an agreement with Pembroke Regional Hospital in Ontario that offers fourth-year students a range of disciplines to choose from for their clinical electives. SGU also recently announced agreements in Ottawa with Ottawa Cardiovascular Centre and Booth Neurology Clinic—further expanding the opportunities available to students to broaden their skills and knowledge in preparation for residency. The first student to rotate at Booth Neurology Clinic began earlier this month.

Canadians have flourished at SGU and beyond: 18 Canadians who applied through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) secured residencies this year in competitive fields ranging from anesthesiology and emergency medicine to pathology and psychiatry.

Applications for placement at North Bay Dermatology beginning in January are now being accepted. The center has the ability to take two students at a time.

–Laurie Chartorynsky

Doctors Making a Difference: SGU Grads Travel to Colombia for Medical Mission Trip

The days were long yet the need to provide medical care to thousands of Venezuelan refugees living in Colombia was never more critical. Graduates from St. George’s University were among doctors and medical staff who recently travelled to Bogota and Cucuta to provide free medical services to the refugees.

Nathalie Briones, MD ’18, an emergency medicine resident at NewYork Presbyterian-Queens Hospital, was one of three SGU alumni who volunteered for the medical mission trip. “We saw a lot of communicable diseases, people dehydrated from having poor sanitation, parasites in children, and severe malnutrition,” said Dr. Briones. This was her second medical mission trip with trip organizers, Centurion Medical Missions. “We didn’t expect how acutely ill so many patients would be when we got there. Many of them were suffering from diseases that we had only ever seen before in our textbooks.”

Despite the dire conditions of the refugees in Colombia, she added that the team left each day more humbled and grateful than ever before. “The hardest part was hearing their stories about having to leave their homes. Many educated people—including doctors, lawyers, and engineers—were diminished to cleaning toilets or selling candy on the streets just to keep their children alive. These people once had everything, and now they have nothing. Many of us had to hold back tears during patient interviews because we knew that there was nothing we could do to change their circumstances.”

Added Dr. Briones: “Some moments you knew that you saved someone’s life by being there to treat them, and other moments you just wished you could do more.”

 

 

As one of the largest humanitarian crises in recent histories, more than four million Venezuelans—approximately 13 percent of the country’s population—have fled the country due to political instability, poor living conditions, and high crime since the revolution began in 1999. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 1.3 million of those refugees have sought asylum in Colombia, leaving behind loved ones and most of their possessions to search for a better life.

However, once they arrive in Colombia, all is not what it seems. During a site visit this past spring, trip organizers visited one hotel where they encountered at least 100 refugees to a floor, with eight to nine people living in each room.

“All they have with them is what’s in their backpack,” said Gib Gerlach, vice president of humanitarian strategies for Centurion Medical Missions, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. “When they get to Colombia, their money is worthless. One of the greatest things they need is medical care and if they need it, they have no money to pay for it. We saw a great need to help out.”

The trip, which took place December 9 to 13, included Dr. Briones, Chelsea Hoenes, MD ’13, and Yalda Hazrat, MD ’16, as well as a local physician, an emergency medical technician, and support staff. Volunteers flew in on Sunday, December 8 and spent the next four days seeing approximately 1,000 patients. The clinic welcomed all comers, including those with high blood pressure, acute respiratory issues, open wounds, malnutrition, urinary tract infections, and pregnant women, among other cases. The group purchases all of its medicine in country to help the local economy and to help build relationships, Mr. Gerlach said.

Dr. Hoenes also shared her perspective of the trip: “On arriving in the heart of Bogota, it is easy to see how the Venezuelan people are suffering one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. Starvation and disease are their everyday reality. The medical care we provide is excellent but imperfect: the goal of our mission is to provide acute care, immediate access to imperative health resources, and hope, until permanent health infrastructure can be achieved for the growing refugee population.”

Centurion Medical Missions has previously performed medical clinics in La Vega, Dominican Republic. Of the six trips that Centurion Medical Missions has completed to La Vega since March 2018, 18 SGU doctors have so far travelled with the group, and many of them return for multiple trips. However, the need is so great in Colombia that the organization will be solely focusing on the country in 2020.

“We’re really happy to have to that relationship with SGU,” said Bill Honeycutt, founder of JET ICU, an air ambulance provider offering medical evacuation, medical repatriation, and other air medical transport services for patients worldwide and the parent company of Centurion Medical Missions. “It opens a lot of doors for the students and residents to build something down the road and eventually when they go into practice, they can continue to work to help thousands of people around the world.”

Dr. Briones said she hopes to inspire others to volunteer their services and training on future medical mission trips.

“I have always believed that every person in healthcare should try to do some kind of humanitarian work with underserved communities,” Dr. Briones said. “You really won’t know how much you can help until you go and see how much you actually do help.”

Visit SGU’s Instagram page for more images detailing the medical mission trip. 

– Laurie Chartorynsky

MD Alum Grants Early Holiday Wish for Ailing Teen

Through the Gift of Life program, Sean Levchuck, MD ’89, recently performed life-saving surgery on a Gambian teen suffering from a hole in his heart. Dr. Levchuck, the chairman of pediatric cardiology at St. Francis Hospital on Long Island, professed after the surgery that the young man “should be good to go.”

The patient and his father, Simon, will spend more than a month in the United States before returning to their home country. Newsday chronicled the family’s journey last month.

Neurosurgical Spine Specialist Thriving in Syracuse

For Upstate Medical University neurosurgical spine specialist Michael Galgano, MD ’10, with each operation he performs comes the opportunity to drastically improve the course of a person’s life.

There was the 40-year-old woman whose adolescent scoliosis had gone untreated. Debilitating back pain prevented her from completing workdays or from playing with her young daughter. A corrective procedure returned her to normal activity level.

Then there was the 17-year-old lacrosse player who suddenly had difficulty walking. It was discovered he had an osteoblastoma that was crushing his spinal cord, slowly paralyzing him. Dr. Galgano and his team removed the tumor and reconstructed his spinal column, allowing him to return to lacrosse a few months later after a remarkable recovery.

It’s that kind of impact that the 2010 St. George’s University graduate set out to make when he entered medical school, and what excites him the most about his role at Upstate.

“I treat a population of patients with a wide array of complex spinal disorders, ranging from tumors of the spinal cord and vertebral column, to scoliosis and other deformities,” Dr. Galgano said. “I am drawn toward these types of surgeries that require a significant amount of pre-surgical planning and strategizing. Each complex case I do has its own unique spin, and requires some degree of creativity to achieve an ideal outcome. Improving the quality of life in my patients is ultimately what drives me. It is difficult to get bored with this job.”

At Upstate, located in Syracuse, NY, his responsibilities are many—assistant professor of neurosurgery, director of spinal oncology and reconstructive spinal deformity surgery, as well as the medical school neurosurgery clerkship program. Although Dr. Galgano sub-specializes in spine surgery, he also treats neuro-trauma, in addition to brain tumors.

 

“Each complex case I do has its own unique spin, and requires some degree of creativity to achieve an ideal outcome. Improving the quality of life in my patients is ultimately what drives me.”

Michael Galgano, MD

 

Four days a week, Dr. Galgano rounds on his inpatients before logging six- to 10-hour sessions in the operating room on surgical procedures. As a professor, he holds weekly didactic learning sessions for which he lectures to the university’s neurosurgery residents and medical students.

“When I run into the occasional SGU student completing a sub-I at our hospital and they find out I am also an alum, their eyes light up,” he said. “I tell them all to be proactive, and to outwork everybody they can on their rotations. At the end of the day, it boils down to being nothing short of determined to match into the field you are most passionate about, whether that is family medicine or neurosurgery.”

Dr. Galgano performs his craft and extensive research at the very location where his neurosurgery career began as a resident in 2010, weeks after graduating from SGU. He spent seven years in residency at Upstate, and even earned the Outstanding Neurosurgery Resident of the Year Award. In 2017, he went on to complete a complex and oncological spine surgery fellowship at Brown University in Providence, RI.

Dr. Galgano had always had his mind set on entering neurology, but the surgery element came into focus as a medical student when he rotated with general surgeons at Overlook Hospital in New Jersey—one of more than 70 clinical sites available to SGU students. So, for his career, he combined his two passions.

“The rotation centers I went to were fabulous,” he said. “Rotating at a number of different hospitals exposes you to a wide variety of pathology. Instead being at a single institution, you see a diverse case load and patient population, and learn from physicians with different backgrounds. You grow comfortable working with a new set of instructors every few weeks. It keeps you on your A-game.”

Dr. Galgano added: “During neurosurgical training, the more surgeons you get to experience operating with, the better surgeon you become. You take a bit of knowledge from each mentor, and incorporate concepts and techniques you learned from them into your style. That’s kind of the way I look at SGU. We are taught medicine from doctors all around the world, increasing the diversity of our experience. SGU really is an all-star medical school. There is no doubt that our students graduate ready to hit the real world. SGU offers not only a medical education, but a unique and profound life experience. The end product of having received a medical education at SGU is something to be proud of.”

– Brett Mauser