2021 MD class overcomes obstacles on way to residency

Their journey may have been different than the classes before them, but the St. George’s University School of Medicine Class of 2021’s commitment to excellence and their future profession was very much the same.

In a virtual ceremony held on June 6, SGU conferred Doctor of Medicine degrees to graduates from 47 US states and territories, as well as 35 other countries around the world. The SOM’s newest alumni forged ahead despite hurdles and wrinkles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and emerged on the other side with a bright future in front of them.

“With your new MD degree, you join the ranks of thousands of physicians, including our proud SGU alumni, and other healthcare workers fighting this pandemic,” said Dr. Marios Loukas, dean of the School of Medicine, in his address. “In joining this fight, you will need to call upon the same perseverance and commitment that carried you through four years of medical school.

“Go forth and do good by taking care of millions of people who will look toward your humanism in science to keep them safe and healthy,” he continued. “Remember that your positive attitude and determination have brought you this far, and life is as much about living the journey as much as it is about eventually reaching your destination.”

This summer, more than 1,080 newly minted SGU physicians will enter residency at hospitals across the US. These positions span 21 specialties, including anesthesiology, emergency medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery, urology, and more.

“I’m sure many of you have been dreaming of this moment for many years, and I do hope that you’re all taking a moment to stop and reflect and celebrate your success,” said Dr. Lucy Clunes, dean of students at SGU. “As you transition from student to physician, and embark on the next phase of your career, I encourage you to reflect on the values and experiences throughout your tenure at SGU that have led to the success we are celebrating today.”

SGU is the largest source of physicians for the entire United States workforce, with more than 11,600 alumni licensed to practice in the US in 2019 according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.


Faculty members honored

Dr. Charles Modica, chancellor and co-founder of SGU, also bestowed the St. George’s University Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Stephen Weitzman, former dean of the School of Medicine, and Dr. Vishnu Rao, longtime dean of students and the current dean of university alumni affairs.

Dr. Weitzman joined SGU in 1978 as a visiting professor and remained on the faculty as a professor, chair of medicine, dean of clinical studies, and dean of the SOM.

“Dr. Weitzman really is a special person, but I think the most special thing about him is that his name is on the diplomas of more physicians in the US—having signed them—than any other person in the world,” Dr. Modica said. “He helped set up the clinical programs, he nurtured them, and he became involved with each and every student’s education through them.”

Dr. Rao started at the University at its inception, joining as a professor of anatomy before serving as the University’s Dean of Students for more than three decades. He will stay on as a member of SGU’s alumni affairs department.

“I’m so proud to be able to work with him in the future to make sure we are involved with and look after the thousands of graduates of the University, in all fields,” Dr. Modica said.


– Brett Mauser

Op-Ed: SGU President Dr. G. Richard Olds Featured on KevinMD

St. George’s University President Dr. G. Richard Olds recently penned an article on KevinMD.

The article, “Here’s how we can rebuild health care post-pandemic,” outlines the critical role that international medical graduates (IMGs) will play in the future physician workforce. Thousands of new doctors will soon begin residency programs at hospitals across the country. That includes 7,500 IMGs—more than 1,000 of which are SGU alumni.

“These newly minted doctors, many of whom are U.S. citizens who chose to study abroad, will play an outsized role in treating the underserved communities hit hardest by the pandemic,” Dr. Olds wrote.

He goes on to argue that internationally trained physicians are uniquely suited to address our country’s growing doctor shortage. They have a history of working in underserved areas, including rural regions and majority-minority communities.

“Internationally trained doctors are also more likely to treat people from historically marginalized groups. In areas where the population is 75 percent non-white, IMGs account for nearly 40 percent of the physician workforce. And according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, IMGs often care for Medicare beneficiaries with more complicated needs than their domestically trained counterparts,” he wrote.

South Korean Grad Provides Critical Care at a Critical Time

Responsibility has followed and increased throughout Ki (Steve) Lee’s time as an internal medicine resident at Newark Beth Israel Hospital in New Jersey. A year after helping the department through the COVID-19 pandemic as an intern, the St. George’s University graduate is now in a managerial role, overseeing a team of medical staff and full ward of patients. This spring, Dr. Lee will become one of four chief residents in the department, helping to supervise and train its more than 40 residents.

The South Korea native looks back on the path that led him to one of the state’s most high-traffic, high-impact critical care units.

St. George’s University: What has it been like supervising such a critical element to healthcare at Newark Beth Israel?

Dr. Steve Lee: In your first year of residency, you’re learning how to help and figuring out how things work. In my second year, you’re asked to do a lot more. In my case, I’m managing a team that is overseeing the 16 patients on our floor. It’s been a great experience, I have a lot of autonomy, and it has allowed me to grow as a team leader and a decision maker.

SGU: What’s the best part about doing residency at NBI?

Dr. Lee: It’s amazing how much clinical experience we get here. We’re the only lung transplant hospital in New Jersey and the only heart transplant facility too. The most critically ill patients get transferred here, and it’s up to us in the ICU and critical care unit to take care of them. We get a lot of hands-on experience, use all these state-of-the-art devices, and I feel like we learn a lot. If you do residency here at NBI, you can go anywhere else and be comfortable.


“You go to Grenada and meet all these new people on day one, and you’re all there to help each other out.”

SGU: You were a first-year resident during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in and around New York City. What was that like?

Dr. Lee: COVID was very difficult. We typically have a maximum of 16 patients on our list, but at that time we were managing 30-40. Our department was running the entire hospital, and there were so many different teams on the floor—pediatricians, radiologists, and many, many others—helping out in any way that they could. What was so difficult was that patients’ outcomes could change in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, for our staff, we all had each other to lean on. We were able to talk through things and we covered each others’ shifts when needed.

SGU: How would you describe your experience at SGU?

Dr. Lee: You go to Grenada and meet all these new people on day one, and you’re all there to help each other out. The education was great, and many of my classmates are now attendings at these major hospitals. They’re doing amazing, and I feel like everyone has done great.

– Brett Mauser

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Grad Reflects on Role in World’s First Successful Face and Double Hand Transplant

Zoe Berman, MD ’17

More than a year of preparation came down to one day for one patient and the surgical team that was about to change his life. Joseph DiMeo, a 22-year-old man from New Jersey, had been severely injured in a motor vehicle accident, and in an effort to regain his independence, he turned to NYU Langone Health to perform the world’s first-ever successful face and double hand transplant.

Over the 23-hour operation last August, Zoe Berman, MD ’17, stood alongside the surgeons, confirming each critical step as the hands and face were detached from both the donor and Mr. DiMeo, and then the donor hands and face were carefully affixed to the recipient. For Dr. Berman, a reconstructive plastic surgery research fellow under world-renowned doctor Eduardo D. Rodriguez at NYU, the “groundbreaking” operation was a culmination of in-depth research and planning that she and her colleagues had contributed to in order to ensure its success.

After finishing up her fellowship at NYU, Dr. Berman will return to Maimonides Medical Center to complete a surgery residency this July, not without an experience she deemed “life-changing” just as it was for the patient. She shared what it was like to participate in the planning and execution of such an intricate procedure.

St. George’s University: How unique of an undertaking was this for Dr. Rodriguez and his team?

Dr. Berman: This was the first-ever hand transplant to be performed at NYU. There have been two face transplants done at the institution—one in 2015 and another in 2018—but NYU physicians had never done a hand transplant. Only 150 or so have been performed worldwide, and the combined face and double hand transplant procedure had never been done before successfully.

SGU: What was your role prior to and during the operation?

Dr. Berman: I was a part of the four-person research team that helped procured the necessary information to build the foundation for this procedure to happen. We started with a review of the peer-reviewed literature on hand transplant and other combined transplants, where we evaluated more than 1,800 articles and ended up critically appraising 93 of those articles to see how we could use that information to inform what our procedural steps were going to be, and how to execute the surgery safely and successfully. We were looking for what elements contributed to the successes of past surgeries, and perhaps even more importantly so, where the unsuccessful operations fell short—whether they were too ambitious in terms of the amount of skin that they took, the blood supply wasn’t adequate, or the patient simply wasn’t the best candidate. We then centralized all of this information and presented it to the surgical team.

Our research team also worked with the surgeons over a series of monthly rehearsals to develop the procedural steps for the hand transplant element. We created a surgical checklist to ensure adherence to every single agreed-upon step of the donor procurement, the recipient operation, and the re-attachment of the hands. Each operative sequence had between 30 and 50 steps and it took all the guesswork out of it.

SGU: Describe what it was like the day of the operation.

Dr. Berman: We had two adjacent operating rooms functioning simultaneously. Our team physically stood alongside the surgeons during all the cadaver rehearsals as well as the actual transplant to ensure that everyone was adhering to the procedural steps. When you’re talking about connecting multiple blood vessels, tendons, bones, and lot of different structures that meld together, it can make it a very complicated procedure.

  • Dr. Berman working with Dr. Rodriguez in the cadaver lab.

  • The NYU plastic surgery team

  • The research team

  • SGU grads Matthew and Zoe Berman, with father Peter

SGU: How has Mr. DiMeo fared since the procedure?

Dr. Berman: Joe is a very motivated young man. It was important to him to get back to work, get back to the gym, to be independent, and to really get back to the life that he was living before his accident. I think it’s the most remarkable thing about him and part of the reason why Dr. Rodriguez and the team thought he was an exceptional candidate for this surgery.

Since the operation, he’s done very well with his rehabilitation and continues to improve functionally every day. He has been monitored very closely for any signs of rejection and he continues to heal and to accept all three of his allografts (face and both hands).

SGU: What prompted you to pursue this fellowship at NYU?

Dr. Berman: My father is a head and neck surgeon, so I think I’ve always had that influence me to a degree. There’s something about the symmetry and the intricacies of that part of the body that I find extremely fascinating. I’ve always had an appreciation for the face and what it represents for a human being in terms of providing a sense of identity and an outlet to communicate verbally and emotionally. To help restore that identity is very meaningful in somebody’s life. When I learned about the remarkable things Dr. Rodriguez and his team were doing at NYU, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it. Face transplant is the ultimate reconstructive surgery.

SGU: How has being part of this procedure changed your life?

Dr. Berman: It has been an extremely unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I feel so fortunate to be able to partake in this incredible experience that has truly pushed the field of reconstructive surgery forward. To be a part of this patient’s journey, to see him continue to be so motivated and so beautifully supported by his parents has really been a privilege.

More so than anything, I’ve been so fortunate to have had the mentorship of Dr. Rodriguez, who is a real visionary. He put trust in me to be a part of this, and to be able to contribute to changing somebody’s life—that’s why I went into medicine in the first place—to give someone the opportunity to live a better life, a more fulfilling life, and to have a second chance.

SGU: Why did you choose to go to SGU, and how has it set you up for success in your career?

Dr. Berman: I would have never had the opportunity to do anything I’m doing if I hadn’t first made the decision to go to SGU to get my MD. At the time, I was ready to go to medical school, and I didn’t want to wait for another US application cycle.

The foundation that the education at SGU provided me has allowed me to grow beyond what I ever imagined to be possible. I think coming from SGU gives you a sense of humility that will serve anybody well in the medical field. I have never felt entitled to anything. For me, I’ve always considered being a doctor and working with vulnerable patients to be an unbelievable privilege.

There’s also something sacred and beautiful about the island. I met my husband there (Matthew Bushman, MD ’16), who’s now an anesthesiologist, and my brother (Matthew Berman, MD ’17) also followed me to the island a semester later, who met his wife there (Taylor Dodds, MD ’19), and they’re both in residency now and doing well. We all had an incredible time at SGU, and considering where we all are now, I would never change my decision to go there.

– Brett Mauser

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Basic Sciences Dean: Energized community and student success at the heart of campus return

Why is learning the basic sciences so crucial to the study of medicine?

“In the basic sciences, we set the framework for all of the foundational requirements of clinical knowledge, skills, and behaviors” needed to apply to hospital medicine, according to Mark Clunes, PhD, the new senior associate dean of basic sciences at St. George’s University. He took on his new role when Dr. Marios Loukas was appointed dean of the School of Medicine earlier this year.

As dean of basic sciences, Dr. Clunes is tasked with ensuring that first- and second-year MD students are well-prepared to enter their clinical years. He knows the terrain well, having been a professor of physiology within the School of Medicine since 2008 and most recently serving as the associate dean of basic sciences. His wife, Dr. Lucy Clunes, also an SOM professor, was recently named the school’s dean of students.

Dr. Clunes shared his perspective on why mastering the basic sciences curriculum is crucial to clinical learning, the future of the virtual learning environment at SGU, and what he is most excited for when students return to campus.

St. George’s University: When students complete their basic science curriculum, how will they be prepared for the clinical years?

Dr. Clunes: Essentially, in the basic sciences, we set the framework for all of the foundational requirements of clinical skills; then in their clinical years they have to apply that knowledge to real patients with all the complexity of real patient presentation.


“Campus is more than a location; it’s a place of study, a place where students relax, and a place where they interact and gather and share academic and extracurricular life. It’s a dynamic community and a space we share together. I am very much looking forward to regaining our community.”


SGU: How can students prepare for the transition from virtual back to in-person learning? What is the advantage to being back on campus?

Dr. Clunes: Although our curriculum has been delivered remotely during the COVID pandemic, we have continued to provide live interactive sessions, so the time management and study skills required to be successful in the remote program are very similar to those required for the on-campus environment.

However, the advantages of being back on campus are that this is a center of academic activity. The learning environment here on campus is tailored for study, either as individuals or in groups, whereas home is not always equivalent. So for the most part, the return to campus will provide an opportunity to re-establish study communities and provide a stable supportive learning environment for success.

SGU: Will there be aspects of virtual learning that remain a part of the curriculum, even when students are on campus? In what ways?

Dr. Clunes: Certain elements have undoubtedly been advantageous virtually.

For instance, virtual “office hours” have allowed faculty to substantially increase the volume of students we can meet with, and these sessions have been appreciated by faculty as well as the students.

In terms of the core curriculum, we still think that community and engagement are vital, so the core elements of the curriculum will be delivered on site, but flexibility around supplemental activity will undoubtedly be increased.

Some examples include:

  • Patient interviews using remote technology—this won’t be retained as an exclusive modality for patient encounters but targeted sessions for remote technology use with patients will be incorporated
  • The advisory services will very likely offer both live or online options for students.
  • Many of the supplemental learning sessions that run in the evenings on campus can now also be offered online, so that students can choose to remain on campus or participate from their home or dorm.

SGU: From an academic standpoint, what are students’ biggest concerns when they enter their first term?

Dr. Clunes: There is often apprehension about medical school and the demands of studying medicine. It is of course an academically challenging course of study. However, there is a wealth of support from the faculty, the course directors, University administration, and all of the advisory and support services. Everyone at SGU is here for one outcome—student success.

Students will return to campus for the August 2021 term.

SGU: Is the study of COVID-19 now a part of the curriculum?

Dr. Clunes: Infectious disease, immunology, and public health have always been an important part of the curriculum. Our experience over the last 12 months demonstrated why it was so important to learn.

Moving forward, the faculty of the Departments of Microbiology, Immunology and Pharmacology, and Public Health will undoubtedly use the COVID pandemic and the wealth of research garnered as valuable educational tools.

SGU: What are you most excited about when students return to campus?

Dr. Clunes: Seeing campus return to the busy, energized place that it was when the students were present. Campus is more than a location; it’s a place of study, a place where students relax, and a place where they interact and gather and share academic and extracurricular life. It’s a dynamic community and a space we share together. I am very much looking forward to regaining our community.

To learn more about the School of Medicine’s MD curriculum, visit the SGU website.


– Laurie Chartorynsky


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Nephrology alum tackles kidney disease in Chicago

Andrew Kowalski, MD/MPH ’12, knows Chicago. He grew up in the Second City suburbs, went to college at Loyola University Chicago, and now works as an interventional nephrologist and assistant professor at MacNeal Hospital—the Illinois-based hospital where he was born and where he volunteered prior to becoming a medical student at St. George’s University.

Like in many American cities, kidney disease is a widespread issue in Chicago, which is where Dr. Kowalski comes in.

St. George’s University: How big of a problem is kidney disease in America?

Dr. Andrew Kowalski: More than one in seven people in the US have kidney disease—that’s about 15 percent of the population. Of those people, nine out of 10 have no idea they have any sort of disease, and two in five aren’t aware that they have severe disease and are very close to initiating dialysis. I see it a lot. I will tell some patients about significant issues that they face and they’re shocked.

I practice both general and interventional nephrology. As a general nephrologist, I see these patients and discuss ways to change their lifestyle, augment risk factors, and create treatment plans to move forward. Oftentimes we can put in 110 percent into a patient and, for whatever reason—likely their genetics—they still progress to requiring dialysis.

SGU: How closely is kidney disease associated with socioeconomics?

Dr. Kowalski: The majority of kidney disease patients have some issue with diabetes and/or high blood pressure. And it’s usually uncontrolled. Much of this closely relates to socioeconomics; those in the poorest communities tend to not have adequate access to healthcare, or whoever they see might not be the best. A lot of them have advanced conditions and complications that come with them.

Also in the mix, albeit less frequently, are patients from affluent neighborhoods. You see the same diabetes and high blood pressure, but the disease is more related to medications, drug use, and genetics. These patients feel like they know more and tend to try to treat themselves.


“SGU blew my mind in terms of the resources that were available, the culture there, the people there. It was fantastic.”


How did you get into nephrology?

Dr. Kowalski: What drove me into nephrology was meeting my mentor, Dr. Edgar Lerma. The way that he practiced, the way he carried himself and interacted with patients, it was really something I wanted to emulate. He wasn’t a very tall man, but he had a presence about him. He never spoke at the patients but always spoke with them. By the end, you would think you were speaking to a friend and bouncing ideas off of him. They truly trusted him and knew that they were in the right hands.

Nephrology has many avenues too. As an interventional nephrologist, I get to use both my hands and my head. As an interventional nephrologist, I see these patients and plan and manage their dialysis access. I would place their hemodialysis catheters, peritoneal catheters, and manage their fistulas and grafts so that they are receiving adequate dialysis treatment.

SGU: What’s your favorite part about your job?

Dr. Kowalski: I love teaching residents. I love explaining something that has a reputation of being difficult and seeing light bulb go off in their heads.

SGU: In addition to your MD, you obtained your Master of Public Health from SGU. How has that factored into your practice?

Dr. Kowalski: When I went to medical school, I wanted to have as many career options available as possible, and it helped not only with that, but it made me more well-rounded. I use the principles and practices that I learned in the MPH program more than I thought I ever would have. The coursework for that degree dove into many aspects of medicine that I was unaware of. We had in-depth discussions about population’s access to care, the influence of insurances, and the thought process that patients go through about their diagnosis and overall patterns of disease. An MPH degree gives you more options, and taking into account what you’re taught and the fact that it’s just one additional year, I think it’s extremely valuable to have.

SGU: How would you describe your SGU experience?

Dr. Kowalski: Going to SGU was much, much better than I thought it was going to be. It blew my mind in terms of the resources that were available, the culture there, the people there. It was fantastic. And time really flew by. During the week, you got a top-notch education—it really was phenomenal what we learned. And then every weekend it was like you were vacationing at a beautiful resort.

SGU really set me up for success. A lot of it had to do with riding on the shoulders of the giants who came before me who built a culture where everyone works together and helps each other out. We’re all on the same team, and our goal is to be better and do better as a whole.

– Brett Mauser

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Equity in medicine the focus of new SGU scholarship

St. George’s University’s new scholarship program—the Equity in Medicine scholarship—focuses on developing strong physician pipelines in underserved areas by recruiting students from these areas and encouraging them to return home to practice.

According to Health Resources and Services Administration, medically underserved areas are areas designated as having too few primary care providers and other factors.

Read about two Equity in Medicine Scholarship recipients who are committed to working in areas where care is needed most.

Anders Grant

Hometown: Bronx, NY

Her commitment: Primary care on Native American reservation

Anders Grant spent more than 20 years as a dietitian on the East Coast and in Texas. Years later, after raising her own children, she began working with various tribes on the Native American Reservation—where medical school called out to her.

In her three and a half years there, she “fell in love with the communities and the people.” Aided by the Equity in Medicine scholarship at St. George’s University, Ms. Grant is committed to returning to the reservation—a medically underserved area—when she becomes a physician.

“The people were so interested in teaching me their ways, and because I love languages, I immediately tried to learn the Navajo language. It was very reciprocal,” she said. “Once I showed that I wanted to learn their culture, that I wasn’t someone who said a casual hello, we became more like a family.”

Healthcare access and education is limited in and around the various Reservations. According to Ms. Grant, it takes upward of an hour to drive to visit with a healthcare professional, and even then, staff and resources are limited.

Ms. Grant is especially focused on the treatment and prevention of diabetes, working closely with children and families on the reservation to address the root of the problem—obesity. As an ultra-marathon runner, she offered diet and exercise programs for children that yielded tremendous results and was soon adopted by many parents.

“What I really emphasized was moving,” she said. “They saw me running out there every day, which showed that I practice what I preach. If I can get the children to start improving their health now, oh my goodness, the future is unlimited.”

Using the foundation she receives at SGU, Ms. Grant is committed to making a lasting difference in returning to the Native American Reservation.

“I can’t wait to get back,” she said. “I want to prove to them in person that you can never give up. It’s never too late to make your dreams come true.”

Taylor James

Hometown: Forest City, NC

Her commitment: Rural medicine

In rural America, state-of-the-art technology and a wealth of resources may only be found at a great distance. Growing up in the foothills of North Carolina, Taylor James has seen the consequences of such deficiencies firsthand—and they have shaped her career path.

When she was just four years old, her father passed away after a medical mishap during a surgical procedure on his hand. According to Ms. James, the anesthetic was administered in a blood vessel, inadvertently numbing his heart, and no available medication could reverse the effect. She attributes the mistake, in part, to a lack of resources at her local hospital.

“I didn’t really recognize it until I moved away and saw what other places are like,” said Ms. James, now a first-term student at St. George’s University. “As I grew older, I better understood what happened to my dad, why it happened, and now I want to figure out how to combat these problems in small towns like mine.”

She has been laser focused—graduating a semester early from North Carolina State University, with a degree in human biology. During her studies, she gained valuable clinical experience at the University of North Carolina’s emergency medicine department as well as WakeMed Cary Hospital.

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As a Spanish minor, she also completed a doctor shadowing assignment in Spain, an experience she said: “instilled the importance of cultural competence.” She has used her bilingualism to communicate with—and ease the minds of—Spanish-speaking patients.

While she is keeping her options open, Ms. James is leaning toward a career in primary care, to become a valuable resource in a community that needs it. She even foresees opening up her own family medicine clinic and is grateful for the financial flexibility she has to do so through receiving the Equity in Medicine Scholarship from SGU.

“I was so shocked and so thankful to receive the scholarship,” she said. “I have really enjoyed my first few weeks at SGU. It’s a lot of studying—which I expected—but I don’t think I expected the overwhelming amount of resources and support SGU provides to ensure that we’re successful.”

– Brett Mauser

Assistant Dean of Students: Take care of yourself, before you take care of others

Dr. Laurence Dopkin, St. George’s University’s assistant dean of students, providing academic and non-academic support and guidance to clinical students. He is also an SGU alum.

While navigating through medical school, managing one’s own health is too often a piece of the puzzle that students overlook. Doing so is a point of emphasis when Dr. Laurence Dopkin, St. George’s University’s assistant dean of students, meets with aspiring physicians.

Dr. Dopkin, a 1998 graduate of SGU himself, has been working with School of Medicine students for more than a decade, first as a professor of psychiatry and currently by providing academic and non-academic support and guidance to clinical students. Dr. Dopkin is also the acting director of behavioral health/associate director of child and adult psychiatry at the Morrisania Diagnostic and Treatment Center in New York City.

As part of the team within the Office of Dean of Students, “our assistance can come in many ways and is informed by each individual student’s particular needs, regardless of where they are in the academic continuum,” he said. “We are here to help triage student concerns, but we’re also here to help ensure that they are aware of and understand the rules and policies that they are expected to follow—rules and policies designed to help ensure they have a successful experience while at SGU. We are, and should be, their first point of contact for most concerns.”

Read more about Dr. Dopkin’s role, his advice for clinical students, and why psychiatry can be a fulfilling career choice for students.

St. George’s University: What challenges do some students face when they begin clinical rotations?

Dr. Dopkin: Transitioning from the on-campus setting to a new schedule and educational experience at the many and varied clinical training sites in the US and UK. This geographical transition is accompanied by a shift in students’ sense of community—with an interruption in who students interact with on a daily basis. While on campus in Grenada, students are the majority, whereas in the hospital setting, they are a smaller complement, working alongside other professionals that comprise the treatment team for each patient.

This is also time of many growing pains, which includes the translation and application of the knowledge gained in the basic sciences to the clinical realm. This can be challenging as students interact face-to-face with patients on a daily basis.

The acculturation to clinicals can be mediated by maintaining a connection to the on-campus community through the Student Government Association, taking advantage of the 60-plus student organizations supported by the Office of the Dean of Students, and via our SGU newsletters and social media.

SGU: How has the COVID-19 pandemic intensified those challenges?

Dr. Dopkin: From a behavioral health standpoint, medical school is challenging and stressful at baseline, and so these same stressors become exaggerated and magnified when you factor in an unprecedented health crisis.

Thankfully, we were able to quickly pivot and implement innovative online and web-based academic and non-academic clinical solutions for many of the obstacles the pandemic presented.

SGU: Why is it important for students to prioritize their mental health?

Dr. Dopkin: My best advice for students is simple—you need to take care of yourself, before you can take care of anybody else. Just like most diseases and disorders, early recognition, assessment, and diagnosis of a behavioral health issue can lead to simple, effective treatment and resolution of symptoms. The 24-hour availability of telehealth services for our students has improved the ease and speed of access to counseling.

SGU offers several free, confidential behavioral health services to all SOM students,

  • The Psychological Services Center in Grenada offers telehealth and in-person counseling for individuals, groups, and families.
  • The BCS Group is a newer counseling service for our medical and veterinary students that provides 24-hour telehealth counseling for individuals and couples across all time zones, as well as psychiatry referrals for US-based clinical students.

SGU: What are the most satisfying qualities of a career in psychiatry?

Dr. Dopkin: I found psychiatry to be an unsolved puzzle compared to the other fields in medicine, and the biopsychosocial model, along with the history of the field, were what initially drew me to psychiatry.

Some of the most fulfilling aspects of being a psychiatrist are the diverse opportunities available based on your individual interests. I have worked in hospital-based psychiatric emergency rooms, free-standing outpatient clinics, inpatient and outpatient consultation services, and courts. I’ve taught medical students in most of those settings and trained psychiatric residents in others. I’ve worked in administrative, educational, and clinical roles, and in private practice consultation. I’ve treated children as young as four and on upwards from there.

Psychiatry truly allowed me to develop an expertise while allowing me to continue to enjoy and “practice” so many other areas of medicine that were of interest to me.

Dr. Dopkin can be reached by email at ldopkin@sgu.edu.



— Laurie Chartorynsky

Matched! MD student shares tips on securing your dream residency

Fourth-year medical student Joshue Leyva is still celebrating after recently learning he matched in his top choice for an internal medicine residency that will begin this July. Originally from Desert Hot Springs, CA, the soon-to-be graduate of St. George’s University School of Medicine said he is grateful for the opportunity he received during med school and cannot wait to start the next chapter of his medical career.

Get to know Mr. Leyva below.

SGU: Describe the feeling of Match Day learning that you had secured a residency position.

Joshue Leyva: The moment before I found out where I matched reminded me why I chose medicine as my career. My dream finally became a reality. It was a moment of relief, bliss, and gratitude.

SGU: Where were you when you found out the news?

JL: I was with my family in my home. My fiancée’s family was connected through Zoom from Texas. We celebrated afterwards by eating birria, a traditional Mexican lunch.

SGU: Why did you choose internal medicine as a specialty?

JL: Internal medicine combines my love for clinical problem-solving and engaging in physician-patient communication. In order to approach a clinical scenario, a good doctor must build relationships with the patient and their family—I find that part of the experience the most enjoyable part.

SGU: What are you most excited about starting your medical career?

JL: I am excited to work with a culturally diverse patient population that will allow me to be the best physician I can be. I am motivated by the idea that I will have a strong impact on the lives of my patients.

SGU: What advice would you give to students just entering their clinical rotations?

JL: Truly immerse yourself with every patient case during your clerkships. Learn your patient inside and out and apply what you have learned thus far. Overall, enjoy your time in the hospital and clinic because you can make lasting connections with attendings and residents along the way.

SGU: What advice would you give to clinical students applying for residencies?

JL: If you can schedule a clinical rotation at one of your top programs, try to do so. Although the entire process from the ERAS application to interviews can be daunting, I recommend seeking and researching advice every step along the way. Completing the residency application as early as possible will allow for edits to be made. During interviews, prepare by learning about the program. Most of all, however, be yourself.

SGU: In what ways do you believe SGU has prepared you for the next step in your career?

JL: SGU was instrumental in training me to enter residency. From the learning environment in the classroom setting to the transition to clinicals, they fostered a supportive academic environment.

SGU: Now that you look back on your time at SGU, how would you describe your experience?

JL: SGU allowed me to acquire a culturally diverse medical education allowing me to treat my patients with the utmost cultural sensitivity. The friendships made in Grenada will undoubtedly last a lifetime. I would experience it all over again if given the chance.


SGU ranks as #1 source of physicians in US workforce

In cities and towns across the United States, in specialties spanning all of medicine, St. George’s University graduates are making an undeniable impact on healthcare.

According to a recent report from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), 11,627 SGU graduates were licensed to practice medicine in the US in 2019, making it the largest source of doctors for the entire US workforce—ahead of any other US or international medical school.

“We stand back and marvel at the outstanding work being done by our graduates in all corners of the US and the world,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of SGU. “The impact that they have made—and will continue to make—on patients, their families, and their communities is truly immeasurable.”

SGU alumni are crucial to addressing the country’s physician shortage, which is projected to climb as high as 139,000 across all specialties by 2033 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). This shortage is attributed to population growth and aging, as well as large portion of the physician workforce nearing retirement age.


In 2021, more than 1,070 SGU graduates will begin their residencies across the United States, marking the seventh year in a row in which SGU was the number one provider of new doctors to the US healthcare system per data as of April 2021. They’ll enter 21 different specialties ranging from neurology and orthopedic surgery to pathology and anesthesiology.

Hundreds of these grads will enter primary care, a field in dire need of physicians in the United States. According to the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), more than 83 million Americans live in primary care health professional shortage areas (HPSA).

“We are proud of the impact that our graduates have had in the US and around the world,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor of SGU. “As a University, we look forward to providing a sturdy foundation for our students to become well-equipped, well-rounded physicians for many years to come.”

– Brett Mauser