Novel NIH-funded master’s degree program offers deep dive into bioethics research

As the world eagerly awaits the results of groundbreaking research and clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of bioethics—particularly research ethics—has been brought into focus.

A new collaboration between St. George’s University, Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro (UAQ) in Mexico, and Clarkson University in New York, funded by the NIH Fogarty International Center, allows research fellows from low- to middle-income countries (LMIC) to participate in a two-year online Master of Science in Bioethics (MScB) program through 2024. The goal of the program is to increase capacity for bioethics scholarship, research, research ethics review (IRBs), and publication in English- and Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Latin America.

“We collaboratively designed a bilingual curriculum that offers knowledge, skills training, and opportunities to conduct and publish research, and to become leaders in institutional and national policy, pedagogy, and clinical practice,” said Dr. Cheryl Cox Macpherson, head of bioethics in SGU’s Department of Clinical Skills, and director and principal investigator for the new program. “The diversity of those enrolled enriches the program by facilitating understanding and partnerships across different nations, cultures, disciplines, health systems, and languages.”

Dr. Cheryl Cox-Macpherson

The program is suitable for mid-career professionals looking to increase their understanding of research and bioethics, from doctors and veterinarians to lawyers, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals. With further development, she envisions delivering the program and creating opportunities for dual degree options at SGU.

“For people who are professionals in health, or on the periphery of healthcare, and have an interest in research ethics or ethics consultation, there is an increasing need for these skills in today’s changing world,” Dr. Macpherson said. “Few physicians are trained to conduct ethics reviews or consultations, and even fewer veterinarians. This is a great opportunity for professionals who are looking to advance their credentials and their knowledge of research ethics.”

Maria de los Angeles Marina Adame Gayosso, the head of the Department for the Promotion of Education in Bioethics of the National Bioethics Commission in Mexico, is part of the charter class that began this fall. In addition to Mexico, the cohort is comprised of English- and Spanish-speaking students from LMICs such as Grenada, Guyana, and Honduras.

“I know what bioethics can do to help transform the lives of people, communities, and countries,” said Ms. Gayoso. “Our continent faces challenges at different levels that need to be analyzed and addressed from a bioethical perspective to generate public policies that are respectful of all forms of life. This program is designed to train leaders and turn students into agents of change for their countries and the region.”

“What we’ve done is really unique in that we are using online software to make it possible to enroll our trainees in both languages at the same time,” added Dr. Macpherson. “They’re talking to each other and working across languages, cultures, and borders.”

The program represents only the latest connection between SGU and the NIH Fogarty International Center, which supports revolutionary research and training in developing countries. As part of the newly launched Caribbean Research Ethics Education initiative (CREEi), SGU, UAQ, and Clarkson received NIH support to establish a one-year certificate program that featured graduate-level online and onsite bioethics courses from 2014 to 2019, which has evolved into the current two-year program. The NIH additionally has provided funding through Dr. Desiree LaBeaud’s laboratory at Stanford to the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), a 501(c)(3) research institute located on SGU’s True Blue campus.

The MScB will be supported by the NIH through 2024 and qualified and eligible individuals (must be a national of a regional LMIC) who are interested are invited to email Dr. Macpherson at ccox@sgu.edu.

– Brett Mauser

CREEi is supported by the NIH Fogarty International Center (FIC) Award #R25TW009731.

Showcasing SGU Doctors: University’s New Marketing Campaign Features Real-Life Graduate Success Stories to Prospective Students

For more than four decades, St. George’s University continues to educate highly qualified physicians who are helping to alleviate the physician shortage in the US and around the world.

Recently, 13 School of Medicine graduates including emergency medicine doctors, anesthesiologists, vascular surgeons, cardiologists, pediatricians, and others, participated in a two-day photo and video shoot in New York City that will allow SGU to showcase alumni success in its upcoming digital marketing campaign. Candidates were asked to share their career paths and SGU experiences in video.

“SGU-educated physicians are well positioned to make a positive influence on the global healthcare system—particularly during the COVID pandemic,” said Nadav Levinton, who led this marketing initiative for St. George’s University. “There is no better way to celebrate our impressive graduates than by stepping up to tell their stories in the same way they would: without hesitation, with a primary concern for the well-being of others, and with well-planned teamwork.”

Robert Alig, vice president of alumni affairs for SGU, said: “We thank all of the alumni who participated in the photoshoots. With busy schedules both personally and professionally, we greatly appreciate their time and candor. Hearing about the wonderful work they’ve done, and the paths taken to get where they are in their careers, is truly inspiring. We know these testimonials will inspire those individuals who are eyeing a career in medicine themselves.”

SGU is cognizant of the precarious and difficult situations that healthcare workers everywhere are facing as a result of COVID. As a result, the University took strong precautions to keep both the subjects and the crew safe while completing the photo/video shoot. Such precautions before, during, and after the photoshoots included:

  • Each subject and crew member was required to have a negative COVID test result prior to filming.
  • The production crew was kept to a minimum to lower the number of people interacting with each other. All were required to wear masks, sterile suits, hair nets, and booties provided by the clinic where filming commenced. Crew members were provided eye protection as well.
  • The medical clinic received a special cleaning the night before and again after SGU completed the filming.
  • SGU had a COVID compliance coordinator on site taking temperatures and asking questions before anyone entered the location.
  • Subjects were required to wear N95 masks for the majority of the time on location. Photographers only shot a few takes with masks off.

 

Using the tagline “Are You In?” the images and interviews will be on display starting in mid-December through various digital ads as well as on SGU’s website and social media pages. SGU News will highlight the final assets in the December issue of the SOM alumni newsletter.

SGU is hoping to schedule additional photo shoots in the US and Canada in 2021. Details will be forthcoming on how alumni can participate. In the meantime, visit SGU’s Alumni Association website to learn other ways that SGU graduates are invited to get involved.

 

–  Laurie Chartorynsky

 

 

SGU President: “Everyone Should Get a Flu Shot”

With flu season further threatening an already challenging year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control is recommending that everyone ages six months and up receive a flu vaccine.

“While it’s not possible to say with certainty what will happen in the fall and winter, CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading. In this context, getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever,” according to the CDC’s website.

 

To understand the science behind flu vaccines and how it helps minimize infections, SGU News spoke with St. George’s University President Dr. G. Richard Olds, an expert in infectious diseases.

St. George’s University: What are the benefits of getting a flu vaccine?

Dr. Olds: Most of the time the flu vaccine prevents you from getting the flu, and even if it doesn’t, it makes your flu illness less severe and shorter in duration.

SGU: Who should get a flu shot?

Dr. Olds: Everyone should get a flu shot every year. There is almost no downside to getting one, and it clearly helps lessen the severity of the flu. In addition, it keeps us from transmitting flu to vulnerable older adults who are at higher risk from the flu. Thus, the vaccine protects you as well as society.

Importantly, all healthcare professionals are required to get it, so they don’t bring the flu to elderly patients and those with altered immune systems.

SGU: Why is getting a flu shot even more important this year, given the global pandemic?

Dr. Olds: Since COVID-19 symptoms are very similar to flu symptoms—at least in the beginning—getting a flu shot is helpful in avoiding confusion if you develop respiratory symptoms or a fever. It’s important to note that a person can be infected with both flu and COVID at the same time, and it is likely that this double infection will be far worse that either alone.

SGU: How does the vaccine work? Why do some people get “sick” after getting the vaccine?

Dr. Olds: Flu vaccines come in several types. There is a live weakened viral vaccine used primarily for children; there is the killed vaccine, used for many years, primarily for young adults through age 65; and a new high potency vaccine designed for those over 65.

Contrary to popular belief, adults and seniors can’t get the flu from the flu shot given to them. Because we give the flu shot during the fall/winter when many respiratory viruses are around, people often get infected with a non-flu virus around the time they get the flu shot and blame the vaccine for their illness.

That said, children are given a live weakened vaccine that sometimes causes a very mild flu illness. When the child recovers their immune system is ready to fight off the real flu.

SGU: How effective is the flu vaccine?

Dr. Olds: Unlike tetanus shorts or Measles vaccines, the flu virus vaccine must change slightly from year to year in order to work. That’s because the target—the flu virus—mutates rapidly. As a result, the vaccine has to be reformulated every year to match the specific flu virus we expect each flu season. Most years we do a good job of “guessing” what exact flu viruses we will face each fall, but some years the virus mutates in an unpredictable way and the vaccine is not as effective. Even with a mismatch, the vaccine reduces the severity of the illness. Fortunately, we also have antivirals like Tamiflu that we can use to fight flu if a vaccinated person gets infected.

The real problem is that too few people get the vaccine, so the virus circulates effectively and eventually finds the vulnerable members of our society. Very few people would die of flu each year if everyone got a flu shot.

SGU: Can you speak to the speed at which a flu vaccine is created?

Dr. Olds: The entire process takes about four months. Scientists decide what strains they think will circulate in the fall around March and April of each year. Flu shots are usually a combination of three or four specific flu virus strains. Then they have to grow each strain in eggs, harvest the virus, and then formulate the year’s new vaccine. Flu shots first appear in the market in late August or early September.

Since the vaccine is only good for one year (because the virus changes each year), manufacturers try to produce about the same amount of vaccine used the previous year. As a result, if demand going way up, such as this year, we could run out of vaccines before the flu season is over.

 

—Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU and Grenada: A Strong Partnership to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic

For more than 40 years, St. George’s University in collaboration with the Government of Grenada have worked hand in hand to confront challenges both big and small. Their partnership may have never been more stalwart, their mission more resolute, than in 2020, when the country and the world have grappled, and continue to grapple with, the ramifications of a widespread and persistent coronavirus pandemic due to SARS-CoV-2. 

Close collaboration on the development of lifesaving testing capabilities and the donation of critical medical equipment has been a crucial outcome of the partnership between SGU and Government of Grenada. The University and the Grenadian government have upheld their commitment to the nation—to ensure that its residents remain, above all else, safe and healthy. 

“We applaud and thank those with the Government of Grenada for their vision, diligence, and resolve in these unprecedented times in healthcare,” said Dr. Charles Modica, Chancellor of St. George’s University. “When faced with the myriad of challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented, we worked collaboratively and in the best interest of the entire Grenadian community, including the alumni, faculty, and staff at St. George’s University.”  

This public private partnership is an exemplar of cooperation,” said the Hon. Nickolas Steele, Grenada’s Minister of Health and Social Security, and member of the Executive Council of the World Health Organization. “Remarkable results have been achieved through this partnership, and we will continue to work together in this fight. 

St. George’s University was the national testing site for Grenada during the spring, testing Grenadian citizens as well as University faculty, staff, and students.

Partnership Aces the Test 

This spring, COVID-19 outbreaks around the world forced government and university officials to act decisively. The Government of Grenada, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), a research and education foundation based at SGU, worked to establish one of the first diagnostic testing facilities in the Caribbean and was established on the lower campus. 

Under the leadership of Dr. Calum Macpherson, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and SGU’s Director of Research, qPCR testing operations at St. George’s University have so far resulted in more than 3,000 individuals (with and without symptoms) receiving safe and prompt COVID-19 diagnostic tests, with results received within eight hours.  

Crucial to its success was the Minister of Health’s procurement of the necessary primers, probes, and reagents through PAHO, as well as an ample supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the onset of testing. Results were shared each night by Dr. Trevor Noel, SGU’s Director of Field Research, with the Ministry of Health, as well as PAHO and University officials. These outcomes helped guide government COVID-19 policies, including at airports and ports of entry, during the peak weeks and months of the pandemic. 

“Because there was a global shortage of reagents, we couldn’t have had the testing capacity if not for the extraordinary efforts of the Minister of Health,” said Dr. Macpherson. “We have one home—Grenada—and our common agenda was to diagnose the virus, implement a test, trace, and isolate policy from early on in the epidemic, which has served us well.”  

This testing was administered by the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, which had the necessary equipment in place due to its ongoing influenza research efforts, as well as qualified personnel to administer the tests. The campus-based site served as the national testing service into the summer months, and still operates as one of approximately 250 quality control labs around the world overseen by the WHO. Results from SGU’s lab have been in 100 percent concordance with the expected test results from WHO. 

“SGU was one of the first vet schools to do COVID-19 testing. In April, we began testing the community in Grenada and helped the Government of Grenada test repatriating Grenadians who returned home by ship and by air,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “We were so happy to have had the equipment and the expertise—including lab and technician expertise—to take this on.” 

According to the WHO, Grenada has reported 27 COVID-19 cases and zero COVID-19 related deaths to date. SGU’s testing site has since been a beacon of excellence for the entire region. SGU’s diagnostic team helped design and set up the Ministry of Health’s testing site at Grenada General Hospital, including training of lab staff and troubleshooting with initial qPCR lab testing. 

 

Since breaking ground more than 40 years ago, all the way to present day, we truly believe that we couldn’t have chosen a better partner for this university.”

 

Equipped for the Challenge 

Grenada General Hospital is responsible for the great majority of emergency healthcare services throughout the islandUpon the arrival of COVID-19 in the global conversation, it braced for a surge of patients like other facilities around the world. 

Its primary need: ventilators. The hospital had just two ventilators, designed to mechanically assist patients with breathing, for the entire population of more than 100,000 people. Responding to that need, St. George’s University tapped into its international consortium of resources to facilitate the acquisition and delivery of 18 additional ventilators.  

“The substantial support from SGU served to bolster our efforts to tackle COVID-19,” said Dr. Carol McIntosh, Director of Hospital Services. “Their acquisition and donation of critical medical resources such as ventilators and PPE for health workers helped to ensure that we were better prepared to deal with any potential outbreak of the disease here in Grenada.”  

SGU also secured tens of thousands of pieces of personal protection equipment, ranging from gloves and gowns to goggles and facemasks, for medical personnel as well as members of the community. In addition, SGU was able to bring in 18 combination defibrillator monitors, two handheld ultrasound machines, two portable X-ray machines, as well as blood gas analyzers and supplies.  

The equipment has been crucial to providing critical care to patients throughout the pandemic. The fight with COVID-19 is still ongoing, both in Grenada and around the world, and St. George’s University and the Government of Grenada are committed to continuing to collaborate and innovate, with the health and safety of its citizens in mind. 

“Since breaking ground more than 40 years ago, all the way to present day, we truly believe that we couldn’t have chosen a better partner for this university,” said Dr. Modica. “Our mission has always been to improve healthcare on a national, regional, and global levels, and we are thrilled to have had the support of the government—and the people—of Grenada throughout this journey.” 

– Brett Mauser

The Laboratory Personnel Behind SGU’s COVID Testing Site

Even before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reached the shores of Grenada, St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, together with the Government of Grenada and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), were prepared for it. With the proper equipment and a team led by two staff members—both SGU graduates—in the SVM’s molecular virology lab, the virus has had minimal impact on the island, with just 27 cases and zero deaths reported.

“We are grateful for all the individuals, volunteers, and organizations whose commitment to a common cause has helped minimize the effects of the virus in Grenada,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, dean of the School Graduate Studies and SGU’s director of research. “It has been a complex operation, from the team of nurses and physicians that completed the nasopharyngeal swabs led by Dr. Kathy Yearwood, director of the University Health Services, to the School of Veterinary Medicine team led by Dean Neil Olson. They have done a tremendous job, navigating the university and the country through a very difficult time with a testing operation that was accessible, accurate, and efficient.”

SGU’s lab served as Grenada’s national testing site at the onset of the pandemic. The effort has been facilitated by a number of staff members. In particular, SGU graduates Trevor Noel, MPH ’03, PhD ’17, Bhumika Sharma, PhD ’20, Vanessa Matthew-Belmar, MSc ’16, have tested more than 2,000 St. George’s University students, faculty, and staff, over 1,200 members of the Grenadian community, as well as individuals arriving in Grenada via plane or cruise ship.

“In the beginning, we knew we had an equipped laboratory and the personnel with specific molecular biology training who could step in during this emergency to take on COVID testing,” said Dr. Melinda Wilkerson, chair of pathobiology in the SVM.

In addition to Dr. Sharma and Ms. Matthew, Dr. Wilkerson praised the efforts of Associate Dean of Research Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow, molecular virologist Dr. Mercedes Abeya, and faculty members Dr. Andy Alhassan and Mr. Dan Fitzpatrick, as well as the leadership provided by Drs. Macpherson, Olson, and Noel, the field research director for SGU and deputy director of the campus-based Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) who was instrumental in coordinating with the Ministry of Health, Government Cabinet Ministers and the SGU testing team regarding sample collection, on-time delivery of samples to the lab, and the reporting of results and discussion with the Ministry of Health, Grenada Government Cabinet of Ministers and PAHO.

“We couldn’t be prouder of the professional work that our entire team has done in the face of a daunting challenge,” Dr. Olson said. “There has been plenty of uncertainty around the coronavirus, and the thorough diagnostic testing has provided not only answers but peace of mind for so many people in Grenada.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, Dr. Sharma and Ms. Matthew-Belmar extracted and processed 30-70 samples each day working up to eight hours, seven days a week, for three months. COVID testing required the use of similar techniques and materials, such as primers and probes, used for RNA extraction in a standard PCR test. Results were received within eight hours.

“To find out if COVID is present, we would exponentially amplify, using PCR, any virus gene sequences in the sample,” said Dr. Sharma, an instructor in the SVM’s Department of Pathobiology. “If the virus is there, the primers and probes would adhere to it and produce multiple copies of the RNA.”

Their work continued into the summer months and now into the fall, not only as an on-campus but in helping the Grenada Ministry of Health develop its own testing facility, training the new facility’s lab staff and troubleshooting initial qPCR testing. The campus-based site still operates as one of approximately 250 quality control labs around the world overseen by the World Health Organization (WHO). Results from SGU’s lab have been in 100 percent concordance with the expected test results from WHO.

“It gives me a sense of pride to give back to the country what I have learned,” said Ms. Matthew-Belmar, the head laboratory technician in the SVM. “I’m grateful for SGU, where I have learned many different testing techniques.”

“When there’s a pandemic, everyone has to come together, regardless of whether you’re working under medicine or are in the veterinary field,” Dr. Sharma added. “I feel so proud to be able to do something helpful for this community. It has been a great experience.”

– Brett Mauser

Clinical Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Ninad Desai, Chair of Pediatrics for SGU’s School of Medicine

Dr. Ninad Desai, chair of pediatrics, School of Medicine

As a longtime pediatrician, Dr. Ninad Desai has cared for children across the globe, practicing first in his home country of India, as well as Saudi Arabia, before emigrating to the US.

Today, Dr. Desai is the chief of pediatrics at NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County as well as the institution’s chief academic officer, a role for which he oversees clinical trainees and resident trainees across all of the hospital’s departments, including medical students from St. George’s University.

Dr. Desai is also the chair of the pediatrics department for SGU’s School of Medicine. As chair of SGUSOM’s pediatrics department, he ensures that students receive an optimal clinical experience and education in pediatrics across SGU’s 70-plus clinical sites by supervising the creation of the pediatric curriculum and making sure it meets all educational and regulatory needs. Above all, Dr. Desai said he enjoys helping to “foster a sense of compassion, care, and a true sense of medical ethics” in today’s students.

Dr. Desai shared with SGU News why specializing in pediatrics can be a rewarding and fulfilling career.

SGU: Why did you choose pediatrics as a medical specialty?

ND: I was always passionate about caring for the most vulnerable amongst us. I went to medical school at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, followed by a three-year residency in pediatrics there and a year as chief resident. This led to three years as a pediatric specialist in Saudi Arabia, then fellowship training in pediatric hematology/oncology at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, NY. I spent much of my career caring for children born with HIV infection. Today I am a steward of a large pediatric department, mentoring trainees at all levels.

SGU: What are some recent developments in the pediatric medicine field that is on your radar?

ND: We are closely watching the pervasive use of genetics in diagnosis, detection, and treatment of diseases as well as the use of advanced therapies such as biologic drugs in medicine. Many childhood illnesses have identified genetic aberrations and newer technologies such as CRISPR, for which this year’s Nobel Prize was given in chemistry, will help us cure/prevent many of these conditions. Biologics are already being used widely in many immune-related and cancer-related conditions.

On the education front, I am deeply interested in incorporating quality, equity, and safety in pediatric medical education.

SGU: Why is pediatrics a gratifying specialty? What keeps you going in your job every day?

ND: The specialty is amazingly fulfilling. To me, if I save one child, I feel like I am saving the entire world. The care of children requires a special sensitivity, empathy, and involves not only the child but the entire family.

In addition, I am passionate about educating and inspiring the younger generation to become caring physicians—a legacy that will self-perpetuate, in my opinion. I enjoy mentoring and guiding students to hopefully inspire them to forge a career in primary care pediatrics or pediatrics-related specialties.

SGU: What is challenging about the field? 

ND: It’s not easy to comprehend that the health of children is set to a very different tune than adult healthcare. Children are not just small adults; they come with their own unique set of problems and issues, and the skills and understanding required to bring a high quality of life to every child are different.

SGU: Can you share a key piece of advice for students who are considering pediatrics as their specialty?

ND: If you are seriously considering pediatrics as a career, I strongly urge you to choose a fourth-year elective in pediatrics at one of our great clinical sites. While the third-year core rotation is great, the elective will help you get a well-rounded experience.

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky 

“Experience SGU” virtual events offer aspiring doctors a glimpse into St. George’s University

Are you considering starting your medical journey at St. George’s University? Find out more about life as a student at SGU’s School of Medicine by engaging in one of our interactive virtual events.

Under the umbrella theme “Experience SGU,” the University has created multiple ways for prospective students to understand more about the first-rate education offered at SGU, the pathways to a US residency and to practicing medicine, as well as experiencing campus life all through virtual platforms.

“Our virtual events have been extremely popular as we continue to interact with future medical students in new and innovative ways,” said Joshua Fein, director of student recruitment for St. George’s University. “Aspiring doctors from all over the US and internationally are able to tune in to these online sessions and get answers to all of their questions directly from SGU students and our graduates.”

 

 

Trying to decide which virtual event is right for you? Here’s what to expect at each event:

Online Information Sessions

  • Log on and let us introduce you to SGU during this interactive virtual session covering academics, admissions, and scholarships.
  • SGU will share (and answer!) the 10 most important questions you should ask of any medical school including: the value of an SGU education, life at a Caribbean medical school, how SGU’s clinical rotations will help you obtain a US residency, and financial aid opportunities, among other topics.
  • Led by an admissions representative.
  • Includes a live Q&A with students and alumni.
  • Length: approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes

 “Doctors On Call” Panels Through Zoom

  • Hear from SGU alumni who are at different stages of their career as physicians, from residents to leaders in their respective field.
  • Specialties highlighted include surgery, anesthesiology, pediatrics, primary care, and more.
  • Live conversation with MD alumni facilitated by an admissions representative.
  • Viewers are invited to follow up with speakers by booking a 30-minute one-on-one to ask questions.
  • Length: approximately 1 hour

Virtual Campus Tours

  • Seeing is believing and through our virtual tour, you will enjoy 360° panoramic views of SGU’s iconic “True Blue” campus in Grenada.
  • Get up close to places like Founders Library, Modica Hall, dorms, and lecture spaces.
  • For an even more immersive experience, request a pair of VR goggles to be mailed to you.

 

First-term medical student Sara Conway attended the recent “Doctors on Call” webinar for pathologists. The panel, which consisted of one current resident and two practicing physicians who obtained an SGU medical degree, spoke about their experiences at SGU, how they chose pathology, and a typical day in their professional lives. She took advantage of the opportunity to schedule a one-on-one with a panelist who was working in a hospital close to her hometown of Islip, NY.

“During this time, we were able to talk more about life in Grenada, how to utilize the vast network of St. George’s University SOM graduates (during both clinical rotations and while choosing a residency), and how to be successful and stand out while in medical school,” Ms. Conway said. “By allowing me access to alumni who had walked the path I aim to be on, it gave me a glimpse into the network St. George’s has established. I consider my experience during the ‘Doctors on Call’ webinar a unique opportunity that was extremely helpful in solidifying my decision to pursue a medical degree with St. George’s University.”

Visit our “Experience SGU” web page to connect with SGU now.

 

New SGU Infectious Diseases Student Group Aims to Help Students Develop Skills to Address Specialty

Cognizant of the benefits of active student involvement, St. George’s University is home to more than 60 student organizations centered on different areas of student life: cultural, religious, social, academic, professional, and community service. Today, as the healthcare industry grapples with treating those affected by the current COVID-19 outbreak, none seem more relevant than the newly founded SGU Infectious Diseases Society (SGU IDS).

“There seems to be a club for just about everything at SGU,” said founder and president Stephanie Moody-Geissler, a Term 2 medical student. “So why not one that focuses on infectious diseases, an area of science that has been so deeply entwined with our history and humanity since the dawn of our existence? Infectious diseases are a part of everyone’s lives, personally and professionally, and with the current world situation, I think that makes us one of the most significant student groups right now.”

Created to raise awareness of key issues and topics relating to global infectious diseases, as relevant to both human and animal health, the group is open to all SGU students. Its aim is to improve the understanding of infectious diseases in terms of individual health, communities, and society.

“What students can expect to get out of joining this group are skills and knowledge that they can carry forward in their careers through exposure to topics that are directly relevant and in some cases can significantly impact human and animal health,” said Dr. Joanna Rayner, faculty advisor, SGU IDS and chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pharmacology. “My role is to focus that interest in infectious diseases and provide them with advice, ideas and contacts to the wider microbiology and infectious disease community.”

Although the new student organization is faced with some restrictions as students are currently distance learning, it didn’t diminish their excitement at planning to host various virtual events this term. The group has lined up guest speakers, including an SGU alumnus, who had recently returned from the far East where he was working with the World Health Organization on the COVID-19 response; a skills-based workshop on spotting bad science; a journal club for students to improve and build much-needed critical thinking skills; and virtual community outreach to bring science and microbiology into schools in Grenada.

“With much of the current media focus on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that there are still many other infectious diseases that continue to be important worldwide,” commented Dr. Rayner. “The Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED), one of the largest publicly available systems conducting global reporting of infectious diseases outbreaks, just recently posted updates on Ebola, malaria, West Nile Virus and tularemia. These and many other pathogenic microorganisms that cause morbidity and mortality in humans and animals have by no means gone away, providing further affirmation of the relevance and importance of this new student group.”

 

— Ray-Donna Peters 

A Peek Inside the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Distance Learning Program

Distance Learning at SGU

Learning how to do an ultrasound on an animal is never easy yet it is an important component of practicing veterinary medicine. Learning how to do one virtually is even harder, yet the faculty at St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine have been able to successfully make the transition to a distance learning curriculum.

With classes conducted online for the Fall 2020 term, SVM administrators have shared how they were able to make the school’s virtual curriculum an engaging and stimulating experience for students.

“Our distance learning curriculum was developed with the student focus in mind,” said Dr. Neil Olson, DVM, PhD, dean of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “By working with the SVM Student Government Association and polling students multiple times throughout the spring, we were able to make sure that student input about programs and courses led our conversations about how to implement our virtual curriculum.”

First Steps in Creating SVM’s Virtual Curriculum

“The first thing we did was create a Distance Education Team,” said Dr. Anne Corrigan, associate dean of SVM’s academic programs and professor of small animal medicine and surgery.

Chaired by Brian Butler, DVM­­/MPH ’05, assistant dean of the SVM academic programs for the School of Veterinary Medicine and a pathology professor, the group identified online needs and worked closely with the Department of Educational Services (DES), IT, and the Enterprise Teaching departments to develop the courses needed.

The SVM also polled students to flag concerns and issues and included valuable input from the Student Government Association’s SVM Affairs class representatives in the schedule and syllabi review for the fall term, Dr. Corrigan said.

One such concern: making sure students had access to all the materials needed. “We know that not everyone has a conducive workspace in their home, especially with WiFi issues,” said Jennifer Kirk, DVM ’22 (expected), president of the SVM Affairs. “We have been advocating for these students and, as a result, SVM made recordings downloadable so that students can stay on track despite these problems.”

The SVM Affairs group continues to communicate regularly with its Executive Board, its faculty advisor, Dr. Arend Werners, as well as University and SVM leadership.

Faculty Training

To prepare for the term, SVM faculty has been involved in intensive training on the new educational tools with the help of SGU’s IT team, Dr. Corrigan said.

The Distance Education Team also developed a best practices document for faculty to more appropriately choose the tools that will be of most benefit for their courses. SVM faculty also developed instructional clinical skills videos for students to promote muscle memory and develop the skills to perform certain procedures.

“Because we are delivering curriculum with a blended approach, which includes real-time content delivery and asynchronous programs, it’s really helping us become adaptive to use multiple types of technologies,” Dr. Corrigan said.

Hands-On Learning

One of the biggest challenges SVM faces is how to teach and train students hands-on clinical skills virtually. However, it has turned this challenge into some early successes.

Last term, students sent videos of themselves completing a skill, such as suturing, to faculty, who would then play each recording back during a live interactive session so that all students can watch their peers learning the same skills simultaneously. Students were then graded on how well they were able to master the skill, and received peer reviews from other students, helping all to address common mistakes.

“The key here is they gained confidence,” Dr. Corrigan said. “If we can still give them that confidence, even if they are not doing the skill directly in front of us, it will go a long way to helping them as future veterinarians.”

In addition, wetlabs allow students to attend a demonstration of a specific clinical skills performed by an SVM faculty member—this semester they will be done virtually.

“Even though students will not be able to use their own hands, the 3D demonstration will simulate as if they were really there,” Dr. Corrigan said. “They will be able to see a kidney in longitudinal and cross-section views. They will be able to see my hand moving on the screen. It’s another example of how we’re teaching hands-on clinical skills through online simulations.”

Some skills still must be taught in person, and SVM also developed a large group of private practitioners—more than 100 practices and counting across North America—willing to be clinical mentors for sixth-term students. In this scenario, students are paired with local veterinarians practitioners, including some SGU alumni, to establish professional relationships and receive instructional training.

Staying Connected in a Virtual World

Not lost in all the academia was the need for the interaction aspect of learning, especially since students can’t be together on campus.

“I think it’s especially important to provide the incoming Term 1 students with that inclusive aspect as they are not able to be in Grenada, and they don’t get to facilitate vital in-person relationships with their professors and peers,” Ms. Kirk said.

Dr. Corrigan acknowledged that what students want most within the distance learning platform is to feel connected—to other students, to faculty, and to the school overall. On the first day of classes, 90 students showed up for office hours.

“They were not there for office hours,” Dr. Corrigan said. “They were there looking for a way to connect with the SGU family.”

This term, with the help and guidance of faculty advisors, vet-centered student clubs will be looking at further ways to offer students a sense of community by hosting virtual events. In addition, SVM is also looking to put together virtual mentoring relationships between lower- and upper-class students.

“We want students to stay engaged and stay in communication with us, because we’re here for them, even though we are not physically together,” Dr. Corrigan said.

— Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Partners with San Jose State University for Virtual Nursing Experience

Traditionally, 15 to 30 nursing students from San Jose State University (SJSU) would have spent the summer honing their public health skills at St. George’s University in Grenada as part of a more than seven-year partnership between the institutions. This year, however, with a global pandemic bringing much of normal activity to a halt, meeting in person was impossible.

However, with the support of leadership from both universities, the first-ever virtual service-learning placement was created, while still ensuring quality and parity were achieved.

“I thought long and hard about this decision,” said Deborah Nelson, a nursing lecturer at the College of Health and Human Services, SJSU. “I felt a commitment to all the students, both universities, and the Grenadian community. We wanted to be sure to explore any and all possible solutions to maintaining this partnership before cancelling. Therefore, the online version had to not only meet the courses’ and programs’ learning outcomes but it had to be meaningful to all involved.”

According to Ms. Nelson, this is one of the first programs of its kind in the US to offer credits towards a major global senior nursing practicum, while also granting the SJSU students the opportunity to graduate a semester earlier. Spearheaded by Dr. Tamara McKinnon, a lecturer in community health and research at the Valley Foundation School of Nursing at SJSU, she also played an integral part as one of the three faculty members involved in both the creation and execution of the new venture.

Though virtual this year, the course’s main objectives still remained the same—including using evidence-based nursing to promote health, analyzing the influence of health policies on individuals, delivering education that impacts health literacy, and conducting environmental assessments. All classes and lectures were held jointly via Zoom, while coursework was integrated and joint projects evenly balanced with SGU and SJSU students partnering.

“COVID-19 continues to have an adverse impact on many,” stated Ms. Nelson, “However, it is an amazing feeling to be able to say that all involved made it possible for these nursing students to not only participate in an intercultural learning experience but to stay on track for their graduation. This allows them to soon be able to join the global nursing workforce when they are most needed.”

Among those who participated in the program was Chelsea Moreno, a part-time float nurse currently completing her final semester in the RN to BSN program at San Jose State. Ms. Moreno, who decided to pursue a career in nursing after witnessing her brother go through his first surgery as an infant, chose to participate in the virtual service-learning placement because it gave her the opportunity to both graduate a semester earlier and be a part of a group to do something different.

“Even with such short notice and a hurried transition to go from a physical faculty-led program to a virtual course, I definitely believe this class was a success,” commented Ms. Moreno. “I learned about cultural awareness in a new way and I was a part of something never done before at SJSU. I was able to bond with nursing students from across the globe and was truly sad during our last meeting. We even started a group phone chat in hopes to one day meet in person and further deepen our understanding of each other and our different cultures.”

Also attending the virtual course was Marci Yaeger, she too completing her final year in the BSN program at SJSU. After spending eight years in the field as a medical assistant, she was inspired by the nurses she worked with, whose knowledge and skills in medicine motivated her to do more.

“One of the main objectives of the program was to be able to communicate effectively in a cross-cultural setting,” stated Ms. Yaeger. “By having small group discussions with the students from Grenada, I learned that what is natural for me—such as language, slang, or mannerisms—may be confusing to someone from a different culture. This really gave me a new perspective as to how I present myself to peers and to patients who may not share my culture, values, and experiences.”

“As course directors, we had to be strategic in designing this virtual course,” said Dr. Jennifer Solomon, chair and director of the Nursing Department at SGU. “We looked at how we could offer a course that met the objectives, while utilizing innovative teaching that would allow the students the opportunity to gain the experience and credits they needed without losing time.”

As to be expected, having classes via Zoom included minor technical difficulties and the balancing of two different time zones between California and Grenada. Nevertheless, both students and faculty touted the virtual service-learning placement as a success.

“For me, the design and collaboration with my SJSU colleagues has been an extremely empowering and positive experience and showcases what can be achieved,” added Dr. Solomon. “It may have been easier to cancel, but I am incredibly proud that we did not.”

 

— Ray-Donna Peters