Daniel Devlin, MD

Aspiring physicians from Canada have long used St. George’s University School of Medicine as a springboard to a career in medicine, and for SGU graduate Daniel Devlin, MD ’19, his journey was no exception. Now a first-year family medicine resident at the Kelowna General Hospital, in rural British Columbia, Dr. Devlin serves one of the largest medical centers between Calgary and Vancouver, Canada.

Now more than ever with the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, physicians like Dr. Devlin are being called to the frontlines to help fight against the virus. His vacation plans along with him competing in his first-ever triathlon this spring and summer have all been put on hold with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

“Everyone at our hospital—from housekeeping and maintenance to nurses and physicians—has all been working very hard to face this challenge head-on,” said Dr. Devlin. “Things like vacation plans are inconsequential when you look at the bigger picture. I feel like we all got into this job to help people in need, and we will continue to do that now and for the rest of our careers.”

His path back to Canada began when he enrolled in the St. George’s University of Grenada School of Medicine/Northumbria University Four- and Five-Year Program, for which students spend the first year of basic sciences in the United Kingdom. He called the program “a perfect fit.”

“Since I knew I was going to be a mature student, and didn’t want to waste any time in getting started, this program allowed me to begin in January, learn a new healthcare system, enjoy smaller class sizes and most importantly get the opportunity to secure a residency position back home in Canada,” he said.

However, before Dr. Devlin began his pursuit of a career in medicine, another career path opened up for him at age 15 when he joined his high school handball team. As a gifted athlete, he then progressed to the provincial level before eventually making it all the way to the Canadian national handball team in 2007.

“As an athlete on the national team, I got the opportunity to travel all throughout Europe and South America playing in international tournaments,” said Dr. Devlin. “I even met my fiancée, Kate, who was also a professional handball player with the Women’s Canadian team at the time.

The highlight of his career was his three trips to the Pan American Games—in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2007; Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011; and Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2015. He played one year professionally in France.

Although a successful athlete, Dr. Devlin always knew he would one day become a physician. At school, he excelled in the health sciences and could be seen after school soaking up information at the hospital where his mom worked as an x-ray technician. After graduating from university, he then became a nurse for nine years before entering medical school once things started to settle down in his athletic career.

“After reaching the pinnacle of my athletic career, it just seemed like the right time to retire and so, I decided to move on to pursue my childhood dream,” said Dr. Devlin. “After doing my research and checking out their information sessions, SGU was just the right call. In terms of timing, attending SGU worked out perfectly with my schedule—allowing me to play in my final Pan-Am Games during my summer break after my first semester.”

Today, Dr. Devlin is settling into his role as a first-year resident, splitting his time between practicing at the hospital and his family medicine clinic. He is also currently working on a quality improvement project analyzing the clinic to make sure it meets the national standard of guidelines set across Canada. The scholarly project would then strive to implement any changes or make improvements found in his research.

“As an international grad, I get asked by prospective students in information sessions all the time, ‘would I do it again’?” said Dr. Devlin. “And my answer would be ‘yes’ because my goal was to come back and be a physician in Canada, and SGU helped me to do that. It was my pathway to getting to where I wanted to be.”

That place is Kelowna, where he and his colleagues are working hard—and together—to address the ongoing pandemic.

“We will get through this at some point, and we have definitely felt the love and support from the city of Kelowna as we work to keep everyone safe and healthy,” he said.

 

Pierre Kory, MD

Pierre Kory, MD ’02, a critical care and pulmonary medicine specialist at UW Health in Madison, WI, the academic medical center for the University of Wisconsin, is living his dream. Each day brings a new challenge, and a new opportunity to make an impact on his patients’ lives.

“What I love about my specialty is that every day is a little different and I have a wide footprint,” Dr. Kory said.

His expertise is relied on throughout the UW network. As a critical care and lung disease specialist, Dr. Kory serves as the medical director for the Trauma and Life Support Center—the main medical-surgical intensive care unit at UW—and also as the critical care service chief of the hospital’s medical intensivist service, where he sees patients who are often in critical condition due to severe, acute respiratory illnesses.

Dr. Kory also works in the University hospital’s outpatient pulmonary medicine clinic, where he diagnoses patients with acute and chronic symptoms and also manages many chronic lung diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), and bronchiectasis. He attends the inpatient pulmonary consultation service, consulting with and managing patients with a variety of acute lung injuries, and also performs bronchoscopic and pleural procedures in UW’s bronchoscopy suite.

The breadth of cases in which he is involved speaks volumes about the importance of pulmonary health.

“Lungs are the most common organ that fails in the ICU and in the context of many diseases,” Dr. Kory said. “During my clinicals and in my training, I thought that the pulmonary critical care physicians were hands down the best doctors in the hospital. They were the most widely skilled, and the most knowledgeable and experienced in all facets of disease and all levels of severity to the extent that no other doctor came close. I wanted to be like them.”

USING THE MODERN STETHOSCOPE

Dr. Kory is a recognized expert in critical care ultrasonography, a tool he considers “the modern stethoscope.” He is the senior editor of the award-winning e-textbook titled, “Point of Care Ultrasound,” the first comprehensive textbook on all point-of-care ultrasound applications for health care providers. Now in its second edition, the textbook was selected for the British Medical Association’s 2015 President’s Choice award for medical textbooks. He is also a former director of the advanced courses on critical care ultrasonography sponsored by the American College of Chest Physicians.

“In my opinion, the best doctors are by definition the best diagnosticians because no treatment works unless you get the diagnosis right,” Dr. Kory said. “Good doctors listen hard to what patients are saying and are meticulous and thoughtful in their consideration and evaluation of the causes of any problem being presented to them.”

He added: “When I have really sick patients, it’s really important to assess compromised organs and try to figure out why someone is deteriorating or dying in front of me. With modern technology, we have immediate access to compact and mobile machines that produce high-quality ultrasound images of critical internal organs. This allows us to identify life-threatening abnormalities in seconds at the bedside.”

A REAL-LIFE DR. HOUSE

Dr. Kory’s favorite aspect of his career is teaching both aspiring and junior physicians. UW Health is considered a teaching hospital and Dr. Kory can often be seen with medical students, residents, and fellows in the ICU as he sees patients. He has won multiple department and hospital teaching awards.

“I love the enthusiasm of young doctors,” he said. “I consider everything a teaching moment, and I try to share my experiences accumulated over years spent in a multitude of clinical situations and emergencies. As I round on service, there are usually eight to 10 people following me of varying disciplines and seniority. I am like ‘Dr. House’ followed by a large group of ducklings.”

 

“The best doctors are by definition the best diagnosticians because no treatment works unless you get the diagnosis right.”

Pierry Kory, MD

 

Dr. Anthony Saleh, a 1985 SGU graduate, is the program director of pulmonary/critical care fellowship at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. He oversaw Dr. Kory during clinical rotations and keeps in contact with him to this day.

“Dr. Kory is brilliant, he has an incredible mind, and he is passionate.” Dr. Saleh said. “He really cares about his patients and about those he is educating, and he does everything at the highest level. Take those things—that’s plenty—but what he’s done for ICU sonography, he has literally become the go-to person probably in the country on critical care sonography.”

Added Dr. Saleh: “Pulmonary/critical care is an all-encompassing specialty. Dr. Kory is able to assimilate vast amounts of data and integrate it into patient care. ICU physicians have to communicate with multiple subspecialists, and Dr. Kory seamlessly does this, relentlessly pursuing optimal patient outcomes.”

MATCHMAKING THROUGH SGU

Since his days at St. George’s University, Dr. Kory reflected on the opportunity he received through the school, noting that his greatest achievement was meeting his wife, fellow graduate Dr. Amy Malik, while both were at Weill Cornell School of Medicine in New York City—he in his clinical rotations while she was a resident.

“We were the same age, despite her being ahead of me in her training, and we just hit it off,” he said. “The most courageous act I have ever done was asking out a third-year medical resident while I was a fourth-year medical student.”

While Dr. Kory was born and raised in New York City, Dr. Malik is from Wisconsin. And while both doctors are pulmonary and critical care specialists, Dr. Malik focuses more on pulmonary disease where she is an expert in diagnosing and managing patients with interstitial lung disease. They married in 2003 and have three daughters together—Ella, Eve, and Violet. After both completed their residencies, fellowships, and junior faculty careers at hospitals in New York City, they moved their family to Madison, WI, when both were recruited by the University of Wisconsin.

“It’s great to be married to another doctor in the same challenging specialty,” Dr. Kory said. “We both know what we go through; we get to share a lot of our experiences each day; and because we intimately know what each other does, it becomes a stimulating conversation with the person whom you love most. We get to go home to each other and share our successes, our failures, and our challenges, and it’s nice to be able to do that.”

Mayra Zapata, MD

During her time serving in active duty in the United States Air Force, Maj. Mayra Zapata, MD ’07, has participated in her fair share of humanitarian and disaster relief missions in places like Peru, West Africa, as well as across the US. But it is the people and cases she sees close to home as an internal medicine physician at the Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, and as a flight surgeon for the 911th AF Reserve unit in Pittsburgh, that make her proud to be a military doctor.

“As an officer in the Air Force, you have the opportunity to touch the lives of many young adults who need your guidance in a positive way. This is the reason why I love this job,” said Dr. Zapata. “I love being able to use my skills as a doctor to help someone understand what is going on with their health and what’s happening to their bodies.”

As an active duty internal medicine physician from August 2011 to August 2015, Dr. Zapata was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in the base’s clinic, where she treated those in service as well as their dependents for a variety of ailments and chronic illnesses.

In 2013, during a trip to Peru on a humanitarian mission with the Air Force, Maj. Zapata worked with a flight surgeon who asked her to join her team. She agreed and through the military she learned aerospace medicine and its effects on pilots and the flying crew.

“To be a flight surgeon, you need to understand the changes in physiology that occur when the flying crew are exposed to different environments, such as flying thousands of feet above ground,” Dr. Zapata said. “The job is important since we use our medical knowledge and knowledge about aerospace to decide if a military member is fit to fly or not.”

Added Dr. Zapata: “I have grounded pilots when they have a common cold for the simple reason that they might not be able to clear their airways when flying at high altitudes, which can cause oxygenation difficulties, trauma to their ears, and additional safety concerns.”

Today, as a civil services internist in the operational clinic at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, she serves the active duty population, doing what she loves. As a reservist, she travels to Pittsburgh once a month to fulfill her requirements, which gives her a more balanced lifestyle in order to take care of her four children while still serving the military in some capacity.

“As a reservist, I can get orders to deploy and serve my country any time, and I am up for the challenge,” she said. “I do not see a better way to thank the country which adopted me and has given me the opportunity to be who I am today as a doctor and as a human being.”

Col. Jennifer Brooks, USAF, MC, a family health flight commander at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and Dr. Zapata’s supervisor, echoed her dedication to her job. “Dr. Zapata is compassionate and thorough—she clearly cares about her patients and goes above and beyond to do the right thing for them,” she said. “She is always thinking about how a patient’s condition will affect his or her military duties and ability to deploy. She never loses this focus. This attribute is crucial to be an excellent military physician.”

PATH TO MEDICINE

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Dr. Zapata moved to the Bronx, NY, with her family when she was a teenager. She learned English and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from nearby Lehman College. Having an interest in medicine, Dr. Zapata took pre-med classes at Columbia University, but put med school on hold after she got married and had her oldest two of four children. After working for a few years as an HIV case worker in the Bronx, she sought out advice from her student advisor at Columbia on how to get into med school. The advisor recommended she consider international med schools. She applied to St. George’s University and began in January 2003, bringing her children with her to Grenada.

“The school made me and my family feel welcomed, and SGU’s faculty, notably Dr. CV Rao and his wife, Dr. Vijaya Chellapilla, were very important in my success,” said Dr. Zapata.

Following her internal medicine residency at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, as she was contemplating her next step, Dr. Zapata came across an officer of the US Air Force who encouraged her to look into military medicine. Being in her late 30s, she was concerned she was too old to go into the military. However, there is no age limit to enter the military as a physician.

She contacted a medical recruiter for the USAF, and after a lengthy eight-month process and background check, Dr. Zapata was commissioned as a USAF medical officer. She took her medical boards in August 2011 and just days later left for basic training in Alabama. The experience has only strengthened her medical knowledge and skills.

“In the Air Force, I have worked with many doctors from Ivy League schools, and as a graduate from SGU, I do not see any difference,” she said. “As a doctor, I feel as competent and as effective. SGU was an amazing experience for me.”

Onyemaechi Okolo, MD

Onyemaechi Okolo, MD ’15, feels a strong affinity to the world of pathology.

“I love looking at cells under the microscope—they’re actually really beautiful,” said the Nigerian-born doctor, who is a dual hematology-oncology fellow at The University of Arizona Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, and an integrative medicine fellow at The University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine.

But she admits it wasn’t until late in her clinical rotations while at St. George’s University that she had clarity on what type of doctor she wanted to be. “What I loved the most in basic sciences was pathophysiology and learning about normal and abnormal cells; I was particularly intrigued by how cancer cells hijack your body,” she said. “In the clinical setting, it was my experiences with the patients during my hematology-oncology rotation that connected the pathophysiology and clinical aspects of oncology for me. I actively looked forward to learning more every day.”

She furthered solidified her path to medicine while doing her internal medicine residency at The University of Arizona Medical Center. Dr. Okolo became interested in learning preventative health, meditation, and other forms of holistic medicine to further help patients with serious illnesses like cancer and blood disorders.

“I wanted to learn about not only how to treat patients, but how I can help them live better,” she said. “I really enjoy learning both traditional and holistic medicine so that I have a lot more tools in my toolbox to help my patients.”

By completing her fellowships concurrently—she is expected to be finished in the summer of 2021—her goal is to obtain the knowledge and tools necessary to assess and treat patients’ “whole health,” not just the symptoms that brought them to see her in the first place.

“When you tell people they have cancer, their first reaction is ‘I don’t want chemotherapy,’” said Dr. Okolo. “I want patients to know that they have an entire team working for them whose goal is to help heal their bodies, minds, and spirits.”

As a dual fellow, Dr. Okolo spends her days at the Arizona Cancer Center where she actively treats and manages patients with a variety of blood disorders, sickle-cell anemia and hemophilia, as well as tumors and blood cancer. As part of her Hem/Onc fellowship, she is learning how to utilize newer treatment methods, especially stem cell transplants and immunotherapy. That includes CAR T-cell therapy, which involves engineering a patient’s immune cells to recognize and attack specific cancer cells. Right now, Dr. Okolo said that the treatment is approved for use in acute lymphoblastic leukemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. However, “it’s looking like CAR T-cell therapy is going to be translatable to a lot more cancers, so it’s really exciting that we’re also learning how to treat cancer with it.”

At night, she alternates between reviewing her patient cases or working on her integrative medicine nodules that, similar to an online classroom, include instructors and chapter assignments.

“Integrative medicine is more of a healthy philosophy,” she said. “It tends to be more individualized, and we use evidence-based medicine alongside complementary practices from a range of cultures such as following certain diets like the Mediterranean diet. We also stress the benefits of things like yoga, meditative movement, aerobic exercise, and herbal medicine.

“Integrative medicine is especially important in oncology because it’s important for physicians to know what supplements or practices patients should avoid when on certain cancer therapies due to interactions or lack of safety data,” Dr. Okolo added.

FINDING HER PATH TO BECOMING A DOCTOR

Dr. Okolo, who moved with her family to Texas from Nigeria when she was 9, was not always interested in medicine. She originally wanted to major in art, but as first-generation immigrants, her parents wanted her to enter a more traditional profession, such as a doctor, she said. Dr. Okolo graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in cognitive sciences, but still needed a gap year in Spain where she taught English, to think about if she truly wanted to pursue medicine.

“It was probably the most illuminating year of my life,” she said. “I returned to the US and was ready to go to med school.”

However, by the time Dr. Okolo came back to US, she had missed the application cycle for US schools. She didn’t want to have to retake her MCATs, so family members suggested she look into SGU given its January and August admissions cycles.

“My SGU interviewer sealed the deal,” Dr. Okolo recalled. “She was an attending psychiatrist and she was honest and said ‘You’re going to a Caribbean med school. You have to be the person who determines if you will be successful. If you want to be a doctor and plan on working hard and want a little bit of adventure, then this is the school for you.’ For me, going to an international med school was exciting.”

CREATING MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS

As a physician, Dr. Okolo attributed honesty, courage, empathy, and resilience as the most important qualities of a good physician, especially in the field of oncology.

“You’re going to have to look someone in the eye and be able to tell them a lot of difficult news including ‘This is not a curable stage anymore.’ I’ve been in situations where you don’t want to extinguish hope, but you want to be able to prepare them for what is coming,” she said.

“It’s a hard field. You definitely share in their joys, but also their heartbreaks. You have to remember to go home and be present in your life and be with your own family,” added Dr. Okolo, who is recently married.

In order to be able to do both fellowships concurrently, Dr. Okolo formed a strong support system while at Arizona Cancer Center. Ravitharan Krishnadasan, MD, FACP, an associate professor of clinical medicine in the department of hematology and oncology at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, is one of Dr. Okolo’s mentors and an attending physician.

“Integrative medicine is one of the things that Onyema has a passion for,” said Dr. Krishnadasan, who is also an SGU graduate. “It makes her more of a comprehensive physician because she is not closed off to other treatments or medication to help decrease, for example, the anxiety that comes along with a diagnosis of cancer.”

Yet Dr. Krishnadasan noted that it is Dr. Okolo’s strong rapport with patients that will make her an excellent physician. “In oncology, you really do have the opportunity to have relationships that are so much deeper because a patient looks to you to really guide them to what they’re going to face in the future. If you handle it correctly, as a physician, it can make your life so much more rewarding,” he said.

Dr. Okolo credits her early experiences at SGU as helping her form a good patient-doctor bond.

“SGU really exposed me to variety,” she said. “When you go into St. George’s Hospital, there were some people who were incredibly grateful to have the students there and other patients who were there and you could feel the distress immediately. I definitely learned how to read a patient when you first walk into the room and understand where they are coming from. If you’re sensing distress and mistrust, it’s your job to help them understand you want the best for them. People can tell if you are being honest or not with them.”

Georgios Mihalopulos, MD

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.”

Madelin Brinson, MD

Madelin Brinson, MD ’19, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just 6 years old—following months of illness and unanswered questions of why she could not hold food down and was drinking gallons of water—literally—each night. The detection and ongoing management of her diabetes not only changed the course of her life forever, but strongly influenced her future career path, even at such a young age.

As a first-year pediatrics resident at the UF (University of Florida) Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, FL—her first choice for residency—Dr. Brinson is repaying her positive experience with healthcare professionals who treated and helped her manage her diabetes. Dr. Brinson sees children who come to the hospital with a variety of ailments and focuses on giving her patients’ families proper information and education so they can make informed health decisions.

“Every time I am caring for a diabetic patient, I love sharing my experience with them, so they know that I am on their side and they’re not alone,” said Dr. Brinson, who’s originally from Orlando. “I think putting yourself in the child’s and family’s shoes is important. Some health issues that are routine to us as doctors might be terrifying or confusing to parents. I make sure to always try to see things from their point of view, especially when diagnosing something like Type 1 diabetes that will affect the patient for the rest of their lives.”

DIAGNOSED AT A YOUNG AGE

An estimated 23.1 million people in the US have been diagnosed with diabetes, more than 7 percent of the American population. Of those, about 1.5 million, or 5 percent of all diagnosed cases, have Type 1 diabetes, according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, citing the Centers for Disease Control. In 2015, approximately 193,000 Americans under the age of 20 were estimated to have diagnosed diabetes.

Dr. Brinson recalls that as a child she had a particularly rough stomach virus, which at first was brushed off only later to be determined as a trigger for developing diabetes. After months of suffering, her mother finally realized something was very wrong.

“She noticed that I was constantly fatigued and drinking a lot of fluids,” she said. “I had empty jugs of water on my bed, and I would go to the garage to get more water in the middle of the night. We finally went to get a second opinion, and the doctor tested my blood right there and immediately sent us to the hospital where I was diagnosed with diabetes.”

While she remembers being “pretty scared” at the mention of going to the hospital, “every part of the treatment was a positive experience including good patient education—they gave me a teddy bear to practice insulin shots,” Dr. Brinson said, adding that her mom encouraged her to learn how to give herself insulin shots to become more independent while living with the disease.

 

“Every time I am caring for a diabetic patient, I love sharing my experience with them, so they know that I am on their side and they’re not alone.”

Madelin Brinson, MD

 

As she got older, she attended and then eventually volunteered as a counselor at the Florida Camp for Children and Youth with Diabetes, a University of Florida program devoted to providing a fun and safe environment for children living with Type 1 diabetes, while also educating campers and giving them more control over their diabetes. Working with the kids, “I realized I was not alone,” she said, and found role models in the doctors and medical specialists who ran the camp.

“With diabetes, if you get sick, you’re prone to get a lot sicker than a regular kid. When I talked with doctors and nurses, I was able to get a preview of the medical field and it piqued my interest,” Dr. Brinson said. “Having those good role models and seeing them help other people, I wanted to do the same thing. But it was after my pediatric rotation at Brooklyn Hospital Center that I knew I really wanted to be a pediatrician.”

MANAGING DIABETES AS A RESIDENT

Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin, which is produced by islet cells found in the pancreas. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels – providing energy to body cells and tissues. Without insulin, the body’s cells would be starved, causing dehydration and destruction of body tissue. People with type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump to survive, according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.

Long hours and stressful workloads can take a toll on a person with diabetes more severely than others. Dr. Brinson said these days she is extra vigilant, making sure she always has insulin with her at work and frequently checking her glucose levels. “One time I had come down with a virus and my blood sugar was not coming down. I woke up three times in one night to give myself insulin which caused me to wake up late for work, but my colleagues understood,” she said.

Dr. Brinson is joined in Gainesville by her fiancé, Jack Schneck, MD ’19, whom she met as a student at St. George’s University. Last March, they couples-matched on Match Day, him into an anesthesiology residency at UF. Between an intense work schedule each, they are set to be married on November 30.

“Advances in management of diabetes has been game changing for Maddie. New devices allow her to monitor 24/7 on the fly, right to her phone and even mine,” Dr. Schneck said. “It’s definitely a challenge to balance residency and your health in general, especially adding in a chronic illness. She’s really dedicated and does an amazing job at controlling her diabetes. I’ve learned how to help her monitor and give reminders when things get hectic. “

As a resident, Dr. Brinson is getting experience in a variety of pediatric sub-specialties from GI to nephrology to NICU and endocrinology—a rotation she is particularly looking forward to doing, given her diabetes illness. She is also working with some of the same doctors that run the camp, allowing her to come full circle in her life.

In pediatrics, Dr. Brinson said sometimes it’s difficult to stay objective especially when seeing issues with infants and children that may not be medical-related. “Sometimes it’s hard as a doctor, but I want to try to make a difference in their lives—even if it’s a small difference,” she said. “I am super fulfilled—exhausted, but very fulfilled.”

Andrew K. Roorda, MD

Gastroenterologist Andrew K. Roorda, MD ’04, is thrilled when he holds an endoscope in his hands. He is likely helping a patient suffering from any number of symptoms affecting his or her digestive tract. From a person who has food stuck in his esophagus, to those who are bleeding or managing chronic illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Dr. Roorda encounters patients with a wide variety of ailments.

“What’s nice about gastroenterology is you can be in the endoscopy suite in the morning, the emergency room during your lunch hour, and assessing patients in the office in the afternoon,” he said. “I love the multiple settings of my job.”

Originally from San Francisco, Dr. Roorda has been practicing in the Silicon Valley since 2012 and is affiliated with three Northern California hospitals—El Camino Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, and Stanford University Medical Center. He also performs outpatient endoscopy at the Silicon Valley Surgery Center.

Thanks to advancements in technology, the field is evolving to become more interventional, allowing Dr. Roorda and his peers to diagnose and treat more complex cases.

“Technology is helping the field in many ways,” Dr. Roorda said. “Both endoscopes, such as the newer high-definition ones, those with a wider field of view, as well as their endoscopic accessories are in a constant state of development. Artificial intelligence is on the horizon in many fields, including endoscopy, and we anticipate that it will be used to help us identify polyps during colonoscopy. The more options we have in our endoscopic toolbox, the more we are able to offer our patients during their procedures.”

EARLY BEGINNINGS

Dr. Roorda credits his early interest in becoming a doctor after reading Erich Segal’s “Doctors” during a summer vacation. The book follows a group of fictional characters through their training at Harvard Medical School, and it gave Dr. Roorda an in-depth look into what medical school is like. “I saw how almost super-human those characters were and thought this would be something really cool to do,” he said.

In college, Dr. Roorda got his first chance to be a superhero himself when he helped stopped a person from committing suicide. Seeing how he could contribute to saving someone’s life moved him. “We were there to help somebody who really needed it and we changed the outcome,” he said. “While doctors don’t get to do that every day, there are definitely times that I still get to feel that way.”

While he didn’t immediately set off to medical school. Dr. Roorda graduated from the University of California San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in history and considered becoming a history professor. But his interest in medicine was never far from his mind. Going to SGU “was initially a leap of the faith, but I got over that very quickly,” Dr. Roorda said. “When I got down to Grenada, I started to see the caliber of students who were there and began to learn more of the success stories, so I knew things were going to work out.”

“St. George’s made me resilient,” he added. “In your clinical years, you get to go to a lot of different hospitals. It taught me how to adapt quickly to new settings which helped me to be flexible during rotations in my residency and fellowship.”

Dr. Roorda, who is 6’6″, originally wanted to be a surgeon. However, his height posed a problem when standing for long periods of time during operations. He became interested in gastroenterology after realizing he still could do plenty of procedures that were shorter in duration.

SECURING A RESIDENCY IN A COMPETITIVE SPECIALTY

Obtaining a residency or fellowship in a competitive specialty like gastroenterology is not easy. Students who take the extra step to make themselves stand out will likely be more successful in securing a position, recommends Dr. Roorda.

For GI, it was identifying mentors who conducted research. “I was very fortunate—I learned how to write papers and I presented the research as posters at conferences. That stood out on my resume.”

Dr. Roorda completed his internal medicine residency at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, CA. He then went on to become a clinical fellow in gastroenterology at West Virginia School of Medicine in Morgantown, WV.

Dr. Roorda has published research in scientific journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Diseases of the Esophagus, and Practical Gastroenterology. In between seeing patients, he also teaches at Stanford University School of Medicine as an adjunct clinical assistant professor in the school’s Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Sharing his knowledge with aspiring doctors is important to Dr. Roorda.

“The science cannot really advance unless people are teaching it to a new generation of trainees,” he said. “I love the exchange of knowledge and in the process I learn new things myself. The trainees ask questions that keep you on your toes.”

Andrew J. P. Carroll, MD

Advocacy seems to come naturally for Andrew J.P. Carroll, MD ’96, founder, owner, and medical director of Atembis LLC, an integrated medical-behavioral family medicine practice in Chandler, AZ. As a St. George’s University student in the early ‘90s, he had his first foray into advocacy by representing the University to ask the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) to allow the school to host the organization’s first offshore chapter and ultimately secured a charter.

Nearly 30 years later, having been elected to sit on the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) for 2019-2020, Dr. Carroll will be able to channel his talents as part of a group tasked with advocating on behalf of more than 134,000 family physicians and medical students across the United States. The appointment is a culmination of his experience in practicing family medicine for more than 20 years as well as his passion and dedication to primary care.

“The grassroots family physician hasn’t been heard loud enough,” Dr. Carroll said in a phone interview. “I want to be that loud voice.”

Dr. Carroll started campaigning for the AAFP board position in 2018. He was elected during the AAFP annual Congress of Delegates which took place on September 25 in Philadelphia, PA. Among topics that are close to his heart: the nation’s shortage of primary care physicians. Dr. Carroll attributes the issue to a financial dichotomy between high debt acquired by students during medical school and the low compensation typically received when practicing primary care, which deters students from entering the field and instead choosing higher-paying medical specialties.

“A lot of physicians have ideas for solutions, but we don’t have a voice,” Dr. Carroll said. “The AAFP affords us that position. It’s important to have someone at the table who is actively speaking on everyone’s behalf. That’s the reason I did it.”

Dr. Carroll has been actively involved in supporting family practitioners in his state. In 2010, he was elected to represent the Arizona Academy of Family Physicians (AzAFP) at the AAFP’s annual Congress of Delegates—the organization’s governing body. He has also served the chapter in various executive positions including its past president (2014-2015) and remains today as a Board Member.

“When I first met Andrew almost 14 years ago, I knew immediately that he would be a leader,” said Laura Dearing, executive vice president of Arizona Academy of Family Physicians. “Dr. Carroll has always been giving of his time with our Board, to testify at the state legislature, and to promote leadership within the young physician community. His quick wit and empathetic nature have made him a superstar in the family medicine community in Arizona and in the US. Any state chapter executive would be honored to work with him because he is respectful, smart, funny, and most of all, nice.”

Dr. Bill Thrift, a professional colleague of Carroll’s through the AzAFP and a family physician in Prescott, AZ, said Dr. Carroll’s progressive way of treating patients while running a successful private practice will be a big asset to the AAFP.

“He is right in the thick of it and so his perspective comes from the front lines—that’s a good thing,” Dr. Thrift said. “We are more than proud of Andrew and we know that he is going to not only represent Arizona physicians well but represent America’s physicians well.”

On a local level, Dr. Carroll has owned and grown into an integrated care practice since 2003, offering services ranging from chronic disease management, behavioral treatment, and wellness consultations to interventional procedures and pediatric care among others, all in one place. In addition to traditional payer patients, he also cares for uninsured patients, those without a private or employer health plan, and those who are not eligible for federal or state insurance benefits by providing cost-conscientious care and arranging for diagnostic studies to be done at or near cost.

“If someone is having low-risk chest pain, I want to be his first call, not a cardiologist,” Dr. Carroll said. “It could be gas, it could be indigestion, it could be rib pain, etc., instead of a heart attack. We need to get back to the point in primary care where we have proven our worth to patients and they make us their first stop when something is wrong. We can only do that if we’re easily accessible. The current payment system does not allow for this.”

“The skill set we have as family doctors is suited for rural communities, but I am in the middle of a city,” he added. “People who choose us like to say, ‘hey, that’s my doctor.’ It’s about giving them a small-town feel and touch as the community’s physician—which is really what we are.”

Benjamin Kahn, MD

Benjamin Kahn’s story could be turned into a documentary, one that, in his past life, he may have assembled himself.

After all, it isn’t often that an Emmy Award-winning producer leaves behind the glitz and glamour to pursue a career in medicine. The 2020 St. George’s University graduate—a quintissential career changer—is now less than two months away from starting his internship year at NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island , at a time and in a place where care is most crucial.

“We are the first class of graduates to embark on our medical careers during these unsettling times in the middle of this pandemic,” Dr. Kahn said. “This is one of those life-changing events for our generation. And in facing this challenge, we not only join our brothers and sisters on the forefront in the battle to save lives from this novel virus, but we also get to set the precedent for the future and for those who will be following us.

“I look at this not only as a personal duty to grow into that role, but a privilege to serve my community the very best way I can and to take care of my patients with the greatest level of care.”

  • Dr. Kahn (left) worked for such outlets as NBC, ESPN, SNY, and The Glenn Beck Show prior to enrolling in medical school.

  • His work on the series “George to the Rescue” earned him a New York Emmy.

  • After becoming a medical student in his early 30s, Dr. Kahn is set to join residency at NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island this summer

SHOW BIZ

Dr. Kahn’s career in television began at Syracuse University’s prestigious SI Newhouse School of Public Communications, which has produced such on-screen personalities as Ted Koppel, Steve Kroft, and Bob Costas. He earned his degree in TV and film production and set off to tell stories through his camera lens. His work included a documentary titled “A Walk in the Dark,” which chronicled how a man whose eyesight was taken from him following an automobile accident and then worked to overcome his disability to succeed in school.

“He hadn’t been back to New York City since his car accident and was afraid to go back there independently,” Dr. Kahn said. “My goal was to empower him and help him go back to face his fear. We went on a road trip to Manhattan and he was able to experience the sights and sounds of New York City again through a different perspective.”

The film won Best Short Documentary at the New York International Film and Video Festival and opened up doors for him in the world of television. He went on to work as a producer for such outlets as The Glenn Beck Program, ESPN, SNY, as well as NBC, for which his work on “George to the Rescue,” a home renovation series that helped local families impacted by tragedy, earned a New York Emmy Award.

With wear and tear from the job, however, he discovered that he had torn his labrum, an injury that required surgery. His hospital stay reinforced a feeling that he had been having of late—that he wanted something more.

“I felt vulnerable. I had never really hurt myself before, and it was a very difficult recovery,” he said. “My doctor was very integral in making a real difference in my life. He explained everything to me and become involved in my life. So I asked if could shadow him one day to see what it was like.”

When he did, it changed the course of Dr. Kahn’s life. He was struck by the doctor’s professionalism, interaction with patients, and impact on their lives.

“It lit a fire in my belly,” he added. “In TV, there’s an authenticity to everything, but there’s also an element of fabrication done behind the camera. But when I was shadowing him, I remember thinking ‘this is real.’ I just felt like I wanted to make more of a difference in people’s lives.”

 

“I look at this not only as a personal duty to grow into that role, but a privilege to serve my community the very best way I can and to take care of my patients with the greatest level of care.”

Benjamin Kahn, MD

 

A NEW FRONTIER

With no science background, Dr. Kahn “took the leap of faith and never looked back.” He put up high marks on his prerequisite courses at Hunter College and Stony Brook University. It was then that he learned about the Emmy win—and opportunities that came with it—but by that point had committed to his second career.

“I made the decision that I was all in,” he said. “I felt like I had closure at that point, and that all the experiences that I had in television had led me to medicine. I learned how to perform in high pressure environments, to work well with a team, and that everybody is just as important as the next.”

At age 30, he applied to and enrolled at SGU. It took time for him to find a rhythm, but with the help of the University’s student support services, he developed strong study skills and test-taking habits.

While he described himself as being “all business” during his two basic science years in Grenada, he took in all that the island had to offer. The knowledge and skills he acquired set him up well to excel in clinical training, which he completed in Brooklyn.

“It wasn’t easy; I really had to work for it,” Dr. Kahn said. “In the end, I just feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to become a doctor, and the confidence and the tools that I need to succeed.”

He’ll return to Brooklyn for residency at Coney Island Hospital, joining a 371-bed facility in one of the NYC Health + Hospital system’s 11 acute care facilities across the five boroughs. He will enter a transitional year and then turn his sights to continuing with a position in dermatology or internal medicine.

Coming from a family of dentists, from an award-winning stint in television, and making a late start to his second career, Dr. Kahn’s path to becoming a physician has not been a straight line, but he firmly believes that his experiences will only help his future patients.

“I have a different perspective on everything,” he said. “My background and my experience at SGU molded me into the person and the physician that I am today, and I look forward to getting started.” 

Shayda Pedram, MD

For Shayda Pedram, MD ’20, there is no greater joy than helping to bring a new life into the world. Passionate about women’s health, she was ecstatic to match this spring at her top-choice program, New York Medical College at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center program in Paterson, NJ, where she is eager to begin her medical career as an OB/GYN resident this July.

“I was so excited and happy that it was real,” enthused Dr. Pedram. “I actually did it and all of my hard work and perseverance really paid off. During my clinical experience, there was nothing better than being present for a delivery and getting to tell new parents that their baby is healthy. OB/GYN can be a very positive and hopeful field of medicine and I love the way this specialty is able to combine medicine and surgery with continuity of care.”

Growing up in Overland Park, KS, Dr. Pedram attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human biology. She then chose to apply to St. George’s University for two main reasons. The first was that she didn’t want to wait a minute longer than she had to in order to become a physician. Having done the research, she knew that SGU would give her the best opportunity to pursue her medical education right away. The second was that coming from the landlocked Midwest, she knew she would enjoy the sunshine and proximity to pristine beaches that Grenada had to offer.

“I decided to apply to SGU because I didn’t want to wait to get into a US medical school,” said Dr. Pedram. “I knew that SGU would be the best choice to begin my medical journey, as well as provide me an opportunity for adventure. SGU allowed me to live in places I would have never lived and form lifelong friendships with individuals I may not have ever met otherwise.”

In addition to her academic studies, while at SGU Dr. Pedram became the secretary of the Persian Student Association and a member of the International Federation of Medical Students Association’s Sexual and Reproductive Health subcommittee. She also took advantage of the many student support resources provided by the University’s Department of Educational Success (DES).

“I really enjoyed going to the weekly student-led DES sessions,” commented Dr. Pedram. “These sessions were fun and helped me grasp what was considered high yield during my first year of medical school.”

When asked if the beautiful weather and beaches were distracting to her studies, she replied, “it was quite the opposite. You never felt as though you had to take advantage of every nice day, because the days were always nice on the island and the beaches even more satisfying after an exam.”

Today, Dr. Pedram prepares to go to work uniting with those in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and joining 450 of her fellow soon-to-be St. George’s University graduates who will enter residency this July at nearly 90 hospitals throughout New York and New Jersey.

Eager to contribute, she credits SGU with preparing her well for her residency, having provided many opportunities to do electives in her field of interest in order to know what to expect as a resident. This includes her chance to experience a sub-internship at her first choice, St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, where she saw firsthand that their residents were well trained and very supportive of one another.

“The path to becoming a physician was never intended to be easy,” stated Dr. Pedram. “However, with persistence and hard work, you can absolutely make it happen. Attending SGU has been the adventure of a lifetime. It was incredibly challenging, but so worth it in the end. I am extremely grateful to now be in a position and have the skill set to help others in such a crucial time of need.”