Dhaval Patel, MD

From a small village in India, to a small Caribbean island, to now working as an internal medicine resident in the United States, Dr. Dhaval Patel’s route to practicing medicine hasn’t been a straight line. What has always stayed with him is his interest in diagnosis and problem solving, qualities that help him carry out his physician duties during a crucial time in healthcare.

“I grew up in a small village named Maretha, helping my father on our family farm,” he said. “In that time, water was scarce in our village and we needed to be innovative for our farm to flourish with the least amount of water possible. The wilting and color change of our crops were the symptoms, the lack of water was the constraint, and the treatment we created—a drip irrigation system—saved us from a year of struggle.

“After this experience, I applied that mindset of curiosity, diagnosis, and innovation in other aspects of my life. Curiosity paved the way to my degree in pharmacy.”

In 2012, he moved with his family to New York City where he began practicing as a pharmacist. “I enjoyed my work because I was fascinated with learning how medications worked and how they treated or prevented certain illnesses, but I felt unsatisfied. I wanted more.”

Dr. Patel began seeking opportunities to move into working directly with patients and shadowed doctors at hospitals and family practices before deciding on making a permanent move into medicine.

“I chose to study at St. George’s University because it offers a pathway into practicing in the US and it’s one of the top schools in the Caribbean,” he said. “The number of US residences filled by SGU graduates was also very impressive and I knew it was well respected by my peers.”

 

 

Dr. Patel fully immersed himself in the SGU experience and, alongside studying, became a member of the University’s Student Government Association as well as playing cricket for the SGU team. He also joined a group of students volunteering their expertise to local people who couldn’t afford health insurance.

Island life was wonderful,” he said. “Grenada is beautiful and the people are lovely. I also met my wife at SGU, and she’s also practicing medicine in the US.”

Academically, Dr. Patel also thrived and found his passion in internal medicine, “during my medical school rotations, I had the opportunity to work at many different hospitals across the country, each one providing me with new and valuable skills. My favorite rotation, by far, was internal medicine. I was able to apply the same curiosity, diagnosis, and innovation mentality that I had applied growing up on a farm in India on actual patients.”

He is now completing a three-year residency in internal medicine at a hospital in Ohio for what he describes as “a very underserved community” with a lot of substance misuse problems. “The biggest issues for the community living near the hospital is a lack of education about health. Many people don’t recognize symptoms or the severity of issues. COVID-19 has exacerbated this problem because many people are too fearful to come to hospital or seek help if they’re feeling unwell.”

Dr. Patel credits SGU with teaching him to manage his time efficiently and to look after his own mental wellbeing. “I learned to complete my studies and create leisure time to enjoy sports and nature. I also learned the skills and ethos to give back to others.”

He and his wife plan to regularly visit Maretha throughout their careers to provide free healthcare for people living there. “Resources are limited there and it’s at least 45 minutes to the nearest hospital,” Dr. Patel said. “People can’t afford to see doctors or have medical insurance so our ambition is to set up a medical center where they can access free health care.

“I want to help people achieve happy and healthy lives,” he continued. “From pharmacy to medicine, from a farm boy in India to a doctor in America, I have embraced every challenge and learned from them. I am poised to face the next challenge, prepared to learn more, and ready to provide the very best care that my patients deserve.”

– Louise Akers

Husband and wife graduates Krishna Parikh (left) and Dhaval Patel, who began their residencies in the summer of 2020.

Austin Enright, MD

Having grown up playing competitive rugby, Dr. Austin Enright was exposed to the magic of orthopedics at a young age.

“I probably broke 16 or 17 bones playing various sports,” he estimated.

Now a fourth-year orthopaedic surgery resident at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, he is on the other end of these procedures, treating conditions involving the musculoskeletal system. From arthroscopic surgery and knee replacements to hip fractures and rotator cuff repair, Dr. Enright has seen a wide variety of issues at the hospital, a place with which he was all too familiar as an athlete.

“As I went through medical school, I realized that I really liked that part of medicine,” Dr. Enright said. “For the most part, you’re working with your hands, and you also don’t have to wait long to see results in your patients. If someone comes in with a hip that’s really bothering them, you can have them walking two days later without that pain.”

He has thoroughly enjoyed his experience in Winnipeg, and is now looking forward to starting a fellowship in spine surgery at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand.

Originally from Vancouver Island, Dr. Enright obtained his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology from the University of Victoria. When weighing his options, his mother, an anesthesiologist, explained that a colleague’s son had come through St. George’s University. Dr. Enright learned about the SGU’s new Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program, which allowed students to spend their first year of basic sciences at Northumbria University in Newcastle, United Kingdom. There he learned the UK medical system while enjoying small class sizes, personal relationships with faculty, and a centrally located campus. In addition, he carved out time to play hockey for University of Northumbria and competitive rugby with The Newcastle Medics RFC.

Dr. Enright spent his second year in Grenada, and then it was on to clinicals, for which he felt well prepared.

“It was hard not to like living in the Caribbean, and we received the same quality of education in our classrooms as students in the US and Canada,” Dr. Enright said. “When we reached clinicals, I thought we were easily on par with the American students and certainly as good as or better than those from other Caribbean schools.”

Dr. Enright strengthened his residency candidacy by completing orthopedics electives at the University of Manitoba, the University of Saskatchewan, and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“In vying for this position, I certainly thought I was competitive,” Dr. Enright said. “Visiting electives are a big factor in the match process. If you go somewhere as an elective student and do well, you have a leg up on anyone else competing for the spot.”

His time in New York City saw him continue to play competitive rugby for The Village Lions RFC in New York City. The Big Apple is also where he met his wife, Kristen.

On the side, Dr. Enright has even made his way back to the rugby pitch, albeit on the sidelines as a coach, his injuries finally catching up with him. He knows full well the risks that are involved, having seen injuries as a patient and now as a clinician.

Firas Khalid, MD

As a medical doctor, a health policy researcher, and a lecturer on health systems, Firas Khalid, MD ’09, finds himself in the perfect position to utilize the knowledge and experience he’s acquired to address the present health crisis and its urgent population health needs.

Currently a research manager at Evidence Aid, Dr. Khalid’s expertise in health policy, specifically in health and humanitarian emergencies, is put to good use, as he dedicates his time and effort into translating research evidence to inform policy and practice since the beginning of the pandemic. He spends most of his days ensuring that review summaries relevant to COVID-19 displayed on the company’s website are robust, high-quality, clearly-written and accessible to all users.

“I was always keen to pursue a career in healthcare and in health systems,” said Dr. Khalid, who’s originally from Jordan. “I was particularly drawn to learning how to better strengthen health systems’ response to emergencies. Although I no longer practice medicine as a clinician, I utilize the medical knowledge and experience I acquired from SGU daily in all the roles I play—as an educator to my diverse set of students and as a health policy researcher and advisor on key health issues.”

On a professional level, for Dr. Khalid and many others in the medical community, the pandemic has had a significant impact on his life. He finds himself on the news almost daily, answering COVID-19 pressing questions by the public and utilizing his social media platforms to help disseminate the best available evidence. Meanwhile, as an educator, he’s used this time to push himself to create a new course for his students at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada that addresses current health issues related to governance in health and humanitarian emergencies.

“However, it is on a personal level that I feel this health crisis has had an even bigger impact on my life,” shared Dr. Khalid. “It has brought me much closer to my family and friends, especially my colleagues from SGU that are currently practicing in the US in various specialties, who I turn to daily for their expert insights on major health issues.”

Today, Dr. Khalid is currently leading a monitoring and evaluation research project on COVID-19 evidence summaries to better understand how to support knowledge needs in crisis zones. While in addition to his course at McMaster, he is also teaching two other health policy and systems courses in the fall at Wilfred Laurier University, and York University located in Brantford and Toronto, Ontario respectively.

“COVID-19 has tested my medical and health policy knowledge to the maximum,” added Dr. Khalid. “Hence, I am forever grateful to SGU for the exceptional medical education and experience I received. It has served me throughout my professional and personal career, and I am especially grateful for the lifelong friendships I developed during my time there. My colleagues are my go-to source for the most up-to-date medical insights on a diverse set of critical health issues and they are also part of my extended family. We developed a strong bond because of SGU and the experiences we shared in Grenada and beyond.”

 

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.

 

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.”

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.”

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.”