Annie Le, MD/MPH

When one considers the path that Annie Le, MD ’18, and her family have taken, it’s a marvel to see just how far she’s come—and the places she’s sure to go.

“Coming to the US, we pretty much started from scratch,” said Dr. Le, who started her family medicine residency at Borrego Health in California this summer.

In the 1970s, with Vietnam on the precipice of war, her family immigrated to California, settling in a refugee community in San Diego. She lived with her entire extended family in a single home and in poverty. However, she said the experience “built up a lot of character and grit” that helped shape her work ethic and goals.

That includes in medicine, a field she has eyed from a young age. Now as a physician, she is committed to treating underserved communities.

“Being from a refugee community, I witnessed inequality in healthcare firsthand,” she said. “The cultural barriers took a negative toll on my family.”

Dr. Le’s journey toward becoming a doctor began when she obtained her Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), becoming a first-generation college graduate. In addition to her studies, Dr. Le developed a strong research background, first as an undergraduate within UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine’s Department of Hematology and Oncology, and then at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where her responsibilities included coordinating all pediatric brain tumor and central nervous system disease-related clinical trials. As a result, she has been published and mentioned in several research articles.

Still, she felt limited in what she could provide for her patients.

“I knew that a step above, to be able to implement the research and be on the front lines, was to be a practitioner,” she said.

After completing postbaccalaureate courses at UCSF, Dr. Le applied to US medical schools but was waitlisted. Instead of waiting a year to start her journey toward becoming a physician, she applied to St. George’s University at the behest of a UCLA colleague who had taken a similar path.

“Looking back on my clinical years, I really appreciate the fact that I was exposed to so many different communities, different hospitals, and the different ways that they do things. You adapt to each location, and gain knowledge and skills from each experience.”

Annie Le, MD ’18Family Medicine Resident, Borrego Health

“I saw how successful she was going through it, and it was an opportunity to start sooner,” Dr. Le said. “Also, during undergrad I had wanted to study abroad but never did, so this was my opportunity to live in a different culture. Even though I went to UCLA and live in California where it’s diverse, SGU gave me a different level of diversity that allowed me to learn from people from different backgrounds from all over the world. It’s something that I really appreciated.”

While at SGU, she was a member of the Student Government Association (SGA), mentored students through the Academic Education Program (AEP), and volunteered at several student organization health fairs. She was also appointed by her peers as project coordinator of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS), an organization that recognizes students who demonstrate compassionate and patient-centered care.

Dr. Le’s clinical training took her to locations throughout the United States as well as the United Kingdom.

“Looking back on my clinical years, I really appreciate the fact that I was exposed to so many different communities, different hospitals, and the different ways that they do things,” she said. “You adapt to each location, and gain knowledge and skills from each experience.”

Among her stops was Borrego Health, one of more than 70 clinical sites in the SGU network. Through that experience, she built a rapport with attending physicians and staff, making it an easy decision to rank the facility as a top choice for residency. She joined its inaugural residency class on July 1, 2019 and as the first SGU graduate selected for the program.

“In my fourth year, it felt like I was an intern already,” she said. “The relationships that were developed prior to the match allowed me to foresee what the experience would be like working there. I had such a positive experience, so it really felt like home.”

After earning her Doctor of Medicine from SGU and receiving all four honor cords in leadership/academics/humanism/research, Dr. Le added a Master of Public Health, with a focus on preventive medicine, to her resume, further preparing her for a career in family medicine. She will begin her residency at Hemet Valley Medical Center, one of two residency locations underneath the Borrego Health umbrella. Like she grew comfortable at Borrego, Dr. Le hopes that her patients—from wherever they come—feel welcome coming into her office.

“When I was young, I wanted to change some parts of medicine but didn’t have the capacity to do so. But now I do,” she said. “Seeing how hard my family worked has motivated me to push for equal healthcare access for every individual and community.”

– Brett Mauser

Akwe Nyabera, MD

You left Kenya for Grenada when you were just 19. Who or what influenced your decision to study at St. George’s University?

I’ve always had an interest in traveling, so from a young age I knew I wanted to study abroad. It was actually my school counselor who told me about SGU and the beautiful island of Grenada.

When I was 16, I worked under an engineer at a hospital in Nairobi. I was inspired by the work of the doctors and nurses and the role of the hospital in the community it served. After this, I volunteered at a number of hospitals and made the decision to study medicine.

Where has your SGU degree taken you?

I’m now living in Brooklyn, New York, and I’m working as a surgical intern at a large hospital. I love my job. It’s extremely practical and I enjoy working on surgical procedures. In the future, I hope to specialize in gastroenterology or interventional cardiology. I didn’t plan to move to the United States, but I’m glad I have because the knowledge and experience I’m gaining here can be practiced anywhere in the world. New York City is a terrific place to live and work. It’s extremely diverse and I love the mix of people and cultures.

Apart from academic qualifications, what did you gain from studying at SGU?

A huge amount. My professors taught me how to learn and to improvise during difficult circumstances. The teaching staff were all excellent and they were always there to help if you needed it. Grenada is also the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It’s a really wonderful setting to live and learn. The people are so friendly and welcoming, the food is delicious, and living there gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world.

Alongside my studies, I got involved with a number of voluntary roles during my spare time. I regularly made volunteer visits to the Bel Air Children’s Home on the island and worked with orphaned children with complex disabilities. I was also an executive board member of the University’s Physicians for Human Rights chapter, community outreach coordinator and president of the Neuroscience Society, and I participated in a four-month American Sign Language selective as well as volunteering at the Dorothy Hopkins Home for the Disabled.

Your education and experience shows you’re keen to live and work in a variety of countries. Is that something you hope will continue throughout your career?

Definitely. I want to work for international organizations and in countries that don’t have a lot of resources. Working for an international non-profit organization would give me so many opportunities to help people who don’t always have access to medical services. One day, I would like to return to Kenya and work there. The world is so big and I have so many opportunities ahead of me. Medicine is unpredictable by nature, but I’m really grateful to SGU for giving me such a good start. I’m incredibly excited about my future.

What has been your career highlight so far?

While studying at SGU, I took a two-week selective in India where I worked at a hospital in Karad. It was really eye-opening and sparked my interest in global health systems. I also recently helped to organize a medical camp in Eldoret, Kenya, with a group of neurosurgeons. I had the opportunity to scrub in on surgeries for people who couldn’t afford medical care. This was extremely rewarding.

But my absolute highlight was my graduation day. My family is very important to me, and it was so special that they were all able to attend. They have always supported me, and my graduation ceremony was the culmination of all my work since I was 16.

Ish Saxena, MD

Ish Saxena, MD ’13, is a general practitioner (GP) trainee based at the Royal Preston Hospital in the northwest of England. After studying at St. George’s University, he completed a master’s degree in healthcare management at the University of Manchester. He is now involved in innovations in primary healthcare and is currently undertaking a health infrastructure innovation project in his home town.

Dr. Saxena is the founder and CEO of “F3’ing It!”, a startup company focused on supporting doctors and providing the best opportunities for those seeking job opportunities or training breaks. The organization, which launched in March 2017, is collaborating with doctors, NHS trusts, and non-NHS organizations throughout the country.

His other interests include medical teaching, for which he has received multiple awards from the University of Manchester. Dr. Saxena is also the lead rep for Associates in Training (AiT) at the Royal College of General Practitioners in his region, clinical entrepreneur fellow at NHS England, and a BME Doctors Council member at the General Medical Council in the UK. Outside of medicines, Dr. Saxena also enjoys travelling and keeping his travel blog up to date.

You chose to study at St. George’s University rather than staying nearer home in the north of England. It must have been a big decision.

Looking back, it was a huge move. I was at school in Liverpool in the UK when I heard about SGU. My main motivation for applying was that I was keen to practice medicine in the United States at some point and saw that SGU would give me that opportunity. It was only when I arrived in Grenada and started my course that I realized all the other benefits of studying there. The SGU curriculum was challenging, which gave me a vigorous educational experience, and SGU students also get to enjoy stunning beaches after their lectures.

Alongside this, the University was extremely supportive with terrific learning resources and we had the benefit of learning from esteemed professors from all over the world.

But the best thing about it all was the sense of community. I made lifelong friendships and professional connections, and it’s been great to stay in touch and see how successful my fellow graduates have been.

You’ve won a number of awards in your career already. How did SGU give you the platform for success?

I’ve noticed that all SGU alumni have a drive to succeed which sets us apart from most students and graduates. I’m certainly very ambitious and excited about the contribution I can make to healthcare and the lives of individuals.

After graduating from SGU I completed a master’s degree in healthcare management at the University of Manchester, which has led to a number opportunities for me to get involved in both the management and delivery of healthcare.

I’ve been honored to receive the Foundation Doctor Portfolio of the Year award as resident at the Royal Preston Hospital and awards for teaching and education from the University of Manchester. I have the privilege of being the Royal College of General Practitioners lead representative for trainees in my region. I am also Clinical Fellow at the NHS England entrepreneur scheme and a BME doctors council member at the General Medical Council in the UK.

SGU gave me a great base in terms of scientific knowledge and I draw on that in my day to day work. It was also the starting point for my clinical skills and I learned a breadth and range of topics I wouldn’t have benefited from elsewhere. For example, I had the opportunity to study parasitology which has meant I’ve been able to help patients with tropical diseases back in the UK.

My strong education and international experience at SGU and my time working at Brooklyn Hospital in New York has helped me achieve what I have today.

Alongside your day job, you volunteer your time to help new medical students. You must be extremely busy.

I am busy but I think it’s important to contribute back and help give opportunities to future generations of medical students. I came back to the UK after working in New York because I felt I could contribute more here. I wanted to draw on the practices I’d learnt in the United States to make improvements in healthcare in my home country.

I help students from the University of Manchester and teach them about the practicalities of working in a large hospital. The NHS is struggling at the moment so it’s vital that new doctors are helped to settle in and that the best possible care for patients is promoted.

What are your future career ambitions?

I’m interested in becoming a general practitioner (GP) because it’s a good mix of direct care and healthcare management. I plan to be an NHS GP in the next few months and will continue to work towards improving the delivery of primary care. It’s very likely that this field of medicine is going to change in the next few years because of our aging population, and it’s important that both doctors and patients are educated and ready for these changes.

I’m currently working on the creation of a screening system for frail patients so they can be treated at home. In the not-too-distant future, I also hope to see personalized care delivered close to home by bringing specialists into local practices.

Every day is bringing different highlights and new challenges. Living my dream of being a doctor is phenomenal, and I’m very lucky to be able to say I love my job.

– Louise Akers

Georges Karam, MD

Dr. Georges Karam spent his childhood in Lebanon and studied as an undergraduate at the American University of Beirut. He became a student at St. George’s University in 1999 and received his Doctor of Medicine in 2003.

After graduating from SGU, Dr. Karam pursued a general psychiatry residency at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, then a geriatric psychiatry fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh. He went on to qualify with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in 2008 and the American Board of Geriatric Psychiatry in 2010. He returned to Lebanon following his stint in the United States in order to establish a psychiatric practice in Beirut.

Dr. Karam is now the acting chairman and assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology of St. George Hospital University Medical Center, Balamand University, Faculty of Medicine in Lebanon. He is also a senior member of the Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy and Applied Care (IDRAAC) and the President of the Alzheimer’s Association of Lebanon. He sits on a number of committees, including the HelpAge Global Network, Lebanon’s National Committee for Palliative Care, and the Lebanese Psychiatric Society. In 2018, he was awarded the Arab Social Creativity Award by the Arab Thought Foundation.

Dr. Karam is a published researcher specializing in the mental health of older populations. In 2011, he contributed to a collaborative World Alzheimer’s Report for the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).

Many SGU students go on to residencies in the United States after graduating. Was this something that appealed to you when choosing universities?

Absolutely. I knew that working in the US would open up terrific career opportunities and that SGU could provide the platform I needed to get there. I was also interested in psychiatry, having been influenced by my father (who was a psychiatrist) and I knew that SGU would be a good starting point for a career in this field. After SGU, I had the privilege of taking up a general psychiatry residency at Washington University in St. Louis and then a geriatric psychiatry fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh. St. Louis in particular was an exceptional place to practice psychiatry, and I flourished there and eventually became chief resident.

What were the other benefits of studying at SGU?

Firstly, I learned so much at St. George’s University. The teaching was excellent and it gave me the springboard for everything I have achieved since. The facilities and resources were outstanding, which made for a very pleasant teaching environment and campus. It was also a very collaborative environment. I made great connections and friendships there. I also took advantage of living on a Caribbean island and discovered a love of scuba diving.

You returned to Lebanon following your residencies. What did you hope to achieve in the field of mental health back in your home country?

I had developed an interest in geriatric psychiatry, including conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Provision for this and other mental health conditions is limited in Lebanon, and I was keen to improve this and make a difference to vulnerable people. So, despite receiving a number of job offers in the US, I returned to Lebanon to set up my own practice in Beirut.

I’m now an advisor for the Lebanese Ministry of Health and work with NGOs to improve support for people suffering from mental illness. I’m the vice president of the Center of Studies on Aging, president of the Alzheimer’s Association Lebanon, and secretary of the Lebanese Psychiatric Society, as well as a member of a number of other committees including the HelpAge Global Network. This work is all interesting to me on a professional level but, more importantly, the organizations are indicative of the increasing commitments of policy makers and healthcare professionals to tackle mental illness in Lebanon.

How do you apply your research to your day to day work?

I have led a number of research programs looking into dementia, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other mental health conditions and worked on international research with a number of countries. In 2011, I contributed to a collaborative World Alzheimer’s Report for the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI). The report raised awareness of dementia as a public health priority, and its findings and recommendations have been replicated in 27 countries.

The number of people living with dementia worldwide is estimated to be over 35 million, and this number will increase significantly in the coming years. I’ve seen how it can be devastating not only for the people who have it, but also for their caregivers and families. In 2017, I worked on research that looked into this issue in Lebanon specifically. While the burden on and mental well-being of family carers for the elderly, especially those with dementia, has been well studied in high-income countries, and to a lesser extent in the Arab region, our study of Lebanese carers gave us a local perspective and highlighted the importance of considering the psychological well-being of the family carer, and the role of dementia and depression in increasing the burden of care.

This local-level research prompted me to set up a daycare center for people who have dementia in Beirut. The center provides safety and security, organizes mentally stimulating activities and memory games which help delay the progress of the disease, as well as provides crucial respite for carers.

It’s satisfying to know that my work is important for Lebanon but also for the global population. It’s fascinating to be involved in research that I hope to see treatment and cures for diseases within my career.

Joseph El-Khoury, MD

Dr. Joseph El-Khoury, MD, MRCPsych, is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the American University of Beirut (AUB). He began his medical studies at St. George’s University in 1998 and, after qualifying as a medical doctor in London in 2002, he trained at Oxford University and St. George’s, University of London, in the UK, obtaining Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (MRCPsych) in 2006. He has held a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) in adult and substance misuse psychiatry since 2010. In that same year, he was appointed as a consultant psychiatrist in the UK National Health Service. In 2012 and after 14 years abroad, Dr. El-Khoury returned to Lebanon to continue his medical career.

Dr. El-Khoury directs the newly created Psychosis Recovery Outreach Program and is responsible for the residency training program at AUB. He also acts as the Global Mental Health Scholar for the Arab region for a joint program by Columbia University and the World Health Organization.

He is enrolled in the Master of Science in War and Psychiatry track at King’s College London with an emphasis on trauma and political psychology. His current research and academic interests include addiction, severe mental disorders, health services development, the socio-political interface of psychiatry, conflict medicine, and cross-cultural psychiatry.

You grew up in Lebanon, so what attracted you to medical studies at St. George’s University?

I wanted a different experience and I saw an advertisement for SGU in my local newspaper. I liked what it offered, and my family was very encouraging about me traveling as part of my education. SGU also very generously offered me a 50 percent scholarship so it was a terrific opportunity for me.

What made you want to follow a career in psychiatry?

I was always interested in medicine but I enjoyed humanities as well. The mind impacts everything we do and this inspired me to learn more about it. I knew I wanted to be a psychiatrist from the start of my medical studies and I’ve never regretted my choice of specialism.

What would you say to other students who are thinking of enrolling at a medical school in another country?

I’ve benefited from studying and working in a number of different countries. I began my pre-clinical studies in Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean as part of the SGU course. I then had the opportunity to take part in an exchange program with Guy’s Hospital in London and ended up achieving a double degree from SGU and the Society of Apothecaries in the UK. After qualifying as a medical doctor, I trained at Oxford University and St. George’s, University of London and ended up working as consultant psychiatrist in the NHS for two years. The experience of working and studying in other countries and health systems was invaluable. I would encourage any student to seek out diverse experiences as part of their education.

How would you describe your experiences at SGU?

SGU was an important and solid stepping stone for me. It was an incredible mix of a studious and serious academic environment alongside Caribbean sunsets, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery. I took great pleasure in learning from the SGU professors who had so much knowledge to share. It was a stimulating educational experience surrounded by peers who became lifelong friends and it’s great to see how successful they’ve all become. I have very fond memories of my time there.

What was it like to come back to Lebanon after 14 years abroad?

I came back to Lebanon in 2012 because the country was, and still is, in need of psychiatrists. I took up a position at the American University of Beirut where I direct the Psychosis Recovery Outreach Program and I’m responsible for the University’s residence training program which is the biggest of its kind in Lebanon. I have a combined clinical and academic role which means I run a daily clinic and take part in advocacy work as well as research.

The principles of psychiatry are the same wherever you practice. Once the cultural layer is removed, you see similarities in human experiences and that what we have in common is more than what separates us. If you’re well trained, then you’re ready for anything.

Much of your research has a focus on the Middle East. How do you hope psychiatric care will change in the region in the coming years?

I’m currently working towards a master’s degree in war and psychiatry at King’s College London with an emphasis on trauma and political psychology. I’m focusing my research on Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq because there hasn’t been a lot written about this in the Middle East. I was born during the civil war in Lebanon and I’ve also found that there isn’t a lot of data from this conflict, so I’m conducting a study to look into the mental health of people who lived and fought in it.

I’m also researching psychosis service development in this region alongside addiction and its impact on mental health.

I hope to see the standards of mental healthcare in Lebanon improve the level of wealthier countries. It’s going to take a lot of collective work and strong leadership. This is what I’ll aim for.

What has been your career highlight?

It has been hugely satisfying to travel the world and then return to my home country and teach at the university where I was previously a student.

Svjetlana Lozo, MD

Undergrad/Graduate: Bachelor of Science in Biology and Psychology, Drexel University; Master of Public Health, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University

Residency: Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maimonides Medical Center

Fellowship: Global Health Leadership, Massachusetts General Hospital

Fellowship: Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, University of Chicago/North Shore University Health System

How did your upbringing shape your perspective in general and in terms of health care?

“Growing up in the war-torn Bosnia in early 1990s, I learned that death and suffering is a part of life. Twenty years later, working in the small village in western Kenya, I was faced again with the similar challenges that I grew up in.

As a 15-year-old, I received a scholarship to attend high school in Philadelphia and was fortunate to have had family and mentors that supported my dream of becoming a physician. During my high school years, I volunteered in homeless shelters and learned that discrepancies in healthcare are extremely pronounced in American society. My desire to pursue a career in medicine is led by my desire to decrease the healthcare gap around the world and provide the best possible care to patients no matter their background or zip code.”

After finishing your residency, you worked as a global health leadership fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. How would you describe that experience?

“During my residency, I was fortunate to have great mentors and have had the ability to travel to Jamaica, Eritrea, Tanzania, and Haiti and see healthcare concerns faced by physicians and patients in these countries.

“My desire to pursue a global health fellowship stemmed from the understanding that in order to have a long-term impact on the health system, you need to be physically present for a certain amount of time. During my fellowship, I spent about a year and a half in Kenya at the same site, within the same hospital system. I lived and worked there for three to four months at a time, two times a year. The majority of my time was spent providing hands-on education to physicians, nurses, and medical assistants. We also started a family and emergency medicine residency program and spent a significant amount of time collaborating with the local university to develop programs that would provide adequate training to physicians who are remote from large medical centers.

“Giving someone gift of education and empowering them to take better care of their society is one of the most empowering gifts that one can give.”

How did your career come to focus on female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery?

“OB/GYN combines surgery and medicine, as well as my desire to do global health work. Urogynecology as one of the gynecological subspecialties that directly addresses patients’ quality of life and has a great need for further education internationally. Patients are often not comfortable with discussing their intimate problems such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence or uterine prolapses.”

In what ways is the St. George’s University experience unique?

“The St. George’s experience provided me with the family of extremely diverse, open-minded and highly driven physicians. Taking in account that most of us were away from our families, we have become each other’s family. Today, I am proud to say that my SGU family consists of amazing, well-trained physicians all around the US, and many of them having leading positions in major universities or healthcare organizations.

How did it prepare you for clinical training and beyond?

“Having an ability to do my third and fourth year of medical school in Brooklyn was instrumental. We as medical students were intimately involved in taking care of a large volume of sick patients, with wide variety of pathologies. I did all of my third-year rotations at Brooklyn Hospital, and most of my fourth year at Brooklyn Hospital and Maimonides Medical Center. Our rotations were done with students from US medical schools, and I felt we were equally well prepared. Because it was such an enriching experience, a significant percentage of us desired to do our residencies in New York City and were able to do so.”

Sara Shahram, MD

Undergrad: Integrated Sciences (Physiology/Evolutionary Ecology) and Arts (Religious Studies/Ancient Art and Architecture), University of British Columbia

Residency: Family Medicine, Dalhousie University

You grew up just a short drive from where you’re practicing. Was that the plan all along?

The goal the entire way through medical school was to come back to Canada. I knew it was going to be difficult, but whether it was finding rotations in Canada, doing research, or working on ways to improve my resume for when it came time to apply to match, I was so determined for it to happen.

I had gone on a number of interviews in the US, including at Ivy League schools, and also at schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan and throughout Canada. Thankfully I was accepted to do family medicine at Dalhousie University, which was my first-choice program here in Canada in part because they spoke French at that site.

It was an uphill battle for sure, and there were so many other obstacles in my life during school, including my dad passing away and some financial struggles, that I wasn’t sure if I could continue. But I was able to work through everything, and now I go to work every day and am so grateful.

How did St. George’s University come into view for you?

When I was applying to medical school, truthfully, I didn’t even know where Grenada was. I had seen a poster on the wall during my undergrad years at UBC. I had applied to schools here in Canada and also to SGU because I didn’t know what the future held. I hadn’t heard back from Canadian schools when I received a scholarship to join the January 2009 class at SGU, so I said yes. Then during my first term, I got called for an interview at UBC, and went back for it, so even if I had gotten accepted there, I really loved SGU by that time so I probably would have declined.

How well prepared did you feel for each hurdle along the path back to Canada?

If you’re determined and have the goal of becoming a physician, you will be able to reach it by going to St. George’s University. It has anything and everything you’d need to do it. At the same time, independently, you have to go and do it. At some places, you may be spoon-fed, and even if you aren’t determined you will probably still get through it. The SGU experience is not like that. I went to class, studied hard, did my rotations, and as a result, I was more than prepared for the USMLEs and for the MCCEE in Canada. In fact, I don’t think I even got one question wrong on the MCCEE. So I felt very prepared.

You also spent time in New York. How different was the experience there as a person from western Canada?

Living and working in New York is an experience like no other. When I was there, I actually thought that I should have grown up there. I really felt at home.

The diversity at SGU and during my rotations made me so much more well-rounded as a person, and that spilled over into my work as a physician. Having that perspective has allowed me to understand some of the situations that they’re going through and to make better decisions as their doctor.

What prompted you to include academic medicine among your focuses?

Currently I’m a clinical instructor with the faculty of medicine at UBC, and I’m hoping to create other affiliations that would allow for SGU students to come to my clinic.

That’s my passion: helping someone who was in the same position as I was and is seeking guidance on how to return to Canada. Even during my time in Grenada and when doing rotations in New York, I enjoyed teaching the other students as well as nursing students at the various hospitals. Even now, when I know that I have a medical student working with me, it motivates me because I remember being in their shoes and it is so rewarding to help them learn.

Abdulla Al-Khan, MD

Dr. Abdulla Al-Khan is the vice chair and division director of maternal-fetal medicine and surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, which is part of the Meridian Healthcare System. He is also the director and founder of The Center for Abnormal Placentation at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

As a double-board-certified physician, he holds academic titles as an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School, and Seton Hall University School of Graduate Medical Education. He is an associate professor at St. George’s University School of Medicine.

After completing medical school at St. George’s University, Dr Al-Khan took an internship at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He was in academic faculty practice for two years and then proceeded to a three-year fellowship in maternal fetal medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry at New Jersey Medical School.

Dr. Al-Khan is recognized as an expert in high-risk pregnancy, caring for patients with the most complex medical and surgical conditions. He was the first physician in the world to perform a robotic transabdominal cerclage on a pregnant patient.

In 2008, he established The Center for Abnormal Placentation at Hackensack University Medical Center, a multidisciplinary center that was the first in the world to coordinate the care of patients who present with placenta accreta, a major cause of obstetric hemorrhage and maternal mortality.

What initially drew you to a career in obstetrics and gynecology?

I enjoyed all aspects of my medical studies, but I chose obstetrics and gynecology because it offers a combination of a number of disciplines, including pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry, radiology, and urology. It’s extremely rewarding to help women who have difficult pregnancies to deliver a healthy baby. It allows you to make an impact on the person in your care, wider society, and generations to come.

In 2008, you established the world’s first Center for Abnormal Placentation at Hackensack University Medical Center. What motivated you to do this?

Placenta accreta is a serious pregnancy condition that occurs when the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall and other pelvic structures (primarily the bladder). It’s a major cause of obstetric hemorrhage and maternal mortality. Fifteen years ago, I witnessed a pregnant woman suffering from placenta accreta in her second pregnancy. She required emergency treatment, 12 hours of surgery, and three days of surgical ICU admission on a ventilator with an open abdomen, followed by numerous surgeries in order to save her life. I told myself that I never wanted another woman to experience this. I dedicated my time to finding effective diagnoses and treatments for this condition and now have models which are replicated in the world’s leading hospitals.

The center provides much-needed comprehensive services to women who currently have no other place to go for expert care. Our innovative program has been developed and designed to serve as a template for regional, national, and international institutions. It has led to the improvement of pre-delivery diagnosis and delivery complications have been significantly reduced.

We have operated on 250 pregnant women with placenta accreta and have had a 100 percent success rate. I now have four PhD researchers dedicated to developing further diagnosis techniques and treatments, and our methods are being practiced across the world. We also have two senior research scientists actively working on data collection and outcome analysis. I have helped set up our care for placenta accreta programs across Europe, the Middle East, Far East, and of course the United States.

What are your hopes for the future of maternal health care?

Over 500,000 women die worldwide each year from pregnancy-related conditions. That is unacceptable. It’s heartbreaking to visit developing countries and see the rates of avoidable maternal death. Wealthier countries can change this by donating medical equipment we no longer use and continuing to research and share our knowledge with practitioners across the globe, particularly those with limited resources.

In developed countries, we’re seeing a significant increase in births by cesarean section each year, which directly contribute to problems with placental formation in subsequent pregnancies. Because of this, the incidence of placenta accreta will continue to rise, as will mortality rates for pregnant women. This trend is set to continue so further research is crucial if we’re going to improve the health outcomes of pregnant women and their babies. My goal is to establish methods for diagnosing placenta accreta in pregnant women with 100% accuracy as early as possible so we can provide timely treatment and avoid maternal deaths.

How did your experiences at St. George’s University shape your career?

My time at St. George’s was extremely beneficial. Living in the Caribbean for two years was very different to my childhood in Bahrain and teenage years in the United States. I was 21 when I started my studies there and it made me mature quickly and gave me a work ethic and drive to succeed. My class of medical students was relatively small so we became close and this created a great support system. All the St. George’s professors were outstanding, and they encouraged me to push myself and have belief in my abilities. I received a fabulous education at SGU, and my desire to learn and succeed is still with me today.

What advice would you give to medical students at the start of their careers?

I would say that, while nothing in life is easy, if you work hard and take opportunities as they appear, then there are no limits to what you can achieve. Throughout your career, if you have ideas, speak up and be persuasive. Think big and never settle for less.

Andrew Persits, MD

Undergrad: Chemistry and Psychology, Boston University

Residency: Internal Medicine, SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Chief Residency: Internal Medicine, SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Fellowship: Cardiology/Interventional Cardiology, North Shore University Hospital


Last summer, you completed your interventional cardiology fellowship at North Shore University Hospital and began at Peconic Bay as an attending. How do you look back on the journey?

“It’s a little surreal. Each step along the way, you’re so focused on the next step in the process—residency, chief residency, fellowship, getting a job, another step exam, another board exam. Now I look back, I am so thankful for where it’s taken me and for those who have helped along the way.

“It’s really my dream job. I see patients in the office three days a week, and then I do procedures like angiograms, catheterizations, stents, and valve replacements the other two days. Some days I’ll round at the hospitals, I’ll read EKGs, or go where I’m needed.”

PBMC opened its new cardiac cath lab in October 2017. How has that changed the landscape of medicine in the region?

“Before the cath lab opened, patients would have to be transferred from here or Southampton Hospital all the way to Stony Brook University Hospital, which is an hour away give or take. It was an underserved population as far as Long Island goes. The new facility has already made such a difference.

“Recently there was an elderly gentleman who lived on Shelter Island—about 30 minutes east of here and even farther away from Stony Brook. He was driving back from a holiday trip when he began to experience chest pains. He stopped in the parking lot of our hospital, he was helped in, and we had him on the table within a half hour to open up his artery. If he had waited or gone back home, there’s a chance he might not be with us right now. The community has been very grateful, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to help.”

What initially prompted you to pursue cardiology?

“It had been my dream to be a doctor since I was 2 or 3 years old. One of my best friends growing up had open heart surgery twice, and seeing him go through that, with several trips to the hospital at such a young age, it’s one of those things that drew me toward cardiology.

“As an undergrad, I did some research through the Pediatric Cardiomyopathy Registry, which tracks children who inherited conditions that led to heart failure. I worked under Dr. Daphne Hsu, who was with Columbia at the time and is at Montefiore Medical Center, sitting in on procedures and consulting with patients.

“Then at SGU, I spent all of my first clinical year at Maimonides Medical Center, which is where I was born. When I was there—in addition to meeting the doctor who delivered me—I saw just how much cardiology factored into just about everything that went on there. We saw a wide array of patients of different ages and ethnic backgrounds.

“I really enjoy it. To open someone’s artery, to put in a stent, and to see them get better and go on to live a long, healthy life afterward, it doesn’t get much better than that as a doctor.”

How would you describe your experience at St. George’s University?

“I got an absolutely awesome education from SGU. I went to Grenada and made some very close friends. We were all going through something that only we could understand. Our parents can’t. Our friends from home can’t. We all went to SGU with the same ultimate goal—to become a physician. We knew that we were in the trenches together to make that happen for everyone. We all worked hard and we made it happen.”

In what ways did SGU’s support services help you during your time as a student?

“I received tutoring in anatomy and histology, which I hadn’t done much of in undergrad. Medical school is completely different from anything you’ve done before just because of the sheer volume of material that there is. At first, you don’t even know where to begin. The support and tutoring at SGU really help you focus your attention and give you the confidence that you can get through it. I’m very grateful for the help.

“Of my circle of friends, we all ended up in the specialties that we wanted, whether it’s interventional radiology, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, hematology and oncology, trauma surgery, pediatric dermatology, or for me, interventional cardiology. We all felt very prepared for the step exams, we did our clinical rotations in some terrific hospitals, and we learned how to become physicians.”

Denzil Etienne, MD

Undergrad: St. George’s University
Residency: Internal Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University
Fellowship: Gastroenterology, The Brooklyn Hospital Center

You grew up in Brooklyn and did much of your medical training there as well, including most recently as a gastroenterology fellow at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. How much did that background play a role in your decision to stay on as an attending physician?

Brooklyn Hospital is a great place to work. There’s great diversity in New York City. The people are quite friendly and grounded, which is important when you’re spending long days here and it’s one of the main reasons I stayed. I also stayed to be in an academic position, figuring ‘what better place to practice than the place in which I was taught?’ We have a number of fellows on the floors and with us during procedures, so there’s quite a bit of teaching and mentoring that happens each day. That’s the nature of the position, and it is extremely rewarding each day.”

What has the transition from fellow to attending been like?

Whereas a fellow is usually concentrated on the nitty gritty of a clinical case, an attending is responsible for that in addition to various social, administrative, and financial factors surrounding it. I have found that once you understand the medical aspects, the rest falls into place. There was some trepidation to remain in a program where I did my fellowship, but the process has been quite a natural transition for me. As a mentor, it’s rewarding when you’re doing procedures with a fellow, and you see significant progression in skill level over the course of a few weeks or months.

How did your upbringing shape your future as a physician?

I was born in Venezuela, and spent my formative years both in Grenada and Brooklyn. Growing up in each place really grounded me. Health care in Grenada is quite different than the US. However, as is the case in many parts of the world, both places are have groups of people with less access to specialized medical services. That was one of the driving factors in my decision to become a doctor and later to become a gastroenterologist. It’s important to me, as a physician, to give back and serve people who would otherwise not have access to specialty medical care.

During my fellowship and now as an attending, I’ve focused a great deal on colon cancer screening and awareness. There really is a lack of it in many parts of the world. We need to remedy that because, while colon cancer can be a devastating disease if caught in its later stages, it is also quite preventable.

I have to thank one of my mentors, Dr. Marios Loukas, who helped form the research fellowship in Grenada. I was part of the first class there and that experience was very beneficial and a nice launching pad into residency and even further into fellowship.

Was becoming a gastroenterologist always the end goal for you?

Not at all. I grew up playing the saxophone and piano, so at one point I thought I was going to be a jazz musician. Eventually though, there was a stronger calling to humanitarianism which guided me to pursue medicine.

At the start of my residency I thought I wanted to become a primary care physician, working in the community. I gradually realized that what I enjoyed more was being an authority on one particular field of medicine, which in this case was gastroenterology. What’s great about gastroenterology is that it isn’t monotonous. For me, I sometimes do consulting rounds on the medical floors and see office patients in the morning and focus on procedures in the afternoon. There is never a dull moment.

What advice would you give to a student who is just beginning his or her studies at SGU?

I encourage them to keep an open mind about the academic and cultural experience that SGU affords. In addition to focusing on their studies, I would try to immerse myself in some of the different activities that are happening everyday on campus. It is also important to forge long-lasting mentoring relationships and friendships that help you grow as a person and eventually factor into you becoming a great physician.