Health Science Graduates Face Their Future with Open Arms

The Class of 2024 prepare to use their skills, knowledge, and compassion to make a difference.
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The afternoon offered a welcome moment for reflection for the health sciences graduates of the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), following an academic year brimming with hours of studying and hands-on experiential learning, in preparation to deliver the highest quality health care. 

More than 300 GW SMHS students gathered in GW’s Lisner Auditorium for the Class of 2024 Graduation Celebration and Diploma Ceremony, May 18, to received hard-earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, representing 28 different health sciences programs, ranging from laboratory medicine and clinical operations and health care management to physician assistant studies and physical therapy. Nearly a quarter of those graduates, 74 in total, were inducted into Alpha Eta, the National Scholastic Honor Society for the Allied Health Professions.

In her welcoming remarks, Barbara Lee Bass, MD, RESD ’86, FACS, professor of surgery, Walter A. Bloedorn Chair of Administrative Medicine, vice president for health affairs, and dean of GW SMHS, noted the how far the Class of 2024 had traveled since arriving at GW in the height of COVID-19.

“As we reflect on the last few years … I know that many of you, even while studying and learning, served as key members of the workforce and volunteered your time in myriad ways,” she said. Each student arrived with the same mission, to improve the lives of people, enabling them to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. 

“You’ve studied. You worked hard to learn. You’ve become the wonderful young professionals who will make such a brilliant careers,” Dean Bass continued. “I know that in the future you will become the leaders and the change agents that were creating the world, a world of opportunity and health that we all aspire to deliver.”

The graduation ceremony offered an opportunity to recognize several of the GW Health Science Program’s top students. Karen Schlumpf, MPH ’00, an instructor in the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership, presented the first honor of the afternoon, the annual Ozgur Ekmekci Interprofessional Leadership Award. The award, named for the late Ozgur Ekmekci, EdD ’05, former interim chair and associate professor of clinical research and leadership, is given to students whose work focused on interprofessional collaboration and scholarship.

This year’s award went to Master of Health Sciences in Clinical and Translational Research graduate Jessica Lincoln, a data manager and analyst for the Lead Child Cancer Research Consortium, a multicenter organization that serves a worldwide network of childhood cancer clinical trials and research collaboration.

“[Jessica Lincoln] is a strong advocate for keeping patients and parents informed and informed in the decision-making process,” said Schlumpf. “She recently completed her capstone project on the use of diagnostic imaging for monitoring tumors for pediatric acute myeloid leukemia patients.”

Leslie Davidson, PhD, OT/L, associate professor and chair of the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership, presented the 2024 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award to Priya Kannusamy, who earned a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Clinical Administration. This award is given to graduating students who demonstrate exemplary academic or clinical performance, promoted teamwork and collaboration among peers, and participated in service activities.

Kannusamy was nominated by peers and professors in recognition of her outstanding academic performance, achieving a 4.0 GPA, and commitment to service in the face of devastating loss of her daughter after a life-long battle with a rare genetic disorder.

“I could have drown in an abysmal pit of parental sorrow,” she recalled. Instead, Kannusamy explained, she used education as a lifeline, returning to school after 15 years.

She serves as a parent advocate and a board member of the Pediatric Neurotransmitter Disease Association, a volunteer for the New Jersey Sharing Network to raise awareness about organ and tissue donations, and she volunteers with the center's Autism Research Education Service.

“Challenges also force use to look for solutions,” Kannusamy told her fellow graduates. “My future path is still taking shape. I still suffer from profound parental sorrow, but armed with the tools that I’ve gained from my GW journey, and the inspiration for my daughter, I'm ready to face my future with open arms. 

“Please remember, every challenge can be a stepping stone for growth,” she added. “When faced with uncertainty, just take one step forward, like I did, and it may open up a world of possibilities.”

Fatima Elgarguri, who earned her Master of Health Sciences in Physician Assistant Studies as well as a Master of Public Health degree from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW, received this year’s Outstanding Graduate Student award.

“For those who don’t know for team, she’s truly remarkable human being,” said Brandon Beatie, PA, director of didactic education and assistant professor of physician assistant studies, as he introduced Elgarguri. “If I listed off each of her accomplishments during her last three years here at GW, we might not make it to tomorrow's university graduation.”

Among her many accomplishments during her studies, Elgarguri led a multi-disciplinary group of students to win the 10th annual D.C. Public Health Case Challenge, co-sponsored by the National Academy of Medicine’s Kellogg Health of the Public Fund and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Roundtable on Population Health Improvement.
Along with Beatie, Elgarguri also published the article “Street Medicine: Barrier Considerations for Health Care Providers in the U.S.,” in Curceus, the Journal of Medical Science. 

With fellow PA/MPH ’24 graduates Abigail King, Alana Herran, and Laura Tiffany, Elgarguri secured a $10,000 IMPACT Grant from the PA Foundation to Pap Smear Project, an evidence-based intervention model incorporating screenings, clinician and patient education, and a referral system to reduce financial and logistic barriers.

“Where there’s a marginalized or disenfranchised person in need of help,” Beatie said, “Fatima finds a way to lessen their load. Undoubtedly, she will have a huge impact on advancing the PA profession and helping those in need along the way.”
In her remarks, Elgarguri thanked her family and acknowledged their sacrifices and support, reminding her fellow graduates that they all made it to this moment “without our people.”

Drawing inspiration from the excerpt from the Hippocratic Oath that decorated the courtyard outside Ross Hall, she challenged her classmates to act so as to preserve the finest traditions of their calling.

“These words are a guiding principle for all who work in medicine and health sciences, to preserve the finest traditions of our calling,” she said.

“I charge each of you to go forth with courage and conviction. Use your skills, knowledge, and compassion to make a difference in light of global challenges and injustices,” Elgarguri concluded. “We are the new steward of health care’s finest traditions.” 

To close the ceremony, Joyce Maring, EdD, DPT, executive associate dean for Health Sciences, issued the charge to the Health Sciences Program Class of 2024 before the recitation of the GW SMHS pledge.
“As a proud member of the health sciences, I have a deep appreciation for what it means to be part of a team that contributes so much to the support and outcomes of health care.” 

Whether that contribution comes as direct patient care in the clinic, in laboratories, or through decisions in administrative and regulatory environments, she said, health science professionals are making positive changes in the health and wellbeing of their communities. “The collaborative environment in both education and practice, within the context of health sciences, has always considered what it means to rely on teams.”

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