The world is a much different place now for the members of the Health Sciences Program Class of 2023 as entered Lisner Auditorium for their graduation celebration at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), May 20. When they begin training for careers in health care, in one of 27 disciplines offered by GW’s Health Sciences Program, all of the 391 members of the class did so as the world struggled against the tide of COVID-19. Now, three years removed from those darkest hours of the pandemic, the world is emerging with better insight and for living with covid and other diseases.
“This moment is a reflection of your hard work and your many hours of study, your hands-on experiential learning, and your commitment and passion for your chosen fields,” said Robert H. Miller, PhD, vice dean for research and academic affairs, Vivian Gill Distinguished Research Professor, and professor of anatomy and cell biology at GW SMHS, who presented the welcoming remarks for the Health Sciences Diploma Ceremony.
“As we reflect on the last few years of the pandemic, I think about the heroic measures that were taken by health care teams of all kinds,” he told the graduates and the family and friends on hand to celebrate their accomplishments.
“I know that many of you, even while studying and learning, served as key members of the [COVID-19] workforce and volunteered your time as we live through the various ups and downs. You have been part of the solution to bring this pandemic to an end we’re so very grateful for all that you’ve done.”
George Washington University President Mark S. Wrighton, PhD, also paid tribute to the new graduate as they prepared to embark upon careers to make their communities healthier and happier. “Your passion for your discipline was bolstered by the knowledge and skills you need to be effective global citizens and leaders who will meet the challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s world. In the health sciences field, your challenges will be considerable, but your many successes will be rewarding and those you serve will be deeply appreciative.”
The 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 honors of the afternoon, the annual Ozgur Ekmekci Interprofessional Leadership Awards for online and on campus students. These awards, named for the late Ozgur Ekmekci, EdD ‘05, former interim chair and associate professor of clinical research and leadership, are given to students whose work focused on interprofessional collaboration and scholarship.
The 2023 online program award went to Casey Savin, who earned her Master of Health Sciences Clinical Research Administration. Prior to coming to GW, Savin worked in oncology research for six years as a project manager at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the Center for Molecular Oncology. Currently, she is a senior manager for oncology research program management at Loxo at Lilly.
During her studies, Savin served as the president of the Clinical Translational Research Student Organization and, along with fellow students, launched a Clinical Translational Journal Club. In the early months of COVID-19 pandemic, while the world was shuttered and classes were virtual, Savin initiated online study sessions for new students in her program, to help acclimate them to their coursework.
This year’s on-campus award went to Physician Assistant Studies graduate Emily Kim, for her strong commitment and dedication to leadership and advocacy at the academic, professional, and federal levels.
Kim volunteered at the GW Healing Clinic, focusing her efforts on the harm reduction work in the community. During her first year in the PA program, she served as GW’s local PA Student Society at the National Student Academy. Later she became the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for the American Academy of PAs Student Board of Directors, while also contributing to scholarship and education in health care, exploring team-based structural ways to improve maternal mortality.
Paige McDonald, EdD ‘12, vice chair and associate professor of clinical research and leadership, presented the 2023 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award to Rebekah Hulsey, who earned a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Clinical Research and Leadership.
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.
Hulsey completed an internship with Pharmaceutical Product Development Incorporated, part of Thermo Fisher Scientific, where she worked on a Phase III leukemia study and ultimately was hired full-time as a clinical trial coordinator upon her GW graduation.
In her remarks, she thanked her wife and family for their encouragement and unwavering belief in her goal to return to school to earn her degree in Clinical Research Administration.
“Each of us here today has our own personal story to share about our academic experiences,” Hulsey said. “My journey began when I was 37 years old and left behind a 20-year professional career to return to school and accomplish a decades-long goal of obtaining a degree. To say that my educational Journey was easy would be a lie, it was as challenging as it has been rewarding.”
This year’s Outstanding Graduate Student recipient was Fernando Dominguez, who earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy.
A serious learner who excelled both academically and in the clinical space, presenter Ellen Costello, PhD, PT, director of the physical therapy program, noted Dominguez’s has long history of community service and advocacy. He served as community health outreach volunteer in Mozambique with the Peace Corps, and spent summers as an undergrad working as an aide in Peru. While at GW, he regularly volunteered at the Little Workers of the Sacred Heart, a local pro bono clinic for underinsured and uninsured members of the Washington, DC, community, as well as volunteering for adaptive cycling and adaptive climbing programs for those with a variety of physical challenges.
“It is not often as an educator that you are lucky enough to work with a student like Fernando,” Costello said, “We feel privileged to have been part of his professional journey and know he will do great things as an ambassador of our program and the University.”
As he accepted his award, Dominguez encouraged his fellow graduates to remember those things that originally motivated and encouraged them to pursue careers as health care professionals. “We have a duty to serve others, and with that comes a responsibility to improve health and overall wellness. … I want to encourage everyone to be involved in the public aspect of your career and to use your skills to help vulnerable and underrepresented communities.”
In his closing remarks, issuing the charge to the Health Sciences Program Class of 2023, Miller recalled Reamer L. Bushardt, PharmD, PA-C, the former senior associate dean for health sciences at GW SMHS, who often discussed the three C’s — compassion, collaboration, and courage — as a guide to professionalism.
Compassion, Miller said, “is something that is projected outwardly recognizing another person is suffering and showing them that we care.”
Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to see the situation from the patient’s perspective, calling it a “gift we can give to our patients.”
Collaboration, he added, is integral to health care because “strong teamwork produces better health results and improves the care that we provide.”
Through collaboration, he continued, “there are fewer medical errors, essential treatments get started sooner, cost and efficiency get better, and both patient and provider satisfaction improves.”
For the final attribute of professionalism, Miller cited Pulitzer Prize winning poet and author Maya Angelou, who said “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
In his charge to graduates Miller said, “my challenge to you is simple, embrace compassion and empathy, collaboration, and courage. Work to strengthen and cultivate the facets of the leadership characteristics that already exist within you.”
To watch a recording of the full event, click here.