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Health Sciences Graduates Urged to Be Leaders in Health Professions

Be innovative. Be collaborative. Be just. That was the charge to students during the 2020 graduation celebration ceremony for health sciences programs at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS).

There were 650 students who earned degrees in the first-ever virtual graduation event, with 323 recipients of undergraduate degrees and 280 recipients of master’s degrees. There were 68 physician assistant studies graduates, 42 doctor of physical therapy graduates, four doctor of occupational therapy graduates, and the division’s first graduate of its PhD in Translational Health Sciences Program. 

Throughout the pre-recorded event, graduates were reminded of the hard work and dedication it took to get them to that moment, and of the opportunities and challenges ahead as they enter the health care workforce during such an unprecedented time. 

In her charge to the graduates, Karen Wright, PhD, PA-C, assistant dean of student life and academic support for health sciences and director of the Physician Assistant Program at SMHS, reflected on some of the issues in the U.S. health care system, including lack of access to care, escalating health costs, and capacity shortages. 

“Class of 2020, among you are our future medical, rehabilitative, and public health professionals, clinical laboratory scientists, disaster relief providers, regulators, health care quality administrators, and policymakers,” Wright said. “You have gained the necessary education and professional development here at GW to address inefficiencies and inequities in our health care system.

“We need to have 20/20 vision in order to operate with clear vision to address our current problems and we must be visionary to address problems we anticipate in the future,” she added. 

The ceremony also included a message from Barbara Bass, MD, RESD ‘86, vice president for health affairs, dean of SMHS, and CEO of The GW Medical Faculty Associates.

“Today is a reflection of your hard work, many hours of study, your spirit of dedication, your commitment and passion to help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives,” Bass said. “While the day does not look like graduations of the past, and we cannot gather together in Lisner Auditorium with our friends and loved ones, it is still a very special day, one to be celebrated.”

In his remarks to the graduates, Reamer Bushardt, PharmD, PA-C, DFAAPA, senior associate dean for health sciences at SMHS, expressed his regret at not celebrating with the graduates in person and welcomed them into the GW alumni family.

“This family is stronger and more dynamic today because of the addition of your talents, passion, and intellectual capabilities,” Bushardt said. He also advised the graduates to be innovative and collaborative.  

“I encourage you to be an agent of positive change in your community,” he added, “despite all that’s happening around us now. Choose the path of leadership and lead through your character … embrace courage, integrity, selflessness, empathy, collaboration, and reflection. You bring me hope for a better future in health care and the health sciences, a future in which attaining the highest level of health for all people is realized.” 

Following those remarks, awards were presented to graduates during the ceremony.

Karen Schlumpf, MPH, director of the health sciences core curriculum at SMHS, presented the Ozgur Ekmekci Interprofessional Leadership Awards. The honor is named for the former interim chair and associate professor of clinical research and leadership, and recognizes graduating health sciences students who demonstrate interprofessional scholarship. This year’s awards were presented to online program recipient Lauren Wolf, MSHS ’20, and Stephanie Johnson, DPT ’20, as the campus program honoree.

In addition, Andrew Garrett, MD, MPH, program director for Emergency Health Operations and associate professor of clinical research and leadership at SMHS, presented the 2020 Outstanding Health Sciences Undergraduate Award to Chloe Andrews, BA ’20.

He remarked that Andrews continually impressed him with both her academic performance and her ability to think outside of the box when it comes to EMS and patient care. 

Andrews thanked Garrett for his mentorship and support and reflected on her experiences as an EMT in the GW Emergency Medical Response Group.

“As we all graduate today and move into the next phase of our lives,” Andrews said, “I’d like to share with you three of the lessons I’ve learned as a collegiate EMS supervisor: first, my coworkers have taught me that while things are often difficult, they are rarely impossible. … Second, my patients have taught me that there are few things as powerful as being able to laugh. … Finally, the friends and family of my patients, as well as strangers, have taught me that as part of the GW community, we are never alone.”

Marcia Firmani, PhD, MSPH, director of the clinical microbiology and molecular diagnostic sciences MSHS programs and chair of the SMHS Department of Biomedical Laboratory Sciences, introduced the winner of the Health Sciences Outstanding Graduate Award, Lisa Frisch, who earned her Master of Sciences in Health Sciences in molecular diagnostic sciences program with a 4.0 GPA. 

Frisch thanked Firmani for nominating her, and for the support of the faculty and staff.

“Today represents a culmination of hard work and dedication to enhance minds and careers,” she said to her fellow graduates. “We are graduating amid global change, and we are called to rise above challenges, we are called … to utilize our degrees and our knowledge to benefit our communities, our nation, and our earth.”