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[May 28,2010]

Two National Leaders in Medical and Nursing Education Deliver Keynotes at SUNY Downstate Commencement

Steven A. Wartman, MD, PhD, president of the Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC), and Kathleen Potempa, PhD, the newly inaugurated president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), were commencement speakers at ceremonies for graduates of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, held on May 27 at Carnegie Hall.

Dr. Wartman delivered the keynote and received an honorary doctor of science degree at the ceremony for the College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, and School of Public Health. As president of the AAHC, he heads an organization that represents more than 100 of the nation’s academic health centers, including Downstate. A general internist and sociologist by training, he has devoted more than 25 years to academic medicine and to improving healthcare delivery. He has been an important voice on national healthcare policy, and is frequently sought after by institutions in the United States and abroad for advice and strategic guidance. 

Gerald Shiffman, PhD, who developed the first widely used vaccine against bacterial pneumonia, also received an honorary doctor of science degree. Dr. Schiffman is additionally known for having developed and refined a test to measure a wide range of immune system functions and disorders.

An honorary doctor of science degree also was awarded to Merel H. Harmel, MD, founder of the Department of Anesthesiology at Downstate, as well as at Chicago and Duke Universities. Dr. Harmel was the operating room anesthesiologist in the first Blalock-Taussig (“blue-baby”) procedure, performed at Johns Hopkins University in 1944. This achievement was instrumental in stimulating the development of cardiac surgery.

At the ceremony for the College of Health Related Professions and the College of Nursing, Dr. Potempa addressed the graduates and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. She was honored for her longstanding contributions to nursing education, her work on behalf of the elderly, and her leadership role in addressing healthcare disparities.

Since assuming the presidency of the AACN in March, she continues to serve as dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Michigan and as a member of the National Council for Nursing Research. In addition to her work on national committees, Dr. Potempa is an active researcher whose work on fatigue, exercise, and cardiovascular fitness has been continually funded since 1984. 

The event marked the 150th graduation ceremony for Downstate’s College of Medicine. Downstate’s School of Public Health awarded the first Doctor of Public Health degree ever to be granted by a school in Brooklyn or on Long Island.


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks eighth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools.  More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.