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How the Pandemic has Reshaped Medical Training at Downstate

photo of medical worker behind plastic sheet

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions across the country have sought ways and practices to effectively engage medical students—primarily via distance learning—and to provide new avenues for training that enhance their understanding of the pandemic from a public health perspective.

As coronavirus cases spiked in April in the United States, the Association of American Medical Colleges advised that students were to cease all direct patient contact—but in April many medical scholars at Downstate and across the country were in the middle of their core clinical rotations, getting their first exposure to treating patients. With that on hold, our College of Medicine was forced to find innovative alternatives to medical education during the peak of the pandemic, and for the foreseeable future.

Although this pandemic has proven to be uncharted territory for us all, that didn't stop Charles F. Brunicardi, M.D., Senior Vice President and Dean of the College of Medicine (COM), from springing into action and working to launch adaptive measures in our curriculum that did not impede or weaken our academic offerings, despite the unanticipated challenges.

The leadership strategy for returning our medical students to the classroom and to clinical rotations was featured in Education Section of Crain’s New York Business. The article pointed to the swift action of members of the leadership team in the COM and faculty across our College like Teresa Smith, M.D., Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education and Affiliations, Designated Institutional Official, and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine—noting that they worked overtime to fast-track the development and implementation of hybrid programs combining both virtual sessions with in-person learning—a measure that will allow our medical students to safely resume clinical rotations again.

The article illustrates how Downstate resourcefully turned this global health crisis into growth and opportunity by transforming the pandemic into a training ground for enhanced skillsets, and as a launch pad for many of our scholars to become experts and leaders in their respective fields and in public health crisis mitigation.

Many thanks to our incomparable students, residents, and fellows, for always being ready to answer the call of duty. And a very special thank you to the incredible leadership, faculty, and staff in the College of Medicine for making the impossible, possible at Downstate.



College of Medicine

Drs. Xia and Nagarajan Announced as our 2020 Furchgott Scholars

In exciting news, it brings me great pride to announce Sairaman Nagarajan, M.D., MPH, and Rong Xia, M.D., Ph.D., as 2020 Furchgott Scholars!

photo of Robert F. Furchgott, Ph.D.As many of you know, Robert F. Furchgott, Ph.D., Downstate’s distinguished professor emeritus and chairman of Downstate's Department of Pharmacology from 1956 to 1982, received world-wide recognition for his work—hailed as "brilliantly opening a new domain in science," and revolutionizing scientists' understanding of vascular physiology—as the 1998 Nobel Prize winner for Physiology or Medicine. Dr. Furchgott's discoveries not only helped scientists understand and discover new treatments for cardiovascular disease and a host of other conditions, it immortalized his work and elevated Downstate’s status as a research institution.

In his honor, The Robert F. Furchgott Research Scholarship program was created—providing awards to exemplary postdoctoral fellows and residents to supplement their research, providing additional funds to offset the cost of conducting their investigations—subsidizing costly travel, supplies, and equipment. The award is given annually in the form of a grant of up to $10,000 to model scholars who are passionately committed to the practice of research at Downstate, and this year’s recipients are most certainly deserving.


Dr. Nagarajan

photo of Sairaman Nagarajan

Sairaman Nagarajan is a final year Allergy-Immunology fellow with the Departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. He received his M.D. with honors from SRM University in Chennai, India. He gained advanced epidemiological and biostatistics skills during his MPH program at Rutgers University and is proficient in using the public databases of the CDC including the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Dr. Nagarajan completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in Epigenetics at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, examining epigenetic DNA methylation markers of the NR3C1 gene of the HPA axis in relation to clinical disease. He led the first-ever national investigation between atopy and cancer, as well as the first investigation of a family history of cancer with clinical and lab markers of allergy. The findings of both of these studies garnered international press attention.

A proficient statistician, Dr. Nagarajan is also currently leading two investigations of NHIS and NHANES data, looking at the relationship of allergic disease and biomarkers of allergy (eosinophils and IgE) with coronary artery disease (CAD). He is interested in examining how these factors influence the development of metabolic syndrome, and potentially play a mediating role as a forerunner of CAD. His other clinical research has focused on designing clinical trials and developing randomization protocols for drug administration.


Dr. Xia

photo of Rong Xia

Dr. Rong Xia is a fourth-year pathology resident here at Downstate. She received her medical degree from Nanjing Medical University in China. After graduation, she earned her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. Dr. Xia has been the recipient of several national and international awards including the Overseas Research Students (ORS) Awards from the UK government, and the Award for Outstanding Overseas Students from the Chinese government. Dr. Xia also worked as a scientist at AstraZeneca R&D in Sweden for pharmaceutical research, and as a postdoctoral research scientist at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Dr. Xia began her pathology residency training at Downstate in 2016 and served as chief resident between 2018 and 2019.

Dr. Xia developed strong interests in Gastrointestinal and Liver Pathology and has been working with her research mentor, Dr. Raavi Gupta, on a research project to develop computer-assisted diagnosis for liver neoplasms. Their results demonstrated that computational and statistical image analysis of nuclear features can help differentiate well-differentiated hepatocellular carcinoma from nonmalignant liver with high accuracy and thus assist in the pathologic diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma. Dr. Xia’s other research projects include studying the inhibitory role of ω-3 epoxy polyunsaturated fatty acid on pancreatic ductal carcinoma, and using image analysis to characterize the morphological features of well-differentiated hepatocellular neoplasm of uncertain malignant potential (WD-HUMP), and other liver neoplasms. Dr. Xia has published five peer-reviewed journal articles and 11 abstracts during her residency that have been published in international pathology journals.

CONGRATULATIONS to Drs. Nagarajan and Xia and thank you for continuing to make Downstate proud.


College of Nursing

Dr. Annie Rohan Selected for Fellowship in the American Academy of Nursing

photo of Annie Rohan

It is with great pleasure that Annie Rohan, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC, NNP-BC, FAANP—Associate Professor, Chair of Graduate Studies, and Director for the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program—was selected for Fellowship in the American Academy of Nursing. This is considered one of the, if not the, highest honors for a nurse.

The invitation to become a fellow of a professional membership organization is an accolade reserved exclusively for the most senior scholars. The Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN) is an exclusive program offered by invitation-only, and nominees must detail their achievements and show a substantial amount of work that has enriched their profession. The designation of FAAN for most leads to international work collaborations, mentorship experiences that further cultivate leadership, and opportunities to influence change in health and healthcare policies.

A SUNY alumna, earning her BS in Nursing from SUNY Binghamton—Dr. Rohan later earned a certificate in Neonatal Nurse Practitioner at Cornell University Medical College Continuing Education Program for Nurses, an MS degree from Columbia University, and a Post-Graduate certificate in Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner from SUNY Stony Brook University. Midway through advanced practice, Dr. Rohan returned to Columbia University where she earned a Ph.D. and was selected to become a member of the first national cohort of Jonas Nursing Scholars.

Dr. Rohan's 25+ year clinical career notably supports her academic priorities, which includes work as a national advisor to the American Nurses Association (Nurse Practice Advisory Council) and to the March of Dimes (Nurse Advisory Committee).

An avid writer, Dr. Rohan has received several awards recognizing her clinical and scientific contributions for her publications. Her educational research focuses on developing writing skills in graduate nursing students and using technology to enhance teaching and learning. Her interdisciplinary clinical research focuses on using technology to address persistent issues impacting pediatric health. To achieve the educational goal of a more diverse healthcare workforce, Dr. Rohan has received support of nearly $3 million in federal and foundation grant funding to support the education of financially, educationally, or environmentally disadvantaged students who seek to become healthcare providers in underserved regions in New York. 

Dr. Rohan serves as an onsite evaluator for the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and is Associate Editor of MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, where she oversees its “Toward Evidence-Based Practice” column. Her most recent publication focus has been as Associate Editor for pediatric content of AWOHNN's popular textbook, Perinatal Nursing (5th Ed, Simpson & Creehan editors, LWW).

Please join me in congratulating Dr. Rohan on this great achievement!


School of Public Health

Study from SPH’s Dr. Camacho-Rivera Finds Wide Variation in Hispanic Trust of Health Information

photo of Marlene Camacho-Rivera
Marlene Camacho-Rivera, MS, MPH, ScD, Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health’s Department of Community Health Sciences, was recently featured in the July 2020 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, for her recent study, Heterogeneity in Trust of Cancer Information among Hispanic Adults in the United States: An Analysis of the Health Information National Trends Survey.

Though the Latino/Hispanic community is the largest minority group, they represent only 18 percent of the population here in the United States, yet are plagued by significant disparities in cancer risk and survival at rates higher than their majority counterparts. As cancer remains the leading cause of death within Hispanic communities, with increasing disparities in cancer outcomes, Dr. Camacho-Rivera’s study sought to examine heterogeneity in trust of cancer information from various media sources among U.S. Hispanic adults.

Her study discovered that Hispanic adults vary widely in their reported trust of health information sources, suggesting that information tailored to specific ethnic subgroups and targeted by age group may be beneficial. It also found that increasing knowledge about cancer and cancer services among Hispanics may aid in reducing inequities, but little is known about what information sources are considered most effective or most trusted by this diverse population.

Respondents in Dr. Camacho-Rivera’s study reported the highest levels of trust in healthcare professionals, with 91 percent saying they had a high level of trust, followed by government health agencies (68 percent), the Internet (63 percent), and charitable organizations (53 percent). 

Dr. Camacho-Rivera notes that 84 percent of the Hispanic population is now routinely using the Internet, but they are more likely than whites to lose Internet access due to cost, and more likely to report frustration in their information-seeking.  The findings in her study indicate that the Hispanic community would benefit from culturally-tailored health information to narrow health disparities in cancer and other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Many thanks to Dr. Camacho-Rivera for her significant contributions to medical literature, and for working to advance health equity on behalf of the most vulnerable communities, while also advancing Downstate’s mission to reduce health disparities in communities of color.


School of Health Professions

Occupational Therapy Students: Winning FIRST PLACE and Making a Difference in the Community

photo of Jasmin Thomas

Jasmin Thomas, OTD, OTR/L

Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Education

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Laura Park

OT Student

photo of Priscilla Hutchinson

Priscilla Hutchinson

OT Student

Every year, the School of Health Professions’ (SOHP) Occupational Therapy students provide service-learning programs directly to the community. The Occupational Therapy Community Practice Sequence, overseen by Jasmin Thomas, OTD, OTR/L, Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Education, provides an opportunity for second-year OT students to develop leadership skills by closely collaborating with diverse community organizations. Through these collaborative relationships, students assess the unique needs of the organizations, and create and implement projects based on OT theories and principles.

This year, OT students Laura Park and Priscilla Hutchinson won First Place for the SUNY Downstate University Council Service Learning Project Competition, in recognition of their work with Bronx Youth Probationers. Their program, "Skills N Chill", was a six-week, hour long activity-based group program aimed to equip young adult males on probation with life skills necessary for increased occupational engagement.

Sessions were held once a week, each covering different topics comprised of Social Skills, Anger Management, Stress Management, and Financial Literacy trainings. Each session had an overarching theme that aimed to promote and educate members on mental health wellness and increased participation in society. At the conclusion of each session, participants were encouraged to reflect on their performance and provide feedback. Self-reports revealed increased confidence in areas such as financial management and knowledge about mental health.

Important projects like these highlight the increased need for Occupational Therapy in vulnerable populations, also demonstrating the direct and profound impact Downstate students have on the health and well-being of the communities we serve.

Special thanks to Allen Lewis, Ph.D., CRC, Dean and Professor of SOHP; Brigitte Desport, DPS, OTR/L, BCP, ATP, Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives; Kelly Lavin, OTD, OTR/L, Chair & Assistant Professor for the Occupational Therapy Program; and T’Shura Brown, OTD, OTR/L, for their continued support of such valuable endeavors for students engaging in service learning projects.

University Hospital of Brooklyn

Downstate Welcomes Donovan Allen as the New AVP of Hospital Facilities

photo of Donovan Allen

I am pleased to announce that Donovan Allen, PE, CEM has joined SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University as the new Assistant Vice President (AVP) of Hospital Facilities. In this role, he will provide strategic leadership for the operational and preventive maintenance for all utilities, services, buildings, and grounds at University Hospital of Brooklyn (UHB).

Mr. Allen joins SUNY Downstate as a seasoned facilities executive with nearly 15 years of experience in the management of facility operations, plant operations, capital project management, and process improvement across municipal, power generation, water treatment, and academic sectors.

The foundation of his career was spent at Con Edison of New York where he served as a Mechanical Systems Engineer at a power generation station that supports the entire New York City metropolitan region. Most recently, Mr. Allen served as the Director of Facilities and Space Planning for Columbia University in the City of New York, where he managed facilities and space planning operations for the Arts and Sciences Buildings—a robust system that includes 27 academic departments, more than 40 interdisciplinary centers, and five schools.

Mr. Allen will report to Patricia A. Winston, MS, RN, Interim Managing Director & Senior Vice President of Hospital Affairs and will be responsible for providing facilities management for all UHB facilities, coordinating all hospital management projects, and ensuring regulatory compliance of clinical facilities with all bodies with jurisdiction over hospital operations.

Mr. Allen holds both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the City University of New York City College.

Please join me in giving Mr. Allen a warm and enthusiastic Downstate welcome.


Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Adam Budzikowski Selected as 2020 Clinician Recipient of the Alfred Stracher Faculty Recognition Award

photo of Adam S. Budzikowski, M.D.

CONGRATULATIONS to Adam S. Budzikowski, M.D., Ph.D., FHRS, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, on his recent selection as the 2020 Clinician Recipient of the Alfred Stracher Faculty Recognition Award. The Alfred Stracher Faculty Recognition Award honors Downstate faculty members who demonstrate an active involvement in research to lessen the burden of severe illness and who exhibits an ongoing commitment to mentoring junior faculty in their research and to helping them achieve independent status.

Dr. Budzikowski earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from the Medical University of Warsaw in Poland, and later pursued post-doctoral training in neurogenic mechanisms of salt-sensitive hypertension at the Hypertension Unit of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. Most of his clinical training was completed in the United States, beginning with a residency in medicine and a cardiology fellowship at SUNY Stony Brook. Dr. Budzikowski also went on to pursue training in clinical cardiac electrophysiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The Medical Center provided a unique exposure to hereditary arrhythmias, given its registry of patients with long QT syndrome—the oldest and largest in the country. Furthermore, being a home to all Multicenter Automatic Defibrillator Implantation Trials, the Center allowed access to some of the most advanced devices and groundbreaking device-based therapies. His training at Rochester proved to be very influential in shaping a future research interest in device-based strategies for reduction of ventricular tachycardia.

Since joining Downstate in 2007, Dr. Budzikowski has developed a complex ablation program from the ground up, including the ablation of atrial fibrillation and scar-related ventricular tachycardia. Several technological advances in electrophysiology were introduced, including 3-dimensional mapping, irrigated catheter ablation, force sensing catheters and high-density arrythmia mapping. Most recently, thanks to his efforts, the institution acquired a laser ablation system for pulmonary vein isolation for treatment of atrial fibrillation.

Mentoring and providing guidance in professional and research career development is one of the most essential functions of an academic teacher. In addition to helping supervise and mentor for the Student Summer Research Program, he has counseled numerous residents and fellows. Currently, Dr. Budzikowski is an Associate Program Director for the Cardiology Fellowship and a Program Director for the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship where he has been influential in the training provided to 14 electrophysiology fellows and many general cardiology fellows.

Congratulations, Dr. Budzikowski, on this much-deserved honor and thank you for contributions to scientific literature, as well as to the growth and success of Downstate’s medical scholars.

Department of Urology Chair, Dr. Jeffrey P. Weiss, Earns his Doctorate

photo of Jeffrey P. Weiss, M.D.

In exciting news, Jeffrey P. Weiss, Chair of the Department of Urology, recently earned his Ph.D. from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University in Ghent, East Flanders, Belgium this past June.

The title of his dissertation was "Treatment Centered Diagnosis of Nocturia" and culminated 22 years in collective original contributions to the field of Nocturia.

Delving into the voiding-diary based scheme for Nocturia classification developed by Dr. Weiss, the dissertation focused on treatment of both nocturnal polyuria and small bladder capacity with therapy designed to diminish nighttime diuresis with behavioral and pharmacotherapy. Investigation as to the prevalence of the Nocturnal Polyuria Syndrome (lack of production of endogenous antidiuretic hormone during sleep) and its treatment with a low dose preparation of intraoral dispersible desmopressin as "replacement therapy", rounded out the discussion.

The Public Defense was a first for UGent, as the global coronavirus pandemic mandated the use of a publicly available videoconferencing platform, enabling the proceeding to be viewed live by nearly one hundred colleagues and trainees.

CONGRATULATIONS, Dr. Weiss for continuing to advance and develop your expertise, and for completing your studies against all odds. Hats off!


Student Spotlight

Downstate Students Rock the Vote!

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To say our day-to-day has been turned on its face is an understatement. The way we work, the way we live and socialize, and most certainly the way we traditionally vote have all evolved in the months since the onset of the coronavirus.

But one thing that has remained constant is the energy and consciousness of our student body. In the weeks leading up to New York’s and several other state primary elections, Jasmine Walker (MS4), Chanée Massiah, student in the School of Public Health, and Mohamed Syllah (MS2), sent out several student-wide emails regarding critical voter information, encouraging Downstate’s student body to exercise their right to vote. They provided resources for voter registration, voting at local precincts in New York City, and mail-in-ballot information to help students throughout Downstate remain civically, even in the middle of a pandemic.

They are currently working to provide information for November's General Election and are actively exploring ways they can get involved to encourage more diversity at local polling sites throughout the City. Though these are trying times with many uncertainties…nothing brings me more comfort than seeing the spirit of our future demonstrated through the actions of our scholars.

A BIG THANK YOU to our students for continuing to be the difference we all wish to see!




President's Bulletin
SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University
450 Clarkson Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11203