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If not now, when? Downstate Students Host 2nd Annual Racial Justice Conference

poster image2020 has shaped up to be a year unlike anything we could have ever expected.  It has been a year marked by a series of astounding, historic, and life-altering events—first with the unwelcome arrival of the novel coronavirus, then with the horrific killing of George Floyd, and most recently civil unrest.

Still, I think it’s important for all of us to remember that from our greatest pain, comes even greater progress. The heinous act at the hands of law enforcement that left Mr. Floyd lifeless sparked global outrage, which then inspired healthy and long overdue cross-cultural discourse, and ultimately awakened the consciousness of a nation whose aspirational tenets have been arrested by a darker, untold history.

Here at Downstate, it further energized an already enlightened group seeking to use their platforms and passions to spur real change—our remarkable students. Last month, students in the College of Medicine boldly stepped into the conversation by virtually holding the 2nd Annual Community Violence and Transformative Justice Conference entitled, “If Not Now, When?

Despite social distancing protocols in place, more than 100 members from the Downstate Community participated in the event—joining a powerful dialogue between healthcare providers, organization leaders, and community members seeking to address the incredible health inequities and disparities in black and brown men and women that continue to be underscored by the tragic health outcomes of these communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Designed to identify steps at the institutional level that have the “potential to transform the social, political, and economic systems that create and perpetuate these disparities into systems that enable communities to thrive”—our students developed a dynamic program that touched on all aspects of racial injustice in medical education and in clinical settings that require the attention of the nation, but moreover collective, unified action from the healthcare community that has the most direct opportunity to be a catalyst for change and a driver of health equity.

photo of Ezelle Sanford III, PhDThe event was keynoted by Ezelle Sanford III, PhD, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Program on Race, Science, and Society (PRSS) at the University of Pennsylvania, manager of the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery project (PMAS), and author of the soon-to-be-published, Segregated Medicine:  How Racial Politics Shaped American Health Care.

In addition to Dr. Sanford’s presentation, sessions also explored topics such as the medical field and its intersections with the prison system and the drug war; trauma-informed approaches to equalizing power dynamics in the clinical space; direct advocacy for healthcare equity and justice; and national grassroots efforts to promote a bold new comprehensive pandemic prevention initiative.

It’s events like these that truly demonstrate the spirit of our student body, the humanity-driven passion they have for their chosen paths, and the collective influence they have in inspiring change and justice at the most critical levels.  Regardless of whether or not news networks continue to cover the movement, the power behind their voices and their ambitions to be great equalizers in the communities we serve aren’t dying down, and I can’t begin to share how humbled and proud I am of the values and virtues each of them embodies.

Many thanks to the our students in Downstate's White Coats for Black Lives group and every participating student in our College of Medicine, and across this campus, for their timely activism and for organizing such a meaningful and successful dialogue. I’d also like to thank Carla Boutin-Foster, M.D., MS, Associate Dean of Diversity Education and Research, who co-leads the College of Medicine’s Health Equity Advocacy Leadership (HEAL) curriculum pathway with Christopher Roman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine and Vice Chair of Cell Biology as well as Jeffrey Putman, Ed.D., Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, for supporting and guiding the advocacy efforts of our student body.


College of Medicine

College of Medicine Students Awarded AMSNY’s 2020-21 Diversity in Medicine Scholarship!

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In exciting news, I am pleased to share that College of Medicine students Akya Myrie, MS4, and Antia Gomez, MS2, have been awarded the Associated Medical Schools of New York’s (AMSNY) Diversity in Medicine Scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year—an impressive $42,000 award gifted to both students for their medical education!

The AMSNY Diversity in Medicine Scholarship is awarded to students from underserved communities who demonstrate scholastic excellence that have gone through a New York State Department of Health AMSNY Post-Baccalaureate Program. The Scholarship will cover medical school tuition and fees for scholars who commit to provide care in underserved communities for a specified number of years. The goal is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine practicing in these vulnerable communities for years to come.

Akya Myrie

Akya Myrie, a Brooklyn resident, was inspired to pursue medicine after seeing what her mother endured after immigrating from Jamaica in search of better care for her developmentally disabled brother. She quickly understood that although medicine and healthcare was more advanced in the United States and provides better care to some, inequities in US healthcare systems would still mean her mother and brother would face challenges in accessing quality, culturally-competent care. This reality drove her passion and ambition to serve our most vulnerable populations. Now in here fourth year of medical school, Akya has spearheaded a number of community service initiatives, participated in several research projects on health disparities in transplantation, kidney disease, prostate cancer, and bladder cancer. Akya describes the opportunity to serve at-risk communities as a privilege, and is looking forward to the day she can serve and provide care to these marginalized communities, in an official capacity, as their future Urologist following the completion of her residency training.

Anita Gomez

Antía Gomez’s interest in becoming a physician stems from her personal life journey as a transgender Latina and being the first member of her family to attend college. Born to Mexican immigrants, Antía grew up in an town with limited and insufficient access to care. What she witnessed as young member in an underserved community led her to pursue a career in the sciences, with a particular interest in medical literature on the disparities in the Latina/Latino communities. During her transition, Antía developed a strong network of support with physicians who fully embraced her gender expression and culture—it was then that she made the decision to pursue a career in healthcare. As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, she hopes to provide culturally competent patient education, preventative medicine, and disease treatment for those in her community.

CONGRATULATIONS Akya and Antia on this incredible award! Thanks for your commitment to excellence and for being beacons of inspiration to others in the community.


College of Nursing

CON Hosts 2020 Convocation and Award Ceremony!

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This year, though the College of Nursing (CON) annual  Convocation and Pinning Award Ceremony may have been held virtually, the accomplishments of the graduating class were so very real!

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Shirley Girouard, Ph.D., RN, FAAN

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Lori Escallier, Ph.D., RN CPNP-PC FAAN

The ceremony began with opening greetings from Shirley Girouard, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Professor & Associate Dean for Research & Community Relations, and was followed by warm and encouraging remarks from the College’s Dean and Professor, Lori Escallier, Ph.D., RN CPNP-PC FAAN, who charged every graduate to “be filled with gratitude for all that we have learned during these challenging times” and asked them to “go forward—be the best you can be, and always remember your Downstate Family and the education that prepared you for the road ahead.”

photo of Mary HickeyMary Hickey, Ed.D., WHNP-BC, FNP-BS, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Faculty Development, congratulated graduates for their persistence and passionate commitment to the field. She highlighted what she wanted graduates to remember throughout their professional journeys. Quoting American poet, Maya Angelou, Dr. Hickey underscored that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

photo of Shaka HarperA highlight in the program came from the graduating student speaker, Shaka Harper, who proudly exclaimed, “We made it, we made it, WE MADE IT… can you believe it?” He later reminded his fellow classmates that despite these uncertain times, so long as they remain steadfast in their value systems that have prepared them to be amazing nurses, every graduate will be the “change we wish to see.

photo of Barbara KitchenerBarbara Kitchener, Ph.D., RN, Assistant Professor, then led the Pinning Ceremony and provided history about the tradition for graduates within the Accelerated BS in Nursing Program, the RN Baccalaureate Program, the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Program, and the Advanced Certificate in Nursing Education Program.

The ceremony concluded with graduates reciting the traditional Nightingale Pledge, and was followed by awards and honors for exceptional students in CON’s Class of 2020.

CONGRATULATIONS once more to our incomparable graduates—you’re moving into the most trusted profession in the midst of a pandemic, and during the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, no less. All of you are already leaders in the nursing field, particularly as the world has called upon you in this moment of needlike the humanitarians you are, each of you have bravely and courageously stepped-up to the frontlines to answer the call.


School of Public Health

Dr. Daniel Ehlke Appointed Interim Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management

photo of Daniel EhlkeI am pleased to announce that Daniel Ehlke, Ph.D., MA, will serve as Interim Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management in the School of Public Health. Dr. Ehlke’s appointment follows the recent retirement of Karen Benker, M.D., MPH, who served as Department Chair. In his new role, Dr. Ehlke will oversee the educational, research, and service missions of the department during a time of significant growth for the school. 

Dr. Ehlke joined Downstate as a faculty member in the Department of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health in 2010. Throughout the years, he excelled in the classroom, teaching a range of courses in health policy, advocacy, and international health systems. He has also served as a frequent speaker on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and healthcare reform across various center-wide venues, including medical Grand Rounds. In 2013, he served as co-host of the Brooklyn Free Clinic-sponsored TedMed Live event, and in 2018 he received the acclaimed Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. 

Dr. Ehlke is the co-editor of the prominent health policy textbook, Health Politics and Policy, 5th edition, which he recently began work on the next edition. His research interests center around episodes of care in health reform, both in the United States and around the world, and in the role of citizen-patients in shaping and reshaping the health systems in which they navigate. He continues to hone his expertise on the ever-shifting terrain underlying the ACA. 

He is a graduate of Brown University, from which he received a Ph.D. in Political Science. Dr. Ehlke has presented at the annual conferences of the American Public Health Association and American Political Science Association, among other professional organizations. 

Please join me in congratulating and thanking Dr. Ehlke for his willingness to serve in this interim leadership role. 


School of Health Professions

NPASS— Reaching and Teaching the Communities We Serve Through COVID!

National Perinatal Association Student Society logoThe National Perinatal Association Student Society (NPASS)—a student organization under its parent organization, the National Perinatal Association—is the first-ever student arm of the organization that provides students across the health professions critically valuable interdisciplinary education, scholarship, and advocacy.

Like its parent organization, NPASS—both nationally throughout its chapters, and here at Downstate—is dedicated to promoting the most relevant and current "evidence-based practices and advocating for patients and their families in the modern healthcare environment". Downstate’s NPASS chapter has a diverse, interdisciplinary membership comprised of future providers of care across the health professions, caregivers, activists and advocates, educators, and service providers.

Collectively inspired to support and advocate for babies and families at risk within some of the most vulnerable populations, Downstate’s NPASS members have a shared purpose that aligns with the NPA mission to "support the voices and needs of pregnant women and couples, infants, their families, and their healthcare providers"ultimately aiming to have long-lasting, positive influence on the perinatal care provided within the diverse communities we care for and serve.

Despite these extraordinary times, where COVID-19 has drastically altered normal life and many of the activities we engage in have come to a screeching halt, students in NPASS continued to absorb critical perinatal education to inform the care they provide in the very communities where improving health outcomes remains a challenge.

Education Guide imagephoto of two student with dollsFrom April through June of this year—during the peak of the pandemic in New York City—a group of Downstate NPASS members authored critical perinatal research and created a NICU Cuddling Education Guide to submit for publication. The Research was conducted to establish NICU cuddling programs at hospitals where they were not in place, and to improve programs at hospital that currently employ them. The development of a Cuddling Training Guide will provide education and allow future NPASS members to be trained in cuddling in the NICU at Kings County Hospital.

I'd like to extend my gratitude to faculty advisors and NPA Board Members Brigitte Desport, DPS, OTR/L, BCP, ATP, Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Associate Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program, and Maryanne Laffin, RN, FNP, CNM, LM, MS, FACNM, Clinical Professor in the Midwifery Program, for making Downstate's NPASS chapter possible and for helping our students immerse themselves in these critical educational opportunities.

Many thanks to Isabel Salazar, Occupational Therapy student in the School of Health Professions and President of the Downstate NPASS chapter, for leading this crucial initiative and to all the students who, despite the challenges, continue to participate in NPASS activities—dedicating their time to this important work on behalf of the communities who need us most. 

Research Roundup

Drs. Nakeshbhandi and Maini Investigate the Nexus Between COVID-19 and Obesity

Over the last few months, our faculty, residents, and students have collected large amounts of data and undertaken significant studies contributing to the literature on COVID-19. Here’s one of the latest: 

Investigators from the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Surgery, and the School of Public Health have identified obesity as a potential risk factor for adverse COVID-19 outcomes. Published in the International Journal of Obesity, the study is believed to be the first to show a significant mortality risk among obese or overweight patients. 

The retrospective study reviewed the charts of 504 adult patients with COVID between March and April, which controlled for multiple comorbidities, including diabetes and hypertension, yielded important findings: 

Key Takeaways: 

There is significant increased risk of mortality from COVID-19 in obese and overweight patients. 

  • Age and gender are significant independent predictors of mortality when combined with obesity.  
  • Both mortality risk and risk of complications from intubation, including mortality, is higher in obese male patients.  
  • The mortality risk for individuals who are over 65 and obese is significantly higher. 
  • Younger, obese patients are at increased risk for COVID-19 complications.  
  • The increased risk may be due to liver toxicity and the proinflammatory state induced by obesity. 

Researchers concluded that clinicians should include weight, combined with age and gender, as part of a patient’s risk factor profile when developing treatment plans for COVID-19 patients. 

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Mohamed Rami Nakeshbandi, M.D.

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Rohan Maini

In addition to excellent science, this study highlights interdepartmental and cross-College/School collaboration at Downstate. I would like to thank all those who contributed to this research including: primary authors Mohamed Rami Nakeshbandi, M.D., Interim Chief Medical Officer, Chief Quality Officer, and Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases, and Rohan Maini, fourth-year COM student.  

The following faculty members also contributed to the research: Jerome Salvani, M.D., FHM, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Co-Director of the Hospitalist Service; Pia Daniel, M.D., MPH, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Director of Emergency Medicine Preparedness Fellowship, and Associate Medical Director of the Emergency Medicine Preparedness Division; Michael A. Joseph, Ph.D., MPH, Associate Professor of Epidemiology & Biostatistics; and Igal Breitman, M.D., FACS, Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery and Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery.  

I especially want to thank the students who contributed to this study and who, along with many of their peers, spent long hours supporting our faculty and staff in the ER during the height of the COVID crisis. In addition to Dr. Maini, third-year MPH/COM student Sabrina Rosengarten; fourth-year COM students Priyanka Parmar, Julie Minjae Kim, and Alvin Oommen; and M.D./MPH students, Max Mecklenburg and Clara Wilson (all class of 2021). 

This study is yet another example of selfless dedication by members of our Downstate community to continue our tradition of excellence. 


Faculty Spotlight

Dean Lori Escallier Appointed to the CCNE Board of Commissioners

photo of Lori Escallier, Ph.D., RNI’m delighted to announce that Lori Escallier, Ph.D., RN, CPNP-PC, FAAN, Dean and Professor in the College of Nursing, was recently appointed to the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) Board of Commissioners as a representative of Chief Nurse Administrators.

The CCNE is a specialized accrediting agency that provides educational and training standards with the goal of enhancing the quality and integrity of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree nursing programs. They focus on "graduate programs that award Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) certificates and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees. They also accredit post-baccalaureate nursing residency programs. The Commission protects public health and the public interest by assessing and endorsing programs that stimulate effective educational practices, self-regulatory processes, and continuous quality improvement programs. Programs that receive the Commissions' stamp of approval assure good educational practices and competent nurse graduates."

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CCNE is governed by a 13-member Board of Commissioners, which now also includes Dr. Escallier, who collectively represent CCNE’s community of interest. The Board has final authority on all policy and accreditation matters affecting CCNE.

CONGRATULATIONS to Dr. Escallier and thank you for continuing to develop, grow, and advance the education of our students in the CON.


Downstate Shout Outs!

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This week I’d like to give Shout Outs to….

Ivan Bodis-Wollner, M.D., D.Sc., Professor of Neurology and Ophthalmology, for being the lead editor on the research topic “Behold the Eye in Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease,” for Frontiers in Neurology. research topics in this open access journal are prestigious peer-reviewed article collections centered on cutting-edge research themes. Dr. Bodis-Wollner’s topic has yielded over 84,000 views, to date.  

Jeffrey S. Borer, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Cell Biology, Radiology, Surgery, and Public Health, who has been recognized by Continental Who’s Who for his significant contributions to medical education and research.

Tonya Taylor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and the Special Treatment and Research (STAR) Program, for organizing and hosting a July 20th panel discussion on “Disrupting Stereotypes and Generalizations” via Zoom on July 20.



Mark Your Calendars

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President's Bulletin
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