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John Conley Division of Medical Ethics & Humanities Awarded $112K Donation!

group photo(These photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared. All John Conley Division of Medical Ethics activities have been digitally optimized and moved to a Zoom format.)

In exciting news, the John Conley Division of Medical Ethics & Humanities was recently awarded a generous $112k donation from the John Conley Foundation for Ethics and Philosophy in Medicine, to support its dynamic programming. This award has been bestowed upon the Division since 1994 on an annual basis—bringing in an excess of $1M, to-date. These incredible awards have been consistently secured by Kathleen PowderlyPh.D.CNM, Director of the John Conley Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities.

To understand how pivotal these awards are to the programming within the John Conley Division of Medical Ethics, here is a glimpse of what our scholars were able to accomplish in a year unlike all others.

Pushing through the pandemic--When COVID first brought the world to a screeching halt, students were removed from clinical rotations and didactic education was optimized for remote learning. While the clinical component of their programs paused for the first quarter of 2020, students didn’t waste a moment to identify how they can be of service during these challenging times. Led by two of our Conley Scholars, Jack Hessburg, MD/PhD candidate, and Anjali Jaiman, MD candidate, students collectively worked to develop scripts and called family members of patients who were not allowed in the hospital to see their loved ones because of infection control. They updated families, coordinated communication and provided bereavement counseling. They also developed educational materials on COVID for the community, and connected needy patients and families with food banks and other resources. Yekaterina Merkulova, M.D., Ph.D., now a first year resident at Beth Israel in Boston, spent weeks working in the morgue helping to connect families with their deceased loved ones, and Robert Colbourn, MD/PhD Candidate, worked in the pathology lab performing COVID testing on behalf of the Downstate community.

On the front lines of Social Justice--Amid national tensions around racial injustice and police brutality following the heinous killing of George Floyd, a group of impassioned students issued a Call for Action from Downstate to intentionally address institutional racism.  The Conley Division was proud to support their call for increased community engagement on the matter of social justice, changes to our medical curriculum to address implicit bias in education, and continued dialogue around race and culture to improve our campus. In addition, our Conley Scholars participated in the ongoing effort, by joining students from across our campus as they rallied together to launch a series of social justice events from critical campus dialogues via virtual town halls, to peaceful demonstrations at events like the White Coats for Black Lives “Die-In” among other things.  The event brought together more than 300 students, residents, and fellows from the Downstate community, who all banded together—taking the knee or lying flat on the street—in acknowledgement and in honor of the many lives lost at the hands of police violence. 


The Ethics Pathway--Our eight incredible Conley Scholars also managed the Ethics Pathway, a program that enriches the education of a cohort of first-year medical students in the areas of ethics and professionalism.  The pathway was designed to provide students with the opportunity to gain a substantive foundation in ethics beyond what is offered in the current formal curriculum.  Through the pathway, Conley scholars conducted a series of lectures and small group discussions, a peer-mentored project, and participation in guest lectures by the Visiting Professors of the Division.

Community Partnerships--Thanks to the efforts of Fenizia Maffucci, M.D., a collaborative relationship between Downstate and the Brooklyn Museum has been established and has continued to develop throughout the pandemic.  Two successful sessions with students in the School of Graduate Studies were conducted via zoom and workshops using art as a lens to discuss health disparities and social justice is now being explored. 

group photo in room(These photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared. All John Conley Division of Medical Ethics activities have been digitally optimized and moved to a Zoom format.)

Our Conley scholars also played an integral role in supporting the content featured on the John Conley Division of Medical Ethics & Humanities Podcast on iTunes—enabling their progressive curriculum and programming to reach far beyond the Downstate community.


Dr. Powderly has taken the lead on this award since its inception. She is vice chair of the Ethics Committee at UHB/KCHC and has served as a vice chair of the Ethics Council of NYC Health+Hospitals. Dr. Powderly is also a member of Downstate’s Institutional Review Board, as well as a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and the Hastings Center. She formerly served on the Ethics Committee of the SUNY University Faculty Senate and the Clinical Ethics Consultation Affairs standing committee of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, and recently served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Bioethics Program Directors

group photo at table(These photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared. All John Conley Division of Medical Ethics activities have been digitally optimized and moved to a Zoom format.)

CONGRATULATIONS to the John Conley Division of Medical Ethics & Humanities for this deserving award. Many thanks to our scholars who continue to show and prove why this programming is so invaluable, and a very special THANK YOU to Dr. Powderly for her leadership!

College of Medicine

ODR Hosts Fifth Annual Dr. Samuel L. Kountz Jr. Lecture and Awards Ceremony

photo of Dr. Kountz

The Office of Diversity Education and Research (ODR), hosted the Fifth Annual Dr. Samuel L. Kountz Lecture on February 26th—an event honoring of life and legacy of a trailblazing man who not only added distinction to Downstate’s name, but who will forever be remembered as a pioneer in medicine—world renowned surgeon, Samuel L. Kountz, Jr., M.D.

As the first African American transplant surgeon in the country, Dr. Kountz founded the SUNY Downstate Transplant Program in 1965.  Under Dr. Kountz’s leadership, UHB performed some 500 kidney transplants, the most in the world at that time. While at Downstate, Dr. Kountz also led a large Department of Surgery and served as a mentor who provided transplant leadership to physicians throughout New York and the region. He was a highly revered lecturer in hospitals, medical schools, and professional societies, Dr. Kountz continued to make invaluable contributions to medical scholarship and encouraged his colleagues to do the same.

The event featured a keynote address from Samuel Marquez, Ph.D., Professor of Cell Biology, Co-Director of Gross Anatomy for the College of Medicine and School of Health Professions, and Director of the Anatomical Donor Program, who shared his story in a presentation entitled, “From the South Bronx to SUNY Downstate: My Journey.

CLICK HERE to watch the full lecture!

At the conclusion of the event, ODR held an awards ceremony to honor distinguished members of the Downstate community across three categories: Excellence in Mentoring, Diversity Champions, and Outstanding Service. Each awardee was selected based on their contributions and commitment to the mission and vision of the ODR and the students it serves.

Diversity Champions
Allen Lewis, Ph.D., CRC
Roosevelt Boursiquot, M.D.

Excellence in Mentoring
Jason Lazar, M.D., MPH
Ming Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.

Excellence in Teaching
Samuel Marquez, Ph.D.
Daniel Ehlke, Ph.D.

Community Service Award
Sean Thomas, PT, DPT

Congratulations to all our 2021 Samuel L. Kountz Lecture Awardees, and many thanks to the Office of Diversity Education and Research for putting together a wonderful program!

College of Nursing

Dean Lori Escallier Presents at the 2021 CNL Summit!

photo of dean lori escallierI’m pleased to share that Lori Escallier, Ph.D., RN, CPNP-PC, FAAN, Dean and Professor in the College of Nursing, recently presented at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s 2021 Virtual CNL Summit.

The Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNL) Summit offers leaders across the healthcare and higher education spectrum a national stage for guiding and advancing CLN education. This year’s event was focused on “Leveraging CNLs in a Time of Change”— demonstrating how CNLs are critical to driving an enhanced patient experience and level of care.

The summit featured presentations from respected CNLs in the region and focused on achievements in clinical practice and CNL curriculum, as well as providing resources for CNLs to deepen their knowledge and understanding of a rapidly evolving healthcare landscape where CNLs are increasingly valuable.

Dean Escallier led the “Meet the Expert” program, sharing a presentation entitled “A Nursing Renaissance: Resiliency and Role Revitalization for Nurse Leaders”.

Dr. Escallier has received national recognition, both from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for her leading-edge professional body of work aimed at driving increased opportunities for inclusive scholastic and graduate-level engagement strategies among students across a diverse range of backgrounds. To-date, her grant awards total in excess of $9M in support of advancing scholastic achievement in the field of nursing for students in underrepresented populations.

Many thanks to Dr. Escallier for continuing to develop, expand, and improve nursing education—both for Downstate’s students, as well as the next generation of diverse nursing professionals and leaders.


School of Public Health

Dr. Marlene Camacho-Rivera Named NMQF’s 40 Under 40 Leaders in Health!

photo of Camacho-RiveraI am proud to share that Marlene Camacho-Rivera, ScD, MS, MPH, Assistant Dean for Student Engagement and Success and Assistant Professor of Community Health Sciences in the School of Public Health, has been named by the National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF) as a 2021 “40 Under 40 Leaders in Health” honoree! 

The NMQF is an organization that provides support to healthcare professionals, researchers, legislators, community partners, and faith-based organizations in delivering culturally competent, equitable care to communities of color. Every year, the NMQF highlights the great work of 40 minority leaders across the health professions who are under the age of 40, and have committed their work to improving patient outcomes and building healthy communities. The named awardees are a diverse group of influential professionals in clinical, research, patient relations, and policy roles. 

The award recognizes emerging leaders in the healthcare field and their potential to positively impact minority communities. This year, the 40 awardees all demonstrated their ability to rise to the challenges of our time. As the nation continues to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, they persisted in safeguarding life, protecting communities, and reducing health disparities. 

A social epidemiologist, Dr. Camacho-Rivera’s work has been steeped in understanding and defining the roles of structural and social determinants of health. The objective of her work is to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes in vulnerable at-risk brown and black communities.

Dr. Camacho-Rivera’s research interests center around three primary areas:

  • Elucidating social determinants of racial/ethnic disparities in chronic diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer;
  • Exploring within group heterogeneity the prevention and treatment of chronic disease outcomes among racial/ethnic groups;
  • Developing culturally-tailored, patient-centered interventions to improve chronic disease self-management among urban minorities.

CONGRATULATIONS Dr. Camacho-Rivera, and thank you for continuing to elevate the standard of excellence at Downstate, for protecting our most vulnerable populations, and remaining committed to the fight for health equity for all.



School of Health Professions

Safeguarding Student Wellness Through a Pandemic

wellness photo

As we know, ignoring wellness, both mental and physical, can breed an environment ripe for illness, depression, and dissatisfaction on the job. Furthermore, a compromised mental, emotional, and physical state can impede the performance and work productivity of students and employees—making programs that address workplace wellness critical.

Understanding this, the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) and the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) in the School of Health Professions sprang into action at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—underscoring their perseverance, ingenuity, and excellence in leadership.  These student associations, led by Clarisse Quirit, President of SOTA, and Edgar Neris, President of COTAD, developed and implemented educational and wellness-focused activities for all students at Downstate over the last year amid what has proven to be a very difficult time for us all.

Their efforts motivated others to remain focused and inspired them to continue their efforts in becoming the future of healthcare. Events included panel discussions on topics such as males within the healthcare workforce and gender disparities, racism and inequities in the healthcare system, and LGBTQIA and its impact to individual identities. Each event set the bar higher for much needed discourse and discoveries on important topics that have persisted in the national discourse from a healthcare perspective. 

THANK YOU to all of our participatinhg students in these two vital student associations, for your selfless and important work. I would also like to recognize those students among you who have formal student leadership roles in the Student OT Association (SOTA) and the Coalition for OT Advocates for Diversity (COTAD):


SOTA Executive Board 2020-2021 

President: Clarisse Quirit
Vice President: Ryan Doherty
Secretary: Nicole Savino
Treasurer: Krista Denaro
Fundraising Chair: Abigail Hammond
AOTA Student Delegate: Kerri Percoco
SOHP Rep: Nicolette Mallios
Technology Rep: Valentina Cacciatore
New Student Liaison: Karen Kachko


COTAD Executive Board 2020-2021

President: Edgar Neris
Vice President: Elizabeth Adenegan 
Secretary: Shelbie Ramalanjaona
Treasurer: Fatima Muftau
Fundraising Chair: Evelin Hernandez
Event Coordinator: Samra Qadeer
Social Media Manager: Kate Faria

THANK YOU to each of you for your individual and collective efforts in driving wellness initiatives and working to fulfill the mission of SOHP and Downstate! 



SOHP’s Dr. Brigitte Desport Earns Governor’s Appointment to EICC!

photo of Brigitte DesportI am thrilled to announce that Brigitte Desport, DPS, OTR/L, BCP, ATP, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy in the School of Health Professions, was recently appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the Early Intervention Coordinating Council (EICC)!

In the State of New York, the EICC is comprised of a 30-member advisory council that reviews intervention research and guidelines, discusses policy changes, and collaborates with the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH) to oversee the program. They impart recommendations to NYSDOH about which services are safe and optimal for infants and toddlers with a family history of disability.

Dr. Desport and her peer members of the EICC will pool their unique perspectives and experiences to grow and enhance Early Intervention programming.  Via the advisory council, members will advise NYSDOH on a number of different therapeutic and support services, including:

  • "assistive technology devices and services
  • audiology
  • family education and counseling, home visits, and parent support groups
  • nursing services
  • nutrition services
  • occupational therapy
  • physical therapy
  • psychological services
  • service coordination
  • social work services
  • special instruction
  • speech pathology
  • vision services"

Dr. Desport is board certified in pediatrics from the American Occupational Therapy Association and a certified Assistive Technology Professional.  Her professional specialties are in early intervention and pediatrics with a concentration in the high-risk infant, and her research interests focus on the transition process of the infants and their families from the NICU to home.  Dr. Desport demonstrates her deep commitment to the children of Brooklyn by monitoring the development of babies seen at Downstate’s At-Risk NICU Follow-up clinic and supporting their families.  One of her goals is to prepare students to be culturally intelligent when providing services to oppressed communities, an initiative that brings various people together to achieve a useful result.  She does this through her teaching, research, and faculty advisement to student associations. 

During Dr. Desport's seven years at SUNY Downstate, she chaired the Organizational Culture and Transformational Working Committee for Downstate’s Strategic Plan Impact 2025.  Dr. Desport also serves on the University Faculty Senate as the Health Sciences Sector representative and on the SUNY Interprofessional Consortium, and is the faculty advisor of the National Perinatal Association Student Society (NPASS) as well as the newly formed Black Students of Excellence (BSE).  She was also recently accepted into the New York State Student Success Center Coaching Academy

Dr. Desport obtained a BS in Health Sciences and an MS in Occupational Therapy from Touro College School of Health Sciences, a MA in Communication Arts from New York Institute of Technology and DPS in Occupational Therapy from New York University.

CONGRATULATIONS on this wonderful achievement, Dr. Desport! Your work with the EICC will be pivotal in supporting and advancing the care we provide to those in need.



Dr. Shushawna DeOliveira Appointed SOHP Associate Dean for Program Operations and Quality

photo of SOHPI am pleased to announce the appointment of Shushawna DeOliveira, DHA, as the new Associate Dean for Program Operations and Quality in the School of Health Professions (SOHP).  The Associate Dean role was previously held by Margaret Kaplan, Ph.D., OTR/L, who retired in October of 2019. Dr. DeOliveira will focus on SOHP program operations, namely admissions and accreditation, as well as evaluation/assessment, and programmatic growth.

Dr. DeOliveira has been at Downstate for more than 30 years, and has served in several leadership roles in her three decades on campus.  She has held the position of Director of Student Admissions since August 2006, with responsibility for daily operations and the strategic vision for the admissions processes in Downstate’s five Colleges and Schools. Prior to joining the Office of Student Admissions, she served as Assistant Dean for the Office of Graduate Medical Education from 1989 to 2006. 

Dr. DeOliveira has positively influenced several efforts on campus, including having served on school-based admissions committees and participated in academic program development within graduate education.  She has cultivated interest in and knowledge of academic pipeline programs, accreditation compliance, assessment to enhance program effectiveness, and the creation of student mentorship opportunities, as well as developing student-centered services.

Dr. DeOliveira currently holds a voluntary faculty appointment in the SOHP, where she has participated in the School’s research capacity building activities, co-authored a book chapter, and is currently co-leading an effort and study on the infusion of the concept of culture into every SOHP course. 

Dr. DeOliveira received her doctorate from Central Michigan University with a specialization in leadership. 

Please join me in congratulating Dr. DeOliveira on her new role!


In the Community

Diversity Education & Research Launches SWAG Game Changer Mini-Series!

zoom group photo

The Office of Diversity Education and Research hosted a four week "Game Changer" mini-series, Brooklyn Scholar-athletes With Academic Goals (BK-SWAG) event led by Tina Adjei-Bosompem, MPH, Senior Program Coordinator, and Shemeika Bowman, Program Administrator. Created by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the goal of SWAG is to create opportunities for student athletes throughout New York City to increase exposure and entry into the health professions.

The program aims to inspire athletes to leverage their love of sports to someday enter fields in medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other healthcare professions. The Office of Diversity Education and Research partnered with local high schools and community-based organizations, including Medgar Evers Prep High School, Bishop Loughlin High School, Erasmus-YCD, Nazareth High School, Grady High School, Kings County Tennis League, and the Riverside Hawks. The mini-series took place every Thursday afternoon during the month of January.

The event kicked-off on January 7th with "Introduction to Game Changer," with Christine Persaud, M.D., of SUNY Downstate's Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation and Riley J. Williams III, M.D., Director for the Institute for Cartilage Repair at the Hospital for Special Surgery and head physician for the Brooklyn Nets. They led the conversation with our students, sharing their journey to becoming a physicians and what it was like working with student and professional athletes.

Left to right: Christine Persaud and Riley J. Williams III

Left to right: Christine Persaud, MD and Riley J. Williams III

The January 14th “Physical Therapy: Restore your Mind & Body" session was facilitated by Downstate alum and clinical director of Jag One Physical Therapy (Georgetown Location), Sean Thomas, PT, DPT.  Dr. Thomas was joined by Spartan and OCTR racer Charles Vassallo and retired NFL Superbowl Champion David Bruton, Jr., who is currently finishing up his last semester for the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program in Colorado. The invited professional athletes shared the importance of physical therapy in their career and how it aided in strengthening their performace on the field.

Left to right: Sean Thomas, Charles Vassallo and David Bruton Jr.

Left to right: Sean Thomas, DPT, Charles Vassallo and David Bruton Jr.

On January 21st, the "Nutrition: Unlock Your Potential" session was led by Mahalia French, MS, RD, CDN, of SUNY Downstate's Division of Transplant Surgery, who provided an intro to nutrition for athletes. This session was also joined by former international football player and New Utrecht High School Football coach Ronald Sears. Both shared their nutritional regimens as athletes and engaged in a trivia activity with the students by having them guess the sport based on the nutritional regimen provided.

Left to Right: Mahalia French, and Ronald Sears

Left to Right: Mahalia French, MS, RD, CDN and Ronald Sears

The final session on January 28th, "Academics and Athletics: Game Plan," was led by Seth Langley, Ph.D., of Downstate's Office of Academic Support Services and Advisement. Dr. Langley provided students with tips on how to balance sports and academics as he shared his journey as a student athlete playing both basketball and running track and field on a full scholarship. Kimberly Yee, former professional tennis player, US Open competitor, also joined and shared her journey as a young, professional athlete to obtaining a full scholarship to play tennis at Stanford University.

Left to right: Seth Langley and Kimberly Yee

Left to right: Seth Langley, PhD and Kimberly Yee

THANK YOU to all the speakers, high school and community-based organization administrators, and to all of the students for participating in this program! 


Downstate Shout Outs!

Shout out to…

Mariana Markell, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, for leading a panel on “Social Determinants of Health, Kidney Disease, and COVID-19” during the National Kidney Foundation’s virtual conference on March 11, marking World Kidney Day. The symposium was designed to enhance the collective knowledge and skills of nephrology healthcare teams. 

Subodh Saggi, M.D., MPH, Professor of Medicine/Nephrology Division, for delivering “Improving Mortality Outcomes in Dialysis Facilities During a Pandemic with Early Process Improvements” – the kick-off lecture in the End Stage Renal Disease National Coordinating Center (ESRD-NCC)s COVID-19 informational webinar series. 

Michael Szarek, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Executive Director of Clinical and Outcomes Research in the School of Public Health, for representing Downstate at the ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium and speaking to cancernetwork.com on the impact of tivozanib (Fotvida), a drug recently approved by the FDA as a third- or fourth-line treatment for renal cell carcinoma. Dr. Szarek’s Q-TWIST analysis suggests the drug improves quality of life by reducing the length of time patients experience toxic symptoms. 

In recognition of Women’s History Month 2021, an historic Shout Out to Evelyn Witkin, Ph.D., who served on Downstate’s faculty from 1955 to 1971, for conducting seminal research in the field of bacterial genetics and UV radiation-resistance mutation while at Downstate. Over the course of her long career, Dr. Witkin was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and received the National Medal of Science for her work on DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair, as well as the Lasker Prize in Basic Medical Research. Dr. Witkin, an inspiration to us all, celebrated her 100th birthday on March 9, a day after International Women’s Day.

Have a Shout Out to recommend?

Send to Ellen.watson@downstate.edu




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