SUNY Downstate Medical Center Graduates Hundreds of New Health Professionals

May 27, 2016

Dr. Peter J. Levin and Dr. Luther T. Clark Awarded Honorary Degrees; Dr. Vernell P. DeWitty Receives President’s Award

Brooklyn, NY – SUNY Downstate Medical Center has graduated a new class of physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, research scientists, and public health professionals at commencement ceremonies held at Carnegie Hall. The ceremonies for 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of SUNY Downstate’s School of Graduate Studies, College of Nursing, and School of Health Professions, as well as its University Hospital of Brooklyn.

Peter J. Levin, ScD, MPH, a pioneer in public health and public health education, delivered the commencement address for the College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, and School of Public Health in the afternoon ceremony and received an honorary doctor of science degree. Also receiving an honorary doctor of science degree was Luther T. Clark, MD, FACC, FACP, an eminent cardiologist and pharmaceutical company executive. Vernell P. DeWitty, PhD, MBA, MSN, a leader in nursing and nurse education, spoke to the nursing and allied health professions graduates at the evening ceremony, and received the President’s Award.

In his remarks to the graduating physicians, scientists, and public health professionals, SUNY Downstate President John F. Williams, Jr., MD, EdD, MPH, FCCM, said, “You are graduating during a period of unprecedented change in medicine and healthcare, but our fundamental goals are the same as they have been for centuries: promote health and well-being, relieve suffering and pain, save lives, and rescue people from sickness and disability. You have the capacity to improve human lives in ways virtually unimaginable even a generation ago, and you have the ability to shape the present in service of an uncertain and impatient future.”

In his remarks to graduates of the School of Health Professions and College of Nursing, President Williams said, “This ceremony is a very tangible reminder that Downstate is one of the most diverse medical centers in the country, diverse in the broadest sense of the word. You come from many backgrounds. Collectively, you represent many nationalities and speak over 50 languages. You represent all races and cultures too numerous to count.

“Why is this important? Each of you brings a great deal to the table, and your unique perspective on the world. You have shared your life experiences with each other, taught each other, learned from each other. In a society that is becoming ever more blended, yet ever more diverse, it is important that we educate individuals who know that the world is complex and who are culturally aware and sensitive to the fact that their patients come from many backgrounds. This we do at Downstate, and we do it extremely well.”

In his Commencement address, Dr. Levin discussed “the very serious issue of responsibility in our society.” He told the graduates, “Watching our presidential primaries we have to be careful not to think that "they" -- some other beings or groups -- are responsible for what happens to patients and the public’s health. You, dear graduates, become responsible new professionals from this day forward.”

He continued, “Financial considerations regarding payments dominate the practice of medicine and affect physicians’ choices for their patients. Few people go to medical school to spend their time fighting with the government and insurance companies, but all of you will do this, not only for your patients, but also for the good of the public’s health and to maintain the independence of the profession.”    

Dr. DeWitty told the new class of nurses and allied health professionals, “You who are graduating are among the most privileged and informed members of our society and you have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to shape the world of today and tomorrow. Now is the time to ask yourself, how will I live the career I have chosen, how will I define excellence, what values drive your work?”

She added, “Your career in health care provides you this very special opportunity to touch people. You will be privileged to see people’s joy, their sadness, and their success. You will have privileged access to patients at times when they are the most vulnerable. You must always understand this privileged access and hold it in sacred trust.”

Downstate graduated 204 students from the College of Medicine, 12 students from the School of Graduate Studies, and 95 students from the School of Public Health. The College of Nursing graduated 261 students and the School of Health Professions graduated 146 students.

Dr. Peter J. Levin is the only individual to have served as the dean of three schools of public health, including the School of Public Health at SUNY’s University at Albany. He has excelled at public service, working in important government positions at local, state, and federal levels, providing guidance and insight into major health policy issues to elected and appointed officials. Dr. Levin is an advocate for public health education and understands the importance of linkages between schools of public health and medical schools. He served as an advisor to Downstate's School of Public Health during its transition from a master's program.

Dr. Vernell P. DeWitty is program director of the Robert Wood Johnson New Careers in Nursing Scholarship Program (NCIN), a national program of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program provides financial support to accelerated-degree nursing students from underrepresented backgrounds. In her role at AACN, Dr. DeWitty has sought to increase the number of underrepresented persons in nursing through recruitment and enrollment in schools of nursing, and to provide programs to develop nurse leaders. Since its inception, more than 3,000 NCIN scholars have completed the program and joined the nursing workforce. NCIN has been successful in recruiting students from its targeted populations. Twenty-eight percent of their scholars are African-American, 14 percent are Hispanic/Latino, 11 percent Asian, and 40 percent are male – all higher percentages than the overall U.S. nursing student population.

Dr. Luther T. Clark is a researcher with a lifelong commitment to understanding and treating heart disease and to eliminating health disparities. He is currently global director, scientific medical and patient perspective, in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer at Merck & Co., Inc. Before joining Merck, Dr. Clark served as professor of clinical medicine and chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at SUNY Downstate from 1995 until 2007. He was also director and principal investigator of the National Institutes of Health-supported Brooklyn Health Disparities Center, a partnership between SUNY Downstate Medical Center, the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, and the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President.



About SUNY Downstate Medical Center

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, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively.

SUNY Downstate ranks twelfth 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.