SUNY Downstate Confers Degrees to More Than 900 Graduates at Commencement Exercises

May 12, 2022

Two Honorary Doctorate of Science degrees were awarded, and seven Honorary Doctorate recipients from 2021 and 2020 were also recognized

Brooklyn, NY—On May 12, 2022, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University conferred degrees to more than 900 graduates of its five colleges and schools, including 187 students from the College of Medicine. Downstate also awarded two new Honorary Doctorates and presented Honorary Doctorates from 2021 and 2020 to seven recipients who could not previously be recognized in person because of the pandemic. Commencement was held at Brooklyn’s Coney Island Amphitheatre for the second consecutive year.

SUNY Downstate president Wayne J. Riley, M.D., presided over the ceremonies, with exercises held for the College of Nursing and School of Health Professions in the morning. The College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, and School of Public Health ceremonies were held in the afternoon.

“Commencement is always a wonderful time to celebrate hard-fought academic and clinical victories for our graduates,” said President Riley. “And today, students and their families joined with the Downstate community to share in the next exciting steps. These last few years have been difficult for everyone; however, our students remained steadfastly committed because they understand that the world—now changed because of the pandemic—will bring about new challenges in healthcare. As a result, they are fully prepared to take their rightful places and care for those who need them most. Congratulations to our Class of 2022!”

Honorary Doctor of Science degrees for 2022 were conferred on Linda Ann Clayton, M.D., MPH, and Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH.

Linda Ann Clayton, M.D., MPH, a notable author and the first African-American woman to be sub-specialty trained in gynecologic oncology, was recognized for her outstanding work in public health, impactful focus on health equity, and significant scholarship in health disparities over the course of a career that has concentrated on academic medicine, health policy, and population health.

Dr. Clayton and her late husband, medical historian W. Michael Byrd, M.D, are internationally renowned for their groundbreaking research on the evolution and extent of health disparities affecting African Americans, racialized ethnic minorities, women, and diversity among disadvantaged populations. They co-authored the two-volume Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, An American Health Dilemma. Dr. Clayton was

Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH, Founder and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, was recognized for his national and global work in public health and his dedication to teaching and mentoring public health researchers.

Dr. Osterholm served as an advisor to presidential administrations of both parties and as Science Envoy for Health Security on behalf of the United States Department of State. He is an outspoken advocate of developing national emergency preparedness for biological weapon attacks and a leading spokesperson on the public health impact of COVID-19. He was appointed to then-President-elect Joe Biden’s 13-member Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board in 2020. Dr. Osterholm has published numerous editorials and opinion pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post and appeared on “Meet the Press” and other national newscasts. In addition, he is the creator and host of the Osterholm Update. This podcast has served as a significant source of information throughout the COVID-19 epidemic.

SUNY Downstate also recognized seven Honorary Doctorate recipients from 2020 and 2021:

Harold P. Freeman, MD, is the nation’s preeminent authority on race, poverty, and cancer. Now retired, Dr. Freeman was the chief architect of the American Cancer Society’s initiative on cancer among disadvantaged populations and an innovator who pioneered the Patient Navigator model of care. Among his many honors and accomplishments, Dr. Freeman served as national President of the American Cancer Society, four-term Chair of the President’s Cancer Panel, Founding Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, and is a 2000 Lasker Laureate.In addition, Dr. Freeman is an emeritus professor of clinical surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, a Senior Advisor to the Director of the National Cancer Institute, a Director of Howard University, and a Trustee of Howard University Hospital.

Ali S. Khan, MD, MPH, MBA, Dean of Public Health at the University of Nebraska, is known for driving innovation in public health, combating emerging infectious diseases and bioterrorism, and his skill in aligning national objectives with evolving science and political environments. He served with the CDC from 1991 to 2014. Many of his CDC assignments were directed at responding to high-profile domestic and international public health emergencies, including outbreaks of Ebola hemorrhagic fever, the initial public health response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the anthrax attack on the Senate Office Buildings in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers, released in 2016. In addition, he continues to consult for multiple U.S. organizations, Ministries of Health in foreign countries, and the World Health Organization.

Monica Sweeney, MD, MPH, FACP, an alumna of SUNY Downstate’s College of Medicine and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, is a community health champion who helped shape the local, state, and national response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Dr. Sweeney served two terms as a member of the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, was former Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control in the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and, for close to two decades, was director of a clinic in the heart of Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant community, an inner-city healthcare “desert” in which people of color continue to be affected by HIV/AIDS at epidemic levels. Dr. Sweeney is now Professor and Chair Emerita of Health Policy and Management at Downstate’s School of Public Health.

Daisy Cruz-Richman, Ph.D., R.N., is Dean Emerita of SUNY Downstate’s College of Nursing. While Dean, she strengthened Nursing Programs within SUNY Downstate and throughout The State University of New York system; provided leadership to nationally important programs; and maintained academic rigor in the nursing profession in concert with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In 2006, Dr. Cruz-Richman was one of 15 Nursing leaders charged by the AACN Board of Directors with revising its 1998 document, Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice. In 2012, she chaired the AACN’s national RN-BSN Task Force. In addition, she was a founding member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “New Careers in Nursing” scholarship program, designed to increase the number of bachelor-prepared nurses in the workforce.

Eli A. Friedman, MD, MACP, was recognized for his leadership and lifetime efforts to extend the life-saving technology of dialysis to ever broader communities. Over the course of his career, Dr. Friedman worked, collaborated with, or advised virtually every prominent clinician in end-stage renal disease and renal transplantation. In addition, he trained more than 160 nephrology fellows, many of whom went on to distinguished academic and clinical careers. Dr. Friedman is a 1957 graduate of SUNY Downstate’s College of Medicine. He returned to Downstate in 1963 as an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Chief of the newly created Renal Disease Division. He spent his entire career in service at SUNY Downstate. He was appointed a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1992 and formally retired in 2019. In addition, Dr. Friedman served as editor or on the editorial boards of 25 scientific journals and is the author of over 500 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

John Ruffin, Ph.D., founding director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, was recognized for elevating the national discourse on minority health and launching health disparities research to the status of scientific discipline. As the NIH federal official for minority health disparities research, Dr. Ruffin planned and brought to fruition the most extensive biomedical research program in the nation aimed at efforts to eliminate health disparities. Over his more than 20-year career at the NIH, he transformed research on minority health and health disparities from a programmatic concept to a fully-realized entity that, as a National Institute, touches the lives of millions of Americans burdened by inequalities in health status and healthcare delivery.

Carl McCall, M.Div., DD., DHL, Board Chair Emeritus of the State University of New York Board of Trustees, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Mr. McCall is a civil rights activist, astute business leader, and champion for access and equality in higher education. In addition to his leadership of SUNY, over the course of his career, he served as a New York State Senator, ordained minister, Ambassador to the United Nations, Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights, Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York State Comptroller, and Board member of the New York Stock Exchange. Under Mr. McCall’s leadership, SUNY initiated programs and policies that defined the core values of the State University of New York, including a system-wide diversity policy, expansion of Educational Opportunity Programs, implementation of the most robust measures in the nation to prevent sexual assault on college campuses, the end of criminal conviction disclosure in SUNY admissions, and implementation of a system-wide initiative to increase the number of underrepresented faculty.

Downstate’s Commencement Exercises for the College of Medicine followed a successful residency match of 96 percent in March. Seventy percent of the class matched to programs in New York State, in alignment with Downstate’s mission of responding to New York State’s healthcare workforce needs.

Top specialty matches included Emergency Medicine (27 percent), Psychiatry (17 percent), and Anesthesiology (16 percent).

About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care. It is a 342-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of New York City and Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital of Downstate (UHD) is Downstate’s teaching hospital, backed by an outstanding medical school’s expertise and world-class academic center research facilities. More than 800 physicians representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate’s staff.

In addition to high-risk neonatal and infant services, pediatric nephrology, and dialysis (kidney diseases)—and offering the only kidney transplantation program in Brooklyn, among many other distinctive programs—Downstate also sponsors a major learning center for young children with developmental disorders and disabilities. In addition to UHD, Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter at @sunydownstate.