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Hundreds of New Health Professionals Graduate from SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Dr. James B. Ranck and Dr. Deborah E. Trautman Awarded Honorary Degrees; Robert L. Wooten, Jr. Receives the Ailanthus Award; Drs. Michael Lucchesi, Daisy Cruz-Richman, Ruth C. Browne,  and Richard Winant Receive President’s Award

Brooklyn, NY – SUNY Downstate Medical Center graduated a new class of physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, research scientists, and public health professionals at commencement ceremonies held recently at Carnegie Hall.

Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP, president of SUNY Downstate, told the graduates, "You are about to embark on careers that are intensely challenging, ever-changing, and personally rewarding. I want you to know that the good wishes of all of us assembled for this happy occasion are with you."

David A. Bennahum, MD, 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 for his contributions to medicine, medical ethics, and community health. Dr. Bennahum is scholar in residence at the Institute for Ethics and professor emeritus of medicine, family and community medicine, and law at the University of New Mexico.

At the same ceremony, the Honorable H. Carl McCall, chairman of the State University of New York Board of Trustees, delivered greetings to the graduates, their families, and friends.

James B. Ranck, Jr., MD, Distinguished Teaching Professor emeritus of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate, also received an honorary doctor of science degree. One of the world’s foremost authorities on extracellular electrical stimulation of brain cells and electrical impedance of brain tissue, Dr. Ranck discovered head-direction cells, which, along with place cells and grid cells, are the neural basis of navigation and spatial behavior in animals. Dr. Ranck served at Downstate from 1975 until his retirement in 2014.

In his Commencement address, Dr. Bennahum said, “As science comes to encompass so much of our modern lives we risk losing the art of medicine: the ability to listen, to recognize the signs and symptoms of each disease, to empathize, to care, to touch, to be ethical and to be present. In effect is there a risk that you could be distanced from your moral compass? It is in the humanities, not the sciences that we find our moral ground and I would argue that we must remain committed and return frequently to the humanities for emotional and intellectual healing and nourishment.”

Dr. Bennahum continued, “Each one of you must find his or her own solution, your own healing private space. Whether it will be in philosophy, art, history, literature, dance or music, yoga, baseball, fishing or whatever, you must find that space for enriching your imagination with stories and experiences that resonate with those of your patients.  That will help you to be a better physician or scientist.”

Ruth C. Browne, SD, president and chief executive officer of Ronald McDonald House New York, received the President's Award. Dr. Browne was formerly chief executive officer of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health (AAIUH) for 12 years. Dr. Browne was a principal investigator and director of the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center, a National Institutes of Health-funded Center of Excellence and a research-based partnership between AAIUH, SUNY Downstate, and the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office. Dr. Browne was recognized as an advocate for health equity and a beacon for change.

Michael Lucchesi, MD, professor and chairman of Downstate’s Department of Emergency Medicine and chief medical officer, also received a President's Award. Dr. Lucchesi recently served as officer-in charge at Downstate. The President's Award honors individuals who are distinguished within their medical or scientific discipline, in public life, academia, and scholarship. The award noted Dr. Lucchesi’s courage to lead and strength to inspire.

At the evening ceremony for graduates of Downstate’s College of Health Related Professions and College of Nursing, Robert L. Wooten, Jr., PA-C, a leader in the allied health professions, delivered the commencement address.

Mr. Wooten said, “You have done the work, completed the courses, and today you get your degree. Now what are you going to do? I challenge you to use the power of your education and your degree to effect positive change in the health of others and the health care delivery system.”

He concluded, “Be involved in the communities where you work and where you live. When we talk about effecting change, this is no small task. It requires that our communities are equipped with the latest technology and resources that allow us to take advantage of the tools and programs that are available to improve access to care, health information and health education. Become a mentor. Work with others who aspire to make a difference in the lives of others. It is important that you lift them up and help guide them.”   

Mr. Wooten received the Ailanthus Award, Downstate’s highest campus honor, for his leadership in physician assistant education and training, as well as for his work as a role model and mentor whose career in the health professions has spanned decades.

The Ailanthus Award is named in honor of the Ailanthus altissima tree, made famous in Betty Smith's novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The award is bestowed on individuals who are like the plant, tenacious in pursuing their goals.

Deborah E. Trautman, PhD, RN, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, received an honorary doctor of science degree. Dr. Trautman is one of the nation's foremost leaders in nurse education and national health policy.  


Daisy Cruz-Richman, PhD, RN, received the President’s Award for her more than 30 years of service to SUNY Downstate, including the past 15 years as dean of the College of Nursing, a position from which she is retiring, and for advancing the profession of nursing and elevating scholarship.
Richard Winant, PhD, who has served as dean for academic information access and director of libraries at SUNY Downstate since 1991, also received a President’s Award, for his service to librarianship and being a steward of learning. Dr. Winant also is retiring this year.

For more information on SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s 2017 commencement ceremonies, please visit: .



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.