Commencement Week: Students Celebrate the Launch of Transformational Careers
“Now is their time,” Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, says of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Class of 2018. “Commencement is a tremendous milestone.”
As Mechaber and other faculty members, graduating seniors and their family and friends prepare for the commencement ceremony this Saturday, May 12, Mechaber, who is also Bernard J. Fogel Chair in Medical Education and professor of medicine, recalls what he told the students when they began medical school: “Medicine will transform you, but you’re also going to have the opportunity to transform medicine as we know it.”
Three members of this transformational class talk about the paths that led them to the Miller School, their experiences here, and the promise of the future in special commencement profiles:
Daniel Baldor, M.D./M.P.H. candidate
For Daniel Baldor, who says he was “born into international medicine,” the groundbreaking M.D./M.P.H. program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine was a perfect step on the path to his career destination: becoming a Navy surgeon.
Baldor, who begins a general surgery residency at Naval Medical Center San Diego soon after receiving his Miller School degrees May 12, began his life on an Apache Indian reservation, where his father was a primary care doctor. His mother is a professor of nursing who took him to outreach projects she led in Belize, and they ended up helping with recovery in Thailand when the tsunami hit while they were there on vacation.
Those experiences, along with an undergraduate degree in political science and international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston, a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at Harvard, and an internship with Physicians for Human Rights documenting Arab Spring violence against physicians and hospital patients, inspired Baldor’s determination to join the Navy as a surgeon.
“I truly believe in the vital role that the United States plays in supporting and defending freedom and democracy around the world,” he said. “And the public health component is important for the broader implication of what medicine can be used for. And for me, it’s that big floating hospital ship the Mercy.
“I see Navy medicine as something that is much beyond just hands on patients and our support of the warfighter – I also see the diplomatic mission, I see the global mission,” he said. “The Navy provides all the logistical support for every major catastrophic response globally. There is also a big role for public health in terms of disaster management.”
While moving to South Florida was a significant cultural shift for Baldor, who came from Worcester, Mass., he jumped into medical school and community service with commitment and passion. He helped establish a Gun Violence Research and Advocacy Program, talking with survivors at UM/Jackson’s Ryder Trauma Center and presenting information at public health conferences. He was involved in the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS), and he became a huge anatomy enthusiast.
He spent countless hours in the lab, and then kept going back to help with the anatomy classes. “I feel inextricably drawn to the physicality,” he said. “I think that’s why I’m a surgeon – I’m a tactile person.”
Daniel M. Lichtstein, M.D., regional dean for medical education at the Miller School, says Baldor’s curiosity and innovation have earned him the respect and admiration of faculty and his classmates. “In any situation when you’re interacting with him, he is always seeking more – he’s never happy with the status quo,” Lichtstein said. “When you explain something, he’s always looking for more information.”
Lichtstein was particularly impressed by Baldor’s project with a fellow student to develop a series of faculty podcasts about core internal medicine topics to help third-year medical students with their oral exams. “He truly is a unique individual,” Lichtstein said.
He definitely is a driven individual. In a speech at a banquet celebrating the Miller School M.D./M.P.H. graduates at the regional campus in Palm Beach, Baldor talked about the extraordinary drive that brought him and his classmates to medical school. “We have a responsibility to take care of the population,” he said. “We have to own our position as leaders in shaping the future, especially in regard to health care.”
Baldor commissioned into the Navy in part to pay for medical school, “but for the first time in my life I feel like I’m where I’m meant to be,” he said. “I know that when I went to basic training, I belonged.
“I have found my calling.”
Ryan J. Diel, M.D. candidate
Ryan J. Diel, a 2018 M.D. candidate at the Miller School of Medicine, exemplifies the University of Miami values of scholarship, research and service. “Ryan is at the top of his class,” said Chrisfouad R. Alabiad, M.D., associate professor of clinical ophthalmology and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. “He is passionate about learning and has a bright future in ophthalmology.”
As a child, Diel moved with his family to several cities around the United States, before settling in Las Vegas. “That experience gave me a real understanding of the importance of positive human interactions, and fostered my own development as a resilient individual,” he said.
Diel enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) as a first-generation college student interested in the sciences. He thought about becoming a dentist, but decided on a career in medicine after shadowing a local oncologist, Paul Michael, M.D. “I saw the impact Dr. Michael made on individuals’ lives, not just by treating cancer but by creating trust and understanding with his patients,” Diel said.
Diel volunteered at a Las Vegas hospital while taking pre-med classes in immunology, microbiology, anatomy and other subjects. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Diel had to choose between the University of Nevada’s medical school in Reno and the University of Miami.
“When I visited UM on interview day, I was inspired by the size of the medical center and having three major hospitals within one block of each other,” Diel said. “I felt confident that coming here would give me the clinical experience, as well as a great education, that would allow me to pursue a career in medicine.”
Diel also credits his wife Candice, an intensive care nurse, for helping him succeed in medical school. “She understands the importance of clinical training, and also enjoys learning new things every day,” he said.
As a third-year student, Diel was inspired by his rotation in ophthalmology. “I enjoyed getting to know the faculty and seeing the great work being done at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute,” he said. During his rotation, Diel observed a surgery on a 3-year-old girl with a rare congenital eye movement disorder called Duane Syndrome. “She felt shy about her appearance before the surgery, which did more than correct her vision. It will have a profound effect on this young girl for the rest of her life,” he said.
In the past two years, Diel has served as president of the honorary Alpha Omega Alpha, and as a student representative to the school’s curriculum and reaccreditation committees. He has also been an active volunteer in the school’s Ophthalmology Interest Club, coordinating vision screenings in South Florida neighborhoods.
Diel has also taken an active role in research, collaborating with Anat Galor, M.D., M.S.P.H., associate professor of clinical ophthalmology, on several projects. “Ryan came to me to ask about doing research,” Galor said. “He led an important study on the connections between migraines and dry eye syndrome that was published as a brief report in the journal Ophthalmology last year.” Diel was lead author of the study, “Botulinum Toxin A for the Treatment of Photophobia and Dry Eye Photophobia,” which covered a chronic debilitating condition that, in severe cases, causes individuals to become prisoners in their own homes.
Now, Diel is looking forward to starting his ophthalmology residency at the University of Iowa this summer. “Ryan will be able to continue learning at one of the nation’s top ophthalmology programs,” Galor said. “He is one of our best students and is well on his way to becoming a leader in our field.”
Stephanie Ioannou, M.D. candidate
Stephanie Ioannou knew from an early age that she wanted to be a physician. That goal helped keep her centered as her father, a hotelier, moved the family numerous times during her childhood.
“I was born in Miami, but I attended eight schools between kindergarten and 12th grade,” said Ioannou. “We finally moved to Broward when I was entering high school, and I have lived in South Florida ever since.”
In addition to the family moves, her father spent years fighting cancer and he was in and out of hospitals during the ordeal. With the help of skilled doctors, he eventually beat the disease, and witnessing the quality of his care only strengthened Ioannou’s resolve to become a physician herself.
“They inspired me,” she said. “I wanted to impact individuals and families the way that my father’s physicians impacted my family. To this day, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Ioannou’s chance to start down that path came as a UM sophomore majoring in biology, with minors in chemistry and psychology, when she was accepted into the Medical Scholars Program — an early medical school acceptance that enables students to earn B.S. and M.D. degrees in just seven years.
“I couldn’t wait to start medical school,” she said. “I was excited by the Miller School’s diverse patient population, small-group learning environments, and vast opportunities for community service and leadership.”
Ioannou has excelled academically, but it is through volunteer activities that she has really made a name for herself. She joined the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS), becoming co-director in her third year and executive director in her fourth year. She is proud that she has never missed a single DOCS health fair — the large-scale student-run clinics held in underserved communities. She has also volunteered for three Nicaragua Medical Missions.
“It is extremely rewarding to build relationships with members of the community year after year,” she said. “Our goal is to provide patient education and to connect patients who otherwise have no, or very little, access to medical care through community health services.”
Ioannou has also served as a clinical skills trainer for first- and second-year Miller School students, and a member of the school’s Admissions Committee and the American Medical Women’s Association, and she has engaged in research projects within the Divisions of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. She received UM’s ultimate recognition this spring when she was tapped for membership in the Iron Arrow Honor Society.
Following graduation, she heads off — but only as far as Jackson Memorial Hospital — for a residency in internal medicine.
“After my residency, I would like to pursue a fellowship in gastroenterology,” she said. “I ultimately want to practice in a large academic setting and incorporate teaching and mentoring into my career.”
In her spare time — yes, she apparently has some — Ioannou enjoys being with family and friends, reading, traveling, cooking, practicing yoga and dancing salsa.
“Stephanie is one of our star leaders,” said Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., Bernard J. Fogel Chair in Medical Education, senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education and professor of medicine. “She embodies everything we hope for in a Miller School student — highly competent, compassionate, and caring, with a keen interest in serving our community.”
A story about the Miller School commencement ceremonies can be found here.