Ignite Magazine | Fall 2021

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A P U B L I CAT I O N O F N O RT H E A S T O H I O M E D I CA L U N I V E R S I T Y • V O L 2 2 .2 FA L L 2 02 1



on’t you love to hear stories about young people doing good and doing well? It’s exciting to be around the energy, perspective and community that NEOMED students generate when they work together — empowered to celebrate their unique minds, cultures and capabilities as they address the big issues of our time. I feel fortunate to bear witness every day to the positive changes that occur as our small but growing University creates new opportunities to ensure that our students are thriving educationally, socially, physically and mentally. In this issue, you will discover many of the ways we continually aim to make this possible and sustainable. For nearly 50 years, NEOMED has incorporated humanities studies into medical education. “Creatives in Medicine” tells how Richa Sheth, a second-year College of Medicine student who is the president of a new student group by that name, leads classmates who reflect on and transform their experiences in medicine through art. “Practicing the Art of Care” uses a canvas of a different kind as Holly Gerzina, Ph.D., senior executive director of NEOMED’s Wasson Center, describes this learning lab as a safe place for students to practice, practice, practice. Students work with software-controlled mannequins and so-called task trainers to practice their technique on inanimate objects. Standardized Patients (community members prepared with scripts to play specific patient roles) are selected to represent a variety of specific populations the students will later serve — for example, Nepalese students from North High School in Akron. Members of the LGBTQ+ community also work with students in sessions designed to better understand the particular needs of these patients. “We always viewed gender as a binary thing,” says Crystal Cole, M.D. (’07), about her time as a student. In “Speaking of Sex,” Dr. Cole, medical director of the Center for Gender-Affirming Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital and a NEOMED clinical faculty member, says her students in the Wasson Center now automatically document the patients’ pronouns and gender identity. Kristen Knepp, Ph.D., an assistant professor of behavioral sciences, says in the feature story “Bearing the Weight of the COVID 29” that it’s no wonder that (according to an American Psychological Association survey) 42% of Americans reported an average weight gain of 29 pounds during the pandemic, with so many lifestyle changes. To make matters worse, overweight patients often must deal with health care professionals who are biased against them. Erika Quedding, a second-year pharmacy student, has been working with Dr. Knepp on research (“Understanding Obesity Attitudes and Knowledge in Health Sciences Students”) to combat that bias. “Good Trouble in Rootstown, Ohio” — that’s what we make at NEOMED as we identify critical issues in medical education and care. This includes addressing the underrepresentation of minority students in medical school and physicians in practice. As this story peeks into NEOMED’s successful prescription for increasing student diversity across our medical programs, it proves that NEOMED, despite our size, not only fights the good fight among the biggest of medical schools, but punches above its weight. Pound for pound, NEOMED is second to none. Sincerely,

John T. Langell President 02 C R E AT I N G


VOL 22.2 FALL 2021 Northeast Ohio Medical University is a public medical university with a mission to harness diversity, innovation and collaboration to create transformative leaders and improve health through education, discovery and service. The University embraces diversity, equity and inclusion and fosters a working and learning environment that celebrates differences and prepares students for patient-centered, team- and population-based care. Ignite magazine (Fall 2021, Volume 22, No. 2) is published twice a year by the Office of Marketing and Communications, 4209 St. Rt. 44, P.O. Box 95, Rootstown, OH 44272-0095 Email: eguregian@neomed.edu President John T. Langell, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., M.B.A. NEOMED Board of Trustees Richard B. McQueen, Chair Phillip L. Trueblood, Vice Chair E. Douglas Beach, Ph.D. Sharlene Ramos Chesnes William H. Considine, M.H.S.A. Robert J. Klonk Darrell L. McNair, M.B.A. Ward J. “Tim” Timken, M.B.A. Susan Tave Zelman, Ph.D. Student Trustees Sanjay K.A. Jinka Joshua L. Tidd

Editor: Elaine Guregian Contributing Editors: Roderick L. Ingram Sr., Jared F. Slanina, Jeanne M. Hoban Publication Design: Scott J. Rutan Illustrations: Cover and page 8, Dave Szalay, Professor, University of Akron Myers School of Art; page 4, Malieka Gurrera, University of Akron Myers School of Art graduate; page 24, Emily Wolchko, University of Akron Myers School of Art graduate Photography: Pages 12-14, 23, 30-31: Chris Smanto As a health sciences university, we constantly seek ways to improve the health, economy and quality of life in Northeast Ohio. The Accent Opaque White Text paper used for this magazine has earned a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and a Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification. Strict guidelines have been followed so that forests are renewed, natural resources are preserved and wildlife is protected. Ignite was printed by Printing Concepts in Stow, Ohio, using soy inks. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior permission of the editors. Copyright 2021 by Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown, Ohio 44272.

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About the cover: Artist Dave Szalay is a professor at the Myers School of Art at the University of Akron, a NEOMED partner school.

DEPARTMENTS 20 HUMANITIES IN MEDICINE 22 HUMANITIES IN MEDICINE 23 LEADERSHIP SPOTLIGHT 24 TASTES LIKE HOME 26 CLASS NOTES 30 DONOR SPOTLIGHT Ignite won first place for Best Trade Publication in Ohio from both the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists and the Press Club of Cleveland for its Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 issues, marking the first time it has won the top statewide award from both organizations in the same year. For the 2020 issues, Ignite also won awards for covers and headline writing from the Press Club of Cleveland, as well as awards for medical/science writing, feature designs and covers from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.

Current and past issues of Ignite can be accessed free from issuu.com

Crystal Cole, M.D. (’07), medical director of the Center for Gender-Affirming Medicine at Akron (Ohio) Children's Medical Center


04 BEARING THE WEIGHT OF THE COVID 29 Nearly half of U.S. adults reported gaining an average of 29 pounds in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s going on?

08 SPEAKING OF SEX A NEOMED alumna who heads a gender-affirming clinic explains how the language we use can help LGBTQ+ patients and their families.

12 PRACTICING THE ART OF CARE The daughter of a basketball coach herself, Senior Executive Director Holly Gerzina, Ph.D., sees the Wasson Center for Clinical Skills Training, Assessment, and Scholarship as a safe place for students to practice, practice, practice.


For more, visit neomed.edu/ignite

NEOMED challenged what it saw as a flawed assumption nationally: that not enough qualified underrepresented (Black and Latinx) pre-medical students were available to enroll in medical schools.






ince the start of the COVID-19 crisis more than 18 months ago, our worlds have undergone vast changes. For many of us, so have our waistlines. According to the Stress in America Survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in February 2021, nearly half of U.S. adults (42%) reported undesired weight gain since the onset of the pandemic — 29 pounds, on average. Moreover, adults in the U.S. are not the only ones whose BMIs have been increasing. According to a large study from Kaiser Permanente that was recently detailed in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the percentage of children ages 5 to 11 qualifying as overweight or obese skyrocketed from 36% prior to the coronavirus crisis to nearly 46% currently. Even more troubling, the obesity rates in younger children (ages five to nine), Illustration: Malieka Gurrera

children of color and publicly insured children increased even more dramatically as a result of the pandemic. Not only have marginalized groups been more affected by COVID-19 itself, but they’ve also been greatly impacted by its associated effects on obesity. Sadly, even the youngest members of our society are not immune to these disparities and their far-reaching effects. It’s not difficult to see why so many of us have put on weight as we continue to power through this public health emergency. A plethora of lifestyle changes, including those related to dietary habits, physical activity, stress management practices and sleep behaviors, have been foisted upon us. Daily routines have been upended. Children and adults alike are spending much more time in front of screens — and as many of us can attest, working and learning from home haven’t

helped in this regard. Higher levels of stress and poor-quality sleep exacerbate cravings for less nutrient-dense, high-fat, refined carbohydrate-filled comfort foods. David Sarwer, Ph.D., director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, also notes that COVIDfueled social isolation has added another layer of stress affecting body weight and overall health. Moreover, members of marginalized communities are more likely to reside in food deserts — areas with severely limited access to nutritious food options, especially fresh produce. The Annie E. Casey Foundation indicates that almost 13% of U.S. residents live in food deserts — defined by the USDA as a geographic area in which at least one-third of residents must travel an inconvenient distance to reach the nearest grocery store (at least one mile in urban areas and ten NORTHEAST OHIO MEDIC AL UNIVERSITY



Patients have acknowledged increasingly anxiety-ridden and conflictual encounters with medical providers in which they’ve felt judged or “fat-shamed.”

Psychologists specializing in obesity treatment recommend a number of concrete steps for those seeking to lose weight and improve associated health behaviors:

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miles in rural areas). With the impact of lockdowns on factors like household incomes, access to public transportation, and local business operating hours, acquiring fresh and healthful food has become even more challenging.

GUILT, SHAME, SELF-BLAME Public health experts have seen in recent decades that when obesity levels rise, so does the potential for weight stigma. Patients have reported significant guilt, shame and self-blame related to the weight gain they’ve experienced during the pandemic. Additionally, patients have acknowledged increasingly anxiety-ridden and conflictual encounters with medical providers in which they’ve felt judged or “fat-shamed.” When researchers have surveyed patients about where these stigmatizing attitudes and behaviors come from, respondents have reported that their physicians are a very common source, second only to family members, according to a study by Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., and Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University (now at the University of Connecticut, Storrs).

Any behavior change plan should begin with sustainable, realistic goals. For example, if a person currently eats fast food meals four times per week, can they decrease this to twice a week? Decades of research confirm that small changes are more likely to stick than attempts at large, sweeping alterations. Why? Accomplishing small change goals can improve self-confidence. Also, in true domino-effect fashion, this success fuels the desire to set additional modest, achievable goals.

Evidence suggests that weight stigma in the medical community will only continue to escalate as a result of the pandemic. According to Dr. Puhl, who was quoted by the APA: “There are so many memes and jokes about COVID weight gain, and that shows a real insensitivity to the eating behavior challenges people are dealing with. It also puts pressure on people to emerge from the pandemic with an ideal body shape.” Dr. Puhl further notes that for higher-weight individuals seeking treatment for obesity, the issues of self-blame and stigma must be addressed.

Weight gain during the pandemic has been largely driven by disruptions to our daily schedules. Re-commit to previous healthy routines, or consider establishing new ones, such as consistent sleep and wake times, regular mealtimes, and time set aside for physical activity. Set your environment up for success. Remaining on track with behavior change goals is easier when temptations are not in plain sight. In short, make the healthy choice the easy choice. Know your “trigger” foods; you cannot eat unhealthy foods that aren’t there. Meal and snack preparation goes a long way in this regard. Self-monitor your behaviors. People who self-monitor (e.g., track their dietary choices, or rate their hunger on a 0 to 10 scale each time they make a decision to eat) tend to lose more weight than individuals who do not. Frequent trackers are also more successful with maintaining their weight losses over time.

The more you can focus Stop obsessing about the scale. While this is easier said than done, and sounds somewhat counterintuitive, the more you can focus on the behavioral elements of a healthy lifestyle, rather than body weight itself, the more success you are likely to achieve. Further, focusing on health behaviors instead of BMI can help to chip away at weight stigma, on both societal and individual levels. Relatedly, many obesity specialists, including some registered dietitians, have begun to promote the concept of intuitive eating. Briefly, this involves relying on the signals of your own body, including those of hunger and satiety, to guide eating behaviors and choices. Diet culture promotes a deprivation mindset, whereas intuitive eating practitioners endorse an entirely different approach that many individuals find freeing. Seek expert guidance. Especially as more individuals have been vaccinated and are emerging from the COVID-induced isolation that existed for much of 2020, patients may elect to work with a physician who specializes in obesity medicine (check the American Board of Obesity Medicine at www.abom.org to search for experts near you), or a dietitian who can monitor nutrient levels and prescribe an eating plan tailored to each person. For others, especially if there is an emotional component to their eating, meeting with a clinical psychologist is recommended. As Dr. Sarwer from Temple University points out, “Psychologists can help patients make changes that are evidence-based.” Dr. Knepp is an assistant professor of behavioral sciences in the Department of Family and Community Medicine.

on the behavioral elements of a healthy lifestyle, rather than body weight itself, the more success you are likely to achieve.

STIGMA: IT’S CATCHING Students in their first year of medical school and pharmacy school don’t believe they are biased against people who are overweight. But they believe that the health care professionals they encounter in the field do stigmatize their patients for this reason. Is it inevitable — just a matter of time — until each generation of physicians and pharmacists accumulates biased attitudes about body weight? Erika Quedding arrived at NEOMED with an interest in psychology that she has pursued into her second year in the College of Pharmacy through a research fellowship program open to students in all three Colleges. Working with Kristen Knepp, Ph.D., an assistant professor of behavioral sciences in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, as the principal investigator, Quedding received a $3,000 stipend from the College of Graduate Studies to research the topic “Understanding Obesity Attitudes and Knowledge in Health Sciences Students.” The researchers gathered data from first-year College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy students to measure their understanding, attitudes and knowledge of obesity. “The result is significant because it shows that students early in their didactic years hold a low level of stigma toward obesity but years later, will likely develop higher levels of bias from the environment to which they are continuously exposed — an environment in which weight stigma thrives,” says Quedding. She wonders: What can be done while students are in school to protect them from accumulating bias later in their training and professional lives? The annual Student Research Symposium at NEOMED offers Quedding and other student researchers a forum to present these and other provocative findings. “With my background in psychology and as an avid advocate for mental health, I have a few ideas I can suggest as possible interventions,” says Quedding. “The fact that we are able to share our results with others is already a step towards change.”






transgender woman, probably around 70 years old: That was the first person Crystal Cole, M.D. (’07) ever met who was open about having transitioned. Cole was a student in the College of Medicine. It was the early 2000s, and mainstream views of gender identity were fairly one-dimensional, says Dr. Cole. Terms like “gender identity” or “gender expression” weren’t yet common. And if someone said “they,” it was meant as a plural, not as a way of respectfully acknowledging that someone didn’t identify as binary — either exclusively male or exclusively female — but instead, something more fluid. “For a long time, we said you could be gay, you could be straight. But we always viewed gender as a binary thing. You couldn’t go back and forth or be a little bit of both,” says Dr. Cole. Throughout history, such people have always existed, but we haven’t always recognized them — at least not with respectful language, she says. Americans didn’t use terms like binaIllustration: Dave Szalay

ry until recently. Likewise, many of us used the terms sex and gender interchangeably. The terminology around gender and sexual identity keeps evolving, evidenced by an interactive map by the Human Rights Campaign (an arm of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation) that identifies approximately 50 clinical care programs for what it calls gender-expansive children and adolescents. The language is keeping up with shifts in societal attitudes and norms. In her leadership role at a midwestern clinic established to meet changing health care needs, Dr. Cole is also positioned to see how the training of physicians fits into all of this change. Since graduating from NEOMED in 2007, Dr. Cole has risen from pediatric resident to pediatrician in the Emergency Department of Akron (Ohio) Children's Hospital. For six years she has served as a pediatrician in adolescent medicine, and in 2019 she was named medical director at the hospital's Center for GenderAffirming Medicine.

Dr. Cole talked with Ignite about her experiences as a pediatrician, clinical faculty member and advocate for LGBTQ+ health care. What was the need in the community before the gender-affirming clinic at Akron Children’s opened? I was working in adolescent medicine at Akron Children’s and we saw that there were a number of transgender youth coming to our clinic, but we didn’t have the ability to provide care to allow them to transition. This was a service that a lot of patients and their families were wishing that we had. The nearest clinic for most of them was in Cleveland. We don’t just serve patients in the Akron area; our patients come from further south and east. For many people, it just wasn’t a practical option to travel all the way to Cleveland. Before the Center opened, I personally had a patient I had been taking care of for a number of years, starting in their teens. This person had significant anxiety and had struggled with their identity quite NORTHEAST OHIO MEDIC AL UNIVERSITY



a bit. Due to their mental health concerns, A lot of times, more than medical ilies that the parents may not be aware of. they had dropped out of high school and treatment is needed. This population has We will occasionally see a child as young were struggling with activities of daily a lot of serious mental health risks associ- as six or seven if a family is really seeking living. This is a kid who had a lot of fear ated with it, and there are many social out resources to see how they could best of using the male bathroom at school be- issues involved. If the child is having dif- support their child. Generally, when we see cause of fear of discrimination. That’s ficulties, giving them medications or sur- patients this young, it’s because the family pretty common, by the way. But once this gery alone isn't enough. It isn’t going to is very, very supportive. Honestly, if the patient was allowed in a safe way to explore change their environment. One of the best patient’s family is not supportive of them their gender identity and to tranexpressing a gender identity that sition, by being on gender-afis not associated with their sex firming hormones (testosterone) assigned at birth, they are probwhen they were 16, their level ably going to ignore it. We see of anxiety really decreased. They this often with older kids: The If the child is having diffi culties, no longer needed any anti-anxparents will say, “We thought it iety meds. They were able to was a phase — they were a tomgiving them medications or surgery graduate from high school; they boy or kind of girly.” were able to work and be much alone isn't enough. It isn’t going to What’s different about today’s more functional as an adult. change their environment.” That patient’s experience inmedical students? spired me. I thought, “Wouldn’t I teach the second-year stu– Crystal Cole, M.D. ( ’07 ) it be wonderful if we could do dents how to interview patients. One of the things I notice is that this here?” We discovered there were when the students do a social many, many families and patients who protective factors is an affirming environ- history on their Standardized Patients (community members who are paid to play needed our services — far more than we ment — the world the child lives in. We have a behavioral health therapist scripted roles of patients in a simulated thought initially. as well as a social worker who can help exam room setting), now they automatiWho are the patients that you see, and patients find support groups in their area, cally document the patients’ pronouns and or show them how to connect with legal gender identity. I’ve asked them, is that what do they need? We can see new patients up to about resources for things like a legal name something you’re instructed to do? Some age 21 in the gender clinic. And we follow change or how to change their gender have said, yes, we’ve actually had education established patients up to their 25th marker on their legal documents. Many on that. Others have said, no, it’s just somebirthday. services are available to patients and fam- thing that’s important to me. It’s amazing!

One patient of mine was assigned male sex at birth, but from the time she could run, walk or talk, she identified with female characters in cartoon shows. She chose clothing associated with girls. She wanted to play with dolls. She was attracted to activities that are seen as things that girls do, like cheerleading. She has an older brother who is very much considered a typical boy.The parents thought they were having another son, but from the time she was young, they could see this was clearly not the case.When they came to us, they said, “Whatever gender identity they are, we just want to support them.” – Crystal Cole, M.D. (’07)

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I’m impressed that they are taught this in their history and physical class. In an ideal world, it would be standard that people, in addition to their name, would introduce themselves or each other with their pronouns. I understand that’s not where we’re at, right now. Certain people, if you say “Hi, I’m Dr. Cole, my pronouns are she/her/hers,” they’ll give me a strange look and be like, “Why are you telling me what your pronouns are?” But I’ve noticed that with the younger generation it’s not as awkward for them as maybe it is for someone who graduated 15 years ago, like me. And I’ve been told a number of times by gender-diverse patients that they are happy when they hear someone introduce themselves that way, because it identifies them as a person who is going to be affirming and is going to take them seriously. You’re not necessarily going to know if someone is gender-diverse just by walking into the room, right? Even medical records aren’t always built in a way that allows you to acknowledge someone’s gender identity, or people may be afraid to disclose it, because of fear of discrimination. Study after study has shown that people who are LGBTQ+ often avoid getting health care because they are afraid of discrimination. So, especially working with this population, there are a lot of little things you can do, like wearing a lanyard with your pronouns on it, or putting your pronouns on your email signature. Those are small ways you can show that you are an ally. And if someone feels that they can’t do things like that, then they need to work on themself and find someone else who can, because the patient is entitled to a compassionate and affirming environment. When a patient trusts you and feels comfortable with you, it’s a much better experience for you both.

OUR CHANGING LANGUAGE Founded in 1973, PFLAG calls itself the nation’s first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies. For a look at how language continues to evolve, here are a few examples from the PFLAG National Glossary of Terms (full list available at pflag.org/glossary) Affirmed Gender: An individual’s true gender, as opposed to their gender assigned at birth. This term should replace terms like new gender or chosen gender, which imply that an individual chooses their gender. Assigned Sex: The sex assigned to an infant at birth based on the child’s visible sex organs, including genitalia and other physical characteristics. Bisexual: Commonly referred to as bi or bi+. According to bi+ educator and advocate Robyn Ochs, the term refers to a person who acknowledges in themselves the potential to be attracted — romantically, emotionally and/or sexually — to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or in the same degree. The "bi" in bisexual can refer to attraction to genders similar to and different from one's own. People who identify as bisexual need not have had equal sexual or romantic experience — or equal levels of attraction — with people across genders, nor any experience at all; attraction and self-identification determines orientation. Gender-Affirming Surgery (GAS): Surgical procedures that can help people adjust their bodies to match their innate gender identity more closely. Used interchangeably with gender affirmation, gender confirmation, and gender-confirming surgery. Not every transgender person will desire or have resources for gender-affirming surgery. Use this term in place of the older term sex change. Also sometimes referred to as gender reassignment surgery, genital reconstruction surgery, or medical transition. (See Top Surgery and Bottom Surgery). Gender Nonconforming (GNC): A term for those who do not follow gender stereotypes. Often an umbrella for nonbinary genders (see TGNC). Though fairly uncommon, some people view the term as derogatory, so they may use other terms including gender expansive, differently gendered, gender creative, gender variant, genderqueer, nonbinary, agender, genderfluid, gender neutral, bigender, androgynous, or gender diverse. PFLAG National uses the term gender expansive. It is important to respect and use the terms people use for themselves, regardless of any prior associations or ideas about those terms. Gender Spectrum: The concept that gender exists beyond a simple man/woman binary model (see Gender Binary), but instead exists on a continuum. Some people fall towards more masculine or feminine aspects, some people move fluidly along the spectrum, and some exist off the spectrum entirely. LGBTQ+: An acronym that collectively refers to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, sometimes stated as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) or, historically, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender). The addition of the Q for queer is a more recently preferred version of the acronym as cultural opinions of the term queer focus increasingly on its positive, reclaimed definition (see Queer). The Q can also stand for questioning, referring to those who are still exploring their own sexuality and/or gender. The “+” represents those who are part of the community, but for whom LGBTQ does not accurately capture or reflect their identity.





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asketball players aren’t born knowing how to make hook shots: They drill till they can. Musicians “woodshed” tricky passages, breaking them down into smaller units and smoothing them out till every sixteenth note flows like mercury. And before NEOMED students begin to officially practice as physicians or pharmacists, they get a workout in listening and talking to patients, building their diagnostic acumen at NEOMED’s Wasson Center for Clinical Skills Training, Assessment, and Scholarship. As the daughter of a basketball coach, maybe it’s not surprising that Holly Gerzina, Ph.D., M.Ed., the senior executive director, views the Wasson Center as a safe place for students to practice, prac-

tice, practice — free of any concern about doing any harm to actual patients. Since it opened in 1997, the Center has been a living exercise in continuous quality improvement for health care professionals -in-training. Now, in an airy new space of nearly 9,000 square feet containing 14 patient rooms, 3 orientation and debrief spaces and up-to-the-minute technology, students have all the resources they need. Here’s a walk through the Wasson Center to see how it works — and why it’s so important.

STANDARDIZED – BUT NOT COOKIE-CUTTER When you enter the Center — recently opened at the front of the NEOMED campus, just off the Route 44/Ravenna

Photos: Chris Smanto

Photo, left: Faculty members observe student working with Standardized Patients through a window, recording the sessions for later review. Red lights improve the quality of the videorecording and provide a source of light that does not interfere with recording through the one-way glass.

Mistakes are puzzles to be solved, not crimes to be punished. This is the foundation of a psychologically safe learning lab that encourages learning and innovation.” – Holly Gerzina, Ph.D. (photo above), senior executive director exit from I-76 — signs like the “Learner Orientation Debrief Room” tell you how seriously this educational enterprise is taken from start to finish. A key feature of the Center is its pool of Standardized Patients — a diverse group of community members, friends of NEOMED and others, including a fair number of actors over the years — who

are attracted by the opportunity to help students learn while being compensated for interesting freelance work. Before each activity, the SPs are trained with a script that specifies the role they will play, including details of the symptoms or complaints as well as important emotional and social aspects of the patient and their family. They’re selected to represent a range of demographics, from age and gender to race and ethnicity. Initial “patient encounters” with SPs allow first-year medicine or pharmacy students the chance to work out any shyness and learn firsthand about interviewing techniques. This may be the first time that most of them have ever been in the position of interviewing a patient, and even though they know it’s just for learn-




Task trainers, such as these mannequin arms for teaching intubation skills, are ordered in various skin tones to give students broad experience.

ing purposes, it can be nerve-wracking. So that they remember their lessons, encounters are recorded and reviewed by a faculty member watching on-site or virtually. It’s not just limited to someone local; faculty from out of town can watch virtually and comment. Recordings are made as a learning tool, says Dr. Gerzina. “Faculty are the coaches to help improve student performance. We review the tapes with peer groups to improve performance, just like sports coaches,” she explains. Mechanical “task trainers” — such as prosthetic arms that the students can use to practice drawing blood or to get used to setting up an intravenous line — allow

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Every first-year College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy student will be trained at the Wasson Center in academic year 2021-22. College of Graduate Studies students train at the Wasson Center, too: Medical ethics graduate students recently visited and discussed a pediatric case in which the parents disagreed on the plan of care for their sick child. At least 14 students go through an assignment every 30 minutes to an hour (depending on the kind of assessment they are doing). In all, about 750 NEOMED students will be trained this year, along with about 150 residents from partnering hospital sites and 200 other health profession students from institutions throughout the region.

students to work on a skill as long as they need to until they feel confident. If an SP says, “I’m afraid of needles,” that’s an opportunity for the student to practice their motivational interviewing skills to help the patient get comfortable with the blood draw. The training area is also outfitted with a software-controlled mannequin that can simulate problems like a heart

attack, high blood pressure or other maladies — including the final condition, death — to give students experience in making a diagnosis or having a sensitive conversation notifying a loved one of a patient’s death. One on one, in examination rooms set up to replicate a hospital or private practice, the students interview their Standard-

ized Patients. In one example, the SPs begin by describing their chief complaint in the same way, but one case may be scripted to be symptoms of a heart attack, while the other is scripted to just be acid reflux. “The students learn to see the difference, and they participate in hands-on practice with SPs to increase both the clinical and communication skills that they need to make an accurate diagnosis in a humanistic way,” says Dr. Gerzina. Dr. Gerzina holds the identities and backstories of the SPs close to the vest; she doesn’t want students to get an unfair advantage by hearing about their symptoms in advance. But she will say that they are always looking for ways to diversify their SPs, in terms of race, ethnicity and symptoms. It’s challenging, since a real person has to be available to play the scripted part. For example, the Center was approached about developing a case for a young Nepalese patient. This required finding and recruiting Nepalese SPs. “We didn’t have many SPs who could portray the ethnicity needed for this case, so we reached out to North High School in Akron, which has many Nepalese students, due to refugee resettlement in that neighborhood, to see if any students were interested,” says Michele Rosenberger, assistant director of the SP program. In addition to working with SPs, students learn to do specialized clinical preventative exams on people who agree to these more personal interchanges. Careful oversight is provided, for example, to limit the number of exams that involve sensitive areas of the body. OB/GYN faculty oversee teaching of pelvic exams and male urogenital teaching associates may lead the teaching for related exams. And second-year students encounter real patients in a human sexuality session that is staffed by LGBTQ+ volunteers from the community who want to share their personal experiences so the students de-

AN INTERPROFESSIONAL TEAM, ON THE JOB Once a year, other health professions students join NEOMED’s medicine and pharmacy students for a role-playing experience where they learn the responsibilities of each team member as they create a care plan for a geriatric patient. When each team meets, in person, they are also joined by an SP playing the patient’s caregiver. The students quickly learn the practical concerns and frustrations of caregivers. “Anyone who has been responsible for a family member’s care knows how confusing and hard it can be to connect all the different aspects of treatment. Our interprofessional training helps students from NEOMED and other schools understand what their colleagues can each do, and ways to coordinate their efforts across disciplines so patients get the best care,” says Cassandra Konen-Butler, associate director of the Wasson Center and interprofessional education.

velop a better understanding of the needs of this population. In “clinical rounding space,” teams of students and faculty may meet to discuss a patient’s situation and diagnosis privately, much as they might confer in a hospital hallway for a private conversation before or after speaking with the patient in their room. A high premium is put on learning interpersonal skills, like breaking bad news to patients and their families, says Dr. Gerzina. “Quite often if it’s a serious health issue, the family members may not have discussed options before they came to the crisis of being in a hospital room. Our students need to learn how to help guide them through these decisions, understanding what other resources they might be

able to draw on, like social workers, but knowing that the families will see them as the primary source of advice,” she says. The final stop for each session is a debriefing meeting at which the students use the continuous quality improvement tool known as Plus/Delta to discuss what brought value and also what the team might want to change. Because the Wasson Center’s new setting is well equipped for telehealth meetings, students can also get experience in that area, too. Together, giving each other feedback along with the suggestions they get from faculty members, students have every chance to practice, practice, practice till they build the skills, confidence and competency they need to deliver top-quality care.






nderrepresented minority (URM) students make up 30% of the 2021 class of future physicians at Northeast Ohio Medical University. That number, which equates to 48 first-year College of Medicine students, is far above the national average for medical schools. When the figure is mentioned, rooms often fill with an odd juxtaposition of silence and applause. The surround sound effect is then followed by questions — if you can call them that. This is so awesome. I’m sure you have some great stories about students coming from difficult situations. You must be offering a lot of scholarships, right? What’s the graduation rate? Did you lower your test scores? Some ask such questions because they truly think (they’ve “heard”) there aren’t enough qualified underrepresented minorities applying nationally to medical school. Others just want to know: How did NEOMED do it? Colleges are also businesses, and they often make data-informed decisions. Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) show that thousands of qualified URM students apply each year to medical schools, but most are not accepted. NEOMED analyzed the data and challenged what the University saw as a nationally flawed assumption: that not enough qualified underrepresented pre-medical students (Black and Latinx) were available to enroll in medical schools. Ultimately, the University discovered a sweet spot for matriculation: Pipeline programs. Interview processes and admission cycles. Key performance indicators (beyond just Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, scores) that are more

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indicative of student success in coursework. But more on this later.

THE SOUL BENEATH THE SOIL In an essay that U.S. Congressman John Lewis wrote on his deathbed, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” he talked about good trouble. Lewis said, ”Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble,

necessary trouble.” He added, “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.” Sounds a lot like Northeast Ohio Medical University, which emerged from farmlands in Rootstown, Ohio, in 1973. The University’s founders and supporters were bold enough to make positive change and they also knew that incremental change would not be enough. They recognized that to level the field, there needed to be


Inheriting a Cuban grandfather’s legacy My grandfather has had to overcome many challenges. First, at the age of 18 he immigrated to the United States from Cuba. He had to learn English and immerse himself in a new culture. Not only did he excel in his studies, but he had the great opportunity to be accepted into medical school. As he worked extremely hard and became an established physician, he gained the respect of both his colleagues and his patients and became a valued member of the community. Through his example, I have been motivated to work as hard as possible to become a strong student, community volunteer and the best person I can be. As I have seen the progression of my grandfather’s Parkinson’s disease, I have witnessed his decline in speech, mobility and socialization. From this, I have learned that I must take a holistic approach to medicine and consider the entire patient, addressing physical as well as emotional needs. Watching the progression of his disorder and accompanying him to therapies and appointments, I have become especially interested in the study of neurological disorders. I have learned that disease affects not only one, but multiple aspects of life. As a physician I will look at the whole person, as well as the presenting aspects of disease.

disruptive and accelerated innovation, because to say there was a shortage of primary care physicians in Northeast Ohio in the early ’70s is an understatement. To say that people who were ill in Northeast Ohio’s medically underserved communities did not have anywhere near equitable access to care gives the dire need much-deserved context. Recognizing the prevalence of pharmacy deserts, the University later developed a College of Pharmacy. Understanding that health outcomes were largely impacted by social determinants, NEOMED opened a College of Graduate Studies that offered a public health degree program through a regional consortium of schools. All the while, something else persisted in medical practice and health outcomes that was just as concerning to NEOMED: Underrepresented minorities continued to be disproportionately affected by disease, and to have both a higher infant mortality rate and a lower life expectancy. According to the National Academy of Medicine, 90% of health outcomes is due to the social determinants of health — behaviors, socioeconomic and environmental factors. Some people simply blame the patient, who is often an underrepresented minority. Yet the areas of health that patients typically have control over are heavily dependent upon health education and medical advice — which usually comes from physicians. For people of color, that means physicians who do not look like them. According to the AAMC, fewer than 11% of physicians in the U.S. identify as Black or Latinx, though combined, the two groups make up 31% of the population. The lack of representation of physicians of color negatively impacts adherence to physician advice for a number of reasons, including cultural competency among health professionals and mistrust by pa-


Wondered why no one cared enough I was born and raised in Nigeria, a country where mental health is not properly studied or understood. Mental illnesses were considered “spiritual attacks” and often mishandled. Due to cultural stigma, individuals with mental illnesses were left to roam the streets in tattered clothes, eating out of trash cans and hauling bags of rubbish. As a young girl, I wondered why no one cared enough to help them. Even worse than the treatment of individuals with mental illnesses was the treatment of individuals with developmental disabilities or neurodegenerative diseases. These diseases were similarly understudied, and individuals who had them had very little professional support from health care personnel. I wanted to understand the diseases better so that the sick could be more properly cared for. Being from an immigrant family has taught me humility and perseverance. While in college, I worked 32 hours a week while pursuing two degrees. I worked and went to school for the entire five years. In my undergraduate career, my interests expanded to include not only the science behind medicine, but also the technology involved, and how hand-inhand, they improve people’s lives. This led me to major in bioengineering, a marriage of science and technology. My undergraduate, post-baccalaureate studies, and research experiences have convinced me that the most effective application of science and technology occurs in the presence of genuine altruism, passion and relationship-building.

tients of color for physicians who do not look like them. Many studies, including by the National Institutes of Health, have shown that Blacks and Latinx have high levels of distrust for the health care system. While a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that physician workforce diversity improves the preventive care of minorities, reports provided by the AAMC suggest that recent increases in the matriculation of Black and Latinx students are not widespread enough to increase such diversity, as they are con-

centrated only at a tiny number of schools. The need became clear: Make medical school accessible to qualified underrepresented minorities now, improving the prevalence of diverse health professionals, and you will improve patient trust of providers as well as the outcomes for those who have traditionally been underrepresented. But how? For one, NEOMED built a more diverse team to engage underrepresented minority students who were applying to medical school. In much the same





Ponte las pilas! I grew up in a suburban Hispanic community, just minutes away from the vastly developing city of Miami. As Cuban immigrants, my family raised me with certain cultural values, which placed a high importance in helping each other the most we could. They also instilled the importance of working hard. They would always tell me “Ponte las pilas!” which meant to focus and finish my work. I followed their guidance, and along the way I found my love for the sciences. Coming from a low SES (socioeconomic status) minority background, there were no mentors or opportunities given to explore being a professional, let alone being a doctor. I did study very hard to become the first college graduate in my family and started my career as a speech-language-pathology assistant (SLPA) instead. It was during my time as an SLPA, while interacting with patients of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, that I realized that I wanted to be a doctor. I chose NEOMED because it strives for diversity and inclusion, which is very much needed in the medical field. Before matriculating, I had the impression that the faculty and staff would make their students feel like they are part of a family and that their concerns are important. That is exactly what I have observed firsthand while attending NEOMED. I believe this program will best train me to become a well-rounded doctor who demonstrates cultural sensitivity and improves the overall well-being of the community.

way that trust and health outcomes are optimized when care providers reflect their patients, such is the case with students seeking medical school — trust and matriculation are much better. Of course, much more needed to take place: Honest conversations among employees and with prospective students. Diverse admission teams. And a better model for predicting the success of prospective students.

THE ADMISSIONS SCIENTISTS “In his first year, which was soon inter-

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rupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our University President (John Langell) presented me with two main objectives — increase the enrollment of URM students and make data-informed decisions to optimize quality and success. And he wanted the positive change to occur now,” notes James Barrett, NEOMED’s director of admissions and senior executive director for new student enrollment initiatives. “Our URM enrollment in the M.D. program was about 7% (fewer than a dozen students in each academic year). The College of Medicine admissions committee

chair, Dr. Doug Moses, and I concluded that we needed to challenge the medical school admissions model,” adds Barrett. AAMC data showed large numbers of qualified URM applicants – students that the academy’s own data suggested were likely to be successful! – were not being admitted to medical schools nationwide. It didn’t make sense to Barrett. “At first, we figured that qualified underrepresented minority student applicants were being overlooked and that if effective DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] efforts, such as pipeline programs, were in place, we’d see higher acceptance rates. But that wasn’t enough,” says Barrett. As he and other University officials analyzed the data further, they began to wonder if the MCAT was overvalued in the admission process, viewed as it was without sufficient context. The admissions team decided to identify other variables in addition to MCAT scores, such as performance in science courses that could correlate to a medical student’s success. Over the summer of 2020, College admissions committee members worked swiftly to review data and consider options for a new admissions process. Without going into all the details, Barrett reveals that the College data team studied 1,000 transcripts covering eight years; established a local database; and used regression analysis models to develop success scores for candidates. Ultimately, the college admissions committee arrived at what they call the Human Development Systems Score Metric: a way to mitigate the predictive value of the MCAT by combining it with other metrics. This evidence-based holistic process balanced MCAT scores with experiences and other attributes that predicted student success over the long term (that is, through graduation). The committees also eliminated group decisions that may have been more subjective than evidence-based. It’s

notable that prior to the change, 50% of the decision metrics were interviewer-based. The University now possessed an evidence-based metric that Barrett and others in the College of Medicine believed could be applied to all candidates in a blind manner. Once candidates were screened to develop a cohort with a high likelihood of success, NEOMED could commence with an equitable, holistic admission process that neither dismissed the MCAT’s predictive value nor overleveraged it. NEOMED refined the process over time. The committee had begun using objective plus factors, holistic file review,

and implicit bias training for interviewers during the 2018-2019 application cycle. Further refinement during the 2019-2020 admission cycle included reviewing survey data of students who matriculated to other schools and chose not to attend NEOMED. The University also began offering a one-year master’s gap-year program, completion of which provided early assurance to the College of Medicine. By academic year 2020-2021, the positive results were evident: To build a class, it was most effective to use several admissions plans, rather than try to apply just one to meet all goals. The practices worked to dramatically increase the pool of eligible URM candidates who were capable of


“I don’t look good on paper” (Excerpted and adapted from a previously published article) While participating in a NEOMED panel discussion, “Accelerating Diversity in Health Care,” Roy James II said, “I don’t look good on paper. You see my GPA: It was nothing pretty.” But James filled in the gaps by earning a master’s degree in Modern Anatomical Sciences (MAS) from the College of Graduate Studies, which allowed him to seamlessly matriculate into a class of first-year College of Medicine students. Visiting the hospital once a month seemed normal to James when he was growing up in Cleveland. His grandmother and great-grandmother both struggled with diabetes, and he and his family helped them manage the condition in whatever way they could. It wasn’t until later that James realized that this was not optimal care. “You always have a drive to protect people you love, but as a kid you don’t have the knowledge or skills to completely do that. I knew I wanted to fix it — that’s why I wanted to be a doctor.” James feels confident about the qualities he brings to the profession in addition to his academic foundation: “Compassion, hard work, growth and maturity.”

succeeding at NEOMED. URM applications to NEOMED have risen 70% since 2017 and 17% just from 2020 to 2021. And now it’s easy to answer the skeptical comments/questions noted earlier — although the responses might not be what many expected: Yes, there are many great stories to share of these first-year medicine students. But their stories are as diverse as those who are underrepresented. NEOMED’s financial award packages (6%) are small compared with the AAMC medical school average of 25% — which limits the University’s ability to discount tuition, too. But the University’s focus on students, diversity and a holistic, multi-variable admission process appeals to many students, regardless of the cost. NEOMED’s 2021 first-year class average G.P.A. for biology, chemistry, physics and math classes is within .01 of last year. And the class’ average MCAT score actually rose by two points. As the new model enters the first admissions cycle of its second year (20212022), its sustainability will be tested. But Barrett says, “We hedged our model with several indicators. I feel pretty good about our chances.” Here in the small township (population around 8,000) of Rootstown, Ohio, NEOMED has accomplished something that many have claimed wasn’t possible: It built a diverse class of talented medical students, including URM students. There’s no good reason that the same success couldn’t be replicated in medical colleges across the U.S. Schools recognize the disparities and they talk about them. But that’s not enough. They need to respond completely. As said by John Lewis: You must do something. For the health of everyone represented in our country’s wonderful diversity, it’s time to answer the call.




“Anxiety” (left) and “Shadows of a Soul,” photos by Richa Sheth



hy write about your feelings? Many NEOMED graduates understand the value more viscerally once they have had to tell a family that their beloved child was incurably ill or that the grandmother who held the generations together with her Sunday dinners didn’t make it through COVID-19. 20 C R E AT I N G


It’s not easy to go right back to work. “Physicians are privileged enough to see people at their highest of highs and lowest of lows. It’s a lot to reflect on,” says Richa Sheth, a second-year College of Medicine student and the president of a new student group called Creatives in Medicine. “There’s a huge push to incorporate humanities study into med-

ical education and treating patients — and teaching physicians that the arts can make us better physicians in general,” says Sheth, whose own forms of reflection include photography and writing. At NEOMED, where reflective practice has been around as long as the University (getting close to half a century), students are encouraged “not to only go about our medical education but also think about what it means to be a physician, to be a human, to have an illness — rather than a disease,” Sheth continues. The distinction? The students actually had a seminar on the topic to explore its nuances. “We learned that a disease is just a pathological process of the body, but an illness is what comes with the experience that a human has with that disease — so, how they are affected, how their family’s

Art work by fourth-year College of Medicine student Sohi Mistry

life is affected — and how one defines oneself in the world with that disease,” says Sheth. Creatives in Medicine was started this fall to create a community of students who are likeminded or have an interest either in practicing their own form of art or in learning more. Sheth, the president, is happy to have drawn students from all three Colleges: “It’s awesome that it’s a more collaborative community. We’re getting to mix and intermingle.” This fall, students from the group helped launch a series titled COVID Diaries in The Pulse — NEOMED’s internal daily e-newsletter. For the group’s first activity, alumnus Marcus Julius, M.D. (’94) — a NEOMED instructor who writes when he’s not practicing medicine or teaching — led a “table read” of one of his screenplays, with students invited to read through part of a script with him. Sheth says the Creatives are working to establish relationships with regional arts organizations and hospital art programs for activities to come.

Rachel Bracken, Ph.D., an assistant professor of family and community medicine who co-leads the Reflective Practice curriculum for students in the College of Medicine, recently made her own discoveries about the effect of humanities training. When she co-authored an article titled “Reflective Writing about NearPeer Blogs: A Novel Method for Introducing the Medical Humanities in Premedical Education,” she found that students benefited from starting humanities training early — before they ever got to medical school. “Students expressed feeling more optimistic and inspired about their future careers, knowing that their near-peers were writing about empathy and humanism in medicine and stated that they felt they better understood the medical school experience after reading the near-peer blog posts,” concluded the qualitative research study. It’s forthcoming in the December issue of the Journal of Medical Humanities.






orty years ago, the American poet-physician William Carlos Williams was honored through the founding of a new national poetry competition in his name at NEOMED. It was a simple concept, one that thrives today: Medicine students from the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) and Canada submit poems, and the top winners, as judged by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, are invited to NEOMED to share their work — alongside a guest speaker — with NEOMED students. Due to COVID-19, the spring 2020 and 2021 events had to be held virtually, but nothing can stop these poets from writing. Water was a second-place winner in the 2021 contest. Its author, Dana Vigue, was then a fourth-year student working toward an M.D./Ph.D at Harvard Medical School. The 40th Annual William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition will accept submissions through Dec. 31.

Water An opaque silicone tube punctures her belly. Secured with gauze. Connected to life trickling down from an IV pole. Food, medicine, hydration. All that she needs. My hand over hers, I ask if she is comfortable. Her brow furrows above eyes squeezed tight. “Water,” she begs. Dry mouth and cracked lips. I offer a wet sponge. She grimaces. I apologize, eyes downcast. She cannot swallow. I am doing everything I can. I am doing absolutely nothing. We both breathe shallowly. I look around the room but hospital windows do not open. Poets have said they find room to breathe in the clean, white space between stanzas. I breathe deeply into these pages. The frenzy inside dissipates through the vast blank space. I feel the relief I so desperately want to give to her. I long to bear more for her than just witness. Is there a ventilator setting that would give her room to breathe?

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NEOVATIONS BENCH TO BEDSIDE INNOVATIONS ON DISPLAY The inaugural competition of NEOMED’s NEOvations Bench to Bedside program capped off a months-long process of students interacting with mentors — including physicians, health care providers, clinical partners and industry leaders — to learn the process of creating medical technology. Idea creation, prototype design, business/marketing analyses and commercialization all came into play. At the August event, cash prizes awarded by the judges, as well as a People’s Choice award, were presented.

Photos: Chris Smanto




hen Sofia Mesa thinks of growing up in Colombia, she pictures a small community within the large city of Medellin with family members — lots of them — close by. Her family’s yellow brick apartment building was smack dab in the middle of the group, with her grandma’s building one block away and her dad’s siblings tucked in between. They were together all the time, and they relied on each other. If young Sofia’s parents were busy with work, one of her uncles

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would pitch in to pick her up or watch her. Mesa felt she belonged: “I’d be walking by the preschool and a teacher would call my name and talk to me — 10 years old, not even in the school! You’d run into people you knew everywhere and everyone was willing to help each other.” When Mesa, now a first-year College of Medicine student, moved to Florida with her family in high school, and when she attended a large state school for college (“Go, Gators!” she cheers, reflexively) she missed that sense of a tight-knit community. Then when she looked at medical schools, she saw it at NEOMED. She was in the first cohort of students to graduate in May 2021 with a master’s degree from NEOMED’s new Modern Anatomical Sciences (MAS) program — a one-year program that allows graduates to matriculate directly into the College of Medicine. When the students begin as first-year medicine students, they re-take the anatomy coursework with the other first-year students — with the advantage of having studied it before. With the MAS cohort, Mesa immersed herself in training that put her on a firm footing for medical school. Of the original 14, 13 of the students continued on to the College of Medicine, and they have banded together. “I can really rely on them for pretty much anything. They’re great. We all help each other out. If one of us gets a resource that we think might be helpful to everybody else, we share it. It is a competitive environment, but we’re not competing necessarily with each other. We’re always trying to help each other out,” says Mesa. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m really competitive at game night! Christina (another MAS graduate) hosts game night. Skip-bo (second word rhythms with low) is one of my favorites. It’s a card game that’s so fun, but I never win. Christina always wins!” Mesa admires the service-oriented mission of the Stu-

dent-Run Free Clinic at NEOMED, where she hopes to become one of the many medicine and pharmacy students to work with underserved community members. She also likes the tradition of NEOMED students volunteering at the nearby Hartville Migrant Ministry Medical Clinic, overseen by medical director Teresa Wurst, M.D. (’93). The Medical Clinic serves the migrant and seasonal workers — many of them Latinx — who work on the farms. Mentorship has come from classmates and alumni like Carmen Javier (’21), the founder of NEOMED’s chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). Mesa calls Dr. Javier “super helpful.” For example, she says, “My uncle is an anesthesiologist in Colombia. He kept wanting me to go do some rotations there and Carmen told me you actually can do rotations abroad, with a sponsor.” This fall, Mesa and a classmate in LMSA organized a Latin America Travel Fair with activities and foods from various Latin countries. Mesa lets on that her favorite comfort food is white rice with black beans and plantains — sometimes called green bananas — which come in two varieties: the harder, greener kind or the sweeter, softer yellow kind.

“My family isn’t very kitchen-oriented,” Mesa jokes. Not only does she not have a favorite recipe; she claims that she really doesn’t know how to season or cook these dishes. That’s fair. Let’s just say we’ve heard it’s possible to wrap a yellow plantain in aluminum foil and bake it in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Make it yourself, and maybe share some with others to stretch their community a little wider, too.

First-year College of Medicine student Sofia Mesa

Illustrations: Emily Wolchko






Joan Shaffer, M.D., critical care physician and chair of the department of Graduate Medical Education at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, is the 2020 winner of the Charles Thoele Physician Leadership Award. The Thoele Award is presented annually to recognize a practicing physician who demonstrates significant leadership to Mercy’s ministry in St. Louis, upholds the mission of the organization and exemplifies the Mercy values of justice, dignity, service, excellence and stewardship.

1985 John Rush, M.D., is the Founder of the Arthritis Knee Pain Centers, with 16 locations nationwide. He recently established the Arthritis Knee Pain Foundation scholarship and returned to the NEOMED campus for the first time since his graduation to congratulate first-year College of Medicine student Joseph Aliaga on being the inaugural recipient of the scholarship.

2000 Debra Lew Harder, M.D., has been named the new host of Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, the longestrunning classical music program in American radio history. Dr. Lew Harder is the co-director of Medicine + Music at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, a program that works with medical students. Dr. Lew Harder has also served as a classical music host, concert pianist and producer for Temple University’s WRTI-FM.

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James Borchers, M.D., has been named the first Chief Medical Officer for the Big Ten Conference. He will serve as a consultant to all 14 Big Ten member institutions on matters related to the health and safety of student athletes. He will also lead sports medicine programming and initiatives, including policy and research.



Nishok Karthikeyan, M.D., joined the Steward Medical Group as an internal medicine physician. He will also join the medical staff at Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren, Ohio, where he completed his residency training.


Photo: Dr. Attawala and her husband, Sahil Attawala, M.D., recently welcomed their son, Singham.

Anisha Bhatia Attawala, M.D., a neonatologist in Northeast Ohio and an assistant professor of pediatrics at NEOMED, successfully completed the American Academy of Pediatrics Young Physicians Leadership Alliance program presented by the Section on Early Career Physicians. The YPLA is a mentored career development program designed to foster leadership skills and build a leadership community among early-career pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists. Dr. Attawala’s culminating project was to define factors associated with compensation to improve strategic planning for fellowship trainees and established early career neonatologists. “Between mentoring calls and didactic learning, the program empowered me for my work as a neonatal intensivist and enhanced my leadership skills,” said Dr. Attawala.


Rachel Johnson, Pharm.D., was promoted to Pharmacy Team Leader at the North Royalton (Ohio) Giant Eagle after completing her management training at the Cuyahoga Falls Market District location.

Dylan Timberlake, M.D., provides allergy care at Prevea Health in Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin. He specializes in allergic rhinitis; allergic conjunctivitis; food, bee sting and medication allergies; asthma; eczema; hives; anaphylaxis; angioedema; and recurrent infections. He completed a residency in pediatrics at Akron (Ohio) Children's Hospital and a fellowship in allergy and immunology at The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.



Meet the President of the NEOMED Alumni Association Board of Directors! During my time at NEOMED it felt like I was part of a large family. I've seen that family grow as we now have three Colleges and I look forward to all the fun memories the growing NEOMED family will make and share as we continue to grow with each other in the coming years.” – Alejandro L. Adorno, Pharm.D. ( ’11) Alejandro L. Adorno, Pharm.D. ( ’11) is a member of the inaugural graduating class of the NEOMED College of Pharmacy, and will be the first pharmacy graduate to serve as the president of the NEOMED Alumni Association Board of Directors. He currently manages on-site pharmacies at AxcessPointe Community Health Centers, where he trains NEOMED pharmacy students. Dr. Adorno was recognized with the College of Pharmacy Distinguished Alumni Award for his many contributions to NEOMED and the pharmacy profession.


HOMECOMING WEEKEND MAY 20-21, 2022 Highlights include a pub crawl in Downtown Kent, family picnic, “Kids College” for children of alumni, walking cocktail tours of campus, trivia night, Alumni Awards Dinner and more! Keep an eye out for a more detailed invitation in early 2022.

Interact with visionary leaders in health care while earning free CE credits. See the upcoming schedule and register at neomed.edu/VITALS.

Follow us on Facebook to stay connected or visit neomed.edu/alumni. N ORTHE AST OHIO MEDICAL UNIVERSIT Y


{ Saluting those who make Creating Transformational Leaders possible }

Thank you, Throckmorton Foundation, for helping us fully endow the Jay A. Gershen Scholarship for Underrepresented Minorities

NEIL MALY, Trustee,


Throckmorton Foundation

Throckmorton Foundation

The Jay A. Gershen Scholarship for Underrepresented Minorities was established in 2020 to honor the legacy of NEOMED's sixth president, Dr. Jay Gershen, who throughout his career was a passionate advocate for increasing diversity in the health professions. Created by Carol Cannon, Dr. Gershen's widow, to annually recognize one or more students from an underrepresented minority group who are studying in any NEOMED program, the scholarship was fully endowed, in part, through the generosity of the Throckmorton Foundation, a private foundation in Canton, Ohio. Now, one student from each of NEOMED’s colleges will be selected annually for an award.

To learn how you can help NEOMED create more transformational leaders in the health professions, contact Lindsey Loftus at 330.325.6261 | lloftus@neomed.edu


Photo: Honorees Anthony Baumann (l., large photo) and Syllissa Duncan (right, large photo), celebrated with Carol Cannon (center, large photo) at the inaugural scholarship announcement. Scholarship recipient Mairim Avila (inset photo) was unable to attend, due to an academic commitment.



uilding a culture of inclusivity was always important to Jay A. Gershen, D.D.S., Ph.D., the sixth president of NEOMED. When Dr. Gershen passed away in November 2020, a year after his retirement from a distinguished decade-long tenure, his widow, Carol Cannon, decided to advance Dr. Gershen’s legacy by establishing a scholarship endowment for underrepresented minority (URM) students through the NEOMED Foundation. Each year, underrepresented minority

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students at NEOMED will be eligible to apply for the Jay A. Gershen Memorial URM Scholarship. One student from each of NEOMED’s three Colleges (Medicine, Pharmacy and Graduate Studies) will be selected annually for a nonrenewable $1,000 award. “Jay felt very strongly that health care professionals should reflect the diversity of our community,” said Cannon. “He always encouraged students of color, and I think he would be extremely pleased to see the direction that NEOMED is taking

with this scholarship as well as other important initiatives to promote diversity, inclusivity and opportunity. Jay wanted NEOMED to lead in this direction, and this URM scholarship award both honors his wishes and advances them in a meaningful way.” In October, students — including members of the Black Student Association and Student National Medical Association — faculty, staff and NEOMED friends, including members of President John Langell’s Diversity and Equity Advisory

Photos: Chris Smanto

Council, gathered in the Jay A. Gershen Atrium of the NEW Center for an announcement and celebration of the first recipients of the new scholarship: • Anthony Baumann, a first-year College of Medicine student

Jay felt very strongly that health care professionals should reflect the diversity of our community.” – Carol Cannon

• Syllissa Duncan, a first-year Modern Anatomical Sciences student in the College of Graduate Studies • Mairim Avila, a fourth-year College of Pharmacy student “Receiving the award makes me feel appreciated and seen, that efforts will be made so that I won’t be forgotten about or left behind. I feel like I have the support behind me I need to get through school,” said Duncan. “This scholarship shows that NEOMED is willing and able to invest in all of its students in any way it can.” “It feels wonderful to know that NEOMED is committed to supporting minorities and has many resources to help students lower their burden of debt,” said Baumann, adding, “I am also honored many of the people associated with NEOMED would donate their resources to help the next generation of medical professionals. I feel very blessed to have received this award.” “I am thrilled to have received this award,” said Avila, who sees receiving the scholarship as putting her one step closer to fulfilling her aspirations. She said, “The contributions of Dr. Gershen demonstrate the culture of inclusivity he strove to build at NEOMED. The scholarship provides me with an additional layer of financial support and motivation; thus, I feel that I am not left behind, nor are other underrepresented students. NEOMED is a shining beacon of inclusivity that shows care and appreciation for all its students.” Gifts from Cannon, the Throckmorton Foundation and a number of generous in-

Photo: Carol Cannon and Jay Gershen share a moment during former President Gershen’s retirement party at NEOMED in 2019.

dividuals enabled the Foundation to create a permanent endowment that will provide annual scholarships in perpetuity for NEOMED students in each College. Donations are tax-deductible and will help the scholarship endowment to grow. To make a gift, visit neomed.edu/give/bluefund

and select Gershen Scholarship from the dropdown menu or send a check payable to the NEOMED Foundation at 4209 State Route 44, Rootstown, OH 44272. Please be sure to indicate on the check that it is a gift in memory of Dr. Gershen.



4209 ST. RT. 44, PO BOX 95 ROOTSTOWN, OHIO 44272

100%! All NEOMED College of

Pharmacy students value experiential education. And they receive it early on.


Earn your Doctor of Pharmacy degree Learn from our well-respected faculty and strong academic program. Just 60 HOURS of prerequisite coursework needed to apply!

Results: High NAPLEX scores, high job placement, high-paying jobs!

The average salary is


Access to residencies at the world’s most prestigious clinics/hospitals.

Pharmacists are doctors. Pharmacists are trained to be the medication experts. They dispense medications, manage pharmacy technicians, provide guidance on the best medications to use, give immunizations and advise on healthy lifestyles.

Careers? There are many — retail (community) pharmacist;

Early experience: NEOMED pharmacy students providing vaccines.

hospital pharmacist; ambulatory care pharmacist; informatics pharmacist; compounding pharmacist; pharmaceutical industry pharmacist; specialty pharmacist, e.g., oncology.

Now enrolling students for Fall 2022. Contact KJeroski@neomed.edu to learn more.

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