May 22, 2014

161 graduate from the School of Medicine

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Problems plaguing healthcare, both in the United States and on a global scale, offer challenges and opportunities for young doctors, giving them opportunities to shape solutions and become stalwart leaders in their communities, according to John Ruffin, Ph.D., founding director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities who addressed 161 graduates of the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Sunday, May 18, 2014.

“Your commitment and diligence in carrying out and upholding the Hippocratic Oath will help to determine the future of health care in this country,” Ruffin said.  He later added, “Your medical degree is a platform from which you can begin to shape your own legacy by the career decisions you make going forward.”

Ruffin recently retired from the NIMHD after a 24-year career of working to end health disparities and advancing minority health. An Alabama native, Ruffin earned his doctoral degree from Kansas State University, completed postdoc work at Harvard and later joined the faculty at North Carolina Central University in Durham, where he led the biology department and eventually became dean. He was tapped by Louis Sullivan, M.D., former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in 1990 to lead the Office of Minority Programs, which later became the NIMHD, at the National Institutes of Health.

Ruffin encouraged students to take full advantage of their experiences and show an eagerness to learn as they journey through residency, saying they have the power to make a difference in their journey by practicing medicine in communities. Selwyn Vickers, M.D., senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine, said 38 percent of the graduating students will continue their training in Alabama, and 78 percent will stay in the South.

“This is a glorious day of celebration. You all worked tirelessly to get here and today is your day to revel in what you’ve achieved through hard work,” Ruffin said.

Class of 2014 president Samuel Edmond Ford said commencement day was more than a decade in the making for most of his classmates. In his speech, Ford encouraged his classmates to become exceptional by staying true to themselves and not succumbing to elitism. Ford was presented the Medical Alumni Association Leadership and Community Service Award and was one of the recipients of the Outstanding Patient Communication Award. He will go to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. for an orthopaedic surgery residency.

Kara Jannelle Denby also received the Outstanding Patient Communication Award, sponsored by Proassurance Indemnity. Denby graduated cum laude and will begin her residency training in medicine-pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

John Thomas Nelson Jr. received the Hugh J. Dempsey Award for highest overall academic achievement over the four-year course of medical school. Nelson will complete a preliminary year at Birmingham’s Baptist Health System before returning to UAB for a diagnostic radiology residency.

The Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Awards, sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, are presented each year to a graduating student and faculty member. The awardees this year were Marielle Christina Baldwin from the class of 2014, and Nicholas Van Wagoner, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases.  

Earlier on Sunday a separate ceremony was held for four graduates who will enter military training programs. Laura Kezar, M.D., associate dean for students and a Navy veteran, created the ceremony last year. Col. John McGuinness, M.D., with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, presided over the ceremony and administered the oath of office. Family and friends pinned the military rank on the graduates’ uniforms.

Joining the U.S. Army National Guard from UAB is Capt. John Stewart Jarboe, who will complete a preliminary year at Birmingham’s Baptist Health System before going to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for radiation oncology.

Joining the Navy are Lt. Wesley Charles Cowan, going to Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune in North Carolina; Lt. Samuel Lesley Ardis Douglas, serving at Baptist Health System in Birmingham; and Lt. Richard Eugene Slama, going to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va.

Visit the School of Medicine on Facebook to see more photos from commencement and campus award ceremonies. Click here to see a list of all the campus award recipients.