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UA College of Medicine - Phoenix Virtually Graduates Newest Doctors, Eager to Join the Fight
By Lisa Padilla - Tuesday May 12, 2020
On a typical graduation day, students at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix would process along the streets of Downtown Phoenix led by a pipe and drum corps to be hooded for their medical degree with family, friends and the Phoenix community watching. But due to the novel coronavirus, the Class of 2020 celebrated their final milestone virtually.

On Monday, May 11, 2020, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix hosted its first virtual commencement ceremony to celebrate the hard work and dedication of 93 newly minted physicians. Medical students received their Doctor of Medicine degrees and will continue their training to become physicians at residency programs in Arizona and 24 other states.

Although this graduation was unlike anything the college has ever hosted, the tenth graduating class was still able to celebrate with traditions that make the College of Medicine – Phoenix’s graduation ceremony one-of-a-kind. Students were virtually led into the ceremony by a pipe and drum corps, they heard from leadership and special guests, were hooded by family members and friends, and were even surprised with words of encouragement from the campus community.

Guy Reed, MD, MS, Dean of the College of Medicine – Phoenix, said that although COVID-19 has disrupted many of our norms, it has also demonstrated the irreplaceable role and value of physicians in healing, discovering new therapies and educating the public.

“Class of 2020, you are an extraordinary group of students and you are graduating to become physicians during an extraordinary time in history,” Dean Reed said. “COVID-19 is one of the most significant pandemics or plagues of all time. Throughout history, pandemics have decimated our civilizations and led to widespread fear and hopelessness... More than ever before, this pandemic shows just how much we need physicians who are scientists, who are teachers, who are leaders, and who are healers.”

Dean Reed discussed how when the pandemic hit, these graduating students did not panic or runaway. Instead, they leaned in and accepted this challenge. They volunteered, worked together to find innovative solutions, and 30 members who met the qualifications, decided to graduate early to better serve the Phoenix community.

“Each one of you has the talent to move the field of medicine and the health of our communities forward. We are counting on you to envision a better and healthier future by advancing the science as well as the art of medicine, ” he said.

Last year, University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD, talked to graduating medical students about the importance of physicians truly seeing the person they are treating and not just viewing their numbers from a computer screen. As we adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, he believes this message is even more important now.

“As patients are isolated in the midst of a sometimes punishing and even fatal illness, it is so important that we see their humanity,” President Robbins said. “You are graduating in a challenging moment in our profession and for the world as a whole, but you are prepared and we are confident that you will overcome these challenges.”

Cara Christ, MD, MS, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), delivered the commencement address. Dr. Christ, who graduated from the College of Medicine – Tucson, shared her medical school memories and advice.

“Because of this pandemic, all of us are living in a world we did not expect. If you were like me when I was in medical school, you dreamt of this celebration for years,” she said. “I doubt your dreams of your graduation day would have involved a stay at home order and I doubt those dreams were of a virtual graduation. This day may have not played out the way you dreamt it would, but it doesn’t diminish what you have accomplished. As you move forward in your career in medicine, what we are experiencing right now will make all of you stronger.”

Dr. Christ shared advice that has stuck with her since medical school. During her first day as a first-year medical student she was told that “these next few years will be the longest nights and the shortest years of your life.” Not only did that prove true for her medical school career, but in all aspects of life including residency, motherhood, and her professional career. If she had to guess, this will also hold true for the changed world we are all living in today.

“As you move forward with the next step in your journey, you will look back and fondly remember not only this day, but the long nights spent studying, the friendship of your classmates, and the incredible experiences of being a critical part of your patients’ lives and those are experiences that can’t be taken away, even by a pandemic,” Dr. Christ said.

Before conferring the degrees, Dean Reed presented Maricela Moffitt, MD, MPH, with the Stuart D. Flynn, MD, Master Educator teaching excellence award, which recognizes extraordinary accomplishments in all aspects of education over all four years of medical school. Dr. Moffitt is director of the Doctoring Curriculum, which helps students build basic communication, physical examination and critical thinking skills during their first two years of education.

During the selection process, one student wrote, “Dr. Moffitt taught us the building blocks of what being a physician is like, including medical knowledge, compassion, and how to succeed.”

Another student commented, “She has provided us with the foundation on how to be a great student, clinician and human.”

“In 20 years, she will be the educator I look back on as someone who had the greatest impact on my education,” said another graduating student.

Graduating senior Zana Alattar, MD, was chosen to deliver the student address by her fellow classmates. After graduation, she will pursue a residency in surgery at the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix.

“When I think of words to define us, passion and determination immediately come to mind,” Dr. Alattar said. “We will be able to handle whatever comes our way for ourselves, our patients and our communities. We not only earned the title of doctor for our ability to medically treat patients, but for the ability to treat our patients compassionately and holistically. After four years of outstanding training, I’m fully confident that we are well prepared to carry the weight and duty for caring for our patients under any circumstance.”

Ogaga Ojameruaye, MD, will be pursuing a residency in Orthopedic Surgery at University of California, San Francisco.

“It still feels surreal, and I am at a loss for words,” he said. “I cannot describe how monumental this moment is for not only myself, but my entire family.”

Dr. Ojameruaye reflected on favorite medical school memories such as his first assist on an orthopedic trauma case that re-affirmed his decision to specialize in the field. He also discussed the Pathway Scholars Program, which he credits as the reason he is here today by opening endless opportunities for him to realize his dream.

“I have never been more proud and privileged to be going into a field where we are considered essential to the functioning of society,” Dr. Ojameruaye said. “I am honored to have the ability to directly address and have an impact on our society in times like this, while addressing some of the social determinants of health.”

Nancy Lopez, MD, will be staying in Arizona to pursue a surgery residency at the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix. Lopez is the first person in her family to have the opportunity to become a doctor. She said she cannot describe in words how excited and humbled she is to finally be able to call herself Dr. Nancy Lopez.

“Today, we all live in unprecedented times for which public health is of primary importance,” Dr. Lopez said. “Therefore, it was very humbling to see faculty and staff come together to create a memorable celebration for their students via various technological platforms.”

Dr. Lopez said that the best part about medical school was the opportunity to meet so many passionate, genuine, hardworking individuals, all of which she is proud to call friends and family. She said she cannot imagine surviving medical school without them.

“Graduation brings about times of reflections and since starting medical school, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world,” Dr. Lopez said. “Although frightening to think about at times, I look forward to working alongside passionate individuals to help provide health care to those most affected by this pandemic.”

The medical college opened its doors in 2007 as the first allopathic medical school in Phoenix. In just 13 years, the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix will have graduated 593 physicians, including this class.

By Teresa Joseph