The Class of 2017

Every year is special for Columbia University Irving Medical Center students graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, the College of Dental Medicine, and the biomedical sciences PhD program of the School of Graduate Arts and Sciences.

This year’s graduation ceremonies, however, were part of a year in which all medical center schools are celebrating anniversaries: P&S is 250 years old, Nursing is 125, Dental Medicine is 100, and Mailman is 95.

The schools are not only celebrating individual milestones, in some cases they are making history. The P&S graduating class of 170 MD students is the largest in the school’s 250-year history.

Read about some of our newest graduates:

Hana Ali, College of Physicians & Surgeons

As a medical student, Ali says, “you can take the time to chat with [patients] and their families. You can establish really strong relationships that carry over into patient care.”

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Dane Saksa, College of Physicians & Surgeons

"My dad had a kidney transplant before I was born, and I was in and out of hospitals all through my life and saw how the doctors had given him a second chance at life," says P&S student Dane Saksa.

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Richard Gamarra, Mailman School of Public Health

When Richard Gamarra was 16, a gun fell out of his backpack during class at a Catholic high school in Queens and he was arrested. It was the beginning of a 12-year journey in and out of prison that ultimately led to Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

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Elizabeth Ballantyne, School of Nursing

"Not only did Columbia Nursing prepare me academically for my career, but it helped me to foster and excel at the bedside manner, cultural awareness, and interpersonal skills that I believe make nurse practitioners special."

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Victor Lee, College of Dental Medicine

In his third year at the dental school, Lee was asked by the school’s dean to work on an innovative program to make dentures using 3D printing technology. “The detailed scans allow for printing shapes that other equipment can’t produce. Patients get a better fit,” Lee says.

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Kendall Dunn Lasane, Mailman School of Public Health

Lasane decided to pursue a part-time MPH in Sociomedical Sciences while working full time at Bellevue Hospital. "The best part about combining work and school was being able to translate theoretical concepts about the social determinants of health into meaningful justice-based policy for patients," he says.

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Elise Bixby, College of Physicians & Surgeons

Bixby spent two years teaching ninth grade math and science at an inner city school in Denver. She liked working with students but realized that in order to have a major impact on education she would have to go into administration, which she didn’t want. Medical school beckoned.

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Allison Norful, School of Nursing

When selecting a school to pursue a PhD in nursing, Norful wanted to work closely with faculty that have demonstrated expertise in nursing science, research methodology, and nursing advocacy. “Columbia Nursing was the clear choice for me and has far surpassed my expectations,” she says.

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Mayra Cruz, Mailman School of Public Health

"I want to help communities prepare for climate change. This could be through a position with a foundation or local government. I might even run for office. You can’t wait for someone else to do the work you want to see done. You have to do it yourself."

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Wilson Sui, College of Physicians & Surgeons

Sui was one of 10 students accepted into the Columbia-Bassett program. As part of the program, he spent his major clinical year in Cooperstown, N.Y., where he saw patients longitudinally throughout his rotations.

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Stephanie Shiau, Mailman School of Public Health

At Mailman, Shiau participated in a study that learned children with HIV could be safely switched after age 3 to a therapy with less toxicity—results that are now reflected in World Health Organization guidelines. "It’s great to be able to make a real impact," she says.

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Ben Masur, Mailman School of Public Health

Masur's first job out of college was doing communications work for Major League Baseball. "It was exciting at first, but after a couple years, I knew I needed a change. An opportunity came up to work on an Alzheimer’s study. The experience opened up a whole new world of health care," he says.

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Christa Gianfrancesco, College of Dental Medicine

Gianfrancesco never expected that a college sociology class would set her on a path to dentistry.

“My professor was discussing how poor oral health impacts education, socioeconomic status, and overall health," she says. “It opened my eyes. Until that day, I’d never thought about oral health beyond my own cleanings and a couple fillings.”

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Robert Spigai Jr, School of Nursing

While working full-time as a therapist, Spigai began taking the necessary prerequisites for nursing and eventually entered into the accelerated Baccalaureate program. “The affinity I have for nursing comes from a desire to help those who are vulnerable and in need,” he says.

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Alli Letica, College of Physicians & Surgeons

During her fourth year at P&S, Letica volunteered as a senior clinician in the Columbia Student Medical Outreach (CoSMO) clinic, which serves people in Washington Heights. “I started to feel like the primary care provider for these patients,” she says.

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Shivani Bhatia, Mailman School of Public Health

"I always felt intuitively that health was about being well, not just about fixing a problem, but I didn’t know how to articulate that until I found public health."

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Kasey Jackman, School of Nursing

"Columbia Nursing made me a better nurse by supporting and encouraging me to pursue research with clear policy implications and the potential to make a significant contribution to improving the health of vulnerable and underserved minority populations."

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Xiaoyan Wang, Mailman School of Public Health

For her summer practicum, Wang worked on a survey of patients with mitochondrial diseases. "The most interesting part was the back and forth with clinicians. I learned to talk to them in lay language, not in statistical terms, and to appreciate their clinical perspective," she says.

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