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Medical Residents Graduate from Saint Michael's After Months on the Frontlines of Pandemic

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  • Written By: Saint Michael's Medical Center Press Office
Medical Residents Graduate from Saint Michael's After Months on the Frontlines of Pandemic

NEWARK, NJ – Shortly after Saint Michael’s Medical Center outdoor graduation ceremony for residents began, the heavens opened.

But for the 19 doctors, who had just lived through a pandemic in one of the hardest hit areas of the country, a little rain wasn’t going to dampen their spirits or cancel their hard-earned celebration.

The 56th Annual Dr. Phillip D'Ambola Certificate and Awards ceremony was just moved from the Saint Joseph’s courtyard to the hospital’s community room, where doctors received their certificates of completion from New York Medical College, the medical school affiliated with Saint Michael’s.

The residents have been enrolled in Saint Michael's Internal Medicine Program for the past three years, learning from the faculty attending physicians at the hospital. With their residencies completed, the doctors will either begin working full time as physicians or continue their education as fellows in a specialty.

“Although this doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of our typical graduation – we have clouds above and we have masks on – I’ve been to 30 of these and for me this is by far the most important, genuine, real graduation that I’ve attended,” said Dr. Ted DaCosta, the director of Medical Education at Saint Michael's Medical Center, who was himself a resident at the hospital some 30 years ago.

“We salute you as warriors,” said Dr. DaCosta, whose father was an intern at Saint Michael’s some 60 years ago and whose son is a second-year resident. “You came here to be educated and the last part of your training you ended up on the front line of a war and you were so brave, so amazing. I can’t tell you how proud I am of each and every one of you.”

At the peak of the pandemic in April, nearly every bed in Saint Michael’s was filled with patients battling COVID-19, with many on ventilators.

“We are mourning and we are grieving. We have lost many lives and have seen so much suffering,” said Dr. Marc Adelman, who addressed the graduating doctors.

“Patients have died without their families. Many of us have felt powerless, helpless, inadequate, numb and had feelings of self-blame, sleeplessness and PTSD as we have witnessed the tragic loss of so much human life,” Dr. Adelman said. “But this is not where it ends for any of you – because if we do this right, we can all move forward in a positive way."

Adelman said the pandemic taught these young doctors important lessons that they will carry with them throughout their careers, including humility, self-critique, how to form teams and realize that no one person can go it alone.

“And we have all learned to sacrifice, whether this has meant risking our own lives to take care of patients, or self-distancing ourselves from our friends and families,” Dr. Adelman said. “Although we have lost many lives, we haven’t failed. Although we may have been set back temporarily, we are resilient. We always get up off the ground and stand up and fight for what is right.”

Saint Michael’s, which was purchased by Prime Healthcare in 2016, is one of a 43 hospitals in New Jersey with a residency program. The 358-bed hospital provides cutting edge care, groundbreaking research and clinical trials. During the pandemic, Saint Michael’s participated in an expanded access program for the antiviral drug, Remdesivir one of the most promising treatments for COVID-19.

Dr. Sonia Mehta, the CEO of Prime Healthcare’s Region II, corporate chief medical officer and acting CEO of Saint Michael’s, congratulated the doctors on their graduation.

“Prime Healthcare is proud to continue the longstanding tradition of training future doctors here in Newark,” Dr. Mehta said. “Saint Michael’s provides an excellent training ground by giving young doctors many different experiences in all aspects of medicine.”

Medical doctors who completed their residencies in internal medicine were: Sahithi Chittamuri,
Mohammed Halabiya, Saraswathi Lakkasani, Shawn Christopher Pate, Jaimy Patel, Bishnu Poudel, Sadwika Reddy, Aashka Shah, Kalpeshkumar Shah, Euclid Jerome, Marcus Cox, Ahmad M. Damati, Suraj S. Jande and Hardikkumar Shah.

Doctors of osteopathy who completed their residencies were Jeremiah Huang, Parthiv Patel, Kelley Ann Scully, Christina Torre and Ashkan Hamzelou.

Several residents will continue their medical education at Saint Michael’s as fellows: Dr. Chittamuri in hematology/oncology, Dr. Lakkasani in gastroenterology, Dr. Damati in cardiology and Dr. Halabiya and Dr. Pate in pulmonary/critical care.

Several awards were given in honor of Saint Michael’s physicians who were dedicated to teaching residents.

The Dr. Peter Ho Memorial Award for Humanitarianism in Medicine was given to Dr. Lakkasani.

The award was named after Dr. Ho, who was born in Vietnam and served as a surgeon alongside American doctors during the Vietnam War. He was an infectious disease fellow at the hospital in 1983. When he was invited by pharmaceutical representatives to dinner, he would only go on the condition that he be allowed to take food and bring it to a homeless shelter. Dr. Ho died in 1985 and the Saint Michael’s HIV/AIDS clinic is named in his honor.

The Dr. Philip D’Ambola Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching was given to Dr. Kok Hoe Chan, MD.

The award and the ceremony were named after Dr. D’Ambola, who cast the deciding vote as a member of the hospital’s executive committee that made Saint Michael’s a teaching hospital more than a half century ago. The award was presented by his great niece, Dr. Lesly D’Ambola, who also did her residency at the hospital years ago.

The Dr. George Perez Achievement Award for Outstanding Medical Teaching Attending was given to Dr. Nicholas Baranetsky.

The award was named after Dr. Perez, who was chief of infectious disease at Saint Michael’s until his death in 2011. Dr. Perez consistently won the best teacher award during his years at the hospital.

The intern of the year was awarded to Dr. Eyad Ahmed and the nurse of the year award was given to Cynthia Villanueva RN.

SMMC -- Residents Graduation 2020