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Residents’ Graduation Ceremony Marks End of “COVID Class” at Saint Michael’s Medical Center

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  • Written By: Saint Michael's Press Office
Residents’ Graduation Ceremony Marks End of “COVID Class” at Saint Michael’s Medical Center

Read this article as it originally appeared June 10, 2021 on TAPinto Newark. 

A class of 19 residents who were in the midst of their three-year training at Saint Michael's Medical Center in Newark when the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey graduated Wednesday with the admiration of their mentors.

"This class will always be known as the COVID class -- the class that the class that had to deal with this dreaded virus," said Theodore DaCosta, MD, who is the director of medical education at Saint Michael's.

"The virus hit us so hard in March of last year. And honestly, we didn't know much about the virus and we didn't know if it was going to take our lives and these guys risked their lives and their families' lives because they had a commitment," Dr. DaCosta said during the 57th Annual Dr. Philip D'Ambola Certificate and Awards Ceremony.

"They chose to be a physician and they chose to take care of patients, even if it puts them in harm's way," Dr. DaCosta said. "They went every day, they didn't call in to me and say, 'I'm sick. I can't make it.' I got none of that."

Dr. DaCosta, who did his did his internship, residency and a fellowship in gastroenterology at Saint Michael's more than three decades ago, said he has never seen a class work so well together.

"I shouldn't be giving you these graduation certificates, you should all be getting medals of honor," DaCosta said. "You're all heroes and we're all eternally grateful for what you did."

For Dr. DaCosta, the day was particularly poignant. His son, Theodore, graduated from the program. He is the third generation DaCosta to complete their medical training at Saint Michael's. The first, also Theodore, was a resident from 1960-62.

The 19 graduating residents received their certificates of completion from New York Medical College, the medical school affiliated with Saint Michael’s. With their residencies completed, some will continue their education in fellowships in a medical specialty while others will begin working full time as physicians.

Medical doctors who completed their residencies in internal medicine were: Susanne Ajao, MD, Theordore DaCosta, DO, Kinjal Patel, MD, Zaid Ahmad Amin, MD, Mohammad Alnabulsi, MD, Arsany Sami Anis, MD, Liana Atallah, MD, Kok Hoe Chan, MD, Sudipa Chowdhury, DO, Joanna Crincoli, DO, Scott Haarburger, DO, Muhammad Hussain, MD, Sudha Lagudu, MD, Ujjwala Murari, MD, Bhavik Patel, MD, Dhinesh Vangala Reddy, MD, Divya Thimmareddygari, MD and Radhika Vala, DO.

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.

Hamid Shaaban, MD, the chief medical officer of Saint Michael's, told the residents that now that they have finished their formal training, the have the potential to become true healers.

"We are all extremely proud of all you have accomplished as we fully embrace the magnitude of the greatest public health emergency on our lifetime," Dr. Shaaban said. "Your presence on the front lines of healthcare showed your commitment and your understanding of the importance of working with our underserved population."

Dr. Lesly D’Ambola, whose late great uncle the event is named after, told the students that she was a resident at Saint Michael’s during another pandemic, the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s.

“It was a profound time also, but COVID has that beat,” D’Ambola said. “It was meant for you to be a doctor at this particular time in history. You were at the right place at the right time. You were with people at their most vulnerable times.”

Saint Michael's CEO Alan Sickles, MD, told the graduates that their experience during the pandemic in the hardest city in the state has made them better doctors.

"You've been through an incredible experience that improves your training, improves your critical thinking and improves who you are as human beings," Dr. Sickles said. "Your class is unlike any I've seen before."

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. Atallah.

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. Chan.

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 Dr. George Perez Achievement Award for Outstanding Medical Teaching Attending was given to Adel Armanious, MD.

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 Aditya Patel and the nurse of the year award was given to Cheryl Hayes, RN.