Future family physicians attend AAFP national conference

SUNY Upstate family medicine

Upstate's contingent at the American Academy of Family Physicians National Conference in Kansas City this summer: (L-R) Caitlin Nicholson, Sarah Lopez, Arie Rennert, Olivia Yost, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Heather Finn, MD, Kristine Faulknham and Lizzy Wei McIntosh.

Six fourth-year medical students recently returned from the American Academy of Family Physicians’ national conference in Kansas City, and at least one of them will go back next year — Lizzy Wei McIntosh, who was elected student chair for the 2017 conference.

In addition to Lizzy, Upstate was represented by classmates Kristine Faulknham, Sarah Lopez, Caitlin Nicholson, Arie Rennert and Olivia Yost, and Heather Finn, MD, assistant professor of Family Medicine.

More than 1,300 medical students attended the three-day gathering that featured educational programs, research presentations and networking opportunities in family medicine.

As student chair for 2017, Lizzy will lead the main stage sessions and preside over the business sessions of the National Congress of Medical Students. Over the next eight months she’ll provide input into the theme, programming and special activities for the conference and promote it to medical students across the country.

Here are the Upstate students’ thoughts on the conference and their reasons for pursuing family medicine.

Kristine Faulknham:  

Kristine is from Cape Vincent. She graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges (biology). Kristine recently received a $500 scholarship from the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, the state version of the AAFP.

“The conference was a great opportunity to meet people truly passionate about family medicine. In my experience the people in family medicine genuinely are loving what they are doing and have always been very passionate in teaching me. It also allowed me to communicate with many programs to help get a better feel about what programs to apply to. . . . I’m interested in family medicine because of the variety of patients and procedures that it will allow in an environment that allows me to function closely with the community. I was a part of the Rural Medicine Scholar Program and spent five months in two rural communities in Upstate New York.

Sarah Lopez:

Sarah is from Trinidad and Tobago. She graduated from Baylor University (biochemistry).

“It was reassuring to talk to program directors there about residency options because I could bring up any insecurities I might have about my application, and I had a program director right in front of me to talk it over with. I came into med school originally thinking about ophthalmology but over time I realized that primary care is a huge passion of mine and that there is such a shortage of primary care providers. I’m interested in mental healthcare as well and plan to incorporate it into my future practice as much as I can. What really draws me to family medicine is that it allows me to work with all populations, and pursue all my passions.”

Lizzy Wei McIntosh:

Lizzy is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (nuclear engineering). She’ll graduate from Upstate in May with an MD/MPH dual degree. Lizzy also serves on the AAFP Commission on Education that guides the organization’s educational activities, including those that concern students and residents.

“I believe that family medicine physicians are ideally situated to lead the way in health care reform for the country, and that we can start that process by getting involved as medical students. The National Conference plays an enormous part in inspiring students to choose family medicine and in encouraging student leadership at the local, regional, and national levels. . . . Family medicine isn’t glamorous, but it’s rewarding. I’ve met many providers who, 20-30 years later, still love what they’re doing.”

Caitlin Nicholson

Caitlin is from Ithaca. She graduated from Dartmouth College (psychology).

“The conference highlight was the ‘point of care’ ultrasound workshop. As a med student you get to see others use ultrasound devices, but not use them so much yourself. Ultrasound is the stethoscope of the future. That’s what we’re being told. . . . I led the Family Medicine Student Organization (FMSO) here second year. I’m definitely going for family medicine, with an interest in sports medicine. I was at the Binghamton campus, and enjoyed the longitudinal approach, the continuity of care there (working with Martin Masarech, MD). You get to see all members of the family.”

Arie Rennert:

Arie is from Bellmore, NY. He graduated from Binghamton University (biochemistry).

“This was my first time going to the national conference (any conference actually), and it was great! The expo hall of residency programs gave me a chance to ask residents and program directors what make their residency unique. . . . The conference reaffirmed my interest in family medicine, which I decided as my specialty choice because of the large impact I can have on a person’s or family’s life.  By caring for someone over years, I can establish relationships and get a sense of their health goals and what I can do to help them achieve them.  As a primary care physician, I want to be there to coordinate my patients’ care and be their advocate.”

Olivia Yost:

Olivia is from Rochester. She graduated from Cornell University (Human Biology, Health and Society).

“The highlights were learning about new topics and hearing from the current AAFP president, Dr. Wanda Filer, about the importance of advocacy for your patients, whether at high policy levels or within clinical practice. It was great being in an atmosphere of people passionate about family medicine. At Upstate, typically there are only 10 to 20 of us in each class interested in pursuing family medicine, so it was exciting to be in a huge setting with many people who are excited about family medicine.

“I plan to do full spectrum family medicine and pursue further training in integrative medicine, which focuses on the patient as a whole, incorporating areas like nutrition, lifestyle and wellness. I also hope to work with underserved populations and make integrative medicine accessible to all.”


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Upstate MedSET students transition to medical school

SUNY Upstate College of Medicine

Students in Upstate's College of Medicine Class of 2020 MedSET program are spending four weeks on campus this summer, taking science courses and getting a preview of the medical school curriculum. Photo by William Mueller.

Twenty-two members of the College of Medicine Class of 2020 are getting a clear view of medical school this summer in Upstate’s MedSET program.

MedSET – Medical Science Education Transition – is a four-week immersion into the College of Medicine curriculum. Entering first-year students apply to the program, which covers anatomy, molecular biology, genetics and physiology.

MedSET also encourages students to experiment with different learning strategies, and introduces skills to help with stress and time management.

“Medical school requires a different set of academic skills than most undergraduate and graduate programs and also requires students to have a heightened ability to reflect, assess and adapt quickly,” said Mary Ann Grandinetta, director of Student Success Initiatives.

Isaiah Buchanan, a Union College graduate from Brooklyn, said MedSET has helped confront “imposter syndrome — just that thought that you don’t have what it takes to get through medical school. This program helps alleviate that pressure.”

Tanesha Beckford, a Syracuse University graduate from the Bronx, said she’s “learned a lot about my success type and how I learn. I never thought about it before, but now I use it as a strength for the medical school curriculum.”

Tanesha has also come to appreciate the subject of human genetics, thanks to Margaret Maimone, PhD, associate professor of Cell & Developmental Biology.

“She’s very invested and makes complicated topics like genetics relatable,” Tanesha said. “By the end of the unit, I had the hang of it.”

MedSET’s academic benefits, said John Kahler, a Colgate University graduate from Oriskany, include helping to gauge how much time to set aside for studying and how to better recall material.

The program has helped the group get off to a good start in other ways, he said. A discussion about sickle cell disease and the racial and social components surrounding it was very beneficial.

“It raised awareness and was definitely good to talk about,” John said.

“It was a lively discussion,” Isaiah added. “The conversation about race was interesting, and made us as a group more comfortable discussing it.”

Any incoming medical student can apply for MedSET. It’s especially designed for students who have been out of school for an extended time; come from non-science backgrounds; have family or competing responsibilities, or may feel unsure about their preparedness for the demands of medical school.

“Even if you were a great student previously, it is important to recognize you will have to adapt to this new environment and style of instruction,” Grandinetta said. “Students who recognize this early and figure out the appropriate strategies for their own success tend to be less stressed in the long run.”

Isaiah said MedSET’s benefits will extend to the rest of the Class of 2020.

“We’ll be able to identify helpful resources — not just tangible things like certain books, but interpersonal connections with administrators, faculty and among our peers,” he said. “We’ll be able to share information, because we’ve had snapshots of what’s coming down the pike. We’re a little like ambassadors.”

SUNY Upstate

Students in the Class of 2020 MedSET program found time to relax during the four-week summer program.


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Upstate DNP student finds gratitude on Ghana medical mission

SUNY Upstate

Upstate's Brandy Baillargeon, FPMHNP, treats a woman in a village in Ghana during a medical mission trip with Americans Serving Abroad.

After her induction into the Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society and her graduation in May from Upstate’s Nurse Practitioner master’s program, Brandy Baillargeon didn’t take a vacation.

She joined an eight-day medical mission to Ghana organized by Upstate nurse Lauri Rupracht through Americans Serving Abroad.

“There were so many people who were so grateful,” Brandy said.  “What we take for granted, they need so much over there. The little things they needed — simple sunglasses, reading glasses, books, anything . . .”

Brandy, a Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner continuing in Upstate’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, estimated that the medical team saw 1,000 patients in several different villages. (The 14-member group included three educators who collaborated with health care providers and worked with teachers and students).

“This was my first medical mission,” she said. “It definitely was an eye-opener.”

Patients included children with umbilical hernias and adults with a variety of conditions, some needing emergency treatment and surgery. Some villages were an hour or two from clinics, which weren’t always well equipped.

“We gave them everything we could,” Brandy said. “Blood pressure medicine, antibiotics, ibuprofen. There was one stethoscope for the whole clinic. I gave them my stethoscope, my otoscope and blood pressure cuff.”

SUNY Upstate

Brandy Baillargeon with Amina.

Two young patients in particular remained in Brandy’s thoughts after she returned to her home in the North Country – an 8-year-old girl named Amina and a baby girl with bilateral clubfeet.

“Amina was one of the many children that were being seen or patiently waiting their turn,” Brandy said. “Some of the children merely wanted to be examined, cared for or given attention that they greatly deserved. We tried to see as many children as we could, and even the primarily healthy ones we were sure to give vitamins, shoes and clothing to.”

The baby girl’s mother had been told nothing could be done about her daughter’s feet. But Brandy fashioned braces for her, using tongue depressors, padding, bandages and high-top sneakers to try to straighten her feet. Brandy showed the mother some exercises, and made arrangements so that the girl could possibly have surgery at 7 months at University Hospital of Ghana — several hours away from her village.

There were other rewarding experiences, including starting a Scrabble program in one village, and returning to a couple of villages to check on patients they had seen earlier in the week.

“We saw people who were completely better or had improved so much,” Brandy said. “It was really rewarding.”

The trip wasn’t without its stresses.

SUNY Upstate

Brandy Baillargeon with a baby girl in Ghana. Brandy used tongue depressors, padding and sneakers to try to straighten the girl's feet.

In a couple of villages, hundreds of people needing treatment knew the medical team was due to arrive and gathered ahead of time. To control the crowd, village leaders set up a makeshift fence out of bicycles, and distributed bracelets to those wanting to be seen.

“We started with women and children,” Brandy said. “There were still a lot of people waiting when we had to leave. That was the hardest thing. We started at 6 a.m. and had to leave at 6 p.m., before dark, because the roads are dangerous because of hijackers. A couple of nights we had to have a police escort.”

For the most part, Brandy said, people in Ghana were very welcoming and happy to see them. “They’re accepting and caring people,” she said.

And grateful, as Brandy found out.

Her son had asked her to bring back a soccer ball from her trip, so she took a new ball with her to exchange.

“They had one and it was all beat up,” she said. “We traded a brand new one for it, and the kids there all signed it.”

Before setting up in each village, the visitors sought and received permission from the chief. One chief’s eyesight wasn’t good, so Brandy gave him a pair of prescription reading glasses. He was so grateful, he gave her a goat.

It was almost the perfect gift, even though Brandy had to set it free after the group left that village.

“We have goats here,” she said of her home near Alexandria Bay. “We bought 10 acres. Ultimately I’d like to establish a recreational rehabilitation practice, so kids can come up and use farm therapeutically. “

In the meantime, Brandy is working at a community clinic in Jefferson County and working toward her DNP degree at Upstate. (During the trip, she surveyed 100 patients for her DNP research on mental health in underserved populations.)

The future might hold another trip to Ghana.

“I’d love to go back,” she said.

SUNY Upstate

Residents of a Ghana village wait to be seen by health care providers from Americans Serving Abroad.


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Undergraduate research fellows spend summer at Upstate

SUNY Upstate College of Graduate Studies

Students in the College of Graduate Studies' Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program visit Upstate's DNA sequencing facility and learn from supervisor Vicki Lyle.

Ten college students interested in the biomedical sciences are spending the summer at Upstate through the College of Graduate Studies’ Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.

The 10-week SURF program exposes college seniors to biomedical research and gives them the opportunity to formulate a proposal, carry out research under a faculty mentor, write a research paper and give an oral presentation on their projects.

“I was looking for another stepping stone,” said SURF student Clara Richardson, who graduated in three years from SUNY Cobleskill. “I did a lot of plant research at Cobleskill, but not a lot of biomedical research.”

Clara is working in the lab of Mira Krendel, PhD, associate professor of Cell & Developmental Biology.

“It’s a very inviting environment in the lab,” Clara said. “Everyone really wants us to learn and they’re happy to teach us. They’re very flexible, too.”

Max Cravener, a rising senior majoring in biology at Lock Haven University in central Pennsylvania, is working in the lab of Gary Winslow, PhD, professor of Microbiology & Immunology.

Max said he was looking into possible summer internships when his academic advisor told him he’d be a good fit for the SURF program. “I’m interested in immunology and microbiology, and here I get to branch out,” Max said.

In the Winslow lab, Max is working on a project involving host immune responses to bacterial pathogens.

“One of the first conversations I had with (Prof. Winslow) was an honest one about how I’m not going to make any major breakthroughs in eight weeks,” Max said. “So he gave me a project that’s a subset of one they’re working on, and I’m learning a lot.”

He is looking ahead to graduate school, and then a career teaching in higher education.

Clara wants to work in the private sector for a couple of years to build on the skills she’s learning in the SURF program.

“This is a great opportunity for hands-on experience you don’t get at the undergraduate level,” she said.

Each SURF student receives a $3,000 stipend and housing. This summer’s program started June 6 and continues through Aug. 12. The program is competitive, with about 200 students applying each year.

The 2016 SURF students:

Maia Baskerville, Wells College; Lee Bauter, Le Moyne College; Max Cravener, Lock Haven University; Siddharta Dhakal, University of Louisiana at Monroe; Michael Dolan, Binghamton University; Rhiannon Gabriel-Jones, Bard College at Simon; Shelby Helwig, Lock Haven University; Alana MacDonald, Binghamton University; Elsie Odhiambo, Smith College; Clara Richardson, SUNY Cobleskill.

Upstate faculty serving as mentors are: Wenyi Feng (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology); Heidi Hehnly and Mira Krendel (Cell & Developmental Biology); Gary Chan, William Kerr, Gary Winslow (Microbiology & Immunology); Frank Middleton and Yunlei Yang (Neuroscience and Physiology); William Brunken (Ophthalmology); Juntao Luo (Pharmacology).

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