Upstate students set the pace at Baldwin runs

SUNY Upstate

Some of the many Upstate students who took part in the Carol M. Baldwin "A Run for Their Life" 5K and 15K races in Camillus.

Upstate students and alumni – including some very fast ones — were among almost 400 members of the Upstate community who took part in the annual Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund of CNY “A Run for Their Life.”

The Oct. 3 event at Gillie Lake Veterans Memorial Park in Camillus raised almost $19,000.

The Carol M. Baldwin fund has donated $2.75 million to investigators conducting breast cancer research at Upstate Medical University and University Hospital. Funds also support the Baldwin lecture series.

First-year medical student Calvin Patten was the overall winner of the 5-kilometer race, running away from the rest of the field to win in 17 minutes and 1 second, a 5:29 mile pace.

“I was pleased to be able participate in a race benefiting the fight against breast cancer,” Calvin said. “I was impressed by the community support, especially that of the Upstate community. We did have a lot of people that did really well, both in the 5K and 15K. Congratulations to everyone who ran and walked!”

Upstate Doctor of Physical Therapy alumna Julie Dmochowski was the first female finisher in the 5K (and fourth overall), with a time of 21:01.

In the 15-kilometer run (9.3 miles), DPT student Kelly Carolan was the first female finisher (sixth overall), averaging exactly 7 minutes per mile to win in 65 minutes, 11 seconds. Medical student Peter Edmonds took second place in 55 minutes, 11 seconds, a 5:56 mile pace. Richard Powell was the overall winner in 52:06 (5:36 mile pace).

For a complete list of results, go to:

Carol M. Baldwin won her own struggle with breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 1990 and nearly took her life. After undergoing a double mastectomy, she decided to help other women and founded her own breast cancer fighting enterprise.

The total amount contributed by this effort to research and education at SUNY Stony Brook and SUNY Upstate is approximately $8 million. In 1995, Stony Brook established The Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center. In 2009, it became the first breast center in New York state to be accredited by the National Accreditation Program of Breast Centers.

At Upstate, the Patricia J. Numann Breast & Endocrine Surgery Center also received this national accreditation, the first and only such program to do so in Central New York.

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Upstate’s Geneva Tower: home to good friends playing music

SUNY Upstate College of Medicine

Fourth-year Upstate medical students Austin Meeker (guitar), Tim Kuchera (cello) and Tommy Fu (piano) rehearse in the lobby of Geneva Tower.

Medical students find different ways to help cope with stress – they work out at the gym, go for a run, listen to music.

For fourth-year Upstate med students Tommy Fu, Tim Kuchera and Austin Meeker, nothing works better than sitting down together and playing music.

SUNY Upstate

Tommy Fu on electric guitar.

“If you’re having a rough week, you can sort of leave it all out there on the guitar,” Tommy said. “It’s like going to the gym and working out, but this is more of an emotional thing.”

The trio has played regularly at “open mic” sessions at the Campus Activities Building since they were second-year students. They rehearse when they can in the lobby of Geneva Tower, where fellow students and residents occasionally stop by to listen.

They play alternative rock, country and blues, covering a variety of artists from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Leonard Cohen to John Mayer to B.B. King to Tom Petty.

Tommy has played guitar for 10 years and piano almost twice as long; he was in a frat house band at Cornell (“Hong Kong Basement,” with future Upstate graduate Timothy Vo). Austin and Tim grew up together in Vestal, NY, but took different musical paths.

SUNY Upstate College of Medicine

Tim Kuchera on cello.

Tim played the cello from fourth grade through high school, then off and on while at the University at Buffalo. Austin started out in high school, switched from his dad’s drums to the bass and then to guitar; he refined his skills at St. Lawrence University.

At Upstate, Austin persuaded Tim to give open mic night a try, and they’ve been playing there several times a year since. (The trio doesn’t have a name.)

“A lot of what we do, when we sit down we just pick a few chords and just go,” Tim said. “Nothing has been pre-decided, we just feel it.”

Tim also plays in a quartet with three other medical students, including two second-year students. The group has played at different events on campus, including the welcoming reception for new College of Health Professions Dean Donald Simpson, PhD, MPH.

SUNY Upstate Medical University

Austin Meeker on acoustic guitar.

Tommy, Austin and Tim practice around their fourth-year schedules of electives and interviews that will determine where they’ll spend the next several years as medical residents.

Tommy plans to specialize in psychiatry, Austin in ophthalmology and Tim in internal medicine.

“There are a lot of very rewarding things about medical school,” Austin said, noting that those rewards come after many hours, days and weeks of intense work and studying.

But for immediate satisfaction?

There’s nothing like picking up a guitar and sitting down with two good friends to play some music.

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A typical (long) day in the life of a third-year medical student

SUNY Upstate

Third-year medical student HeeRak Kang sees a 3-year-old patient in Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital during his pediatrics clerkship. Photos by Jim McKeever.

HeeRak Kang is one of about 60 “non-traditional” medical students who didn’t come to Upstate Medical University right out of college, but instead spent several years in the workforce or pursuing other studies.

HeeRak is 32, married with two children, ages 3 and 2. After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in computer engineering, he worked for nine years as an engineer at Welch Allyn, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Why medical school?

“A month before my graduation from SU, my grandfather became ill and couldn’t come (from South Korea),” HeeRak said. “That’s always affected me a little.”

HeeRak is also an insatiable learner. “I’m passionate about learning,” he said. “I’m always going to be curious about how things work, and how to make things work better.”

That includes the human body, which HeeRak likens to a “really, really complicated machine.” If you take care of it by eating a healthful diet and exercising, you stand a better chance of keeping it in good working order.

That’s especially hard to do in the third year of medical school.

MS IIIs gain experience and gauge their interest in specialties such as surgery, pediatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, family medicine, OB/GYN and neurology.  For the 165 students in the Class of 2017, it’s a marathon of weeks-long clerkships and shelf exams.

HeeRak’s days and nights are long. The first weeks of his pediatrics clerkship this summer, he typically awoke every morning at 5:30 so he could get to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital by 6:30. He’d meet with fellow students and medical residents to get caught up on patients, medications and lab results.

From 7:30 to 9:30, HeeRak saw the two patients assigned to him; at 9:30 he and a few other third-year students accompanied an attending physician and medical residents on patient rounds, room by room. This often lasted until early afternoon without a break.

After a quick lunch, HeeRak and other students attended presentations by medical residents on patient care and treatment, followed by 3 p.m. followups on his two assigned patients — checking their status, calling labs for test results or primary care providers for more information.

With two pre-schoolers at home, HeeRak empathized with the concerned moms and dads he met. “When you’re a parent, you understand the fear” that accompanies having a child who’s sick or injured, he said.

HeeRak had to pick up his own kids at daycare before it closed at 5 p.m. and — if he wasn’t on call — he’d be home for family dinner. Then it was time to study, sometimes until 11 p.m., before starting all over again the next morning.

HeeRak isn’t sure which specialty he’ll choose, but he said his psychiatry clerkship was amazing. And he’s enjoying his current clerkship in family medicine at a small practice. “I’m always learning, and I like connecting with people,” he said.

SUNY Upstate Golisano

Medical student HeeRak Kang with a patient at Upstate's Golisano Children's Hospital.




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Upstate MD/PhD student passes another test of endurance

SUNY Upstate MD/PhD

Upstate MD/PhD student Ryan O'Dell, PhD, views one of his 3D movies of cortical development showing interactions between genetically labeled embryonic neurons (in red and green).

MD/PhD student Ryan O’Dell was uniquely qualified to tackle the research project that recently made the cover of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“Fortunately, Ryan is very sharp and determined,” said his mentor at Upstate, Eric Olson, PhD. “Also, being an ultramarathoner, he has an incredibly high pain threshold. He never let setbacks or a cranky advisor get him down, and was always game to give something a try regardless of the difficulty.”

Ryan successfully defended his dissertation this year, was first author of the Journal of Neuroscience article and has resumed the medical school phase of the MD/PhD program. He’s rotating through his third-year clerkships and is on track to graduate in 2017.

The research he did in embryonic brain development will enable the Olson lab — and other researchers — to delve deeper and contribute to a greater understanding of serious neurological disorders.

SUNY Upstate

Ryan O'Dell, PhD, and his Principal Investigator Eric Olson, PhD, with the multiphoton microscope used in their study. "Ryan spent many, many hours with that microscope," Olson said.

Using multiphoton microscopy and a mouse model, Ryan essentially made movies showing the cellular dynamics that occur during the initial phase of the growth of dendrites, a major component of brain circuitry. This was a first among researchers, said Olson, associate professor of neuroscience and physiology.

Ryan was able to highlight the role of a gene, Reelin, and add new information to earlier studies that looked at how Reelin deficiencies contributed to “disruptions” at two different stages of brain development.

“As disruptions in the Reelin signaling pathway have been previously implicated as contributors to Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia,” Ryan said, “our work may eventually lead to novel insights into the specific pathophysiology of these complex disorders.”

Ryan succeeded with “a difficult project with a number of technical challenges,” according to Olson. “He was a joy to have in the lab and he has a very bright future as a clinician scientist.”

Ryan said the Olson lab in the Neuroscience Research Building is an excellent learning environment, with students genuinely interested in and supportive of each other’s work.

“Eric would always make time to discuss new and interesting data, and offer guidance wherever necessary,” he said. “He was always excited to review data, and was oftentimes seen in the lab conducting experiments and getting his own hands dirty.”

Olson is “an exemplary role model, demonstrating a great passion for scientific research and curiosity (and at the same time a critical and scrutinizing eye), something essential to pass down to the new generations of budding investigators,” Ryan said.

After he graduates from Upstate, Ryan plans to pursue a career in neurology so he can “help fill in the missing pieces of disease pathophysiology that will ultimately lead to definitive cures (or at the very least better screening methodologies) for many of the debilitating neurological disorders,” he said.

In the meantime, Ryan hopes to find time for another passion – running ultramarathons (distances greater than 26.2 miles) even though he hasn’t been running much since his clerkships started.

“I was able to finish one last 100-mile race in March after defending (my dissertation), out in the desert of Monument Valley,” he said. “An absolutely amazing and sandy experience, followed by 10 days of hiking and running around Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.”

Ryan hopes to ramp up the miles during his fourth year of medical school. There’s another goal out there that will test his high pain tolerance.

“I need to return to the Massanutten 100-mile race in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia,” he said. It will be his fifth 100-mile ultra and he’ll earn a coveted 500-mile belt buckle.

SUNY Upstate MD PhD

Upstate MD/PhD student Ryan O'Dell during the Massanutten (Va.) 100-mile ultramarathon.


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Two Upstate students selected for public health symposium

SUNY Upstate Ambrose Scholars

Upstate Master of Public Health student Kyle Plante and Upstate medical student Simone Arvisais-Anhalt, with former Assistant Surgeon General Woodie Kessel, MD, MPH at the Paul Ambrose Scholars symposium in Washington, DC.

For the second straight year, two Upstate students have been selected for the prestigious Paul Ambrose Scholars Program.

Medical student Simone Arvisais-Anhalt and Master of Public Health student Kyle Plante were among 40 student-scholars from around the country chosen to attend a Student Leadership Symposium in Washington, DC, in June.

Last year, Upstate medical students Elizabeth Zane and Andrew Beltran were selected for the symposium.

Each year the Ambrose program brings together students from a variety of health care fields working on public health initiatives supporting the goals promoted by Healthy People 2020.

The three-day symposium was “an incredible opportunity for us to not only learn from our nation’s public health leaders, but also provided a great opportunity to collaborate and network with other like-minded students from across the country,” Kyle said.

The students discussed health care leadership, evidence-based public health decision-making, health policy advocacy and health care reform, as well as various other topics relating to project planning. Speakers were from the Association for Disease Prevention Teaching and Research, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and other community-based agencies.

“What I found most energizing about this program was the focus on the meaningful work that can be accomplished at the local level,” Simone said. “Instead of glorifying the power of federal policy on health care, there was an emphasis on community engagement and the positive effects of local policy change.”

Each Ambrose scholar has a year to develop and implement a community-based public health project that addresses one of the Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicators.

Simone’s project tackles underutilization and lack of awareness among local health care providers about free clinics. She is collaborating with other students on a two-part program to establish who is visiting the clinics and what barriers they face accessing care.

“We will work on a provider awareness campaign and intervention to distribute free clinic information to patients in need through discharge plans via Upstate’s electronic medical records,” she said.

Kyle’s project is a patient-centered “decision aid” to promote shared decision-making between patients and providers about prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing.

“The decision aid will describe the risks and benefits associated PSA testing, as well as the medical, social and emotional considerations needed to make an informed decision,” said Kyle, who is implementing the project with support from Upstate’s Department of Family Medicine.

Simone, a member of the College of Medicine Class of 2017, hasn’t yet decided on a specialty to pursue; Kyle, who already has a master’s degree in anatomy from Upstate, plans to follow up his MPH by enrolling in Upstate’s College of Medicine.

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