Nine deserving alums were presented with Alumni Association Awards during Alumni Weekend 2021. To give you a chance to get to know them, we asked them three questions: Who at your alma mater inspired you and why? What’s one great lesson, personal or professional, you’ve learned? What keeps you going when you face challenges? We hope to feature more responses in a future issue of the magazine.
John S. Sundy, MD, PhD, HU ’91
OUTSTANDING BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES GRADUATE AWARD
Sundy is the chief medical officer of Pandion Therapeutics, a start-up that was acquired by Merck in 2021.
At Drexel I was inspired most by my scientific mentor, William Weidanz, PhD. He demanded scientific rigor, while always demonstrating compassion, generosity and humility. I have tried to emulate him throughout my career, and believe that all that I learned from him has been essential to what I have been able to accomplish as a physician and scientist. My late sister, Robin Tingue, has motivated most of what enables me to face challenges. She battled cancer twice, first as a teenager and again as a young wife and mother. No challenge I have faced compares to those Robin took on during her short life. Great doctors and outstanding research were important during my sister’s life, and it is a reminder to me that it is a privilege for me to have the chance to care for patients and to develop new treatments for people living with serious diseases.
Elizabeth Malsin, MD ’11
EMERGING LEADER AWARD
Malsin is a clinical instructor at Northwestern University/Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she is also completing additional training in interventional pulmonology.
When at Drexel, I was inspired by Howard Miller, MD — a brilliant internist, he truly demonstrates the wealth of knowledge of a master clinician, yet is a patient teacher to students and trainees of all levels. While rotating in his clinic in my final year of medical school, I saw that he was so careful and specific in his history and physical exam skills, leading to such specific diagnoses, it almost seemed like magic. One of the greatest lessons I continue to learn is the importance of teamwork in medicine — to care for patients in the ICU or during a complex procedure could never happen without everyone playing their precise role. I’m lucky to get to work with the same team members, including not only my physician colleagues but nurses, advanced practice providers, trainees, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and social workers, almost every day, and have seen the importance of sharing both workload and expertise. Knowing we have succeeded in the past is what keeps me going on the most challenging days.
Loretta Podolak Finnegan, MD, HU ’64
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Finnegan is president of Finnegan Consulting LLC, which addresses education, research and treatment in issues relating to perinatal addiction.
Wilbur Wilson Oaks Jr., MD, was among a number of professors who inspired me at my alma mater. However, he receives the top position to me because he demonstrated a number of key qualities that make the ideal physician, which include humility, enthusiasm, optimism, perseverance and an emphasis on team-based leadership. One great lesson from a personal or professional standpoint that I have learned is that life is not always easy, but if you attain the knowledge you need, work hard, develop good interpersonal relationships, persevere, and go forward with enthusiasm, honesty and faith in yourself, you will succeed in most instances. When faced with challenges, I realize that I need to get into high gear and accomplish what is best for my patients, my family or a friend in need. Fortunately, I am blessed with the capabilities to rise to such occasions and to address the challenges and do what is necessary to solve the issues presented. When you love what you do, and it helps others to be healthy, you are fulfilled. With good health, we have happiness in this life.
Eliana Verghese Hempel, MD ’12
EMERGING LEADER AWARD
Hempel is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine.
I was most inspired by my fellow classmates. Drexel University College of Medicine recruits a diverse array of students from many walks of life. I appreciated learning from my peers, who brought their experiences as teachers, advocates, nurses, EMTs, etc. to the way they approached learning medicine and caring for patients. Relationships matter most. This guiding principle has kept me grounded through times of significant personal and professional challenge. Building and investing in relationships with patients, colleagues, learners, friends and family can make even the lowest times feel more manageable. Given the demands of our work, it is all too easy to focus on efficiency, close ourselves off from our emotional responses, and involute. It can feel overwhelming to end a long day of doctoring by processing the heaviness that often accompanies caring for those who are struggling with illness. It can be hard to reach outward. Yet, there is also something so innate about the need to feel heard, understood, and validated, that seeing that need met can be more restorative than any tub of ice cream or movie marathon. Moreover, the satisfaction of being able to provide that kind of support for someone else is uniquely rewarding. Thus, it’s the rewarding relationships with people in my life that best sustain me, and the great lesson I’ve learned is to work hard to keep all those people close.
J. Kenneth Brubaker, MD, HU ’70
BOOTS COOPER, MD, SERVICE AWARD
Brubaker retired as corporate medical director for Masonic Homes of PA and medical doctor for the Masonic Village Hospice Program in April of 2021 after close to 40 years in the role.
As a beginning third-year medical student, I was fortunate to have been assigned to the service of Wilbur Oaks Jr., MD. I quickly appreciated his passion and enthusiasm for sharing his medical knowledge. His familiarity with recent medical literature during rounding was impressive to me, as well as his kindness and sensitivity to his patients during teaching rounds. While I was not aware of this during my rotation on his service, he served as my educational role model, which eventually led me to the establishment of a geriatric fellowship program in my community in 2001. Throughout my career I was blessed to have numerous colleagues who challenged and complemented my enthusiasm and passion to improve health care in my community. I would like to share two quotes that significantly impacted my career decisions: Mahatma Gandhi is commonly quoted as having said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I feel fortunate to have been born with DNA that has given me a glass that is usually “half full”! Over the years I have learned to see challenges as opportunities — opportunities to help others who are struggling with life-changing medical decisions and opportunities to learn something new that will make me a better clinician.
Daniel Rader, MD, MCP ’84
MCP DISTINGUISHED GRADUATE AWARD
Rader is the Seymour Gray Professor of Molecular Medicine, chair of genetics, and division chief of human genetics in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Africa Stewart, MD, MCPHU ’00, MBA
OUTSTANDING MEDICAL GRADUATE AWARD
Stewart is president and chair of the board of directors at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.
Megan Wright, PhD ’08
GRADUATE CITATION AWARD – EARLY CAREER OR YOUNG INVESTIGATOR
Wright is a full professor of neurobiology at Arcadia University. Her research focuses on nerve regeneration after injury or in association with neurological diseases.
Ana Pujols McKee, MD, HU ’79
HU DISTINGUISHED GRADUATE AWARD
McKee is the executive vice president, chief medical officer, and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer of The Joint Commission.
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