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2020 Year in Review: Students & alumni offer COVID-19 hope

Posted by Scott Harrah
January 01, 2021

2020 was an annus horribilis, or a “horrible year” in Latin. The term was made famous in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth II when she discussed a particularly bad year of scandals and tragedies for the British royal family. However, 28 years later, 2020 was truly an annus horribilis for the entire world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with close to 18 million cases and more than 320,000 deaths in the USA alone by mid-December. In addition to the virus, the world experienced the worst economy since the Great Depression in the 1930s, with millions out of work and many Americans lining up at food banks.

Despite the grim reality, UMHS made the best of things in countless ways. Our highly skilled alumni on the front lines of hospital emergency rooms have been saving lives since COVID-19 first emerged in the USA in early March. In addition, UMHS moved from an in-person format in St. Kitts and Maine to remote learning when COVID-19 lockdowns forced students and staff to study and work from home. Facing global grief, UMHS students, staff and faculty rose to the challenge and managed to educate, enlighten and help others during a year filled with so much suffering. UMHS continues to lead the fight against COVID-19 as our current clinical students and front-line alumni get vaccinated and share their experiences on social media.

The UMHS Endeavour looks back at 2020 and the highlights, including:

  • Exclusive interviews with UMHS alumni on the front lines of COVID-19.
  • One UMHS graduate’s amazing story of matching at the same hospital with her daughter and the international media attention she received, inspiring young African Americans to consider a career in medicine.
  • Our new Dextrocardia podcast hosted by two students and featuring a sub-series on the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement.
  • A high-tech UMHS virtual tour on our brand-new, redesigned website.
  • Three inspiring female UMHS students who received scholarships from AMSA (American Medical Student Association) to help advocate for Reproductive Justice for women at a time when women’s healthcare—particularly for women of color and women without insurance—has been limited by new laws in several states.
  • UMHS student Nihal Satyadev receiving one of the National Academy of Medicine’s Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards to start a Care Corps for the elderly.

Alumni on the Front Lines of COVID-19

UMHS alumni on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic made everyone proud when they bravely put on PPE and helped save lives as emergency rooms began filling up in March with patients experiencing high fevers and shortness of breath. The news media was full of conflicting, confusing information at the time, but some of best and brightest UMHS graduates took time after their busy days in the ER for interviews in which they spoke candidly about how they were treating patients and why they were determined to do anything to help people during this unprecedented time. Below is a listing of the many UMHS grads on the front lines and links to their incredible stories.

Emergency Medicine resident Dr. Jordan Stav in MI

Dr Jordan Stav

UMHS 2018 graduate Dr. Jordan Stav was one of the first UMHS alumni on the front lines interviewed by the UMHS Endeavour about COVID-19. Dr. Stav, an Emergency Medicine Resident at Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Michigan, was the first to respond to a post we left on the UMHS Alumni Facebook page, and what he had to say is chilling and sobering.

(Photo, inset right): Dr. Jordan Stav. Photo courtesy of Dr. Stav.

Dr. Stav spoke to the UMHS Endeavour with the proviso that he is not an infectious disease expert and is only sharing from his own experience. Click to read the full interview with Dr. Stav.


Mikayla Troughton Landscape-2.1 ratio

(Photo, above): Dr.  Mikaya Troughton. Photo courtesy of Dr. Troughton.

Anesthesiology resident Dr.  Mikayla Troughton in AR

UMHS 2018 graduate Dr. Mikayla Troughton, an Anesthesiology resident at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), spoke about how the pandemic affected her hospital and job.

COVID-19 made an impact on Dr. Mikayla Troughton’s UAMS hospital in countless ways, and work was particularly difficult because she intubated some patients who unfortunately died.  Dr. Troughton discussed how the pandemic changed the way doctors work in hospitals, from new precautions and canceling elective surgeries to new visitor policies, what doctors must know about aerosol-generating procedures, testing, symptoms to look for, the promise of new treatments and more. Click to read the full interview with this young doctor.

Internal Medicine resident Dr. Bahaa Elzein in MI

Bahaa-1UMHS 2020 grad Dr. Bahaa Elzein started an Internal Medicine residency at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Michigan in the summer. Dr. Elzein had quite a journey through medical school, but studying to become a doctor is not the only challenge he’s faced. He battled COVID-19 and knows firsthand what an insidious virus it truly is, even for younger Americans.

(Photo, inset right): Dr. Bahaa Elzein. Photo courtesy of Dr. Elzein.

The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Bahaa Elzein about how he always wanted to be a doctor, his strong Lebanese-American roots in the Detroit area, why he chose UMHS for medical school, how he survived the coronavirus, and more. Click to read  Dr. Elzein’s amazing story.


Inpatient psychiatrist Dr.  Aaron Vazquez in UT

Aaron-Vazequez-2-new-portrait-696x696UMHS 2015 grad and inpatient psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Vazquez works atIntermountain Healthcare Dixie Regional Medical Center, a 284-bed hospital in St. George, Utah. He said the hospital adapted in numerous ways, from using telemedicine appointments to offering drive-through COVID-19 testing.

(Photo, inset right): Dr. Aaron Vazquez. Photo courtesy of Dr. Vazquez.

Dr. Vazquez discussed how COVID-19 has changed working in a hospital and discussed everything from preparations for potential Coronavirus patients to ways everyone can cope with the psychological aspects of the pandemic. Click to read how his Utah hospital made modifications during the early days of the pandemic.

Family Medicine resident Dr. Alexander Zayid in MI

UMHS 2019 graduate Dr. Alexander Zayid is currently working on a Family Medicine residency with a focus on Preventative Medicine at Ascension Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan. Dr. Zayid worked at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic from March to June 2020 and—like most healthcare providers—had to contend with a potentially killer virus that no one was prepared to handle.

Dr. Alex Zayid fighting coronavirus-LinkedIn

(Photo, above): Dr. Alexander Zayid  in PPE at Ascension Providence Hospital in MI. Photo courtesy of Dr. Zayid.

The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Zayid about everything from working in a hospital during the pandemic to the current treatments, what it was like losing patients, government responses in various states, how prepared hospitals are for a second wave, the hope for a vaccine, what med students and new residents should know, advice for people under age 40, and more. Click to read the full story in the UMHS Endeavour.

Family Medicine resident Dr.  Arjun Kanwal in MD

UMHS Class of 2018 graduate Dr. Arjun Kanwal worked on completing an Internal Medicine residency at MedStar Baltimore in Maryland in 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the USA back in March, Dr. Kanwal and his hospital were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. At the time, we heard about all the important front-line work Dr. Kanwal was doing and reached out to him, but he was working nonstop.


Kanwal 2 crop-2.1-1(Photo, above): Dr. Arjun Kanwal in PPE works at shift at MedStar Baltimore earlier in 2020. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kanwal.


Dr. Kanwal finally took time talk to the UMHS Endeavour about the unprecedented public health emergency he and his colleagues have been dealing with since the pandemic started. Read the full interview with Dr. Kanwal in our blog.

Family Medicine resident Dr.  Daniel Asher in GA

Dr. Daniel Asher, a 2017 UMHS graduate, completed a Family Medicine residency over the summer at Piedmont Medical Center in Columbus, GA and returned to the same facility in September as a hospitalist. Throughout 2020, Dr. Asher has treated countless COVID-19 patients as the pandemic has unfolded in Georgia and nationwide.

(Photo, inset below, right): Dr. Daniel Asher in PPE at Piedmont Medical Center in GA. Photo courtesy of Dr .Asher.

Dr Asher in PPE

We spoke to Dr. Asher about what it was like working in a hospital during this unprecedented time. We discussed everything from dealing with the early cases of COVID-19 and an overwhelmed Emergency Room and ICU to making necessary adjustments and the emotional drain of losing patients, treatments that didn’t work and ones that do, the vaccine and more. Click to read his story.



Jared Sharza rehired as EMS worker after rotations suspended

Jared-Sharza-2 7

(Photo, above): Jared Sharza at work as an EMS worker shortly after his clinical rotations were suspended. Photo courtesy of Jared Sharza.

UMHS third-year student Jared Sharza was, like many, disappointed when his clinical rotations were abruptly suspended last spring in Detroit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, he drove home from Michigan to Upstate New York, thinking, “I refuse to be sidelined.”  While driving through Canada on the way back to New York, he was rehired by an EMS agency for which he had previously worked. He was one of the many medical students on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Mr. Sharza about what it was like working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as a first responder, the need for students at North American and Caribbean medical schools to work in hospitals during this crisis, six ways med students can help, and more. Read Mr. Sharza’s story by clicking here.

Surgery resident Dr. Robertino Simpson in FL

Robertino Simpson

UMHS spoke to 2019 graduate Dr. Robertino Simpson, a surgery resident at the University of Florida Health hospitals, alternating between the Shands and VA (Veterans Administration) Hospitals in Gainesville, Florida.

(Photo, inset right): Dr. Robertino Simpson. Photo courtesy of Dr. Simpson.

Florida Governor Roy DeSantis was criticized for refusing to lock the state down or issue a mask mandate. The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Simpson about how his hospital initially coped with COVID-19 and how the pandemic affected his surgery residency, the need for COVID-19 tests, treatment methods, and his thoughts on why people still need to stay home. Click for the full story.

Tips from UMHS front-line alumni & faculty on 2nd wave of COVID-19

The media and public health experts discussed a “second wave” of COVID-19 in the fall and winter of 2020 and spring of 2021, but UMHS alumni working on the front lines of the pandemic and UMHS faculty—like many healthcare experts—had different perspectives on what a “second wave” means.

image(Photo, inset right): UMHS grad Dr. Melissa Alvarez in PPE on a shift treating COVID-19 patients in PA.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Alvarez.

The UMHS Endeavour spoke to four UMHS alumni on the front lines and two faculty members about the COVID-19 “second wave” in the US. We discussed why doctors and healthcare professionals may now be better prepared to treat patients with new therapeutic medications and better knowledge of how the novel coronavirus affects the body. We spoke to doctors and faculty about other factors such as treating patients who have COVID-19 denial and think it is a hoax, why flu shots are especially important this year, mental health advice for front-line workers, plus general tips and guidelines for med students and doctors on how to cope with COVID-19 and treat patients during this challenging time. Visit the UMHS Endeavour blog for the inside story.

Dr. Cynthia Kudji & Dr. Jasmine Kudji's residency success story

Cynthia and Jasmine Kudji 2.1(Photo, above): Dr. Cynthia Kudji (left) & daughter Dr. Jasmine Kudji. Photo courtesy of Dr. Cynthia Kudji.

UMHS Class of 2020 graduate Dr. Cynthia Kudji and her daughter Dr. Jasmine Kudji became media darlings when their inspiring story of matching at LSU Health simultaneously was first told by the UMHS Endeavour last spring. The mother-and-daughter doctor duo appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show” with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush, “NBC Nightly News” and were also featured in People magazine. Click to read more of Dr. Cynthia Kudji and Dr. Jasmine Kudji’s unforgettable success story.

Dextrocardia podcast launch & BLM subseries

nihals(Photo, inset right): UMHS student Nihal Satyadev, co-creator of the Dextrocardia podcast. Photo courtesy of Mr. Satyadev.

In August, UMHS introduced a new podcast called Dextrocardia, hosted by current second-year UMHS medical student Nihal Satyadev and later co-hosted by UMHS student Kerthy Sugunathevan.

Dextrocardia features interviews with fellow medical students, medical school faculty, and medical practitioners on everything from how to succeed in medical school, to fighting racial inequality in medicine and how medical students are working in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

What’s the story behind the podcast’s name?

“Dextrocardia is a medical term for when your heart is the other way around," said podcast co-creator and host Nihal Satyadev. “Caribbean medical schools have many misconceptions, but this podcast might just help you look at things from the other way around.” 

Recent episodes have featured interviews with UMHS teaching assistants for anatomy, histology, neuroscience, biochemistry, genetics and more. Dextrocardia has also conducted interviews with such medical student BLM (Black Lives Matter) activists as Nahu Dmitri (Episode 2), Felix Toussaint (Episode 4) and second-year student Allie Funderburk (Episode 6)..

studentportrait1-sm@2x(Photo, above): Kerthy Sugunathevan, co-host of the Dextrocardia podcast. Photo courtesy of Ms. Sugunathevan.

Episodes are released every other week on Tuesdays. Dextrocardia is available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify and Soundcloud.

Subscribe here - https://dextrocardia.podbean.

UMHS launches state-of-the-art virtual tour on new website


(Photo, above): UMHS launched a virtual tour on the new website in fall 2020.

UMHS launched a new, fully-immersive virtual tour of its campus on St. Kitts, West Indies. Leveraging state-of-the-art technology, the tour provides a 360-degree walk-through of the campus, lab tours, classroom visits, a welcome message from President Warren Ross, and interviews with students and faculty. Prospective students and their families are encouraged to visit

The rollout comes at a time when interested students typically visit the campus, but are currently unable to plan in-person tours as a result of COVID-related travel restrictions. By utilizing the latest technology that provides an in-depth look at UMHS as filmed over a five-day period pre-shutdown, visitors can now navigate the Caribbean campus, see lectures come to life, and hear firsthand about the UMHS experience at any time by going online.

3 UMHS students win AMSA Reproductive Justice scholarships

Three UMHS students—Surpreeet Khunkhun, Eboni Peoples and Mariana Ndrio—received the Reproductive Justice Leadership Program scholarship from the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). The scholarships are awarded to physicians-in-training to help them learn about women’s reproductive rights, something that is not always part of medical school curriculums.

Eboni Peoples-2.1(Photo, above): Eboni Peoples, one of the UMHS AMSA winners of the Reproductive Justice Scholarship. Photo courtesy of Ms. Peoples.

The UMHS Endeavour spoke to the three women about the scholarship and why Reproductive Justice is such an important issue because, regardless of one’s political or religious beliefs, women need doctors and healthcare providers to provide facts to patients so they can make vital, informed decisions about their health.

Participants in AMSA’s Reproductive Justice Leadership Programs take online courses in “abortion-related training and education opportunities.” Students complete required online reading before taking each course and take a short pass/fail exam upon course completion. The three Reproductive Justice Leadership Program scholarship recipients from UMHS spoke to the Endeavour about the many reasons why medical students need to learn more about the topic, meeting with aides to political leaders, their own stories, and more.

Read the full blog post in the UMHS Endeavour about these courageous young women, making a difference as future doctors.

UMHS student Nihal Satyadev wins award to start Care Corp for elderly


Nihal(Photo, above): UMHS student Nihal Satyadev, one of the winners of the National Academy of Medicine’s Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards. Photo: Courtesy of NAM.


UMHS student Nihal Satyadev won a $50,000 grant as one of the 2020 winners of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards, part of the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, a multiyear, multimillion-dollar international competition seeking breakthrough innovations to improve physical, mental, and social well-being for people as they age. Nihal Satyadev won the grant as seed money to start Care Corps, a nonprofit that will be like an AmeriCorps for elder care. The idea is described as “a service program in which recent high school and college graduates spend one to two years providing full-time respite care for older adults with dementia.” Program participants—such as high school and college graduates who choose to take a gap year before beginning college, grad or medical school— receive a stipend and educational grants in exchange for their service.

With this award, Mr. Satyadev and co-project investigators Norma Bostarr and Heena Doshi founded Care Corps USA, 501(c)4, with the goal of building out the program at the national level. The award came at a crucial time, as COVID-19 has shown how isolating life can be for older adults with dementia. Mr. Satyadev is determined to direct attention to the issue.

“I look at social isolation as a social determinant of health — if we’re stripped of social opportunities, that’s going to threaten our health and longevity,” he said.

Mr. Satyadev was interviewed by Stephanie Miceli for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine website for the article “The Medical Student Wants to Start an AmeriCorps for Elder Care.” Click to read the full interview reprinted with permission in the UMHS Endeavour.


(Top photo, above): UMHS front-line alumni & students & top news makers of 2020. Photo collage by Victoria Ross.



Posted by Scott Harrah

Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City,

Topics: Feature Coronavirus

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