A million reasons to give
At the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, compassion, generosity and a humanistic approach light the way for future physicians
November 10, 2023
November 10, 2023
But it also represented the generosity of teaching, the generosity of spirit and the generosity of philanthropy. Prior to its celebration, QU Netter launched the One Million Reasons initiative, an ambitious fundraising campaign supporting student scholarships.
Through the generous support of many, QU Netter raised nearly $1 million this year to educate and nurture future generations of diverse, compassionate and humanistic physicians by supporting students with financial need. Dean Dr. Phillip Boiselle hopes to renew the campaign for the coming year.
"Medical school scholarships are critical to our ability to attract the best and brightest students from an array of backgrounds to advance our mission of educating and nurturing future generations of diverse, compassionate and humanistic physicians who will contribute to painting a brighter and more equitable healthcare future for all," Boiselle said this summer.
A few months earlier, QU Netter celebrated another milestone with Match Day, that moment when fourth-year medical students learn where they will continue their medical education as residents. In this nationally coordinated event, medical students anxiously rip open personalized envelopes as if they are contestants on a game show.
The scene, the suspense, it plays out just the same at QU Netter. The journeys of some members of the Class of 2023 are featured below, including several who received scholarships to help fund their educations.
The Class of 2023 learned its residency placements through the National Resident Matching Program. The 96 Netter students who matched were part of the largest match in the 70-year history of The Match. In all, 42,952 candidates applied for 40,375 residencies in The Match, which uses a computer algorithm to produce a destination and a discipline for the next three or more years.
For Boiselle, the excitement and anticipation before the students opened their envelopes was palpable. And familiar.
“Match Day is such a distinctive event that it defies comparisons within academia,” he said in his remarks. “In fact, some have reached beyond academics to compare Match Day to the NFL Draft for future doctors or the Academy Awards of Medicine. As a college basketball fan, I say it is simply March Madness!”
Boiselle also celebrated the work and resilience of the Class of 2023.
“I am incredibly proud of you for making it to this meaningful milestone. You continually remind us of why we are here and why what we do matters,” Boiselle said. “Your intellectual curiosity, passion for medicine, commitment to community, and compassion for your patients and for one another are admirable and inspiring in equal measure.”
Quinnipiac Netter students matched with residency programs all across the country, including Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Stanford Health Care, Baylor College of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic, Harvard South Shore and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Overall, the Class of 2023 matched in 16 different specialties and subspecialties, including emergency medicine, family medicine, neurology, obstetrics-gynecology, orthopaedic surgery and pediatrics. The residencies span 25 states, with 13 of the residencies in Connecticut.
Before George Hernandez, MD ’23, enrolled at Quinnipiac Netter, he enrolled in the family medicine revolution. Or, as social media has christened the movement, the #FMRevolution.
“I’m a first-generation student from Fresno, California. I always knew I wanted to take care of underserved communities like the one I grew up in,” said Hernandez, who matched with a family medicine residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“But I also chose family medicine because I can treat the mental health needs of my patients,” he added. “My extended family, my friends, I saw a lot of people struggling with their mental health growing up. I saw they weren't getting the care they needed. I want to help change that and make mental health care more accessible.”
For Hernandez, the commitment has always topped the struggle. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of disappointment and doubt the last four years. It just means Hernandez always finds a way to push forward.
“I’m so excited to be going back home to California and being near my family,” said Hernandez, who opened his envelope alongside his boyfriend, Isaiah Benitez. “It’s been very emotional. This whole week, I haven’t been able to sleep. But this is one of the programs I was very excited about because of the population and the mission.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in biopsychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hernandez completed a postbaccalaureate certificate program at the Keck Graduate Institute near Los Angeles before applying to medical school.
“There were a lot of us with similar stories — first-generation students trying to figure out how to get into medical school without the best GPAs or the best MCAT scores, but with important, real-world experiences,” Hernandez said. “We all had something to contribute.”
In that thoughtful moment, Quinnipiac Netter became the perfect match for George Hernandez.
“The review process is much more holistic at Netter. You don’t have to be the best of the best,” he said. “You just have to be you.”
Looking back, Hernandez doesn’t classify his hurdles as excuses. Instead, he sees them as testimonials — authentic narratives and pathways to success for Latino, Latina and Latinx students who see themselves in his journey.
It’s another reason why belonging to the Latino Medical Students Association at Netter matters. His identity as a first-generation, LGBTQ+ student from a low socioeconomic background is his ladder for the next generation of doctors from Fresno.
“There are definitely challenges you have to overcome, but they’re not a reason for you to quit on your dreams,” Hernandez said. “At times, you may not feel like you belong in this space, but you’re just as deserving as everyone else to be here.”
It was supposed to be a motivational speech for high school students visiting the University of California, San Diego. Instead, an auditorium filled with teenage wonder became a launch pad for Lala Forrest, MD ’23.
A UCSD undergraduate at the time, Forrest suddenly saw her future on stage. More importantly, she saw herself in Dr. Daniel Calac, a native physician who spoke with grace, hope and urgency.
Forrest introduced herself after Calac’s talk and immediately felt the world change. For the first time in her life, Forrest knew what she wanted to be — and where she wanted to do it.
“He invited me to come and shadow him at his clinic during the summer,” Forrest said. “It was one of the best clinical experiences of my life because I saw what it was like for a native person to go off to med school — gaining all that knowledge and all those clinical skills — and bring it back as a pillar and a leader in your community.”
On Match Day, Forrest moved another step closer to serving her native community with a psychiatry residency at Yale University, where her husband, Brooks Leitner, is a candidate in the MD-PhD program.
“As a first-generation student, I know I’m potentially a role model to other native students and my community members,” said Forrest, an enrolled citizen of the Pit River Nation in Northern California and a descendant of the nearby Modoc and Wintu nations.
“I always think about how hard my family has fought to even entertain the idea of sending their kids to college. I’m so, so grateful for that,” she added. “I feel an abundance of love and support that drives me to make a difference back home. Representation and visibility are huge. They are extremely important to me.”
Forrest said Dr. Traci Marquis-Eydman and Dr. Mark Overton were particularly generous with their support and mentorship as she focused on family medicine, and later, psychiatry.
Forrest spent her 3M year learning about rural medicine at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent as part of a full-immersion clerkship spearheaded by Marquis-Eydman, an associate professor of family medicine at Netter.
Overton, an attending psychiatrist at NMMC, serves as Netter’s on-site clinical lead for psychiatry.
It's these holistic alliances that make Forrest optimistic about the future. And her community.
“I’d love to practice in an integrative behavioral healthcare model where I work closely with primary care physicians to increase patient access to mental health services,” Forrest said. “It becomes a really strong collaboration and a great model to carry into our native communities where there’s a real need for it.”
Julia Cataldo, MD ’23, knows the power of body language. She was an accomplished dancer and choreographer at Harvard University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in neurobiology.
Fittingly, it was early on in her third year at Quinnipiac Netter when she observed a simple gesture from her attending physician during an internal medicine rotation, Dr. Michael Simms at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, that would have a profound impact on her approach to connecting with patients.
“He would always find a seat and place himself at the bedside of the patients as we were doing rounds and I think that’s such a powerful image — to show your intention to collaborate and to listen to one another,” Cataldo said. “Even if I'm on a busy rotation, where I have only a short amount of time with patients, I try to take a seat and remind myself that Dr. Simms would always find that time.”
A native of North Andover, Massachusetts, Cataldo has strong New England ties and is a self-described “huge Boston sports fan.” But nothing compares to the way her home team — she’s the middle child in a tight-knit trio of siblings with two “very supportive” parents — roots for her success.
They were all there to wrap her in a tearful embrace when she tore into her Match Day envelope, revealing her dream residency in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She’ll have the opportunity to form instant bonds with patients over whichever sport is in season.
“I love Boston so much. It’s in my bones,” said Cataldo, who decided to pursue pediatrics after completing an internship at the Boston Children’s Hospital Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience that saw her track babies’ developmental milestones across multiple years and form meaningful relationships with new parents.
“I was able to take an elective [at Mass General] and I fell in love with it, taking the T ride in and out from Cambridge,” she added. “All my family lives in Boston. And my grandfather called it. He thought of all the places where I could match, that was the one. My dad sent a text to the family letting them know where I matched and my grandfather said, ‘tell her grandfather knows everything.’”
A common thread in Cataldo’s path to becoming a pediatrician is providing support from positions of leadership. She grew up wanting to become a teacher, she said, and reinforced her goal by working as a resident advisor and directing live stage productions as an undergraduate.
She served as a mentor in the peer support program at Quinnipiac amid the COVID-19 pandemic, helping fellow students find their footing both academically and emotionally under trying circumstances.
“There was unprecedented stress in our personal lives and our community, but also in our professional sphere that we were transitioning into at that time,” Cataldo said. “I was interested in creating a structure for folks to come together and gather with peers who are going through the same set of firsts — the first delivery of a baby, the first loss of a patient — and be able to share those experiences and normalize speaking about the difficulties and normalize coping strategies.”
Salam Taraben, MD ’23, celebrated Match Day from afar, and with good reason: the recent birth of her first child — a son named Zacharia — made travel a bit complicated.
Instead, Taraben was holding Zacharia and seated alongside her husband, Dr. Bilal Alturkmani, in their home in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, when she learned of her desired residency placement in physical medicine and rehab at Cleveland Clinic — a first-of-its-kind match for Quinnipiac Netter in this specialty.
The chance to stay close to home, where family members can readily lend childcare support, allows her to focus on becoming the best doctor she can be.
“One thing about PMR is that it really focuses on using a holistic approach to improve quality of life in patients that have suffered various neurological and musculoskeletal injuries,” said Taraben, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland before receiving her master’s in clinical psychology from Eastern Michigan University. “And so it’s my hope that with that holistic approach, combined with my background in clinical psychology, I’ll be able to really understand my patients and support them through some of the most difficult periods of their lives.”
Born in Springfield, Illinois, Taraben relocated to Saudi Arabia at a young age when her father, Dr. Amir Taraben, decided to pursue a career opportunity there. The family has roots in Syria and would spend their summers there over a 10-year period before Salam’s college education brought her back to the states.
Her initial plan was to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology, but she said watching her husband go through his residency inspired her to “reroute” and follow in his and her father’s footsteps. Medical school, she said, would bring her closer to her long-term goals, and the relatively new discipline of physical medicine and rehab was something that captured her interest when she was still working toward her master’s degree.
Shadowing a physiatrist before she began her studies at Quinnipiac Netter was what ultimately led Taraben to decide on PMR. And now, thanks to her residency placement, her future is coming into focus.
“Aside from finding out where I would be placed, I’m looking forward to continuing to grow as a person,” Taraben said. “I feel like I've definitely had a lot of growth just in the past four years and so to be able to continue doing that on a daily basis is very rewarding.”
Throughout the morning of Military Match Day, 2nd Lt. Elana Taute, MD ’23, eagerly checked her phone and email, listening for the message alert that would reveal the next chapter in her white coat journey.
For Taute, the call was worth the wait. After competing against students from all branches of the armed forces, she had earned the only military match residency in general surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. She was one of three Quinnipiac Netter students in this year’s Military Match held last December.
Born in South Africa and growing up in Wisconsin, Taute became a citizen when she was 18 and joined the U.S. Army the following year.
“When I became a citizen, I wanted to give back to the U.S. for the opportunities we had gained. But I also wanted exposure to the healthcare field,” said Taute. “I found I was able to do both in the Army.”
Taute served four years of active duty in the Army before earning her undergraduate degree to become a registered nurse. It was during her time working as an ICU nurse in Wisconsin, that her family suffered a tragedy. Her father, Marthinus, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2016 and Taute moved home to help care for him and provide support for her mother, Margaretha. The experience taught her the importance of caregiver fatigue and the vital role patients and caregivers hold in the overall care team.
“After he passed, my continued involvement with the Army Reserves grounded me. I had been recently promoted into a combat engineer unit where I served as a medic in Germany after having served as a medic in El Salvador,” said Taute. “As a medic, they call you ‘doc’ even though you’re technically not a doctor yet. But I knew I liked the sound of it and felt it was time to take that next step.”
As she began to look at medical schools, Taute was attracted to Quinnipiac’s diversity and inclusion values as well as its national reputation for supporting veterans and military-connected students.
“Having worked in healthcare in the Army, I had struggled in nursing school because I felt different from my peers. I didn’t want to repeat that experience,” said Taute. “But during my visits to Quinnipiac, I realized they valued everyone for being different and encouraged us to learn from each other. They saw my experience as an asset.”
Taute’s long-term goal is to retire from the military and join an organization such as Doctors Without Borders to provide care in underserved communities.
“I've been a combat medic, RN, Army LPN, ICU nurse and now, I'm going to be a doctor. I have so much knowledge of the medical community, that I believe I could initiate positive change,” said Taute. “I joke about becoming Surgeon General of the Army someday, but you never know. I think I’ll stay open to the possibility.”
Surrounded by his family members, including Quinnipiac alumna and sister Taylor ’17, David Eaton, MD ’23, tore open his green Match Day envelope and eagerly read what was inside.
With a passion for research, the Connecticut native and first-generation college student had already earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from Yale University before entering medical school at Quinnipiac. On Match Day, the contents of his envelope revealed the next steps in his medical school journey will begin at Yale New Haven Hospital for one year before continuing with NYU Grossman School of Medicine in anesthesiology.
Eaton was drawn to Quinnipiac Netter for its unique four-year scholarly reflection and concentration/capstone course (SRCC), which allowed him to integrate his passion for research into his medical school instruction. Throughout his studies, he served as a part-time research associate for the Saltzman Research Group at Yale University and a scientific consultant for Xanadu Bio, focused on engineering new drug delivery systems, such as nanoparticle-based mucosal vaccines.
“The connection between academia and industry is valued here at Quinnipiac. Throughout my time here, I've aimed to translate what I’m working on in the research space to the clinical practice,” said Eaton. “It’s exciting to see how my research can go from bench to bedside and have a real impact on patients.”
It's that link between research and care that also attracted Eaton to his specialty of anesthesiology. He credits Quinnipiac’s focus on patient-centered care for providing him with the foundation to communicate effectively with a wide spectrum of patients.
“As an anesthesiologist, you are meeting people for the first time at a very important, and scary, part of their care. It’s important to be able to connect with them and gain their trust,” said Eaton, who was honored by the Quinnipiac staff with the 2022 Lambros E. Siderides MD Scholarship Award for his demonstrated compassion and humanity in caring for patients.
As he reflected on the past four years, Eaton said the journey through medical school wasn't always easy. As the world faced the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, he was also dealing with the loss of his father in 2020. Eaton talks with gratitude for his support system of family, friends, and the close-knit community of Quinnipiac Netter for helping him to navigate the personal loss while remaining focused on the path ahead.
“Definitely my parents were always big on college. Growing up, my dad was very supportive of our academic goals,” said Eaton. “No matter what, he wanted us to pursue our career dreams.”
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