Commencement 2022May. 18, 2022, 2:58 PM
School of Medicine graduates ready to take on new challenges
by Kathy Whitney
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine held its Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2022 on Friday, May 13. Commencement was held in Langford Auditorium for the first time since 2019.
“Today we honor the achievements of this class and the support so many of you have given to our graduates along their journeys. We’re so pleased you could all be with us together in this place,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of the School of Medicine, in welcoming students, family and friends.
“At orientation I said you are here to train as leaders. The fact is those competitive GPAs and test scores really only got you so far. In our admissions process we interview three times the number of students we accept, and they all had the same credentials on paper. We chose you because we knew you had that special something — the ability to communicate in a way to compel people to change their paths, to push their limits, and maybe even compel them to make a sacrifice for the greater good.
“I believe you chose Vanderbilt medical school not solely for didactic excellence but because you sensed we are a place that cares about nourishing the more nuanced character traits that will propel you as leaders.”
Sarah H. Brown, MD, was named Founder’s Medalist for the class of 2022. Brown, who served as co-executive director of the Shade Tree Clinic, will begin her internal medicine-primary care residency at Massachusetts General Hospital this summer.
The students selected Ryan Splittgerber, PhD, associate professor of Surgery, as the recipient of the 2022 Shovel Award, bestowed on the faculty member deemed best teacher by the class. Splittgerber read the names of the graduates as they walked across the stage. They chose Amy Fleming, MD, MHPE, associate dean of Medical Student Affairs, to lead them in the recitation of their oath of commitment.
All told, 194 degrees were awarded to the Class of 2022 as follows:
- Doctor of Audiology – 11
- Doctor of Medical Physics – 3
- Doctor of Medicine, including students who earned a dual degree – 99
- Master of Education of the Deaf – 2
- Master of Public Health – 29
- Master of Science in Medical Physics – 3
- Master of Science (Speech Language Pathology) – 18
- Master of Science (Applied Clinical Informatics) – 7
- Master of Science in Clinical Investigation – 16
- Master of Genetic Counseling degree – 6
After seven years in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) Lizzie (Hale) Flook, MD, PhD, graduated with her MD on Friday. This summer, she will start her intern year at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she will begin her research track psychiatry residency.
“VUSM has really allowed students to take the wheel in terms of what initiatives they pursue and where they’re focusing. It’s been cool — with every class that comes through – to see how things shift around them based on the unique character of that class,” said Flook, who entered the MSTP program in 2015. “Things like the advancement of the wellness curriculum — that program has continued to grow because of the students who are really excited about it. I’ve seen a lot of initiatives and programs that focus on the whole person, not just life as a medical student in terms of academics, research and clinic time.
“Those initiatives help to diversify the outlets students have while in medical school and broaden what kind of people they can be as medical students.”
Nursing graduates embrace quest for health care excellence
by Tatum Lyles Flick
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing celebrated Commencement and Investiture May 13 for those graduating in summer and fall 2021 and spring 2022. In total, 385 Master of Science in Nursing and 62 Doctor of Nursing Practice students graduated. An additional eight PhD in Nursing Science students received their degrees from Vanderbilt Graduate School.
The students were hooded by their program specialty directors or academic director, then each was congratulated by VUSN Dean Pamela Jeffries, PhD, RN, the Valere Potter Distinguished Professor of Nursing. Jeffries shared with students and guests that she was excited about her first commencement as dean, and made a point of honoring the students’ diligence and accomplishments despite challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It wasn’t always easy, and I applaud your resilience, cheerful mindsets and can-do attitudes,” Jeffries said. “You studied and learned, and mastered and grew. You succeeded. And today you are here, at the celebration of all you have worked so hard for, surrounded by the family and friends who cheered you on, and the faculty and classmates who are beaming with pride at the nursing professionals you have become.”
The MSN students graduated in a range of specialties including: 53 in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner; 3 in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner/Family Nurse Practitioner (Emergency Care Focus); 32 in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner; 68 in Family Nurse Practitioner; 13 in Family Nurse Practitioner/ Emergency Nurse Practitioner; 34 in Neonatal Nurse Practitioner; 14 in Nurse-Midwifery; 9 in Nurse-Midwifery/Family Nurse Practitioner; 9 in Nursing and Health Care Leadership; 11 in Nursing Informatics; 11 in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner/Acute Care; 52 in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner/Prim- ary Care; 49 in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan); 21 in Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner; and 6 in Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner/ Adult-Gerontology Primary Care.
Tip Tilton, who completed VUSN’s nursing informatics MSN specialty program, was awarded the 2022 Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Founder’s Medal. During her time studying at VUSN, she also worked as an RN quality improvement coordinator at the John Muir Medical Center in California, where she used her expertise in nursing informatics to solve electronic health record admission documentation issues. Tilton, a military veteran who served in the California Army National Guard as captain in the Medical Service Corps, said she became interested in informatics after an ICU patient asked her why she was asking him the same questions other members of his health care team had asked him. That started her on the path to her informatics degree and career. Today, she excels in noticing process improvement needs and addressing them to improve nursing workloads and the patient experience. She is employed as a clinical nurse informaticist at the University of California San Francisco.
Nhan Dinh, a Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate who earned her MSN in the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner specialty at Vanderbilt in 2018, served as the school’s banner bearer. Dinh, a published researcher in nephrology and transplant genomics, was part of the VUSN Graduate Council, VUSN Honor Council, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, Ambulatory Advanced Practice Provider Council and Clinical Informatics Interoperability Committee. She is a nephrology transplant nurse practitioner at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, NM. On hand to see her receive her doctoral degree was her mother, An Le, who is also a nurse and flew from Vietnam for the ceremonies.
Discovery, innovation drive Biomedical Sciences graduates
by Leigh MacMillan
At the Graduate School commencement held on Magnolia Lawn on May 13, C. André Christie-Mizell, PhD, vice provost for Graduate Education and dean of the Graduate School, applauded the remarkable achievement of the graduates.
“According to recent U.S. census data, only about 1.2% of the population has a PhD,” Christie-Mizell said. “You truly represent the next generation of scholars who will help shape policies and develop innovative solutions for the most challenging issues facing society.”
During the 2021-2022 academic year, 98 students earned doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences from Vanderbilt.
Graduates participating in the May 13 commencement expressed gratitude for their mentors and strong sense of community at Vanderbilt.
Tolu Omokehinde, PhD, who earned his degree in cancer biology, said that Vanderbilt’s “commitment to diversity in biomedical sciences and the IGP (Interdisciplinary Graduate Program)” stood out to him. Omokehinde participated in the IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Development) program, which aims to increase the number of PhDs awarded to graduate students in biomedical research who are underrepresented in science.
“Having a community of people like that come together and focus not only on bettering ourselves but on helping other students that come along was important to me,” Omokehinde said.
Geena Ildefonso, PhD, who earned her degree in chemical & physical biology, agreed. “I probably would have dropped out if not for the IMSD program,” she said.
Ildefonso and Omokehinde met each other at an IGP reception when they started graduate school in 2016, and they married last year. They both served in leadership roles for IMSD and graduate student programs and as mentors for high school students through the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy. For their contributions to graduate life at Vanderbilt through leadership and service, Ildefonso and Omokehinde were selected as student marshals for commencement.
Ildefonso is continuing her research training with a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Southern California. Omokehinde started a postdoctoral position at Vanderbilt in January and will join Ildefonso in California later this year.
The highly accomplished group of new biomedical sciences graduates each published, on average, 5.7 scientific papers as a result of their graduate work.
Their research appeared in highly respected journals including Science, Nature, Cell and Neuron, according to Abigail Brown, PhD, director of the Biomedical Research Education and Training Office of Outcomes Research.
About two-thirds of the students (68%) gave oral presentations at national or international meetings, and 91% gave oral or poster presentations. The students were supported by external fellowships (42%) or institutional National Institutes of Health-supported training grant fellowships (64%).
A majority of the new PhD graduates (53%) are continuing their training with postdoctoral fellowships, including traditional positions in academic research laboratories as well as nontraditional industry and governmental fellowships. The rest have accepted or are seeking employment that does not require a prior postdoctoral fellowship.
More scenes from Commencement 2022