Medical School graduates set to begin health care journeys
by Kathy Whitney
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine held its diploma awarding ceremony for the Class of 2023 on Friday, May 12. Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of School of Medicine, welcomed graduates, friends and families to Langford Auditorium.
“What an amazing day this is,” Basler said. “After four years and a pandemic, it’s your turn to sit in these chairs, wearing these gowns. This is my 15th year to graduate a medical class at Vanderbilt, and the sight never fails to spark my feelings of hope for the future. I consider it a tremendous honor to welcome all of you into the prestigious community of Vanderbilt medical school alumni.
“Vanderbilt has always felt like home to me,” continued Balser, who graduated from VUSM in 1990.
“The duality of our culture, which celebrates our caring nature every bit as much as our relentless curiosity, is the biggest reason. It all resonates deep within me.”
This year’s ceremony recognized 104 graduating MD and MD/PhD students in addition to eight Doctors of Audiology, two Masters of Deaf Education, 19 Masters of Science in speech-language pathology, eight Masters of Genetic Counseling, six Masters of Science in applied clinical informatics, seven Masters of Science in clinical investigation, five Masters of Medical Physics and 30 Masters of Public Health.
Ayesha Muhammad, MD, PhD, was named Founder’s Medalist for the School of Medicine. Aaron Shaver, MD, PhD, recipient of this year’s Shovel Award and deemed by medical students as their best teacher, read the names of graduates as they received their academic hoods and diplomas. Steven Eskind, MD, was chosen by the students to lead them in the recitation of the Doctor of Medicine Oath.
Balser recognized 11 emeriti faculty who “have served the university with distinction and deep abiding commitment to their fields.” They include: Kathryn Edwards, MD, professor of Pediatrics; Thomas Golper, MD, professor of Medicine; Raymond Hakim, MD, PhD, professor of Medicine; David Head, MD, professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; Harold Helderman, MD, professor of Medicine and of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; Bonnie Miller, MD, professor of Medical Education and Administration; Ann Price, MD, associate professor of Medical Education and Administration; Stephen Raffanti, MD, MPH, professor of Medicine; David Raiford, MD, professor of Medicine and Medical Education and Administration; Cindy Vnencak-Jones, PhD, professor Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; and Elizabeth Weiner, PhD, professor of Biomedical Informatics.
“When I read through these names this morning, I had a moment,” Balser said. “In 15 years of recognizing retiring faculty at graduation, I can’t recall a group of people who have had a more transformational impact on students and patients, here at Vanderbilt, nationwide and worldwide. I could not be more proud of you.”
School of Nursing graduates ready for future opportunities
by Tatum Lyles Flick
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing celebrated graduating students and their entry into the nursing profession with a pinning ceremony and reception May 11, followed by Investiture the following day. The ceremonies recognized students completing their programs in August and December 2022 and May 2023.
In a break from tradition, Vanderbilt graduate schools did not participate in the overall University Commencement ceremonies, held off campus due to weather concerns. Instead, nursing graduates and their guests went directly to Branscomb Quadrangle for the School of Nursing Investiture ceremony. As family, friends, faculty and staff looked on, students were hooded by their program specialty directors and academic directors.
The Class of 2023 included 363 Master of Science in Nursing and 65 Doctor of Nursing Practice students. An additional five PhD in Nursing Science students received their degrees from Vanderbilt Graduate School in separate ceremonies.
Jill Kinch, DNP, MMHC, a Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate, was selected as Founder’s Medalist for the School of Nursing.
“Jill Kinch embodies the hallmark qualities of a Founder’s Medalist — top grades, innovative scholarship, exceptional practice, and service to her classmates, patients and community,” said Dean Pamela Jeffries, PhD. “Jill clearly puts the patient at the center of all she does. She has dedicated her scholarship, chosen field, and career to the care of children. Her doctoral project will enhance the care of some of the most vulnerable patients under her watch.”
Kinch is the director of advanced practice nursing at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. During her studies, she demonstrated excellence, as a student and as a peer to her fellow DNP candidates, and she exhibited a collaborative spirit and dedication to her academic pursuits, and to supporting the success of her fellow students, Jeffries said.
In total, 363 Master of Science in Nursing and 65 Doctor of Nursing Practice students graduated.
“Vanderbilt nursing students are some of the most dedicated clinical providers and evidence-based scholars I’ve encountered,” Jeffries said. “It is inspiring to see all that they’ve done to further patient care, research and nursing, and I am encouraged to know that they are the future of health care.”
Biomedical Sciences graduates driven by pursuit of discovery
by Leigh MacMillan
Rany Octaria, MD, PhD, MPH, and Mafe Senosain, PhD, two graduates who participated in the Graduate School commencement held May 12 on Magnolia Lawn, praised the varied experiences and opportunities they had during their years of graduate school.
Octaria, who came to Vanderbilt after practicing medicine in Indonesia, received her PhD in epidemiology. She worked as an intern with the Tennessee Department of Health on a project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop an app that can be used to stop outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the deputy commissioner asked her to lead the department’s data stewards group responsible for analyzing and publishing daily case numbers and clusters analysis.
“I wasn’t sure about this because I had never led a team before, but it was probably the highlight of my PhD experience because of the impact we had,” said Octaria, who earned a Master of Public Health degree from Vanderbilt before joining the PhD graduate program.
Senosain, a native of Peru, first came to Vanderbilt for an undergraduate summer research program. She worked with the late Pierre Massion, MD, and then returned as a graduate student and joined his research team. While studying patient tumor and imaging data to explore the biological determinants of lung cancer, she discovered that she was interested in data analytics.
“I didn’t plan on becoming a computational scientist,” said Senosain, who received her PhD in cancer biology. “Pierre didn’t have this type of expertise, but he was super supportive in setting up collaborations and letting me explore and learn and do my PhD in whatever I wanted to do.”
During her graduate education, Senosain interned at a biotech company, pursued research in Toulouse, France, with a Chateaubriand Fellowship, and spent a summer as a Data Science for Social Good Fellow at Vanderbilt. When Massion died unexpectedly in 2021, she was well positioned to complete her dissertation research with guidance from Carlos Lopez, PhD, and Fabian Maldonado, MD, at Vanderbilt, and Vera Pancaldi, PhD, her mentor in Toulouse.
“It was a hard time, but there were a lot of people helping me finish my PhD,” Senosain said.
During the 2022-2023 academic year, 104 students earned doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences from Vanderbilt.
The highly accomplished group came to Vanderbilt from 66 different undergraduate institutions, and each published, on average, six scientific papers — including two first-author papers — based on their graduate work. Their research appeared in highly respected journals including Science, Nature, Cell and The Journal of Clinical Investigation, according to Abigail Brown, PhD, director of the Biomedical Research Education and Training Office of Outcomes Research.
Veronika Kondev, PhD in neuroscience, received the Founder’s Medal for First Honors for the Graduate School.
More than half of the students (57%) gave presentations at national or international meetings, and half were awarded external fellowships to support their graduate research.
A majority of the new PhD graduates (60%) 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.
Octaria is a public health analytics and modeling fellow at the CDC in Atlanta, where she is extending her dissertation work on patient-sharing networks and prevention of infectious disease outbreaks to a national level. Senosain is a data scientist at Labcorp, where she analyzes data collected from clinical oncology tests and develops software tools to optimize data delivery and processing.
In his remarks to the graduates, C. André Christie-Mizell, PhD, vice provost for Graduate Education and dean of the Graduate School, issued a challenge.
“I know you leave Vanderbilt with the ability and desire to make groundbreaking discoveries and be change agents in the world,” Christie-Mizell said. “My charge to you is more straightforward, and it draws from our mission. Make it your greatest endeavor to be of service to others. This is truly the work of a lifetime.”
More scenes from Commencement 2023