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Students Honored for Scholarship, Excellence, Collaboration

Editor’s Note: The article appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Columbia Medicine (formerly P&S Journal) in a slightly abbreviated form. The online version includes more information about the awards themselves and a link to the full citation of Dr. Sola-Del Valle’s tribute to his mother.

More than 50 student awards and prizes were given at commencement this year. A sample of the awards and students who earned them:

Nicole Cyrille’11 received the Dr. Charles E. Hamilton Award for excellence in pulmonary disease. Dr. Hamilton, a 1918 graduate of P&S, was a specialist in chest diseases. Dr. Cyrille was featured in an article in Dominica News Online, a news organization of the Commonwealth of Dominica, an island nation in the Caribbean. Dr. Cyrille grew up in Roseau, the nation’s capital.

A graduate of Midwestern State University in Texas, Dr. Cyrille also attended Dominica State College and taught chemistry at the Dominica Grammar School. She credits the two fathers in her life – her father and step-father – for their encouragement but reserves her greatest praise for her mother. “‘Books before boys,’ that was always her words,” she told Dominica News Online. “She always emphasized education and the importance of working hard.”

Dr. Cyrille is an internal medicine intern at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia. She hopes to return to Dominica some day to contribute to her homeland.

An award given to recognize lab collaboration between student and researcher is the Drs. William Nastuk, Beatrice Seegal, and Konrad Hsu Award, which was received this year by Austin L. Chiang’11 and Geoffrey N. Konopka’11. Beatrice Carrier Seegal, M.D., was an immunologist on the P&S faculty from 1927 until becoming professor emeritus of microbiology in 1966. Her research focused on immunological studies of allergic and immune-complex diseases. Konrad Hsu, Ph.D., joined the Columbia faculty in 1954 and was a pioneer in the field of development of light and electron microscopic immune-histochemical procedures used to study autoimmune and viral diseases. He retired in 1970. William Nastuk, Ph.D., was a physiology faculty member from 1945 until his death in 1986. He invented the technique of iontophoresis and the multi-channel microelectrode. Drs. Nastuk, Seegal, and Hsu had prolific careers and published a paper together, with others authors, in 1960 on the role of the thymus in autoimmune disease.

Dr. Konopka worked as a student with Peter Tang, M.D., a hand surgeon in orthopedic surgery. “I conducted an investigation of acellularized nerve allografts for the use of peripheral nerve regeneration. I was involved in the planning, study design, surgeries, outcome testing, statistical evaluation, writing, and analysis of the project.” Dr. Tang presented the study’s findings at the American Association of Hand Surgery annual meeting and the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting. A paper on the surgical technique used for the study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods. Dr. Konopka presented the research at the New York Society for Surgery of the Hand’s annual residents and fellows meeting in May and received first prize for the research. Dr. Konopka, who was also inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society at commencement, has started an orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Texas.

Dr. Chiang’s collaboration with Christine Rohde, M.D., of the division of plastic surgery resulted in a paper published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the field’s leading journal, and an abstract in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. “My involvement in our primary research project involved collecting JP exudate drain samples, pain assessment scales, and tabulating narcotic pain medication use to measure and understand the effect of pulsed electromagnetic fields on pain reduction in breast reduction patients.” Dr. Chiang’s presentation of preliminary results at the 2009 Department of Surgery residents’ research competition earned him first prize in the clinical research category. Dr. Chiang also helped Dr. Rohde study referral patterns of breast surgeons for post-mastectomy patients for breast reconstruction. “We conducted an extensive chart review that ultimately showed that age and diabetes status were the two main factors affecting breast surgeons’ decisions for referring post-mastectomy patients for reconstruction, rather than socioeconomic/insurance status or ethnicity.” Dr. Chiang has started an internal medicine internship at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia.

David Sola-Del Valle’11won several awards at commencement: the Behrens Memorial Prize in Ophthalmology for an outstanding graduate entering ophthalmology; the Louis Gibofsky Memorial Prize for research in the areas of nephrology, renal immunology, renal physiology, or transplant immunology; the Aura E. Severinghaus Scholar award for superior academic achievement; and induction into Alpha Omega Alpha honor medical society. At a pre-commencement ceremony, Dr. Sola-Del Valle dedicated his honors to his mother, who raised him in Caguas and Gurabo, two small towns near San Juan, Puerto Rico: “I know we all say this about our moms, but my mom really is the most amazing woman I know. It would be safe to say I wouldn’t even have come close to achieving everything I’ve achieved if it hadn’t been for her encouragement and support. Even as a single mom, working two jobs, she always found time to help me study. When I was having difficulty with math, my mom spent several weekends helping me. After that I did so well in my exams that my math teacher enrolled me in the school’s math team, and I graduated sixth grade at the top of my class. I went to school in Caguas until sixth grade, but she found applications for a magnet school sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico. We couldn’t afford a private school in San Juan, so my mom, wise beyond her years and background, knew well that the best option I had was this school in San Juan. Going to this school required waking up at 5 a.m. every day and driving close to two hours in traffic each way. I remember how my mom used to pack me breakfast to go, so that after taking a nap in the car I would wake up and be well fed for my first class in the morning. We realized that being accepted to this school was only the first step. The school was very tough. My mom helped me with almost every big project at school. She would drive me everywhere, math contests, science contests, theater presentations, you name it. Despite working full time and running a household, I never heard her complain. School came first, and that was always clear to me. Needless to say, my mom continued to support me through college and medical school, and I became the second person to go to college in my family (after my mom) and the first one to do it in the United States. It was uncharted territory for both of us, but I never felt completely lost because I had her. My mom also showed me by example how to be a good clinician. As a social worker for the VA Hospital in Puerto Rico, she always manages to put her patients first and do what’s best for them. She reminds me that it’s indeed a privilege to get paid to serve and help others. She planted that seed in me, and I’d like to think that I’ve watered that seed throughout medical school.” The full text of Dr. Sola-Del Valle’s tribute to his mother is here.

Dr. Sola-Del Valle has started an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, to be followed by an ophthalmology residency at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.