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Good as green and GOLD; MCOM welcomes newest doctors, celebrates 50th anniversary

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The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM) Class of 2024 began their first days as medical students socially distanced and wearing masks.  Four years later, they didn’t have to hide the smiles and tears that come with graduating medical school. 

Families, faculty, and staff gathered at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts May 9 for the Class of 2024 Commencement Ceremony.  

rhea law

Rhea Law, President of the University of South Florida. 

Rhea Law, president of the University of South Florida, was the first speaker of the morning.  She spoke about the university being accepted into the Association of American Universities, a distinction held by only three percent of all four-year universities in the country. As a USF alumna, she shared her pride in the college and thanked the class for their selfless service to their community in a world that changed throughout their time at MCOM. 

“Your graduating class has not only worked diligently to reach your academic goals, but you have also shown amazing fortitude in the face of unprecedented challenges and change, and that includes starting your medical school journey at the height of a global pandemic,” President Law said. “While your time as a medical student might be over, the world is at your fingertips.  It is my greatest honor to welcome you to the USF alumni family and to wish you all the best in your very bright futures.”

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Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, executive vice president of USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. 

Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, executive vice president of USF Health and dean of MCOM, took the stage after President Law. As he did when the group first arrived four years ago, he commended them on their courage and grit to start medical school at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.  He also commended the USF Health physicians who worked around the clock, quarantining themselves from their families, and “literally lived” in the hospitals for weeks to care for critically ill patients.  

“These students stared in the face of the pandemic and said ‘I’m all in. Sign me up.’ These are the doctors who entered this noble profession because they were firmly committed to helping to heal the world.” Dr. Lockwood said. “I ask you never to be afraid to challenge dogma in ways that elevate discussion, knowledge and learning; to always be open to new or challenging ideas; to never retreat to a rhetorical fortress; and to always engage in critical thinking.”

charter class

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the charter class graduating in 1974, Dr. Lockwood and President Law recognized six members of the charter class. Each were called center-stage to receive a 50th anniversary commemorative medallion. “Doctors, each of you has represented our medical school with great distinction throughout your careers.  It is your hard work and pioneering spirit that built the foundation of excellence that our college has become today,” Dr. Lockwood said.  

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Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and New York Times best-selling author, was the guest speaker and Dean’s Award recipient.  Lukianoff is known as a fierce advocate for free speech while giving a reminder that violence, threats and discriminatory harassment are not protected speech.  

In his address to the students, he stated that “certainty” is a mind killer, proclaiming “When you are certain, you give yourself permission to turn off your mind.” And how to prevent certainty from being a mind killer: curiosity.  

“As doctors, you have regular access to the greatest cure for certainty ever invented.  Listening to people, particularly people very different than you,” Lukianoff said. “The curiosity that makes you better at getting to know people is not just good for your practice, it’s good for our society.  Try to exercise that same curiosity about where people are really coming from in your daily life. 

Bri Anne McKeon, MD, assistant professor in the USF Health Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, led the students in the Oath of Hippocrates before President Law conferred their Doctor of Medicine degrees, marking the official transition from medical students to doctors.   


One by one, students were cheered as they were hooded by Kira Zwygart, MD, senior associate dean of the MCOM Office of Student Affairs and professor in the Department of Family Medicine, and Melissa Brannen, MD, assistant dean of the MCOM Office of Student Affairs in Allentown, Penn.  Drs. Brannen and Zwygart were selected by the class for the prestigious honor. 


After all in the class received their hoods, two doctors came back to the stage to take their second oath of the ceremony: the Oath of Commission. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Santarlas, MD, and Army 2nd Lt. Hannah Wyant, MD, were promoted to captain for successfully graduating medical school.  Their families joined them on stage to pin their new rank on their shoulders. 


Eduard Rainer, MD, was selected by his classmates to deliver the farewell from the class.  He recalled how he and his classmates started as strangers and over time, became life-long friends.  He added that, as friendships blossomed, struggles of medical school became tolerable, then invigorating.  

“Being able to share this experience with you all has been a genuine privilege and a pleasure to me.  The fact that I made it to this stage today is a testament to the strength of the relationships that I made throughout my time at MCOM, and for those relationships, I’m eternally grateful,” Dr. Rainer said.  “There are few things in this life that are more liberating than facing your greatest fear.  Being on this stage today after the past four years is a truly Herculean achievement and you should all be deeply proud of yourselves for being here today.”

kira zwygart

Kira Zwygart, MD, senior associate dean of the MCOM Office of Student Affairs and professor in the Department of Family Medicine.

Dr. Zwygart was selected by the class to deliver the charge to the graduates.  Dr. Zwygart, an MCOM class of 1998 alumna, addressed the graduating class for the final time as senior associate dean of the Office of Student Affairs as she prepares for her new role in the Department of Family Medicine.  

As an avid runner, she compared medical school to training for a long race.  It requires putting lots of time, hard work, conquering challenges, facing setbacks, and finally making it to the starting line. She would go on to say having a mantra can help with handling difficult times that can make it seem impossible to go on.  She also emphasized that no race is won alone. 

“It is fantastic to be with a group of people who have trained in different locales but are now together sharing in the struggle and joys together and are now supporting each other enthusiastically.  I feel this is one of the great parallels to residency,” Dr. Zwygart said to the class. “I am thrilled for you to join us in this amazing race.  It is my earnest hope that you will delight in the exhilarating opportunity to forge relationships with your patients and colleagues, embrace every learning experience to grow into the best version of yourselves, and be unsung heroes to those you encounter in your programs and your careers.”

MCOM’s newest doctors will begin their residency programs at MCOM and across the country July 1. 

Fun fact:  The Class of 2024 was the first to start and finish medical school at the newly built USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute located in downtown Tampa. 

More photos from the event:













Class of 2024 Award Recipients:

-               Outstanding Achievement in Immunology – Fatima Pasha, MD

-               Outstanding achievement in Molecular Medicine – Arthur Ter-Zakarian, MD

-               Outstanding Achievement in Neuroscience – Jeffrey Brown, MD

-               Outstanding Achievement in Pharmacology – Erik Feldtmann, MD

-               Outstanding Achievement in Physiology – Grace Johnson, MD

-               Outstanding Achievement in Pre-clerkship Clinical Medicine – Elizabeth von Haunalter, MD

-               John U. Balis Award for Excellence in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine – Diane Rodriguez Irlanda, MD

-               Christopher P. Phelps Award for Excellence in Anatomy – Daniel LeMay, MD

-               Basic Science Chairs Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Medical Science Curriculum – Omar Bishr, MD

-               Carol M. Petrucelli, MD, Memorial Outstanding Student Award in Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery –                     Jaclyn Abraham, MD

-               Charles E. Aucremann, MD, Excellence in Family Medicine – Anna Hemminger, MD

-               Outstanding Contribution to Sports Medicine – Alexander Refowich, MD

-               Dr. Laurie Woodard Community Advocate Award – Beatriz Dunoyer de Segonzac Pascual, MD

-               Roy H. Behnke, MD Award for Excellence in Internal Medicine – Grace Johnson, MD

-               Laennec Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine – Caleb Streitmatter, MD

-               Florida ACP Student Award – Matthew Udine, MD

-               Lawrence Kahana, MD Award for Outstanding Physical Diagnosis Skills – Doniya Milani, MD

-               Philip T. Gompf Award for Excellence in Infectious Disease – Lila Gutstein, MD

-               Senior Student Excellence in Neurology – Ariel Perry-Mills, MD; Ashley Mason, MD; Madison Romano, MD;                                      Julia Saunders, MD

-               Outstanding Academic Achievement, Highest Score on the Neurology NBME Exam – Nidhi Sama, MD

-               ACOG District XII Robert G. Nelson Award – Emily Heideman, MD

-               ACOG District XII James M. Ingram Award – Kelly Dorsey, MD

-               Department of OB/GYN James M. Ingram Award – Devon Marks, MD

-               Department of Pediatrics Outstanding Medical Student Award – Amornrat Sawangkum, MD

-               FCAAP Luther W. Holloway Award – Bailey Hamner, MD

-               Lewis A. Barness, MD Award – Adriana Torriente, MD

-               Outstanding Senior Student in Psychiatry – Diane Rodriguez Irlanda, MD

-               Excellence in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry – Michelle Savoldy, MD; Alexander Baron, MD

-               Department of Surgery Outstanding Student Award – Karina Bowers, MD

-               Tampa General Hospital Medical Staff Basic Science Award – Lauren Brown, MD

-               Tampa General Hospital Medical Staff Clinician’s Award – Jessica Cobb, MD

-               Tampa General Hospital Medical Staff Humanitarian Award - Beatriz Dunoyer de Segonzac Pascual, MD

-               Tampa General Hospital Foundation Scholar’s Award – Jamila Mammadova, MD

-               Tampa General Hospital/USF Global Emerging Disease Scholar – Apoorva Ravichandran, MD

-               Merck Manual – Daniel LeMay, MD; Daniel Strebig, MD; Elizabeth von Haunalter, MD; Lauren Brown, MD

-               AMWA Glasgow-Rubin Certificate of Commendation for Academic Achievement – Apoorva Ravichandran, MD;                                  Ashley Mason, MD; Carrie Wang, MD; Doniya Milani, MD; Elizabeth von Haunalter, MD; Emily Heideman, MD;                            Emma Johnson, MD  Ivana Radosavljevic, MD; Jaclyn Abraham, MD; Jamila Mammadova, MD; Lauren Brown, MD;                    Lauren Karnolt, MD; Monica Stevens, MD; Rachel Eakins, MD; Sarah Salvatori, MD; Stephanie Zhao, MD;                                    Shirley Jiang, MD

-               Excellence in Public Health Award – Grace Johnson, MD

-               Steven Specter Award for Outstanding Contribution to Student Life – Ashley Mason, MD

-               Thomas and Elizabeth Flannery, William and Mary Tibbels Scholar Award for excellence in the Scholarly Concentrations                    Program – Lila Gutstein, MD

-               Donn L. Smith, MD Award (Top Core Student) – Daniel LeMay, MD

-               Dean’s Award (Top SELECT Student – Elizabeth von Haunalter, MD

-               Luther McEachern Memorial Award – Jamila Mammadova, MD

-               Jagdish and Jyotsna Kothari Doctor’s Doctor Award –                                                                                                                                            Monica Stevens, MD (Core); Brendan Wheeldon, MD (Core); Berwin Yuan, MD (SELECT)

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About Health News

USF Health News highlights the great work of the faculty, staff and students across the four health colleges – Morsani College of Medicine, College of Public Health, College of Nursing and Taneja College of Pharmacy – and the multispecialty physicians group. USF Health, an integral part of the University of South Florida, integrates research, education and health care to reach our shared value - making life better.