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KU Medical Center celebrates class of 2019 at graduation ceremonies

May 17, 2019

By Kristi Birch

mortar board tassel with Jayhawk

Nearly 900 students graduating from the University of Kansas Schools of Health Professions, Medicine and Nursing donned caps and gowns and participated in separate hooding and recognition ceremonies on Saturday, May 18, at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. The graduates were also encouraged to participate in the commencement ceremony at the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence on Sunday morning.

"Our graduates should take in enormous pride in their alma mater, and we believe that each of them can and will make a tremendous difference in the lives of those who trust them with their health and well-being," said Robert D. Simari, M.D., executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center. "We have every confidence that they will succeed and achieve amazing things with the knowledge and skills they acquired during their time at KU."

The events marked both the realization of the students' individual goals and aspirations and of the University of Kansas Medical Center's efforts to produce highly trained health care providers for the state of Kansas and beyond.

The 2019 class School of Health Professions class includes 74 undergraduate and certificate students and 230 master's and doctoral students. These students were among the first to participate in interprofessional events at the ZIEL (Zamierowski Institute for Experiential Learning) Hospital, a simulated hospital where students from the different schools. Eleanor Sis, a senior from Washington State who graduated from the molecular track of the clinical laboratory science program at the School of Health Professions, volunteered to participate in one of the pilot simulations in which she, along with medical and nursing students, treated patients with sepsis and anaphylaxis.

"I was really grateful for that opportunity because different health professionals don't communicate or think the same way, so it was helpful to learn what's important to a doctor or a nurse and how to translate to them what was important to me," said Sis, who plans to complete the clinical track of the program later this year and find a job working in a laboratory at a hospital or in a crime lab.

Of the 309 students who graduated from the School of Medicine's campuses in Kansas City, Wichita and Salina, 207 received MDs and 102 students received master's and doctoral degrees in programs such as public health, microbiology, health services administration, and neuroscience.

For Samantha Claasen, a medical student who graduated from the Wichita campus and will move on to a residency at Via Christi Family Medicine in Wichita, the day was both exciting and bittersweet. "I am so proud of my classmates for making it through these four years of endless studying and testing and clinical rotations," she said. "My classmates who I have grown so close to in the past four years are all headed separate ways. I am excited to see all of the great things they accomplish as physicians."

Robert Tung, who earned his MD degree from the Kansas City campus, is the son of a physician who grew up in China during the Culture Revolution and had no opportunity to attend school before he immigrated to the United States and became a doctor. Tung will begin a residency in general surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "Graduating medical school is a representation of all the struggles and sacrifices my parents endured to get me here," said Tung. "My father's story motivates me to persevere and reminds me not to take anything for granted. I am excited to share this moment with my family and to make them proud."

Of the 217 total graduates in the 2019 School of Nursing class, 198 earned bachelor's degrees, and 73 earned master's, doctor in philosophy (PhD) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees.

The 2019 School of Nursing class also includes the first nine graduates from the new campus in Salina. Moreover, the 39 graduates who  completed the Community College Nursing Partnership put the total number of graduates from that program at more than 50.

Erin Howat, who earned her bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree on Saturday, came to the School of Nursing after starting a family and spending five years working as a nuclear mechanic for the United States Navy: "I was down in the engine room the majority of the time aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz. Being down in the engine room made me realize how much I enjoyed being around people, helping them, and learning their stories," she said. "When I did have free time, I found myself around Medical a lot just learning as much as I could."

A native of Moberly, Missouri, Howat will begin her nursing career at Saint Luke's Hospital on the Plaza in Kansas City. She also plans to return to school to become certified registered nurse anesthetist. At commencement, she carried the banner for the School of Nursing. "To be able to lead my colleagues down the hill and into Memorial Stadium is humbling and makes me proud to be part of such a great organization and part of the most trusted profession," she said.

Last modified: May 24, 2019
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