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KU Medical Center graduates more than 700 students prepared to begin their new careers

Five graduates share stories about their extraordinary roads to graduation

Group of five School  of Medicine students stand together smiling, holding flowers after the graduation ceremony
New KU School of Medicine graduates in front of Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas, where hooding and recognition ceremonies were held on May 11, 2024.

Nearly 750 graduating students from the University of Kansas schools of Health Professions, Medicine and Nursing participated in separate hooding and recognition ceremonies on Saturday, May 11, as friends and family gathered at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas, looked on. The ceremonies also were livestreamed for those who preferred to attend virtually.

At the ceremony for KU School of Health Professions, which had 52 undergraduates and 192 graduate-level students in the Class of 2024, Dean Abiodun Akinwuntan noted that the day marked the 50th anniversary of the school and the graduation of its 50th class. “Today, as we send forth our newest graduates into the world, I am filled with confidence that they will carry on the proud tradition of excellence that defines our school,” he said.

Of the 284 students who graduated from KU School of Medicine's campuses in Kansas City, Salina and Wichita, 202 received M.D. degrees and 82 students earned advanced degrees and certificates in programs such as pharmacology, cancer biology, biostatistics and population health.

In a keynote address, Mark Meyer, M.D., senior associate dean for student affairs at KU School of Medicine, urged graduates to “go forward confidently yet humbly, embrace your work, show up, find your 'whys,' remain curious, strive for excellence and embody professionalism in all you do. Commit to making a positive impact in every role you hold throughout your career, and finally — but importantly — express gratitude.”

At the KU School of Nursing ceremony, Jean Foret Giddens, Ph.D., FAAN, who became dean on April 15, spoke to 206 nursing graduates (149 bachelor’s degree students and 57 doctoral and master's degrees). “Being a graduate of this nursing school myself, I did not truly appreciate the quality of my education until years later,” Giddens said. “As you begin your careers — or assume advanced roles in nursing — know that you are well-prepared to make a difference at a time when we need you the most.”

Four years ago, during the pandemic, many high school and college seniors didn’t get a proper graduation. They missed out on what so many others got: a public walk to receive their diploma, a few cheers and the memory that comes with that rite of passage. This year’s KU Medical Center graduates got their chance to dress for the occasion at the recognition ceremonies on Saturday and then, the next day, to make the walk through the Campanile — donned in cap, gown, hood and tassel — and down the hill at the commencement ceremony on the Lawrence campus.

Here, a few of this year’s graduates reflect on their journey and share their thoughts on the eve of their big day.

School of Health Professions, Class of 2024

During the last 16 weeks of her master’s program in athletic training, Ashley Mick, MSAT, got to work in the training room at a local high school with all the student athletes. On the eve of her graduation from KU School of Health Professions, she now knows she would love to keep working in a high school. The first in her family to earn a master’s degree, she is excited to graduate, but also feels a bit nervous. “School is all I’ve ever known, so it’s hard to imagine what life will be like without studying,” she said.

The best part of her program, she said, was the full-time clinical experiences that started in the second semester. “Getting to start hands-on so early was a great opportunity to start building connections with people.”

School of Medicine, Class of 2024

“It’s been such a great four years of medical school, but for many of my classmates, it’s a graduation of the last eight years,” said Ethan Kallenberger, M.D., “because many of us basically started this program our freshman year of college. And some of my classmates took an even longer path — studying in other programs before ending up here.” He added that while Match Day was a huge celebration, he thinks graduation is more of a reflection on their hard work.

Kallenberger took a fairly traditional path, studying premed at Kansas State University and then applying to KU School of Medicine. In 2020, classes were virtual. But he and a limited group of about 15-20 others elected to attend in-person lectures, and members of that original group have remained friends.

Woman and husband stand holding young son at a KU basketball game
Faith Hampton, M.D., who is originally from Goodland, Kansas,
will complete her residency in family medicine at the Via Christi
Hospital in Wichita with the support of her husband, Connor,
and their little Jayhawk, Cecilia.

As a medical student, some of the best advice he got along the way was to remain true to his core values. As for advice he could offer incoming students, he simply says, “Enjoy where you are right now! Find ways to be excited about what you are doing, rather than looking ahead to a part of your training when things might be less challenging.”

Graduation day for Faith Hampton, M.D., was a chance to participate in all the traditions she missed four years ago when she graduated from KU during the pandemic. This time she got to walk down the hill and share the day with her husband, Connor, and their 2-year-old daughter, Cecilia.

As an undergraduate, Hampton was “super involved” with on-campus activities, but as a first-year medical student she had to learn to be more selective about her time. “They tell you to say, ‘yes’ to everything as a new student because you can always pivot,” she said. “That advice helped me find my niche in medical school.”

School of Nursing, Class of 2024

Five years ago, Erin Caplan, BSN, had a gut feeling about the direction of her life. She grew up in Prairie Village, earned a degree in viola performance from Bard College and was a freelance musician and teaching music in schools. “There were aspects to it that I loved, but I didn’t see myself continuing that direction,” she said.

Woman holds black and white cat
Erin Caplan, BSN, and her cat, Willow, will be
moving from Salina for Erin’s new job at The
University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City.

Caplan moved back to Kansas and earned qualifications to work in infant nutrition at The University of Kansas Health System. Seeking more direct patient care, she applied to and earned a spot at KU School of Nursing-Salina. Though she spent 15 years outside of academia, she was ready to get back into the classroom. “They provided a good foundation to be a generalist,” she said. “In your career, you end up specializing as you continue learning." Following graduation, Caplan will begin a new job in the medical intensive care unit at the health system.

“Confidence is a willingness to be uncomfortable … if you really want to get the most out of your program, you have to put yourself out there,” Caplan said.

Nursing wasn’t his first career either, but growing up in Alliance, Ohio, Christopher Liebert, BSN, didn’t think he could be a nurse. He joined the army right after high school, got married at 19, was deployed to Afghanistan, Germany and Africa and now has two children, ages 7 and 5. His mother is a nurse and as a result of many positive encounters with other nurses, he decided to pursue a career in health care.

After a five-year process of completing prerequisites online, he found himself officially a nursing student. “I am the first in my family to graduate college, and it’s a big deal,” he said. “I am privileged and honored to be where I am.” During a military ceremony on Monday, he will be sworn in as an officer, and his children will pin his lieutenant rank on his uniform. He will find out his new post in August.

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