Students from five programs share their memories, prepare to put varied skills to full use
The UMKC School of Medicine graduated its first full class of 33 six-year B.A./M.D. students in 1977. Forty years later, the school has produced almost 3,500 highly skilled physicians who are sought after leaders on all levels, renowned experts in their medical fields, and groundbreaking scientists uncovering new methods of caring for the communities they serve.
Today, the school is producing health care professionals in many disciplines. In addition to a medical degree, the school offers master’s degrees for anesthesiologist assistants and physician assistants, health professions education, and bioinformatics. It also offers graduate certificates in several programs and an Interdisciplinary-Ph.D. program.
More than 140 students celebrated their degrees and graduate certificates at the School of Medicine’s commencement ceremony on May 22—a far cry from that first class of 33 graduates 46 years ago.
Wamkpah achieves her dream of becoming a doctor
Nneome Wamkpah says she knew by the time she was a sophomore in high school that she wanted to become a doctor.
Surrounded by a family of health care professionals, Wamkpah understood what it meant to help others. Five years into the UMKC School of Medicine’s six-year program, she fully realized the gravity of her decision.
“It’s so hard to know when you’re young. You really don’t understand just how much people depend on you until you’re into it,” Wamkpah said. “I understood from my family that I could make a difference working in health care, but to truly take care of another human being, that really came to me last year. It’s a big responsibility.”
Because of her extensive clinical training at UMKC, Wamkpah said it’s a charge she feels fully prepared to accept. A May graduate, she will begin her post-graduate residency training in otolaryngology this summer at Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis.
She said her School of Medicine experience had given her the confidence to succeed as a physician.
“It sets us up very nicely for residency training,” Wamkpah said. “You kind of know already what to do in treating patients, how to talk to them, how to get their problems solved. A lot of schools take their time getting you to that point. We have a lot of practice in that, and the curriculum really supports great patient care and working as a great clinician.”
Health care careers were common in her family, and while growing up, she heard her grandmother’s many accounts of life as a midwife in their native Nigeria.
“She would always tell us stories about that,” Wamkpah says.
Both of her parents earned nursing degrees at the University of Kansas and worked as nurses before branching into business and opening their own medical equipment store. Her aunt is a nurse and an uncle in Spokane, Washington, is a transplant surgeon.
So it’s no surprise that she followed a similar path.
“I had a lot of influences early on to go into the medical field,” Wamkpah said.
UMKC allowed her to do that and stay close to home in nearby Leawood, Kansas. Wamkpah smiles when she explains that she was born at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, one of the school’s primary teaching hospitals where she completed some clinical rotations.
“I wasn’t looking to stay home, but this filled all the needs of wanting to become a doctor, doing so sooner (than traditional medical schools), and it was close to home,” she said.
It also allowed to her follow another passion: teaching. Whether helping other students in the writing lab or tutoring them in biochemistry, Wamkpah said, teaching is another goal she plans to pursue.
“I want to be at an academic institution,” she said. “That dynamic of teacher and student, learning from one another, is something that I really love. I think UMKC really supported my desires to do that by giving me so many opportunities to teach. You can impact patient care, but you can impact the next generation of doctors, too. That’s important to me.”
Master’s of Health Professions Education
Staab prepared to spread her message about nutrition
Growing up in Mexico, Ara Staab developed an interest in health care when she saw family members battle diabetes and other health problems.
Studying pre-med at the University at Guadalajara, Staab decided an undergraduate degree in dietetics and nutrition science would allow her to help family members and others understand the importance of better nutrition and diet.
“For me, that was more intriguing,” Staab said. “I was thinking, these things can help my family and even more people in a broad way.”
For much of the past four years, Staab has taken her message to the local community, working for the University of Missouri Extension’s Family Nutrition Education Program in Kansas City.
This May, Staab added a master’s degree from the UMKC School of Medicine’s Health Professions Education program to her resume. While working on the two-year master’s degree, Staab was promoted at MU Extension to coordinator of the nutrition program’s Kansas City Urban Region.
Though she had been an educator, Staab said, “this program helped me understand curriculum development and needs assessment. Those are things I didn’t have the fundaments for with a background in dietetic science.”
In addition to curriculum development, Staab discovered an interest in research. Last October, she received a Sarah Morrison Student Research Award and worked on creating a nutrition curriculum for low-income and limited-resource families emphasizing the control of chronic health conditions through diet and other healthy changes in habits.
As a program coordinator, Staab will apply the lessons she learned at UMKC to conducting need assessments and modifying or creating programs to meet those needs.
“This program has greatly complemented what I’m doing at MU Extension,” Staab said.
Staab started her dietetics career directing the nutrition services program in the small border town of Nogales on the Arizona-Mexico border. There she met her husband. The two eventually moved to the Kansas City area, where she took a job supervising the nutrition care department at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
Staab realized the need to expand her background in health education as she discovered that few at the hospital fully understood her role and how she could benefit other health professionals in treating patients.
Staab now works at MU Extension with a staff of more than 20 nutrition educators. The Extension partners with many of the community service programs and health clinics throughout the Kansas City metro area.
“Advocating good nutrition to the community and the health profession is important,” she said. “It’s part of my goal to teach dietetic science and nutrition and bring that to other health professionals and projects.”
Master of Medical Science – Physician Assistant
Gaines to take physician assistant role back to rural roots
Blink at the Phillips 66 station exit on Interstate 70, about halfway between Columbia and St. Louis, and you just missed Jonesburg, Missouri.
This rural community of less than 800 people is where Stephen Gaines, at age 16, came home from high school and spent his free time as a volunteer firefighter. Junior firefighter was his official title. Gofer would be a more accurate job description.
“It was go get this for me, hold this for me,” Gaines said. “I was just learning and going to training and getting experience. By the time I was 18, I had experienced a lot in the functions of the volunteer fire department and what we do, from medical calls to vehicle accidents to fires.”
He learned that the department provided a large part of the emergency medical care to Montgomery County, which has only two medical doctors, one dentist and an optometrist. Physician assistant was a foreign concept to Gaines.
“I had never heard of a physician assistant, let alone seen one,” Gaines said.
In May, Gaines became part of the second class at the UMKC School of Medicine to earn a Master of Medical Science Physician Assistant degree. This summer, he will enter a post-graduate fellowship at the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia, where he will receive specialized training directed to the acute care of emergency medicine patients.
“You know, PAs are not on TV shows,” he said. “It’s not something that’s really well known in some parts of the country.”
Particularly in rural areas such as Jonesburg. Folks there often wait several days with a severe illness or injury before deciding they need help, he said, and then may have to travel 45 miles to Columbia or St. Louis to see a doctor.
That’s why Gaines wants to return to a rural area to practice.
“But not too rural,” he said. “I want to work in emergency medicine, so that means I have to go somewhere that at least has a hospital, but a smaller-sized hospital.”
Gaines said he learned about physician assistants while he was a pre-medicine student at Truman State. Unlike physicians, who spend years of training and specializing in one area of medicine, PAs may work in several areas of the health care field with one license. To Gaines, who was married about a year ago, that was an intriguing opportunity.
“I kind of came in knowing that I wanted to do emergency medicine as a physician assistant,” Gaines said. “But I also know that as a physician assistant, there are other opportunities. Should things change, if I have a family and I’m tired of working the night shifts and want to do more of an 8-to-5 thing in family medicine, that’s an option.”
Four schools in Missouri offer physician assistant training. Gaines said he chose UMKC because it was the only program housed at a medical school.
“I knew that at UMKC, I would get an education from the same people who are teaching future physicians,” he said. “That was really attractive.”
Now, after training at several hospitals throughout Kansas City and experiencing a wide variety of patient populations, Gaines said he was prepared to return to his roots.
“I want to go back to the rural side of emergency medicine.”
Master of Science — Anesthesia
Hill prepared to ‘do so many different things’
Less than a year after earning her chemistry degree with a pre-medicine focus from Austin Peay State University, Kaitlyn Hill had a good job as a laboratory technician. But long hours of working in a room with chemicals brought her to a realization.
“I didn’t want to be in a lab all day,” Hill said.
In May, the former high school and college basketball player will receive a Master of Science in Anesthesia from the UMKC School of Medicine.
Months before receiving her degree, Hill had already secured a job offer as an anesthesiologist assistant. Instead of eight-hour days in a laboratory, she will put her medical interests and skills to work with patients in operating rooms at Kansas City’s Saint Luke’s Hospital.
“I’m going to have the opportunity to perform obstetrics cases, and pediatrics, and neurology cases,” Hill said. “They have a GI suite and MRI lab. I’ll be able to do all of that. Saint Luke’s has a variety of cases, and it’s great that as a graduate I’ll be able to do so many different things. That’s one of the reasons I chose to work there.”
After graduating from Austin Peay in Clarksville, Tennessee, Hill learned of the School of Medicine’s anesthesiologist assistant program from a friend. She began going to Mercy Hospital in St. Louis to shadow anesthesiologist James Gibbons, M.D., a strong proponent of anesthesiologist assistants.
Hill said she liked the idea of working with patients in a hospital surgery environment. She is part of the eighth class of anesthesiologist assistants to earn their MSA degree through UMKC’s 27-month program.
“This program, from the very beginning, was very focused,” Hill said. “Right away, we were doing procedures in the simulation lab, learning to ventilate a patient. There wasn’t a lot of fluff.”
Hill said the hours of practice and repetition in the School of Medicine’s clinical training facility gave her a solid foundation for clinical rotations.
“I’ve talked to other people who don’t have the opportunities we get to learn to intubate, to start IVs and do other technical skills,” Hill said. “Having played basketball in high school and college, I’m used to practicing and practicing and practicing before the game starts, so the repetition here is really good.”
Students also travel to many areas of the country for their clinical rotations. After a month in St. Louis earlier this year, Hill was headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for her next rotation.
“I’ve been to Myrtle Beach. I’ve been in Wisconsin, in Oklahoma,” Hill said. “We go to different hospitals and have so many different experiences. At some hospitals, we’ll get more specialty training in areas like cardiac surgery, obstetrics and pediatrics.”
All of that now has her on the path to a career she is excited about.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a great education,” Hill said. “Everything I’ve needed, I’ve had at UMKC.
Master of Science – Bioinformatics
Quintar adds bioinformatics degree to his research arsenal
As a cardiologist, Mohammed Qintar, M.D., gets at the heart of the matter with his patients.
That, he says, means going beyond treating patients’ diseases and assisting them through healing. It requires connecting with them on a more personal level.
“You often have to treat their life as a whole in order to treat their heart disease,” Qintar said.
A research fellow in combined cardiovascular outcomes at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and the UMKC School of Medicine, Qintar focuses on the health status and outcomes of patients with angina and undergoing angioplasty.
Now he is adding another weapon to his research ar-senal, a Master of Science in Bioinformatics from the UMKC School in Medicine.
“Cardiology is a data-driven field, and since early in my career, I have been involved in research,” Qintar said. “I believe doing research makes you a better clinician, and you can contribute much more being involved in research.”
Qintar began specializing in cardiovascular outcomes after completing his medical degree at Damascus Medical School in Syria.
At the Mid America Heart Institute, Qintar was a finalist in the 2016 Young Investigator Award competition at the American Heart Association meeting on Quality Care Outcomes Research.
“Obtaining a Master of Science in Bioinformatics provides me the right tools to advance my career to the next level. It helps me deeply understand research.”
He said the program had helped him develop critical thinking skills in design and methodology necessary to conduct successful, high-level medical research projects.
In particular, he hopes to devise novel strategies and tools to improve the quality of care for patients suffering coronary artery diseases.
“Understanding how to critically design and answer a research question in the best way is very important,” he said. “This skill takes time and only comes when you are around top-notch researchers.”