SOM grads are ready to take on the world

The School of Medicine celebrated the Class of 2017 during the annual graduation ceremony at the Kansas City Music Hall on May 22.

More than 140 students celebrated their degrees and graduate certificates at the School of Medicine’s 2017 commencement ceremony on May 22 at the Kansas City Music Hall – a far cry from the first class 40 years ago.

In 1977, the UMKC School of Medicine graduated its first full class of 33 six-year B.A./M.D. students. Today, the school has produced more than 3,600 highly skilled physicians who are sought after leaders on all levels, renowned experts in their medical fields, and groundbreaking scientist uncovering new methods of caring for the communities they serve.

The school continues 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, as well as students in health professions education and bioinformatics. It also offers graduate certificates in a number of programs and an Interdisciplinary-Ph.D. program.

To celebrate this year’s graduates and highlight the diversity and extensive educational options offered students at the UMKC School of Medicine, we are sharing some of their stories.


B.A./M.D. Program

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 work in the field and help others. But, she says, it was five years into the UMKC School of Medicine’s six-year program when 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 says 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 the experience of meeting and working with patients during her first year of medical school, and the large number of clinical experiences accumulated throughout the six-year program, has 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.”

As a child growing up in health-care oriented family, 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 says.

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 says.

It also allowed to her follow another passion: teaching. Whether helping other students in the writing lab or tutoring them in biochemistry, Wamkpah says 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.”


Masters of Health Professions Education

Staab prepared to spread her message about nutrition

Growing up in Mexico, Ara Staab developed an interest in pursuing a health-care career when she saw family members battle diabetes and other health problems.

While 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.

And this May, Staab added a master’s degree from the UMKC School of Medicine’s Health Professions Education program to her resume. The program has already expanded her ability to help others by broadening her foundation for teaching, program assessment and leadership in her field.

While earning the two-year master’s degree, Staab was promoted at MU Extension to coordinator of the nutrition program’s Kansas City Urban Region.

“Being an educator in the past, 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,” Staab said.

Not only did the program provide a strong understanding of curriculum development, Staab found she had a particular interest in research. Last October, she received one of the medical school’s Sarah Morrison Student Research Awards. Her study included the creation of a new nutrition curriculum for low-income and limited-resource families emphasizing the control of chronic health conditions through diet and other healthy lifestyle changes.

“We’re actually doing a research study with some medical students to analyze and evaluate whether our nutrition curriculums will have the impact that I think they will have,” she said.

As a program coordinator, Staab will apply the lessons she learned through the UMKC program to further engage the public by conducting need assessments. She will then be able to modify or create new programs to meet those needs.

“This program has greatly complemented what I’m doing at MU Extension,” Staab said.

Before joining MU Extension, Staab directed the nutrition services program in the small border town of Nogales on the Arizona-Mexico border. She met her husband there and the two eventually moved to the Kansas City area, where she found a job supervising the nutrition care department at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.

Staab became interested in expanding her background in health education while working at the hospital. She believed too few people there  fully understood her role and how she could benefit other health professionals in treating patients.

At MU Extension, Staab works with a staff of more than 20 nutrition educators who share new and existing programs. The Extension partners with many of the community service programs and health clinics throughout the Kansas City metro area.

“A person’s diet has an impact on their treatment,” Staab said. “For me, advocating good nutrition to the community and the health profession is important. 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 looks 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.

A rural community of less than 800 people, this is where Stephen Gaines, at age 16, came home from high school and spent his free time as a volunteer firefighter. Junior fire fighter was his official title. Gofer would be a more accurate job description.

“It was go get this for me, hold this for me,” Gaines says. “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 the department provided a large part of the emergency medical care offered to Montgomery County, which only has two medical doctors, one dentist and one optometrist. A physician assistant was a foreign concept to Gaines before he was in college at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.

“I had never heard of a physician assistant, let alone seen one,” Gaines says.

In May, Gaines became part of the second class of physician assistants at the UMKC School of Medicine to earn a Master of Medical Science Physician Assistant degree. This summer, Gaines will enter a post-graduate fellowship in emergency medicine for physician’s assistants at the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia, where he will received specialized training directed to the acute care of emergency medicine patients.

“You know, PAs are not on TV shows,” he says. “It’s not something that’s really well known in some parts of the country.”

That’s particularly true in rural areas such as Jonesburg. Gaines says folks there may wait several days with a severe illness or injury before deciding they’re not getting any better, then may travel up to 45 miles to Columbia or St. Louis to see a doctor.

That’s part of the reason he would like to return to a rural area to practice emergency medicine.

“But not too rural,” he says. “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 says 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 a number of areas of the health care field with one license. To Gaines, who got 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 the UMKC program because it was the only one housed inside a medical school.

“I knew that at UMKC, I would get an education from the same people who are teaching future physicians,” he said. “We already have that connection with hospitals that the medical students have. We rotate with the same staff physicians at the hospitals that medical students and residents do. That was really attractive.”

Now, after training at several hospitals throughout Kansas City and experiencing a wide variety of patient populations, Gaines says he’s prepared to return to his roots.

“I want to go back to the rural side of emergency medicine.”


Master of Science – Anesthesia

Hill now 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 working long hours 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 received a Master of Science in Anesthesia from the UMKC School of Medicine.

Months before receiving her degree, Hill had already received a job offer to begin a new career at as an anesthesiologist assistant. Instead of eight-hour days in a laboratory, Hill 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 case 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, Hill learned of the School of Medicine’s anesthesiologist assistant program from a friend. She began going to Mercy Hospital in St. Louis a few days a week 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. Now, she is part of the eighth class of anesthesiologist assistants to earn their MSA degree through UMKC’s 27-month program. Each of her graduating classmates secured an anesthesiologist assistant’s job before completing their degree as well.

Part of that success, she said, is a result of the vast experience students receive at the UMKC School of Medicine.

“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 think the simulation lab is great,” she said. “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. They’re done on a mannequin so it is different from an actual patient, but we get to practice the skills multiple times. You have more confidence when doing them for the first time on a real patient, and your technical skills are so much better. 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.”

Another part of the program’s lure is that students have the opportunity to travel to many areas of the country for their clinical rotations. After a month at a hospital 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, a cardiology fellow, adds bioinformatics degree to his research arsenal

As a cardiologist, Mohammed Qintar, M.D., wants to get at the heart of the matter with his patients.

That, he says, means going beyond treating patients’ cardiovascular 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 his study on the health status and outcomes of patients who suffer angina and patients undergoing angioplasty.

He is adding a new weapon to his research arsenal, graduating this May with 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 that doing research makes you a better clinician and that you can contribute much more by being involved in research.”

Qintar began specializing in cardiovascular outcomes after completing his medical degree at Damascus Medical School in Syria and an internal medicine residency at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

After he joined the cardiology fellowship program 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.

“I joined the Mid America Heart Institute and UMKC for the cardiovascular outcomes research and clinical cardiology fellowship because you get the chance to work with the best in this field,” Qintar said. “Obtaining a master of science in bioinformatics provides me with the right tools to advance my career to the next level. It helps me deeply understand research.”

Qintar said the School of Medicine’s bioinformatics program has allowed him to develop the critical thinking skills in research design and methodology necessary for conducting high-level and successful medical research projects.

In particular, he is looking to devise novel strategies to implement tools that will 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 says. “This skill takes time and only comes when you are around top-notch researchers. If somebody is interested in research as a future career, or just to understanding medical research, this program is the right fit.”