An in-person convocation ceremony returns May 12, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., to the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson for Class of 2021 graduates. A total of 119 students will receive their Doctor of Medicine (MD) degrees, officially making them physicians. The celebration will be hosted at the Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center, 640 N. National Championship Drive.
“This is a much welcome celebration that is taking place at a vital time, as we watch the COVID-19 pandemic go from our rear-view mirrors. Notwithstanding this important ray of optimism, we reminisce on lives claimed and lives disrupted by the pandemic across the campus, our state, and our great nation,” said Michael M. I. Abecassis, MD, MBA, dean of the College of Medicine – Tucson.
Each graduating student was able to preregister four guests to the in-person ceremony, walkups will not be allowed and all guests must complete a Wildcat Wellcheck before entering. Doors open and live streaming will begin at 8 a.m. Details, updates and links to where the ceremony can be viewed live or later are posted at commencement.arizona.edu.
David , MD, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), will deliver the keynote address. Dr. , who stepped up to lead the AAMC in July 2019, has helped reimagine its mission and vision with 10 bold action plans to tackle the nation’s most intractable health challenges. He has contributed to the national pandemic response through interactions with senior government officials, appearances in national media and a new podcast called “Beyond the White Coat.” He has inspired the next generation of medical professionals through his “Heart to Heart” video series and multiple speaking engagements, focusing on why now is such an important time to enter the field of medicine.
Graduating student China Rae Newman was elected by her peers to give the student graduation address.
2021 By the Numbers
This year’s graduating class is 51.2% male and 48.7% female, with 102 Arizona residents and 17 non-residents. One-quarter of the graduates identify with a racial or ethnic group that is underrepresented in medicine. Three students will graduate with dual degrees: two will receive MD/PhD degrees and one will receive an MD/MBA degree.
Ten graduating students participated in the Primary Care Physician (PCP) Scholarship Program, which offers free tuition to those who agree to return to Arizona after residency training to practice primary care medicine in rural and urban underserved areas and populations.
Among the Class of 2021 graduates:
The Poetry of Family Medicine
China Rae Newman is from Scottsdale and double-majored in biology and English (because she “always liked writing”) at for her undergraduate degrees. She continued her writing at the College of Medicine – Tucson and had poems accepted by the Journal of Family Medicine (“Bring Death” and “Mucho Gusto”) and Harmony, the college’s visual arts and literary journal (“10:54:45”). Each explores the compassionate nature of physicians’ relationships with their patients and their families.
Newman earned distinction in the college’s Community Service, Rural Health and Medical Education Tracks. In the Commitment to Underserved People (CUP) Program, she was a position coordinator for the Women’s Clinic. She has volunteered regularly for Amistad, a free clinic in South Tucson, since she started pre-med in 2014 and at Z Mansion, which hosted a field hospital for homeless people at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Rural Health Professions Program (RHPP), she worked with pediatricians in Nogales and family physicians in Safford, Arizona. Her Medical Education study involved a survey of faculty and students on how well the pre-clerkship curriculum prepared students for clerkships, clinical training opportunities offered typically in medical school’s third year.
Newman was co-president of the college’s Family Medicine Interest Group, which won a Program of Excellence Award from the American Academy of Family Physicians in her term, president of Medical Students for Choice, outreach chair of the Medical Ethics Reality Forum and education coordinator for the Obstetrics and Gynecology Interest Group. She is one of six people in her class to be inducted to both the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society and the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which gave her a Golden Heart Award in 2019. And, she was among the first cohort to receive a PCP Scholarship.
Post-graduation, Newman will do her family medicine residency physician training at Oregon Health Sciences University’s Cascade East Family Medicine, a rural practice in Klamath Falls. “I see family medicine as social justice in action – a specialty which strives to provide equity of care to all patients, no matter who they are, what their age or where they come from,” she said.
From Four Corners to the Big City
Thomasina Blackwater, MPH, a Navajo from Kirtland, New Mexico, near the Four Corners area, is also going into family medicine. She is headed to Los Angeles after graduation. The daughter of a former coalminer and a schoolteacher, she’ll start her career as a physician in training at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. She noted, like other students, she struggled in the past year due to the pandemic. She was glad the college ensured students got the vaccine to help with clinical rotations.
“COVID was definitely unexpected. It made rotations, I would say, difficult,” Blackwater said. “I really took for granted when you could walk into a room and your patients could see your face. Now, you have face shields, masks and PPE. With the vaccines and everything, I’m happy to be more around patients. There’s still that barrier there. But we had to do it for the safety of everyone.”
With the CUP Program, Blackwater volunteered for the Family, Tot Shots, Sight Savers and Integrative Medicine free clinics. She is a past president of the college’s Association of Native American Medical Students (ANAM), a participant in the RHPP and Pre-Medical Admissions Pathway (P-MAP) Program, and recipient of the Navajo Nation Future Physicians Scholarship and American Indian Graduate Center Gerald Peet Fellowship Scholarship. She earned distinction in the Rural Health Track for clinical rotations she did in Tuba City and Fort Defiance with the Navajo and in Whiteriver with the White Mountain Apache.
Blackwater holds a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science and a master’s in public health. While earning her master’s, she also served as program coordinator for the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health in Shiprock, New Mexico, on a diabetes prevention and management program for American Indian youth.
Her most profound moment in college was helping to provide protective gear, cleaning supplies and food for fellow Navajo members when COVID-19 numbers skyrocketed on the reservation last year.
“Remember, back in the summer, they were the highest in the U.S. for COVID infections. And resources were limited,” Blackwater said. “ANAM and RHPP, we banded together and got help.”
Wildcat from California
Joshua B. will stay in Tucson after graduation for the five-year combined Emergency Medicine and Pediatric Residency at the College of Medicine – Tucson. He, too, did his undergraduate studies at . He majored in physiology after arriving in 2011 from his hometown, Granite Bay, California, near Sacramento, and completed his bachelor’s degree in three years.
Afterward, he worked as a scribe for the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, and as a lab assistant at the Medical Research Building on ear, nose and throat (ENT) studies. In 2018, he did a summer clinical internship for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, which exposed him to the operating room and more lab research on ENT studies. In between, he went on three church missions to Ecuador, teaching children English, coordinating educational and physical activities and organizing youth community outreach.
At the college, was president of the ENT Interest Group, on leadership for Juniors Active in Wheelchair Sports (JAWS), which works with disabled children, and volunteered regularly with the Tot Shots Clinic, which offers free vaccines, health screenings and sports physicals for kids through the CUP Program. He won a CUP leadership award in 2019 as well as distinction in the Community Service and Global Health tracks. He also was a PCP Scholarship winner but dropped out of the program when he declared for pediatric emergency medicine, since emergency medicine isn’t considered primary care.
“At first, I thought I’d go into pediatric ENT and do cleft palate surgery and global health with different trips,” said. “And, as I went through medical school, I gravitated more toward pediatrics. In my fourth year, we finally got emergency room exposure and I really liked that, too. So, when I found there was a dual program that allows you to do both, I was super interested. And, lo and behold, there’s only four places in the country where this is offered and one happens to be in Tucson.”
With additional consideration that his wife, a pediatric speech therapist, is from Tucson and they have a 3-month-old at home, he was sold.
“I’m definitely a Wildcat for Life,” added. “Bear down!”
NOTE: The college’s undergraduate student Class of 2021 commencement, also in person, is at 7 p.m., May 12, at Arizona Stadium. It also will be livestreamed at commencement.arizona.edu, and can be viewed there later as well.