Postbac Premed Program Class of 2023 Celebrated at Class Day Ceremony
The Columbia University Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program celebrated Class Day on Friday, May 12, 2023. The ceremony was held in Low Memorial Library where students were joined by faculty, administrators, and distinguished guests.
School of General Studies Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch ‘90GS, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, extended a special greeting to Keynote Speaker Dr. Carlos del Rio and student speaker Andrea Abi-Karam ‘23PBPM in her opening remarks.
“You are all finishing your Program and preparing for your next step in your medical education at an extremely important time for medicine,” said Dean Rose-Metsch. “The world has never needed capable, compassionate health professionals more than it does at this moment.” She continued, “you are entering a noble profession—one that requires both intellect and heart. In a world where healthcare disparities persist, I urge you to be agents of change, to use your knowledge and skills to bridge the gaps that divide us, and to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Your commitment to medicine is not simply a career choice; it is a calling to serve humanity with compassion and integrity.”
"Your commitment to medicine is not simply a career choice; it is a calling to serve humanity with compassion and integrity.”
Dean Rosen-Metsch then welcomed Keynote Speaker Dr. Carlos del Rio to the podium. The Leon L. Haley, Jr. MD Distinguished Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, Dr. del Rio also serves as Interim Dean of Emory University School of Medicine, and a Professor of Global Health and Professor of Epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health. A native of Mexico, much of Dr. del Rio’s illustrious career has focused on HIV/AIDS research and care, and he has also held leadership advisory roles regarding municipal, state, and national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Class of 2023, hearty congratulations to you, to your families, and all your friends and teachers who have supported you through your studies,” began Dr. del Rio. “You have completed an important step towards your dream of becoming a physician, a dentist, or a veterinarian.” Like Dean Rosen-Metsch, Dr. del Rio noted the gravity and distinctiveness of the current context within which health professionals are working, not only because of COVID, but also due to the “epidemics” of gun violence, the opioid crisis, and widespread medical misinformation.
Nevertheless, Dr. del Rio drew from his four decades of professional experience to offer some simple, and notably optimistic, advice. “Stay HIP,” he offered–H for humility, honesty, heart, humor and healing, I for imagination and intellectual curiosity, and P for passion, pause, and perspective. His thoughts on ‘passion’ were especially resonant: “Find what uniquely engages you, especially if it is also in the service of others. Combine passion with compassion and you have a powerful duo.” In conclusion, he shared “stay HIP and you will be successful regardless of what field of study you pursue!”
“Find what uniquely engages you, especially if it is also in the service of others. Combine passion with compassion and you have a powerful duo.”
Following Dr. del Rio’s remarks, Dean Rosen-Metsch presented the Alumni Key Award to Hannah Ressinger ‘23PBPM. This award is given each year to a graduating Postbac Premed student who has achieved exceptional academic results and shown an outstanding commitment to the Postbac community. Ressinger, a native of Chicago, Illinois, came to Columbia GS with a degree in ethnomusicology from New York University. At GS, Hannah served as President of the Postbac Premed Student Council (PPSC), Vice President of Medical School Fair Operations, and received a 2022 GS Spirit Award. Following her completion of the Postbac Premed Program, Ressinger will continue to gain clinical experience before taking the MCAT in June.
Postbac Premed Dean James Colgrove then presented the Class of 2023, noting how the melding of students’ pre-Program non-medical experiences and Program-empowered medical excellence make them uniquely outstanding future health professionals. “You haven’t left behind who you were before,” he said. “Instead you’ve integrated the knowledge and skills that you brought to this program into your new selves.” Dean Colgrove added “You’ve completed your Postbac studies and you’re embarking on the next stage of your professional journey, and I am proud to celebrate with you, and to honor your scientific expertise, your wisdom, and your care.”
Dean Colgrove then introduced student speaker Andrea Abi-Karam ‘23PBPM. A trans Arab-American poet, facilitator, and activist, Abi-Karam is a two-time Lambda Literary Award finalist in transgender poetry and co-editor of the landmark collection We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics. At Columbia, they were part of the 2022 inaugural cohort of Weill Cornell’s Surgical Pipeline Program and served as Vice President of Medical Specialities on the PPSC, a health educator for Project STAY, and a peer tutor at the GS Academic Resource Center.
"Returning to school after months, years, or decades away takes great tenacity. As we look ahead to the MCAT and the medical school application process, I urge you to take pride in your identity as a premed or prehealth. This era of our journey will conclude before we know it as we approach our inevitable white coat ceremonies.”
Abi-Karam began their remarks by thanking the village which supports Postbac students, from the Program’s Deans, to Columbia faculty, to tutors, library staff, and of course, each students’ personal circle of family, friends, and peer support. Addressing their fellow Class of 2023 members, they said “returning to school after months, years, or decades away takes great tenacity. As we look ahead to the MCAT and the medical school application process, I urge you to take pride in your identity as a premed or prehealth. This era of our journey will conclude before we know it as we approach our inevitable white coat ceremonies.”
In reference to that nontraditional tenacity, Abi-Karam recalled their own path to GS. After painstakingly forging a career as a poet—as they wryly noted, “I’d done the impossible, I’d found a way to make a living as a poet”—COVID hit and, as so many experienced, derailed their plans. “I was faced with a feeling of powerlessness over my lack of skills and knowledge to combat the climbing death toll of the pandemic,” they said. “I heard the call to action to hit the books. Today, I am proud to call myself a poet-premed, and future poet-Dr.”
Abi-Karam also shared a poem by poet-physician Fady Joudah and offered some advice inspired by the “luminous ‘Elder Premeds’ WhatsApp chat.” In conclusion, they proclaimed “today is proof that we have what it takes. Congratulations to the Postbac Premed Class of 2023!”