On May 26, the largest graduating
class in the history of UMDNJ made its way across the podium to receive degrees
and certificates at the PNCBank Arts Center in Holmdel. Among this class of 1,135
new health care professionals, there were some individuals who achieved their
goals despite staggering odds.
One such person is Catherine Buettner,
a 37-year-old single mother of an 11-year-old daughter named Hannah. As one of
eight children, she grew up on an isolated farm in rural Nebraska, attending classes
in a one-room schoolhouse through eighth grade. During that time she struggled
with a reading disability that wasn't diagnosed until she was in her 20s.
After graduation from high school, she moved to Denver and sought help at a local
library. For years, volunteers worked with her and eventually she became confident
enough to take a few courses at the University of Colorado. For the first time
in her life she was able to read a book on her own. After her daughter Hannah
was born she moved east to live near her sister. She found work at the University
of Pennsylvania and began taking classes.
It was there that she was diagnosed with dyslexia and was able to make special
accommodations to get through the exams. She began to feel more self- confident
and decided to pursue a life-long interest in health sciences and concentrate
on pre-med courses. ŅIt's hard to start thinking of yourself as someone bright
and smart after you've gone through life thinking the opposite," says Buettner,
now a resident of Highland Park.
But she did, and at commencement, she took her place alongside her classmates
from UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Now Dr. Buettner plans to complete
a three-year residency at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
During the ceremony, UMDNJ President
Stuart D. Cook, MD, said, "Each student graduating here today has a compelling
story to tell about his or her life experiences. Your accomplishments and obstacles
are unique and worthy of recognition." Sheetal Kirit Chhaya, who graduated
from UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM), is the first graduate to participate
in SOM's Scholars Program. Formed in the late 1980s, the program is offered to
South Jersey high school seniors interested in pursuing medical careers. Aside
from their interest in the medical field, students must have a good academic record.
Once accepted, they are assigned mentors to help them develop their own medical
research and deliver presentations on their projects. Chhaya, whose parents immigrated
from India, was one of the 30 students selected for the program 10 years ago.
"This program gave me a clear view of the medical profession," says
the 27-year-old Voorhees resident. "It helped me realize that there are many
career options in this field. It also allowed me to ask all types of questions
about the different branches of medicine, and interact with other students who
were serious about entering medicine."
In medical school, she was a class officer
for two years, and was named the 1999 DO Student of the Year by the school's faculty.
She is now serving as a resident in gastroenterology at Robert Wood Johnson University
Hospital in New Brunswick. Kathleen Yard received her master's degree in physical
therapy from UMDNJ-School of Health Related Professions. The 43-year-old Yardville
resident had been a communications marketing manager with a major pharmaceutical
company when her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 12 years ago.
In caring for him, which included helping out with his physical rehabilitation,
she decided to return to school and pursue a degree in physical therapy.
"This career transition did not happen overnight," she says, but despite
having to withdraw from classes for a year to take care of her husband, she graduated
with a clinical excellence award.
Gina Gonzalez was a member of the U.S.
Virgin Islands national track team before she began her studies at UMDNJ-School
of Osteopathic Medicine. The talented athlete was also named an All-American hurdler
twice. During her four years in medical school, she participated in an outreach
program at the Medical Arts High School in Camden, worked with the BOOST program
for urban high school students interested in careers in medicine, and was also
a volunteer at a family health clinic in Camden. Gonzalez has hung up her track
shoes for a residency at Kennedy Memorial Hospitals-University Medical Center