American University of Antigua College of Medicine (AUA) honored members of its Class of 2021 as more than 200 students officially became physicians at AUA’s 12th Commencement Ceremony. Held June 3 in a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony served as a fitting coda to 4.5 years of intensive medical study and a prelude to AUA graduates beginning residency training in hospitals across the United States.

Family members and friends watched as AUA graduates gathered via videoconference to hear keynote speaker U.S. Congresswoman Susan Wild, who represents Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. Congresswoman Wild spoke eloquently about the graduates’ importance in the coming physician shortage as well as the lack of diversity in the physician population.

Graduates also heard from University President Neal S. Simon, JD; Provost Robert Mallin, MD; Vice President of Global Medical Education and Executive Dean of Clinical Sciences Peter Bell, MD; alumni speaker Osman Ali, MD; and class valedictorian Kyle Kennedy, MD. Vernon Solomon, AUA Vice President for Administration & Community Affairs, was the Master of Ceremonies for commencement.

“I continue to be struck by the dedication, compassion, and sheer determination shown by our graduates every single year, and the Class of 2021 is no exception,” Simon said after the event. “I’m proud and humbled that the new doctors who graduated from AUA this year can now be part of the solution to the projected physician shortage currently facing the United States and world.”

Increasing Diversity in Medical Education
As in years past, AUA’s 2021 graduating class represented a highly diverse group of students from a variety of backgrounds, home countries, and walks of life. AUA is guided by the philosophy that patients benefit from diverse, compassionate medical professionals—and that the more people have access to medical education, the more the global community benefits.

Many individuals and groups, including AUA, contend that the demographic breakdown of students at US medical schools is not ethnically or racially diverse enough, with historically under-represented populations often getting short shrift when applying to medical school. In response, the US Association for American Medical Colleges (AAMC) developed a strategic plan to address this issue.

According to the most recent available data from the AAMC—for academic year 2019-2020—students identifying as Black or African-American made up 6.6 percent of all graduates from US medical schools for that year, while those identifying as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish accounted for 5.8 percent of graduates for that cycle. By contrast, 18 percent of AUA’s 2021 graduates identified as African-American or Black, with 10 percent identifying as Hispanic.

A Fitting Tribute
The ceremony also honored those AUA lost in 2020. AUA officials recognized last year’s passing of former AUA Provost Seymour Schwartz, MD, widely known as one of the most influential surgeons in the United States—Dr. Schwartz co-wrote and edited Schwartz’s Principles of Surgery, a seminal medical textbook often referred to as “the surgeon’s Bible” that is currently in its 11th edition.

After degrees were conferred, including an honorary posthumous degree granted to former AUA student Raymond James Salort III,  graduates turned on their cameras to throw their graduation hats in the air, congratulate their fellow physicians, and wish each other well.

Members of AUA’s Class of 2021 will now continue on to residency training, which begins in July for most programs.