Pre-health education celebrates centenary



William Manolarakis


The idea was born during a conversation with Biology Professor Dr. Russell Gardner, says Dr. Louise Russo ’83, the Director of Health Professions Advising at Villanova. 

“Dr. Gardner had come across a piece written by the Rev. Kail C. Ellis, Ph.D., O.S.A., and he learned how in 1915, Villanova made the conscious decision to provide core science lab courses that would allow students to be competitive in applying for medical school,” Russo said. “After he shared this with me, I felt that it would be appropriate to commemorate the 100 years of pre-health education that have stemmed from that decision with a celebration that united decades of Villanova pre-health alumni with the more than 900 current pre-health students spread across all four colleges. That number has organically grown over the years due to Villanova’s appeal to those potentially interested in the pre-health track as an institution that offers a strong science curriculum and prioritizes values of community service and leadership.”

Over the course of the past year, the Centenary Celebration of Pre-Health Education at Villanova progressed from a vision to a reality, with the Pre-Health Centenary Celebration Student Leadership Team – a collection of seventeen dedicated pre-health student volunteers – working in conjunction with Dr. Russo and the Health Professions Advising Office on a weekly basis to plan the event. From reaching out to alumni and coordinating the numerous panel sessions to generating student interest and putting together the event program, the students were determined to provide the event attendees with an experience that would be one to remember. 

“Back in March, I reached out to the pre-health student organizations, seeking to assemble a group of students that represented the diversity of pre-health interests found at Villanova to compose the Student Leadership Team,” said Dr. Russo. “Those who volunteered their time to the creation of the event were brave enough to accept the challenge of organizing what essentially amounted to a mini-symposium, and not only did they manage to put it all together, but the quality of the event itself was simply phenomenal.”

The Centenary Celebration took place on Friday, Oct. 30 from 1:00-8:30 p.m. Afternoon alumni panel sessions were held in Bartley Hall and various rooms of the Connelly Center from 1:00-4:45 p.m., and they were followed by a professional networking event (5:00-7:00 p.m.) and an evening distinguished alumni panel session (7:00-8:30 p.m.) that were hosted in the Villanova Room. More than 200 students and 80 alumni, in addition to several faculty members and an assortment of professional school representatives, attended the once-in-a-lifetime event, which was sponsored by the Office of the President, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the pre-Medical Honor Society (Alpha Epsilon Delta).

The afternoon alumni panel sessions offered students access to the profound insights of healthcare professionals and pre-health students currently in professional school. Providing perspectives drawn from a variety of backgrounds and years of practice, the alumni panelists addressed numerous healthcare-related topics, which ranged from medicine and dentistry to gap year experiences and healthcare ethics. They sought to educate and inform the student attendees as to the nature of their respective healthcare fields, making a lasting impression on many students in the process. 

“I think the panel sessions definitely made an impact on how I looked at the rate at which medicine changes,” said junior Rohan Mahadevia. “They made me realize how rapidly such change occurs, and highlighted how medicine relies on many other disciplines, such as ethics and technology, to drive the innovation process.”

For many alumni, the opportunity to serve as panelists was a gratifying experience, having once been Villanova students considering a career in healthcare themselves.

“I really enjoyed coming back to Villanova for the dental alumni panel,” said Vince Boyle ’14, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. “While I was studying at Villanova, there were always young alumni who were there to support me and answer the various questions I had about dental school. It’s very rewarding to know that I can help the Villanova graduates of tomorrow achieve their career goals.”

“Being back at ‘Nova was really nice, I truly miss it,” added Paul Fortanasce ’14, also a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. “I like coming back to these events to give advice to prospective students because I remember being in their shoes and feeling super nervous about what the future held. So being on the panel was very fulfilling for me, as hopefully I was able to alleviate some of that concern by sharing my experience and answering the questions asked by students in the audience.”

After the afternoon alumni panels, the event attendees gathered in the Villanova Room for the professional networking event. At this catered welcome reception, students interacted with alumni, faculty and professional school representatives on a more personal level, and, in many cases, developed connections that may lead to future shadowing opportunities.    

“As someone who is still unsure about my career path in healthcare, I greatly appreciated the variety of professions represented at the Pre-Health Centenary Celebration,” said sophomore Alexandra Brodin. “I had the opportunity to speak with current medical students, a speech language pathologist, and an optometrist at the networking event, and they opened my eyes to some of the possibilities offered by those health professions that I had never really considered before.”

Shortly after the conclusion of the networking event, Dr. Russo took the stage and introduced the three alumni that were to be participating in the distinguished alumni panel that evening: Dr. Diane Adamcyzk ’81, O.D.; Dr. Jerome Canady ’76, M.D.; and Dr. Mark Lutschaunig ’84, V.M.D. Dr. Robert Faiella ’77, D.M.D., who served as president of the American Dental Association for the 2012-2013 term, was also scheduled to serve on the panel, but unfortunately he could not attend due to a family emergency. The distinguished panelists shared their thoughts on how their time at Villanova greatly influenced the direction of their professional careers, and the idea of keeping an open mind as to potential career paths that may not be under immediate consideration was a recurring theme throughout their presentations. 

Currently serving as the Co-Founder, CEO, and Chief Science Officer for U.S. Medical Innovations, LLC, and its family of companies that provide revolutionary hybrid plasma electrosurgical scalpels, endoprobes, and generators, Dr. Canady delivered a presentation that centered around the premise of “Who am I?” For him, the answer to such a question was formed by his childhood upbringing, his early-morning running sessions with his Villanova classmates, and the polylinguistic background that he developed over the course of his educational career, all of which guided him throughout his 24 years of experience in the experimental and clinical application of plasma electrosurgery and surgical oncology. 

“Language was my specialty, that’s what I wanted to do,” said Dr. Canady. “But, over the course of time, influenced by my Villanova professors, the direction that I wanted to go in grew on me, and I eventually decided I wanted to go to Medical School. I managed to practice my skills in both language and the sciences at the same time, and as I have gotten older, I have found my niche, which has come from asking myself ‘Who am I?’”

Dr. Lutschaunig followed Dr. Canady’s presentation by describing his veterinary career path and noting the influence that his Villanova experience had on his professional career, while also detailing the promising future outlook for students interested in careers in veterinary medicine. Initially aspiring to pursue such a career influenced by Dr. Doolittle at the age of five, Dr. Lutschaunig currently serves as the Director of the Governmental Relations Division (GRD) for the American Veterinary Medical Association, based in Washington D.C., and he has been a practicing veterinarian for the past 27 years. He encouraged students to follow their passions and have a plan, emphasizing how though the pursuit of a veterinary career can be expensive, it can be extremely rewarding in the form of job security and the opportunities it offers due to its unique position at the intersection between public, animal, and environmental health, or “One Health”, as it is often described. 

“Take a measured, informed, and disciplined approach to your pursuits,” said Dr. Lutschaunig. “If your passion drives you, you will consider a career in veterinary medicine worth every hour, every day, and every penny you put into it, because as I am here to tell you today, it was all well worth it for me.

Rising to the podium after Dr. Lutshaunig’s remarks, Dr. Adamcyzk called upon the audience to live out their dreams, recalling how her dream started when she first saw a big “V” sticker on her sister’s mirror as a four-year-old. After attending Catholic grammar school and Catholic high school, she first arrived at Villanova as a Biology major with the goal of eventually obtaining a PhD. and returning to a college setting to teach Biology. However, during her time at Villanova, Dr. Adamcyzk began to consider a career in medicine, and it was not until she attended a healthcare day at Villanova similar to the Centenary Celebration that she decided to pursue a career in optometry, having left inspired from their discussion about the field. In the years since she graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1985, she has lectured nationally and internationally and has written numerous articles, chapters, and coauthored the textbook, Primary EyeCare in Systemic Disease. Currently serving as the Director of Residency Education at SUNY, State College of Optometry, Dr. Adamcyzk spoke glowingly about her Villanova experience and reflected upon her winding road toward a career in optometry for the remainder of her speech. 

“The spirit of this institution translates into the care that I give to my patients, how and what I try to do when I teach my students, and even how I think about and reason through things in life in general,” said Dr. Adamcyzk. “This is because the core of what they teach you here is how to be a thinking individual, and with that is the spirituality of what makes life and gives life meaning, and to me that’s what it’s all about … the foundation of what you receive here will be with you in your heart throughout the rest of your life.”

University President, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., PhD. delivered the closing marks of the event, conveying to the audience the tremendous impact that Villanova pre-health students have had in the world over the past 100 years. He explained how as healthcare professionals, they have helped to improve the lives and well-being of thousands of individuals during that time span, not only benefitting those directly treated, but also their families and friends. 

Over the past century, much has changed – in 1915, women had yet to gain the right to vote, and the men’s basketball team (the 2015 Big East Champions) had yet to be founded – yet, even back then, people needed health assistance. Unfortunately, that is still the case, but rest assured, should a health problem arise, a Villanova graduate will always be there to answer the call.