Commitment to healthy people and communities unites 2024 graduates

May 13, 2024

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health class of 2024 spans numerous fields but its members share a commitment to empathy and compassion, coupled with a dedication to providing remarkable care and performing innovative research. Through the myriad careers ahead of them, these Badgers will maintain commitment to a vision of healthy people and healthy communities.

The school’s health professions programs — Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Master of Genetic Counselor Studies, Master of Physician Assistant Studies and Master of Public Health — held graduate recognition ceremonies from Thursday, May 9 through Saturday, May 11, as did many basic sciences graduate degree programs affiliated with the school.

Celebrations continued into Friday evening at the UW–Madison commencement ceremony for doctoral, master of fine arts and health professions graduates. Basic sciences master’s degrees were conferred during the Saturday commencement ceremony at Camp Randall stadium.

MD Graduate Recognition Ceremony: reflections on hard-earned lessons

Azure skies reflected by a shimmering Lake Mendota greeted MD graduates at the Memorial Union at UW–Madison. The class of 2024 began their studies at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, an event that shaped the start of their medical education. In his remarks to graduates, Dean Robert N. Golden, MD, highlighted their unprecedented experience and how it shaped their learning.

“You are a very special class,” Golden said. “Most of you started your training here during the very dark, early days of the COVID pandemic. You have emerged from that fiery crucible with strong mettle, and hopefully with several lessons learned beyond what is taught in the classroom or through our formal curriculum.”

“COVID taught all of us about the need to continue to integrate medicine and public health. COVID also demonstrated the wisdom of societal investments in research, which made it possible for us to very quickly develop safe and effective vaccines and treatments. Beyond COVID, we see this every day in other vitally important areas, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and autoimmune disorders.”

Golden described how pandemic insights directly translate to other contemporary health issues, such as the importance of communication and the impact of health disparities in underserved communities. These lessons continue to inform emerging issues, such as use of artificial intelligence in medicine, health impacts of climate change, and the emergence of new pathogens.

“Can the medical community lead the way in creating widespread recognition that access to good health and health care is a fundamental human right rather than a commodity?” he asked. “Now, the answers to these enormous important questions and challenges are in your hands.”

Student-selected faculty speaker Maxfield Flynn, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor of medicine heavily involved in medical education and mentorship. Flynn described how teaching medical students has challenged him to improve himself, his medical knowledge, and his approach to teaching and mentoring.

“You’ve asked me provocative questions and sometimes proposed no-win impossible scenarios,” Flynn said. “You’ve made me re-evaluate my thoughts about social justice, stigma in medicine, different learning abilities, and our ways of teaching. You challenge me to try new things and think new thoughts. It is frustrating and difficult and inspiring all at the same time. Thank you.”

Flynn shared three tenets he has learned through teaching — the value of humility, curiosity and kindness — and reflected on each.

“Our training as physicians is very long, and during that duration of time, it is inevitable that we all will go through trials and difficulties,” he said. “And yet through some of the hardest times, I have seen you offer comfort and support to each other. I’ve seen you express incredible kindness and empathy to our patients. And I love to be around it and to be a part of your learning because you remind me of what it takes to be a great physician.”

The event’s student speaker was Joshua Martens, who was chosen by his peers. Martens, who is a native of the Milwaukee suburb Franklin, Wisconsin, earned his undergraduate degree at UW–Madison majoring in neurobiology and kinesiology.

During medical school, Martens was selected for induction into national medical honorary society Alpha Omega Alpha, performed research in interventional and diagnostic radiology, and served as a peer leader and mentor to undergraduates interested in pursuing medicine.

“All of us started our journey to becoming physicians long before we ever arrived at the school,” Martens said. “Some of us dreamed of becoming doctors since we were kids, others discovered our calling on campus, volunteering in clinics, or while working in other professions. Nonetheless, our graduation today represents the culmination of years of tireless work and great sacrifices of time, energy and opportunity. Moreover, we stand on the shoulders of many family members, friends and mentors who sacrificed so much to allow us to succeed.”

Joshua Martens
Joshua M. Martens, MD from Franklin, WI was selected by his peers to serve as the student speaker at the MD Graduate Recognition Ceremony on Friday, May 10. This honor also comes with being the first classmate to receive his doctoral hood.

Martens told the story of his great-grandfather, who came to the United States from Mexico to work difficult jobs in California, dreaming of opportunities for himself and his future family. In search of a better future, he moved to Illinois to work for a railroad company, where he climbed the ranks to become a leader at work and in his local community. It was there his great-grandfather met his great-grandmother, who had experienced her own hardships. Martens encouraged his peers to look to their ancestors for inspiration.

“There are many who persevered through hardship most of their lives, with only the ability to dream of the promise of our futures,” he said. “I know many of us along our medical journey have been told, whether by ourselves or others, ‘you will never make it,’ ‘the odds are against you,’ ‘consider a different path.’ There have been countless reasons to quit, yet we all stand here today, soon to be doctors, writing another chapter in our genealogical book of resilience and hard work.”

Cathryn Phouybanhdyt
Cathryn Phouybanhdyt from Waukesha, WI adjusts the traditional tam hat during the MD graduate recognition ceremony. Phouybanhdyt was a member of the Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health (TRIUMPH) program.

Among the other 172 graduating medical students in the class was Noah Trapp. After attending high school and college in Kansas, Trapp chose to work as a science teacher and eighth-grade baseball coach in the Mississippi Delta, one of the most under-resourced areas in the United States. There he witnessed the inequities his students faced in the classroom, and their struggles as they faced some of the worst health outcomes in the country.

During medical school Trapp participated in the global health program and conducted research to evaluate neurological outcomes in children with perinatal brain injury. He also founded a student interest group in neurology and volunteered with the MEDiC Free Clinics, while in his personal life he and his wife welcomed two children.

Trapp will pursue a residency in pediatric neurology at Mayo Clinic. He said this unique specialty will allow him to continue focusing on children, a passion that was sparked by teaching.

“I will have the opportunity to work with children and help study pediatric brains for the rest of my life, which I’m very excited about,” he said. “I love working with kids and I missed that about my work in the classroom, especially with children with special needs. Now I will get to work with them in the hospital and help them through some of the biggest challenges in their lives… I will always be a teacher at heart, and I can still be a doctor.”

Read more about Noah Trapp

The importance of representation in health care

Amanda DeVoss and Addie Agboola
Amanda DeVoss, academic director for the Physician Assistant program, with graduate Addie Agboola (right)

Aderoju (Addie) Agboola’s journey to becoming a physician assistant began when an assigned reading on Black maternal mortality stopped her in her tracks. She had also struggled to find a health care provider that looked like her — so she decided to become one.

She said she chose to pursue a physician assistant degree because of its versatility and alignment with her interests, from primary care and addiction medicine to neonatal care. She is one of 56 Physician Assistant graduates in the class of 2024.

“Most importantly, when patients who look like me walk into the room, they know that there are things they won’t have to explain because I will understand,” she said. “I chose UW because it was clear to me while filling out the application that they cared about your ‘why.’ One of the most meaningful experiences from my time at [the school] was actually in the classroom. I know how cliche this will sound but my class is excellent in every single way. I have grown more than I have ever expected, I have made friendships that I will hold on to.”

Agboola plans to work at a federally qualified health center to start a career in primary care. She said her goal is to be the type of provider that all patients trust, honoring the individuality that exists for all patients.

“I want to be all the things I looked desperately for in my providers,” Agboola said. “I want to cultivate a space for patients to feel like they matter, to feel that their choices are respected regardless of if they align with mine.”

Read more about Addie Agboola

‘Healing through movement’: a passion for physical therapy

Sue Wenker and Muzzy Chaudhry
Sue Wenker, Doctor of Physical Therapy program director, with graduate Muzzy Chaudhry (right)

Muzammil (Muzzy) Chaudhry is one of 38 Doctor of Physical Therapy program graduates who will join the health care workforce. Chaudhry was inspired to join the profession because of his passion for empowering patients to heal themselves through movement and reconnect with activities that bring them joy.

Originally from Chicago, Chaudhry earned a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies at UW–Madison, which provided a strong foundation for building deep relationships with patients and cultivating empathy. He said it also gave him a sense of the incredible support systems at the university, adding that the physical therapy program has introduced him to wonderful faculty and peers and cultivated an amazing learning experience.

“I am passionate about orthopedics and applying psychosocial strategies to health care to optimize patient outcomes,” Chaudhry said. “I chose physical therapy because of our ability to build strong patient connections. The program allows for a variety of extracurricular activities, maintains an amazing core faculty and has small class sizes. All of this makes every student feel valued and allows us to explore different aspects of the profession.”

One of his most meaningful experiences was creating a course called Cultural Humility for Health Equity, which he then offered to all UW School of Medicine and Public Health students. After graduation, Chaudhry is joining Mayo Clinic for an orthopedic residency.

“My dream is to split my time between being an orthopedic clinician and teaching both orthopedics and empathy coursework at a university,” he said. “I am excited to further expand my knowledge of orthopedic conditions and assist in teaching at their DPT program.”

Read more about Muzzy Chaudhry

Class of 2024 by the numbers

MD graduate photos by Todd Brown and Hallie Funk, SMPH Media Solutions