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SIU Medicine Grants Medical Degrees at 45th Commencement

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Sixty-five physicians and three graduate students at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine received their diplomas Saturday, May 18, in the Sangamon Auditorium at University of Illinois Springfield during the school’s 45th commencement.

This year’s commencement speaker was Senait Fisseha, MD, JD, director of International Programs at the Susan T. Buffet Foundation, responsible for distributing more than $300 million in annual grants to support reproductive health around the world. Originally from Ethiopia, Fisseha earned her legal degree at SIU in 1996 and her medical degree in 1999. She has specialized in women’s reproduction, endocrinology and infertility throughout her career as a provider, philanthropist, advocate for women’s rights and as a mother. Fisseha established the Center for International Reproductive Health Training at the University of Michigan and led fundraising efforts for an emergency obstetrics center in Addis Ababa, a city of 2 million in southern Ethiopia. She also is the recipient of the SIU School of Medicine’s 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her contributions to medicine and distinguished service to humankind.

Fisseha said, “History reminds us that progress is neither linear nor given.” She believes that troubling trends in US maternal mortality and an erosion of access to reproductive health care gives America’s newest physicians a moral imperative: “Use your voices, your platforms and your privileges whenever you can to help counter the larger societal and political forces that undermine science and basic human rights.”

During the ceremony, Class of 2019 Chair Brian Reinholz, MD, of Waterloo delivered remarks on behalf of the graduates. Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, awarded diplomas to the medical students, and Vice Chancellor Meera Komarraju conferred the degrees.

Faculty members and a graduating student also received awards. Martha Hlafka, MD (’09, at far left), an assistant professor and hospitalist physician in internal medicine, received the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. Class of 2019 graduate Emily Samson, MD (at left), and Christopher McDowell, MD (center left), an emergency medicine physician and the medical director of the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation, received the 2019 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Awards, presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

The new SIU physicians will begin residency training in their chosen specialties in July.

SIU Medicine’s mission is to assist the people of central and southern Illinois in meeting their health care needs through education, patient care, research and service to the community. Established in 1970, the medical school is based dually in Carbondale and Springfield and is specifically oriented to educating new physicians prepared to practice in Illinois communities. Since 1975, nearly 3,000 physicians, plus the 2019 graduates, have earned SIU medical degrees.

View the 2019 commencement recording at, pictures from the event at and graduate portraits at

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