SUNY Downstate profile: Maxwell Thomas

maxwell thomas not as washed out

Maxwell Thomas scrubbed in to this first surgery at 14. His uncle, a surgeon, invited Maxwell to observe an operation during a visit to India. Everything made an impression – from the patient, a young man who walked into the office wearing a scarf in 105-degree heat to hide the growth on his neck, to watching the first incision of a tracheotomy.

It was intense, part of a trip that included a visit to a leper colony, Maxwell said, but the experience fueled his interest in medicine. He watched doctors in India work in an imperfect system, often for low pay, “because they loved it,” he said. “There are surgeons who do really complex and beautiful surgeries for people who wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Maxwell came to Downstate interested in primary care, but will explore all of Downstate’s opportunities. He is researching the effects of tonsillectomy right now on asthma patients in a clinical ENT project at Kings County Hospital.

Maxwell hopes to volunteer at the Brooklyn Free Clinic, a student-run clinic for the uninsured supported by SUNY Downstate College of Medicine alumni. He couldn’t get a spot this year, but will apply again. “It’s a great organization,” he said. It’s a continuation of care for the underserved he first witnessed in India, while being a uniquely Downstate student institution. “It seems like more of us are involved than aren’t involved.”

SUNY Downstate alumni fund the Brooklyn Free Clinic, nearing its tenth year of providing hands-on educational medical experience to students, and vital community health service to Brooklyn.

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The Brooklyn Free Clinic: Increasing Interest and Need


James Wong (center) and fellow SUNY Downstate students are briefed before the Brooklyn Free Clinic opens on a recent Wednesday.

The Brooklyn Free Clinic has reached its tenth anniversary, and the caseload is increasing, student leaders said. The East Flatbush clinic is a haven for the uninsured and underserved, connecting hundreds of Brooklyn residents to primary care annually.

SUNY Downstate fourth-year James Wong said the experience has guided his medical education.
“It’s been a big part,” James said. “Inspiration is a silly word, but working in this clinic has solidified my commitment to the underserved.”

Every Wednesday night, from 5 to 10 p.m., students screen 15 to 17 adults for primary care, which works out to 200 to 300 patients annually, said Jack Hessburg, SUNY Downstate fourth-year student and volunteer chief operating officer.

He helps coordinate the patients, volunteers and attending physicians, working alongside Downstate student nurses, occupational and physical therapists, health educators and steering committees. The Brooklyn Free Clinic is a hospital in miniature.

“It’s been great to learn how capably other professions work together,” Jack said, in the PhD program and progressing toward a career in emergency medicine.

The dozen or so patients waiting for the clinic to open could be suffering from anything, Jack said. If it’s an emergency, they go to the ER at Kings County Hospital. Most are longitudinal patients suffering from diabetes, for example, or people in their twenties and thirties between insurance providers.

There is a greater student interest, and greater need for the clinic in the community, Jack said. The Brooklyn Free Clinic, however, is at capacity for both volunteers and patients. Expansion will come with time, donations and a new location, potentially closer to the Downstate campus.

The current facility operates during the day at 840 Lefferts Ave. as UHB Family Health Services.

Downstate student volunteerism has spilled out into the community with blood pressure screenings and patient education, and a partnership with Health and Education Alternatives for Teens (HEAT). But as far as the clinic goes, Jack said, “We are over capacity, almost always.”

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SUNY Downstate Reunion May 19-20, 2017


An invitation to the SUNY Downstate medical classes of ’57 through ’12 (all years ending in sevens and twos).

As you plan your 2017 getaways, mark down a visit to Brooklyn in May. We’ll eat, drink, dance, award achievements, hear and deliver scientific lectures (for CME credit), and reconnect over the course of a weekend at the New York Marriott, Brooklyn Bridge.

We’re finalizing a few details, but right now, you can:

Volunteer to be a Reunion Class Chair for your class year.

Let us know your achievements, or nominate another alumni in a reunion year for an award. Click here for a 2017 Alumni Awards Nomination Sheet.

Let us know if you would like to speak for the Scientific Session, or nominate a classmate. Click here for a Scientific Speaker Form.

Buy an ad in the 2017 Reunion Journal. The journal will serve as a program for the entire weekend, and contain award bios and more. Click here for a 2017 Journal Agreement for Class Funds.

Call 718-270-2075, email alumni(at), for more information, or write:
SUNY Downstate Alumni Association – College of Medicine
450 Clarkson Ave. Room BSB 1-6
Brooklyn, NY  11203-2098

Alumni support for medical education since 1850. Give today!

In the 150-plus years since the College of Medicine was founded, there have been over 10,000 medical school graduates. By making a gift you help secure our continued role, because change begins here!


White Coat Ceremony 2015, one of many student programs funded by alumni

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Article by Peter Lenehan, MD, ’84, SUNY Downstate alumnus: Generation and External Validation of a Tumor-Derived 5-Gene Prognostic Signature for Recurrence of Lymph Node-Negative, Invasive Colorectal Carcinoma


One in 4 patients with lymph node-negative, invasive colorectal carcinoma (CRC) develops recurrent disease after undergoing curative surgery, and most die of advanced disease. Predicting which patients will develop a recurrence is a significantly growing, unmet medical need.


To the authors’ knowledge, the 5-gene rule (OncoDefender-CRC) is the first molecular prognostic that has been validated in both stage I CRC and stage II colon cancer. It outperforms standard clinicopathologic prognostic criteria and obviates the need to retrieve ≥12 lymph nodes for accurate prognostication. It identifies those patients most likely to develop recurrent disease within 3 years after curative surgery and, thus, those most likely to benefit from adjuvant treatment. Cancer 2012. © 2012 American Cancer Society.

Click here for entire article: Lenehan et al., Cancer 2012 (1) (1)


This chart illustrates the ability of the 5-gene molecular signature to differentiate lymph node-negative, invasive colorectal cancer (CRC) tumors in the external validation set (n = 264) for patients at “low risk” versus patients at “high risk” of developing a recurrence within 36 months after surgery. CI indicates confidence interval; HR indicates hazard ratio.

Downstate medical alumni and students! We would love to feature your peer-reviewed publications and presentations given at national conferences. Contact us at

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First Chinese graduate of an American medical school was possible early Downstate alumn

Old Newspapers
Old Newspapers

Dr. Joseph Thoms was a very early alumnus of one of the precursors to SUNY Downstate, and purported to be the first ethnically Chinese person to graduate from any American medical school. Read more in this New York History article by Scott Seligman.

Thoms “lived most of his life in Brooklyn, where he established America’s first modern hospital for Chinese patients. A strong civil rights advocate at a time when his community could boast few of them, he spoke out frequently and forcefully against the injustices to which Chinese in America were subjected.”

Downstate students run the TCS NY Marathon to benefit the Brooklyn Free Clinic


Four Downstate second-year students will run the 2015 TCS New York Marathon November 1 to raise money for the Brooklyn Free Clinic.

Daniel Burack, Kenny Chao, Emmy Coleman and Cole Murphy-Hockett, all from the Class of 2018, will run 26.2 miles through New York’s five boroughs for Brooklyn’s uninsured.

The student-run clinic provides primary care, screenings and education for the uninsured. The services are funded by grants and alumni donations, exclusively.

Daniel Burack, from New Rochelle, has run two half-marathons, including the 2015 Brooklyn half, but this will be his first marathon. He’s looking forward to the challenge, and proud to run on behalf of the clinic.

“It’s a phenomenal organization, a sort of clinical oasis in which everyone I’ve met is singularly dedicated to improving the lives of others through effective and conscientious medical care,” Daniel said. “I personally have been involved with RISE, a screening organization which provides counseling and free HIV and Hepatitis C testing. It’s been an unbelievable experience thus far, and I’ve been able to develop a sort of kinship with patients through interviews and powerful conversations.”

The TCS New York Marathon guarantees entry to runners running for charity, and publicizes a link to the charity site. Runners, however, are responsible to meet their own fundraising pledges of at least $2,500.

The Brooklyn Free Clinic is staffed by volunteers, students and physicians from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, College of Health Related Professions, College of Nursing and School of Public Health.

To support the Downstate runners, visit, or email

For more information on the Brooklyn Free Clinic, visit and read our recent post on the Brooklyn center.

Alumni donations support scholarships, help students travel to conferences, fund the annual White Coat Ceremony and other projects, in addition to the Brooklyn Free Clinic.

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First-year Downstate students receive dozens of iPad minis to aid studies

The anonymous donor, a Downstate alumnus, reasons that mini Apple iPads accommodate more technological tools for medical students, and fit perfectly in white coat pockets. Students picked up the devices Oct. 5 and 6, 2015.

Downstate alumni support


SUNY Downstate alumni

Make a gift! SUNY Downstate Alumni Association

Research to help 50 million worldwide

Omid Amidi, Vice President of Communication/Secretary, Medical Council Class of 2017, M.D. Candidate, SUNY Downstate College of Medicine
Omid Amidi, Vice President of Communication/Secretary, Medical Council Class of 2017,
M.D. Candidate, SUNY Downstate College of Medicine

Student profile, Omid Amidi: Downstate student presents study to AMA

Omid Amidi, a third-year SUNY Downstate medical student, presents his findings on epilepsy and poly-pharmacy in November at the AMA Conference in Atlanta. The research grew from a project at Harbor-UCLA Biomedical between Omid’s first and second years. “We actually found positive results to reduce poly-pharmacy,” he said.

More than 50 million people have epilepsy worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

When Omid, 24, talks about the project, you sense his disposition toward medical education, as a whole —hard, but fulfilling and forward-moving work. During his OB/GYN rotation, Omid had the opportunity to guide a patient through several steps of care. He put Downstate’s emphasis on empathy and connection into practice, and his patient’s face brightened when he walked in the room.

“There’s always the pressure to perform academically here,” Omid said. “But also a lot of emphasis on patient care.”

His mother lives in California, his brother is a med student in the Caribbean, and most of his family lives in Persia, but Omid is busy in Brooklyn studying medicine. He hopes to enter a surgical sub-specialty, and possibly pursue a path towards becoming a medical educator or academic researcher. “Depending on my residency,” he said. “The next two years will determine a lot.”

Alumni support: helping students reach conferences

In 2014, 21 Downstate medical students received a total $13,000 for economical travel, overnight stays and food, to be able to present research at conferences across the US. The funds are donated by SUNY Downstate alumni, and are distributed as Alumni Fund’s Support for Students Presenting at Conferences.

Click here for information on the travel support program

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