Medical Students Criticize School in St. Kitts

By Acton, Robin | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

Medical Students Criticize School in St. Kitts


Acton, Robin, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


A new semester is under way at a Latrobe man's Caribbean medical school, where former students said they endured verbal abuse, learned under unsafe conditions and witnessed improper treatment of cadavers.

Meanwhile, government officials in St. Kitts continue to investigate St. Theresa's Medical University, opened in 2005 by Thomas M. Uhrin, 43, of 17 Barbara Road.

St. Theresa's is among about two dozen for-profit medical schools throughout the Caribbean that are popular among Americans denied admission to U.S. schools for various reasons, including a lack of space or because the students do not have sufficient grades, test scores or money. With no uniform application procedures, admission requirements and curriculum standards, the schools often don't prepare students for U.S. licensing exams, medical education experts said.

Six former St. Theresa's students -- from New York, Michigan and Ohio -- contacted the Tribune-Review after reading a Jan. 1 story about the school headquartered in Latrobe. During separate, corroborating phone interviews, each described a volatile atmosphere punctuated by frequent displays of foul language, ethnic slurs, screaming and tantrums from Uhrin and the school's president, registered nurse Jeffrey Irwin, 42, also of 17 Barbara Road.

With graphic detail, the students also revealed they participated in anatomy classes where dissected human body parts -- including a cadaver's face -- were thrown out in the regular school garbage.

The former students said they were among 17 medical and pharmacy students enrolled during the initial fall semester in September 2005. They said 15 quit before it was over.

"We all left when we found out it wasn't legitimate," said Danny Israilov, who transferred to a physician's assistant program in New York.

Uhrin did not respond to requests for comment. Irwin said classes resumed after the holidays for an undisclosed number of students. When asked to comment further, he lashed out at a reporter with a barrage of foul language, threatened legal action and hung up.

Uhrin was fired in 2004 from the International University of Health Sciences in St. Kitts for falsifying his academic credentials, according to R.J. Simms, vice president of administration and finance. Uhrin has admitted that he did not complete his medical training after earning a degree from Central American Health Sciences University and that he has never been licensed as a physician.

Former student Mary Anne Sukonik, a medical transcriptionist for 25 years, said Uhrin's lack of training was apparent during her classes at the school, which charges $6,500 tuition per semester.

Sukonik, 46, of Warren, Ohio, said Uhrin -- the school's chancellor and executive dean -- was teaching an anatomy class using a rotund male cadaver when fatty tissue was removed from the body and thrown into an open bucket on the floor. She said the contents were discarded with the regular garbage.

"On the last day, we pulled the face off. The face went in the bucket. That's the epitome of sacrilege. Even if the man donated his body, he had a right to have it treated properly," Sukonik said.

Dr. Patrick Martin, chief medical officer in the St. Kitts Ministry of Health, said the law requires those dealing with medical waste to follow guidelines developed by the World Health Organization that call for secure containment and disposal of tissue, fluid and recognizable body parts. Martin, who had been unaware St. Theresa's uses cadavers until an October interview with the Tribune-Review, was disturbed by Sukonik's allegations.

"If that did occur, it would be horrible. These things should be disposed of in a safe, sanitary and dignified manner," Martin said. …

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