Search IconSearch

Spring 2024 Alumni Awardees

We celebrate the exceptional achievements of four future alumni

3 Spring Awardees

We celebrate the exceptional achievements of four future alumni who are on the cusp of making significant contributions to medicine. Erika Schmidt, MD received the Graduate Level-One Award, Gustavo Roversi, MD, received the Alfred and Norma Stoller Award for Virtue-Based Leadership in Medical School, Alice Sonnino, MD received the Dr. Satoru and Grace Nakamoto Award, and Akshay Sharma, MD received the Alfred and Norma Stoller Award for Virtue-Based Leadership in Graduate Medical Education.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

We also express our gratitude to Education Institute Chair, James Stoller, MD, MS (Staff 86') and his family, for their generous support with the endowment of a chair for the Education Institute and the establishment of two annual awards celebrating virtue-based leadership. Congratulations to all the awardees and thank you to the Stoller family for their support.

Erika Schmidt, MD
Erika Schmidt, MD

Erika M. Schmidt, MD, is 2024 GL-1 Award Honoree

Erika M. Schmidt, MD, has received the 2024 Alumni Association Graduate Level-One Award for outstanding first-year performance. The award recognizes excellence in clinical practice, interpersonal communication and character, as well as unique accomplishments.

“I am both humbled and honored to receive the Graduate Level-One award,” Dr. Schmidt says. “Cleveland Clinic has provided an overwhelmingly supportive and welcoming environment to grow as a physician, and I believe being selected for this award reflects the incredible guidance and mentorship I have received from the residents, fellows, attending physicians, staff, and caregivers that I have been privileged to work with. I would not be the physician I am without them, and I look forward to continuing to learn alongside them while collaborating to provide patient care to the best of our abilities.”

In nominating Dr. Schmidt for the GL-1 Award, Ajita Prabhu, MD, FACS (Staff’16) said, “She is the consummate professional and will become an outstanding leader within the GME community at Cleveland Clinic. I think Erika brings leadership skills and maturity to the table that can be difficult to see at the intern level.”

Alexis Harvey, MD, MSPH noted, “She is hardworking, unyieldingly dedicated, patient and kind, and committed to patient care and excellent teamwork.”

Dr. Schmidt plans to pursue a colon and rectal surgery fellowship and, ultimately, become a colorectal surgeon. “I am particularly interested in the treatment of colon and rectal cancer and the opportunity to engage as a member of a multidisciplinary team to advocate for and support patients. I also am eager to practice in an academic setting and serve as a medical educator at the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

While working toward her degree at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Schmidt discovered her passion for surgery. “I loved every rotation I completed, but I found surgery to encompass all the best aspects of the job,” she says. “It’s a fast-paced and team-based environment, with an endless variety of pathology and acuity and a demand for both technical and cognitive expertise. Surgeons have an opportunity to establish and maintain relationships with patients across multiple phases of their care. My mentors in surgery have also been incredibly influential in helping me develop my passion and embrace the challenges and rewards that have come with following it, and I am indebted to them for their ongoing support.”

Dr. Schmidt says her first year at Cleveland Clinic has been “an unbelievable experience,” she says. “I am constantly amazed by the diversity of the patients and families we serve and the complexity of the comprehensive care we deliver. I have learned as much from providing care to my patients as from my patients, themselves. It is a unique opportunity and privilege to train at an institution surrounded by so many talented caregivers who exemplify compassion, dedication, and professionalism in their daily work. I am inspired by their example and encouraged to be my very best, even on the toughest days. I have loved becoming a part of DDI and the General Surgery residency program, and I am grateful to have so many co-residents who have become my family and have helped me feel at home in Cleveland.”

Dr. Schmidt says she also appreciates the work of Cleveland Clinic’s Alumni Association. “I want to thank them for making this award possible, and for their many ongoing efforts to support, recognize, and empower trainees as we pursue our goals as clinicians.”


Alice Sonnino, MD
Alice Sonnino, MD

Dr. Alice Sonnino Receives the Dr. Satoru and Grace Nakamoto Award

Alice Sonnino, MD, says she chose to pursue a residency in internal medicine “because it offers an opportunity to diagnose and manage a wide array of conditions affecting adults.” Her selection for the Dr. Satoru and Grace Nakamoto Medical Humanities and Leadership Development Award furthers her goal of helping the people of Mollepata, Peru.

“This award holds significance for me, as it provides both the means and the motivation to further a cause very close to my heart — the healthcare and empowerment of the community in Mollepata, where I volunteered in 2023,” she says. “My plan is to utilize these funds not merely to offer immediate healthcare services but to prioritize the provision of essential health education to the community. By equipping them with fundamental knowledge about health and wellness, the goal is to empower them to take charge of their own health journeys. This initiative aims to create a sustainable impact that transcends temporary aid, fostering a community that is informed, resilient, and capable of advocating for its own health and wellbeing.”

The Nakamoto Award, which includes $5,000 cash, goes to an individual whose peers and teachers identify attributes that embody true leadership qualities. An awardee shows a commitment to learning, superior communication abilities, and a mastery of medical skills. The recipient also demonstrates courage, integrity, and compassion, the highest ideals of clinical medicine. The award is intended to assist a recipient in developing a project to enhance their leadership and/or humanitarian activities in the emerging field of medical humanities.

“This recognition not only honors my efforts but also shines a spotlight on the small community I am deeply committed to representing,” Dr. Sonnino says. “I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to bring their stories and needs to the forefront.”

While earning her medical degree at Saint George’s University in Grenada, she was drawn to the breadth of possibilities offered by internal medicine. “This variety ensures that every day is different and filled with the challenge of solving complex medical puzzles,” she says. “Additionally, internal medicine lays a strong foundation for sub-specialization, allowing for flexibility in shaping my future career according to evolving interests.”

Dr. Soninno, a native of Rome, Italy, trains at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston, Florida, “an immensely gratifying and joyful experience for me,” she says. “This institution has not only offered a safe and nurturing environment for residents like myself to grow and expand our medical knowledge, but it also has encouraged us to be proactive learners. We are always pushed to delve deeper and learn more, under careful supervision.”

She credits Jared Piotrkowski, MD (Staff’12), Weston Site Director of Hospital Medicine and Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine Program at Cleveland Clinic, Weston, as being a mentor who helps shape her perspective on patient care.

“Dr. Piotrkowski’s influence on my medical journey has been both profound and transformative,” she says. “Every day, he challenges me with complex clinical scenarios that stretch my critical thinking. What sets him apart is not just his commitment to developing my diagnostic skills. He instills in his mentees the invaluable habit of asking ‘why’ and pushing us to look beyond the immediate management of a diagnosis to understand its underlying causes. This principle has been pivotal, broadening my perspective to see the larger picture in patient care. It’s not just about treating the condition at hand, but preventing its recurrence, ensuring a holistic approach to health that benefits patients far beyond their current state.”

While in training, she also has been able to pursue personal interests, she says, including volunteering in Peru. “This further exemplifies Cleveland Clinic Florida’s supportive culture that values holistic development.”


Her residency introduces her to a variety of complex cases, “including some that are rarities in other hospitals,” she says. “This has been particularly enriching, enhancing my clinical skills and medical curiosity.”

Dr. Sonnino, who is applying for a future fellowship in cardiology, says she plans to pass along the values of continuous learning and compassion to the next class of residents. “I am committed to upholding and perpetuating the legacy of excellence and personal growth that defines the Cleveland Clinic, believing that these core principles are essential not only to medical practice but also to nurturing the next generation of healthcare professionals.”

Gustavo Roversi, MD
Gustavo Roversi, MD

Gustavo Roversi Receives First Alfred and Norma Stoller CCLCM Award

Gustavo Roversi (CCLCM’24), the first recipient of the Alfred and Norma Stoller Award for Virtue-Based Leadership in Medical School, appreciates each of the seven classic virtues on which the award is based: trust, compassion, hope, justice, wisdom, temperance and courage.
“Compassion is the virtue that most resonates with me,” says Gustavo, a fifth-year Lerner College of Medicine student. “One of my goals is to use my experience and position to better the lives of those around me, drawing on the compassion that is deep in my heart.” In June, he begins his OB-GYN residency.

In nominating him for the award, Robert Wilson, DO (Staff’12) and S. Beth Bierer, PhD, Med (Staff’05), said, “We have witnessed, first-hand, Gustavo’s exceptional embodiment of the classic virtues.” They observed that he has “an excellent fund of knowledge and outstanding clinical skills,” and that his “balanced, moderate leadership approach is evident in his involvement in multiple venues. He contributes positively to the medical community.”

Gustavo was 6 years old when his family emigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela. “I lived in Venezuela every summer till I was 12,” he says. “I’m the third child and the only boy, with three sisters. I love it!”

While an undergraduate at Case Western University, Gustavo conducted research at Cleveland Clinic and then became a research technician in his gap year with Justin D. Lathia, PhD (RES/SCB'09). The first in his family to attend medical school, he was excited to be accepted into CCLCM.

“One of the reasons I wanted to stay here is that the school really supported me, encouraging me to go for what I wanted and to achieve my own dreams, to be who I wanted to be,” Gustavo says. “I could really thrive. This school honors compassion and has been supportive of all my projects and ideas.”

He was a first-year student in the medical school’s LGBTQ+ curriculum. “Jason Lambrese, MD (Staff’17), and so many faculty deans supported the need to increase the number of LGBTQ+ topics presented in the preclinical curriculum,” he says. “We had support from everyone, from the dean’s office to the education committee, and I presented our work to faculty and students in the State of the College address two years ago. That was my proudest moment.”

Medical schools often include only a few lectures in their curriculums concerning LGBTQ+ patients, he says. “We wanted to increase the number of topics integrated throughout the curriculum. I hope to focus my future work on the LGBTQ+ population. With Monica Yepes-Rios, MD (Staff’17), Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we’ve been able to do so much. She’s such a champion for all the students.”
His other Cleveland Clinic mentors include: Cecile Ferrando, MD, MPH (UG/PS’15), Robert Wilson, DO (Staff’12), Christine Warren, MD, MS, FAAD (CCLCM’09), and Roberto Vargas, MD (GYN/ON’18).


Gustavo says he is most inspired by speaking with patients. “They are at a very vulnerable time of their lives. I hold that emotional space for them, while empowering and respecting their autonomy. For example, in my labor-and-delivery rotation, I had a patient who was about to deliver and needed some support. She only spoke Spanish, and so I got to use my Spanish to coach her through her delivery and reassure her that everything was going to be OK.”

He was not expecting to receive an award. “I’m truly honored and very surprised by the fact that all of these people were thinking of me,” Gustavo says. “I’ve really loved working at CCLCM. Cleveland Clinic is a place where I can use who I am, including my emotional intelligence and connectedness. I am a born advocate, and this is a field that really needs advocates because a lot of patients are disenfranchised. I want to empower them.”

Akshay Sharma, MD
Akshay Sharma, MD

Akshay Sharma, MD, Receives First Alfred and Norma Stoller GME Award

Akshay Sharma, MD, a sixth-year medical resident who helped found a neuroscience program for Cleveland high school students, is the first recipient of the Alfred and Norma Stoller Award for Virtue-Based Leadership in Graduate Medical Education.

“It’s an incredible honor to be selected for this recognition, especially in the award’s inaugural year,” Dr. Sharma says.

In 2021, Dr. Sharma and other residents started Brainstormers to inspire students to consider careers in the field of neuroscience. Since the program’s inception at the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine at John Hay High School, Cleveland Clinic residents have voluntarily presented monthly sessions, with lectures and practical demonstrations of clinical skills. Students learn about topics including traumatic brain injury and awake brain surgery, and they engage in discussions on medical ethics, moral judgement and medical costs. In addition, the residents inform students about a variety of careers in the field, such as nursing, electrophysiology and imaging, and practitioners have been invited to speak, as well.

The Alfred and Norma Stoller Award grant of $2,000 will support a student’s summer internship at Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Sharma says. The internship is conducted in partnership with the Center for Youth in College Education and includes formal shadowing, direct mentorship, and didactics.

Dr. Sharma grew up in Orange County, California, and graduated from Harvard University and Case Western University’s School of Medicine. He plans to pursue a career in pediatric epilepsy surgery and neurosurgery. On receiving an earlier Alumni grant award, he said, “It’s the human connection in neurosurgery that I’ve always been drawn to. As a resident, I talk to a lot of patients, as well as their families. Having the privilege to listen to someone as they divulge their deepest fears and anxieties, or to speak with their spouse in the middle of the night, is both difficult and special.”

He remains committed to his vision for Brainstormers, which he and other residents established to address a lack of diversity in the field of neuroscience.

“Socioeconomic pressures make it hard to get in if you don’t have someone ahead of you to help,” he says. “A lot of kids are systematically excluded, and these opportunities don’t open themselves up.” His goal is to provide insight into a career field that students may not have known about otherwise.


Some of the program’s “simplest and most meaningful” sessions focus on the team’s experience as doctors and how students can create a path for themselves in medicine or related fields in clinical neuroscience, he says.

"We also hope to provide ample opportunity for our surgical residents to engage with, and to support the community that surrounds and supports them during their medical training.”

He notes that although the residents who volunteer are not full-fledged neurosurgeons, “they can take someone under their wing and say, ‘I would like to help you.’ Our program inspires them to fill a role that, in many cases, they are not expected to fill. What I’m most excited about is that special part of our program that is being recognized. We plug students informally into mentorship.”

Throughout his time at Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Sharma says, he has received encouragement for this work. “Richard Schlenk, MD (NS’03), our Program Director, has given us the time to go to John Hay, and the Chief Residents also have been very supportive. It’s a department effort that people feel passionate about.”

He says other mentors include Michael Steinmetz, MD (NS’05), William Bingaman, MD (NS’96), Demitre Serletis, MD, PhD (NS/ES’13), Richard Rammo, MD (NS/E’21), Edward Benzel, MD (Staff’99), and Deborah Benzil, MD, FACS, FAANS (Staff’18).

Dr. Sharma values all of the classic virtues that the Stoller Award extolls, he says, but adds that two, in particular, stand out: hope and justice.

“Dr. Steinmetz once asked, ‘How are you going to change the field and the world?’ I appreciated that question. A key to me with the program is that it generates hope for us and the kids. It’s rejuvenating to work with them. Another value is justice. We are increasing equity and access, helping to open doors and increase their awareness.”

Related Articles