The president of the first class to graduate from the University of Arizona College of Medicine (1971) will address the incoming Class of 2014 at the College’s 16th annual White Coat Ceremony, Friday, Aug. 6, 5 to 6:30 p.m., in Centennial Hall on the UA Main Campus in Tucson.
Neurosurgeon Volker K.H. Sonntag, MD, vice chairman emeritus, Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix, and professor of clinical surgery at the UA College of Medicine, will deliver the keynote address, “The Privilege to Care.”
“These medical students are entering a world that is mysterious, exciting, enlightening and, yes, difficult,” says Dr. Sonntag. “You want to help people. You want to care. You want to fulfill what you think it means to be a good doctor. Only medical doctors integrate art, science and research to touch human beings, patients. Only medical doctors can take knowledge and discoveries from research and apply them directly to human beings. My message to them is, once you put on that white coat you will have the satisfaction of helping people in a way that no other profession can offer.”
As they embark on their quest to become the physicians of the future, 115 first-year UA medical students who will attend classes on the Tucson campus will recite their class mission statement and don white coats for the first time, acknowledging their entrance into the medical profession and the special bond they will have with patients, colleagues and teachers from the first day of medical school, Monday, Aug. 2. Each coat will have a “Humanism in Medicine” lapel pin, symbolizing a commitment to providing compassionate and competent patient care, provided by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.
The UA White Coat Ceremony is sponsored in memory of Jeffrey T. Fulginiti by Shirley and Vince Fulginiti, MD, and their family.
White Coat Ceremonies were initiated in 1993 by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a public foundation established in 1989 to foster humanism in medicine, at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. Today, ceremonies are held at most schools of medicine and osteopathy in the United States. “By establishing this meaningful ritual at the beginning of medical school, students become aware of their responsibilities from the first day of training,” according to the foundation.
A reception immediately follows the ceremony on the Centennial Hall plaza.
About Dr. Sonntag
Volker K.H. Sonntag, MD, was born Nov. 23, 1944, in Graudenz, Germany, to Heinz and Gisela (née Albrecht) Sonntag. His family immigrated to America in 1957 and settled in Arizona (where he was amazed to discover that oranges grew on trees).
He continued his education, graduating in 1967 from Arizona State University in Tempe with a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry (summa cum laude).
From 1967 to 1971, he attended the University of Arizona College of Medicine, where he served as president of his graduating class.
In 1972, after completing an internship at the UA College of Medicine, Dr. Sonntag moved to Tufts-New England Medical Center Hospital in Boston, Mass., to train as one of the first residents under Bennett M. Stein, MD, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery. He completed a residency in neurological surgery in 1977.
Dr. Sonntag practiced in Youngstown, Ohio, for a year before moving to Phoenix in 1978 to practice neurosurgery. In 1983, he joined the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI), where he served as vice chairman of the Division of Neurological Surgery and as chairman of the Spine Section from 1984 to 2009. He also served as director of the spine fellowship program from 1988 to 2009 and as director of the residency program from 1995 to 2009. In 2000, he assumed the endowed Alumni Chair for Spine Research at BNI.
He was appointed clinical associate professor of surgery at the UA College of Medicine in 1985 and was promoted to professor of clinical surgery in 1989.
Dr. Sonntag retired from practicing neurosurgery in January 2010 but remains at BNI as vice chairman emeritus. BNI is constructing the Sonntag Education Pavilion to honor his contributions to neurosurgery, especially to spinal neurosurgery. The state-of-the-art facility will include electronic audio and video equipment to accommodate lectures, live surgery demonstrations and educational conferences.
Dr. Sonntag has received many awards for his contributions to teaching and mentoring of young neurosurgeons, an aspect of his career to which he has a strong personal commitment. At BNI, he received the Teacher of the Year Award seven times. In 2000, he was chosen “Mentor of the Millennium” by his residents. He also was selected as “Honored Guest for Lifetime Leadership and Mentoring to Young Neurosurgeons” by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ Young Neurosurgeons Committee. In 2001, the North American Spine Society established its first named fund, the Volker K.H. Sonntag Fund for research. In 1999, the Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves established the Volker Sonntag Fellowship Award to encourage clinical research. Nominated by his BNI residents, Dr. Sonntag received the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Parker J. Palmer “Courage to Teach” award in 2006.
Dr. Sonntag also has received many honors for his community service, research and outstanding achievements. In 1981, he was elected an honorary alumnus of Alpha Omega Alpha (the national medical honor society) for his outstanding accomplishments as a member of the UA College of Medicine Class of 1971. In 1982, he was elected a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. In 1987, he received the UA College of Medicine Alumni Medal. He was a member of the Think First National Board between 1994 and 1998, testifying to his strong commitment to the prevention of spinal cord injuries. In 1999, he received the Meritorious Service Award from the Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves. In 2003, he was awarded the Phoenix Business Journal’s Health Care Hero award and in 2004 he received the ASU Alumni Achievement Award. Dr. Sonntag received the highest award in neurosurgery when he was named the honored guest of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons in 2002.
Through laboratory and clinical research, Dr. Sonntag has devoted his career to improving the understanding of spinal disorders, especially cervical and upper cervical spine disorders. He has written more than 90 chapters for neurosurgical texts and more than 400 journal articles. He is co-editor of five major textbooks: Principles of Spinal Surgery, Essentials of the Spine, Surgical Treatment of Discogenic Diseases of the Spine, Kempe’s Operative Neurosurgery and Surgery of the Craniovertebral Junction. He also has served as a section editor of the spine volume for the last two editions of Youman’s Neurological Surgery. His surgical and scientific expertise is highly esteemed by his peers, as evidenced by his current service on 11 editorial boards, including Neurosurgery, Journal of Neurosurgery, Acta Neurochirurgica and Spine.
He also is a highly sought speaker and has given more than 900 presentations at institutions, professional meetings and universities around the world. He has been an invited visiting professor at more than 60 institutions.
In addition to his academic, teaching and clinical obligations, Dr. Sonntag has been an active member and leader in many professional neurosurgical and spine societies throughout his career, holding more than 20 professional memberships. Since 1980, he has been a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and served on about a dozen committees over the years, notably as a member of the executive committee from 1985-1993. A member of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons since 1982, he served as the organization’s vice president from 2001-2002, as chairman for the Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves from 1992-1993, and has been a member of the Professional Conduct Committee since 2008. He also has served as president of the Rocky Mountain Neurosurgical Society (1991-1992), the North American Spine Society (2000-2001) and the American Academy of Neurological Surgery (2003-2004). He is a member of the Neurosurgical Society of America and was elected to the Society of Neurological Surgeons in 1991, serving as chair of the membership committee in 1993-1994. Dr. Sonntag served as a director with the American Board of Neurological Surgery from 1998-2004. In 2005, he became a member of the Residency Review Committee for Neurosurgery with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and has served as vice chairman since 2009.
Above all, Dr. Sonntag is devoted to his family. He has been married to his wife, Lynne, a pediatric nurse practitioner, since 1974. They have three children: Alissa, who graduated from the University of California Los Angeles in 2000 with a degree in communications (summa cum laude) and resides with her husband in the San Clemente area; Christopher, who graduated from ASU and works in the marketing department for the San Diego Chargers; and Stephen, who will be a sophomore at ASU this fall. Dr. Sonntag is an accomplished medical philatelist (collector of stamps related to medicine) and an avid aficionado of vintage comedic cinema. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching soccer (for more than 16 years), gardening and spending time with his family.