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Distinguished Alumna

Distinguished Alumna Builds Upon NSU Experience to Thrive in Career in Pediatric Medicine  

As a pediatric hospitalist for Miami Children’s Health System, NSU alumna Maria Behnam-Terneus benefits every day from her undergraduate years at the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography.

Behnam-Terneus, D.O., graduated from the college in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in psychology. She continued her education at NSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine where she graduated in 2009, followed by a three-year pediatric residency and one year as chief pediatric resident at Miami Children’s Hospital (which was recently renamed Nicklaus Children’s Hospital).

Today, Behnam-Terneus is thriving in a career she loves while juggling roles as a clinician, program administrator, educator, and a mentor to pediatric residents. She was recently honored with NSU’s 2015 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.

She credits her preparation for medical school and her career to faculty mentoring, small class sizes, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and opportunities such as NSU’s Dual Admission Program.

“The variety of ways I could be involved in different organizations and develop my leadership skills was something that I really gained during my undergraduate years. It gave me the broad background that you should be getting as an undergraduate to expose you to different things out in the world,” Behnam-Terneus said.

“As an undergraduate, I was very involved in extracurricular activities. I had the opportunity to participate in many student leadership positions. The ability to learn and grow from those experiences helped lead me into pursuing leadership and mentoring roles in my profession.” Behnam-Terneus was a leader in NSU’s Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) Biological Honor Society, Greek life, and student government.

“I was very involved in student life. I was president of my sorority. I ran for president of student body in my senior year. In medical school, I tried to continue that kind of involvement.”

As a participant in the Dual Admission Program—“a great opportunity”—she had a reserved spot in NSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. In 2009, she was the recipient of the Morton and Mary Smith Achievement Award bestowed to students who exhibit service and leadership, scholarship, integrity, and personal growth.

Robin Sherman, Ph.D., professor and associate dean at the college, remembers Behnam-Terneus as “an excellent student who was always willing to go above and beyond what was asked of her and to help her classmates do the same. I still have a picture of her (along with her Tri-Beta board colleagues) in my office,” Sherman said.

“The professors I had in the biology program always encouraged me. They were very involved and vested in their students’ education and in mentoring students in their future endeavors,” said Behman-Terneus, who remembers Sherman as a mentor who taught her biology and anatomy labs.

“Dr. Sherman was very encouraging in the sciences overall and in speaking of her own personal experience,” she said. “I remember her labs distinctly. She exposed us to a lot of the up-and-coming technology in medicine. It’s inspiring anytime you can associate a strong female presence in the STEM field. Women are still a minority.”  

As a pediatric hospitalist, Behnam-Terneus treats patients admitted to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. In addition, she is an associate program director of the hospital’s pediatric residency program and associate program director of the pediatric hospitalist fellowship program (training which follows residency).

“It’s the perfect job for me. I really enjoy what I do,” said Behnam-Terneus, who is a wife and mother and the first member of her family to join the health field. “I enjoyed taking care of people and animals very early on in life. When I got to middle school and high school and I was exposed to the sciences, I enjoyed it that much more.”

As a medical educator, “you are in an intellectually stimulating atmosphere. You’re surrounded by residents, so you are keeping up with the latest information and recommendations because that’s what you need to teach them. You are surrounded by colleagues who discuss difficult cases and who work together. In my administrative role, I love mentoring the students and seeing them develop and come through their three years of residency.

“The leadership qualities I developed at NSU have helped me in my professional career,” Behnam-Terneus said. “Learning the ins and outs—even simple things like Robert’s Rules of Order, how to organize a meeting, going to a national convention—it’s rewarding to me now because a lot of what I do involves administrative duties and leadership roles.”

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