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School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

June 21, 2017

You’re only as good as your team

Dear Colleagues-Friends,

Today, we welcome 142 new physician-colleagues to our VCU family. We are joined by our PGY1 residents, 29 of whom are VCU SOM graduates and many of whom come from all across the U.S. – and beyond, even this year from Australia! These vital and talented new colleagues will be the “front line physicians” for our health system, often being the first contact with patients and their relatives. How they practice will reflect on all of us.

Please welcome and support these great new doctors. They will need – and deserve – our attention and support during this formative transition of their early careers. Your wisdom, experience, mentorship and support will be invaluable to them. Please also watch out for future leadership, educational, research and quality science opportunities for them so that they can maximize their learning experiences with us.

Our thanks also to Drs. Aboff and Call, each departmental program director and GME program leaders and their staff for bringing such fine doctors to VCU.

I’m ever grateful to you for the warm welcome to my wife Leonie and I over the last few months as we have transitioned to this terrific community. Similarly, please let’s welcome and support our newest team members. They will make us proud.

Thank you for your leadership.

Warm regards,

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

May 25, 2017

The work that we do at academic medical centers… a (too) well kept secret?!

Dear Colleagues-Friends,

These past few days we’ve had the opportunity and privilege to participate in the VCUHS Community Internship Program. Our group included senior leaders in our community, all of whom voluntarily took two days away from their busy schedules to learn more about our Health System.

We had the opportunity to learn from and experience first-hand as we toured various units throughout our hospital – a great many of our VCU team members – each of whom displayed impressive knowledge, commitment and joy in serving our academic healthcare mission. We toured the operating rooms, SOM Simulation Center, the children’s in-patient units and CHoR Pavilion, the molecular laboratory, the NICU, the emergency department, morning safety call, the cardiac cath lab, radiology department, the Massey Cancer Center, Department of Corrections secure unit, epilepsy monitoring unit and in-patient rehabilitation. Excellence, compassion, and commitment was evident everywhere we visited. During the community internship, our distinguished guests also learned about the safe and successful delivery of sextuplets – a remarkable accomplishment that can only happen so successfully at a high functioning, quality driven health system with great clinical teams. With all that our guests observed, they were glowing in their praise of all their experiences and uniformly said “We had no idea about all the great things going on here!”

The appreciation of community leaders for what we do – when they can then be powerful ambassadors for VCU – is priceless.

Thanks to all of you who supported and participated in this Community Internship. Please also extend thanks for Lauren Moore and her development team for putting together such a professional and powerful program.

As a complementary accompaniment to this “note of thanks,” we thought you might be interested in this “hot off the press” article from JAMA that demonstrates superior patient outcomes in academic medical centers. This is an important article. Hopefully, this will stimulate discussion in our academic and broader healthcare communities about the unique, vital, and complementary role that academic health centers – like ours – play in U.S. healthcare.

Thank you for your leadership and contributions to the remarkable quality of care given every day to people who seek treatment with us.

With every good wish,

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

May 17, 2017

PM&R Chair Cifu appointed Associate Dean for Innovation and Systems Integration

It is a pleasure and a privilege to announce that David X. Cifu, M.D, Herman J. Flax, MD Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation has been appointed as Associate Dean for Innovation and Systems Integration for the School of Medicine.

Dr. Cifu received his undergraduate and M.D. degree from Boston University. He then completed his Internship and Residency at Baylor College of Medicine in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). Dr. Cifu joined the staff at VCU as an Assistant Professor in 1991 and with an appointment at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, rising through the ranks to his current position (held since 1997) as Chair of the Department. He is the Chief of PM&R Services for the VCU Health System and the founding Director of the VCU-Center for Rehabilitation Sciences and Engineering (CERSE). He has dedicated much of his work to serving our veterans and active duty personnel and serves as the Senior TBI Specialist for the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

He has been funded on 42 research grants for over $135 million including currently serving as Principal Investigator of the VA/DoD $62.2 Million Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (CENC). He is well known and an invited lecturer regionally, nationally, and internationally and has published more than 215 scientific articles.

Dr. Cifu is uniquely skilled to fill this new role as Associate Dean for Innovation and Systems Integration. In addition to continuing to lead as PM&R departmental chair, in this expanded role he will now also advance the strategic goal of integrating across systems our scientific, clinical and educational developments in artificial intelligence
and biomarkers for traumatic and cognitive neuroscience. He will work collaboratively to support the physician workforce and leadership of the formative Sheltering Arms- VCU Health initiative. He will also advance our vital VA and DoD partnerships, both locally and nationally.

Please join me in congratulating Dr. Cifu on this strategic promotion.

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

May 15, 2017

A great day in the life of our medical school

Dear Colleagues-Friends,

Late last week our class of 2017 celebrated their successful training and on Saturday, 204 of these outstanding junior colleagues became doctors!

On Friday morning, we honored our military colleagues who in addition to becoming doctors, also received a promotion in rank. Dr. Chris Woleben gave excellent remarks on behalf of our school. Dr. Walter Lawrence was the keynote speaker and he reminded us that while much has changed over the 70 years since he graduated, the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship has not changed.

Drs. Susan DiGiovanni, Chris Woleben and the entire student affairs office then outdid themselves in hosting an outstanding hooding ceremony on Friday afternoon. Traditions were intermingled with reflections on the accomplishments of the class of 2017. There was a moving recollection of Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim, a student who tragically passed away in the first few weeks of the class of 2017. Dr. Jerry Strauss gave an excellent keynote address, highlighting how we continue to grow and develop as physicians throughout our careers.

On Saturday morning, the class of 2017 reassembled with those from the other VCU schools for the conferring of degrees and honors recognition. Honorary degrees were conferred to Mr. Bill and Mrs. Pam Royall, whose selfless giving to society and to VCU has been remarkable. Our graduates were well wished onto their next stage by Senator Tim Kaine, whose commencement speech echoed that of our faculty mentors to our students over the four years of their training: be great listeners.

All in all, it was a joyous time of reflection, of tradition and legacy, and of celebrating the great work of each and every one of you in turning out physicians who we can be proud of. To view the SOM 2017 convocation and hooding ceremony, you can watch it here: http://www.medschool.vcu.edu/gradweek2017/

Congratulations and thank you for your leadership and support in training the class of 2017 to now be today’s and tomorrow’s best doctors.

With best wishes,

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

May 15, 2017

A letter to the graduating Class of 2017

Dear Colleagues-Friends:

Today is a glorious day. Today, you wear the storied academic hood, with the proud VCU colors and the herbal green of medicine. Tomorrow, you become a physician.

You have worked so hard to get to this day. You have listened and learned, not only in Richmond, but also at the side of many of the best physicians across the Commonwealth, many of whom are your fellow VCU School of Medicine alumni. Your family and your medical school are very proud of you. Please take a few moments to be proud of yourself, and then look forward. You know as well as we do that the work – and the fulfillment – has only just begun.

On Friday May 12, Susan D. DiGiovanni, M.D., and Peter F. Buckley, M.D., sent a letter to the Class of 2017’s graduating M.D. students, congratulating them on their accomplishments.

You have chosen a profession that has great privilege but also great responsibility. You are privileged to become an important part of the lives of your patients and their families. In fact, the best doctors are like family members to their patients: each learns from and supports the other. This is true whether you are a family medicine physician who cares for patients over their lifetime or a pediatric heart surgeon who helps them through the worst possible days with great skill and compassion.

Essential to that responsibility is being a lifelong learner, eager to consume new knowledge about the body and mind, which is available today at an unprecedented pace. We sincerely hope that you will be a lifelong contributor to that knowledge as well, using your many gifts to not just repeat what others have done, but to find better ways to treat and prevent disease.

You also will be viewed as a leader in any circle you find yourself; in fact, the drive and personality that brought you to this day means you already are. Please always be mindful of this role as you work and live in your community. Show up for life and work to make a difference every day. As our Hippocratic Oath says, lead your life and practice your art with uprightness and honor.

Let part of making a difference include staying connected to your medical college to help ensure that we, like you, continue to learn, teach and lead. We are confident that, like so many alumni before you, VCU School of Medicine has given you stellar training that will stand the test of time. We anticipate, with pride, your future accomplishments, and we ask that you remain engaged with your alma mater.

Today and tomorrow, our entire community and the Commonwealth of Virginia celebrates your successes and our expectations of your great future as a physician leader.

Our best to you always,

Susan D DiGiovanni, M.D.
Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education
and Student Affairs
Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCUHS

April 13, 2017

Susan DiGiovanni, M.D., appointed Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education and Student Affairs

It is a pleasure and a privilege to announce that Susan DiGiovanni, M.D., Interim Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education and Student Affairs, will now assume the permanent role of Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education and Student Affairs. Dr. DiGiovanni has served in an interim capacity since 2015 and, among other accomplishments, she led the SOM to a highly successful, 8 year LCME reaccreditation in 2016. Dr DiGiovanni’s appointment is effective immediately.

An alumna of the VCU School of Medicine, Dr. DiGiovanni earned her medical degree in 1984 and went on to do her internal medicine and clinical nephrology training on the MCV Campus. She then joined a private practice in Harrisburg, PA, where she won teaching awards from the internal medicine training program.

Searching for larger challenges, she applied for and received an Intramural Research Training Award from the National Institutes of Health. She remained at the NIH for the next four years, publishing her work on the AQP-2 water channel in multiple journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and the American Journal of Physiology. She returned to VCU in 1995 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. She continued to do research on the regulation of sodium and water by the kidney while developing a particular interest in teaching medical students, residents and fellows. It is in this role that she has felt the most satisfaction, gradually shifting her role from physician-scientist to physician-educator. In 1999, she became the director of the second-year Renal Course, where she has been recognized as an outstanding educator. Five years later, DiGiovanni became the program director of the Nephrology Fellowship program.

Dr. DiGiovanni has served as a mentor in the HEART program since its inception. She has served as the chair of the Admissions Committee for the School of Medicine. In 2010, she joined the Dean’s office as Assistant Dean for the Preclinical curriculum. She was actively involved in the design and implementation of the new curriculum. Dr DiGiovanni is a tireless advocate for medical education who is committed to continued innovations in our medical training.

I’m grateful to Dr. Clive Baumgarten and the other colleagues on the search committee as well as the many other colleagues on the interview panel who strongly endorsed Dr. DiGiovanni for this position.

Please join me in congratulating Dr. DiGiovanni on this well-deserved promotion.

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

March 15, 2017

Pride in our accomplishments

Dear Colleagues-Friends,

In the short few weeks that I’ve been privileged to serve as your Dean, I’m constantly reminded of the talent at VCU and of the pride we share in the many accomplishments of our colleagues.

Last week, Dr. Stephanie Call and Ms. Deborah Davis formally accepted the Baldwin Award, on behalf of all of you. As Stephanie reminded us, the concepts that the Baldwin Award stand for – humanism, excellence in care, quality, leadership as a cohesive team, life-long learning – are the same concepts that inspire us in our daily work. This pride in our caring for others is also very much in evidence among the colleagues I meet as I round on units, the operating rooms, and in the ER.

It is noteworthy that this prestigious recognition of the Baldwin Award builds upon prior and more recent accomplishments in our continued quest in delivering excellent care: the 2014 McKesson Award, more Beacon awards than any academic medical center for nursing excellence in acute care, and the 2017 VCU “Top Docs” impressive listing.

Also, last week I heard the scientific presentations of our first year graduate students. The quality of their work and appreciation of the mentorship at VCU was inspirational. Additionally, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to meet with our scientists and to read an array of published work and stellar research.

I’ve also been reaching out to our major donors and community partners. These leaders repeatedly express their gratitude for the innovative research and quality of care at VCU. Their continued support shows: Through the efforts of many, the endowment at MCV Foundation is up 8% over prior year and 70% of the total fundraising comes to the MCV campus.

This week is a special week in the life of any medical school: on Friday, approximately 216 of our talented medical students find out their fate in the 2017 Resident Match. Whether they stay here or go to another top institution for the next phase of their medical training, rest assured that they will – always – be great ambassadors for our venerable medical school. Stay tuned for the match results on Friday and/or if you have a chance, swing by the Hippodrome at 11:00 am…it will be exhilarating.

Please note that “one of our own” – Dr. Sheldon Retchin, former VP for Health Sciences at VCU Health – will be on campus next week (3/22/17 at 4:30 pm, Kontos) to deliver the inaugural Jim & Sally Warden Parrott Lecture.

I have met many of you and have enjoyed learning of your research, teaching, and/or clinical activities. I’ve also received emails from many of you too, thank you. I appreciate your insights and all that each of you do for our school.

With best wishes,

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

January 18, 2017

On Jan. 17, Peter F. Buckley, M.D., assumed his post as the 24th dean of the medical school

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

It is an immense pleasure and a privilege to serve as Dean of this great medical school.
I look forward to working closely with you and with our community to advance our missions of discovery, education, clinical care and service.  I welcome your input – now and always – and I can be reached directly at: peter.buckley@vcuhealth.org

Thank you,
Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

Read more about Dr. Buckley’s appointment as the 24th dean of the medical school.

January 12, 2017

New Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education in the VCU School of Medicine & DIO for VCU Health System

Brian Aboff, M.D., has accepted the position of associate dean for Graduate Medical Education at the VCU School of Medicine and designated institutional official for the VCU Health System.

In his announcement about the recruitment, Ron Clark, M.D., chief medical officer of the VCU Health System, wrote, “Dr. Aboff is a nationally recognized leader in graduate medical education and brings a wealth of experience to this role.”

Aboff earned his undergraduate degree from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania and his M.D. degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. After completing his internal medicine residency at Vanderbilt, where he was also a chief resident, he served for three years as the chief of General Internal Medicine Services at USAF Medical Center Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio, and then joined Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Delaware. For the past 10 years, he has served as the program director for their Internal Medicine and Transitional Year residency programs and as associate program director for the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine-Internal Medicine combined programs. Since 2011, he has also served as the associate chair for education in the Department of Internal Medicine.

The current president of the Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine, Aboff has received numerous awards recognizing his teaching and leadership skills and has a number of publications in the graduate medical education domain.

Aboff will begin his new role at VCU in April. In the interim, Mary Alice O’Donnell, Ph.D., will complete her remarkable tenure as DIO at the end of January, after which Stephanie Call, M.D., will serve as interim DIO until Aboff arrives.

Please join me in thanking O’Donnell for her 20 years of outstanding leadership of graduate medical education at VCU and also in welcoming Aboff to our medical center.

Jerome F. Strauss, III, M.D., Ph.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System

January 3, 2017

2016 End-of-Year Letter to the Alumni

We’ve got two pieces of big news in the medical school right now.

Earlier this year, I announced my intention to step down from my post as Dean. Now, my successor has been named: Peter F. Buckley, M.D., will serve as the 24th dean of the medical school. He is a national leader in academic medicine and a psychiatrist who is recognized internationally for his schizophrenia research. He also has the benefit of more than five years as a dean under his belt at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia. I’m impressed with his credentials, but even more so by the notes we’re already receiving from alumni who know his reputation and are applauding his selection. He’ll begin his tenure on the MCV Campus in mid-January.

The second item I’m eager to report is our M4 students’ outstanding board scores. They had a 98 percent pass rate on the USMLE Step 1, and with nearly all results in hand, I’m confident they will hit that again on Step 2. But even more notable is the unprecedented number of students – 73 – who earned scores of 250 or higher. Scores like those are competitive for spots in top-flight residency programs.

Each year, Dean of Medicine Jerry F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., sends greetings to the alumni body in the form of an end-of-year letter. This is the 2016 edition, reporting the latest happenings from the MCV Campus.

It’s a class full of bright students, and we’ve given them unparalleled preparation in our new curriculum. From the first days on campus, our students focus on patient scenarios. That approach sets them up for success – not only for the patient-based vignettes in Step 1 and Step 2, but also for residency and their careers.

When they face Match Day in the spring, these students will have the added bonus of the reputation won by the classes who’ve gone before them. Residency program directors at other schools tell us they can count on our students coming in prepared. They’re independent and ready to start contributing from day one. I think that’s because here on the MCV Campus they have a degree of autonomy. At some other schools, M3 and M4 students are still shadowing, and residents take the role of scribe. As you know, that’s never been our model. Here, with the attending’s supervision, students are going in and evaluating patients. Together with the residents, they form the team that takes care of the patient. They are encouraged to think, to do, to plan and to learn.

That environment has attracted 8,700 applications from prospective students so far this cycle. We’ll interview 700 of them in our multiple mini interview process that began in August. It’s a bit like speed dating, where each applicant meets nine interviewers who pose a single question. You might recall that in my letter last year, I asked for alumni to volunteer as interviewers. Many of you answered my call – thank you! Some even drive in from outside of Richmond. Those alumni have been joined by retired teachers and principals, social workers, our own M.D. and Ph.D. faculty and staff, along with M4s, dentists, pharmacists and nurses. I’m proud to see such broad representation from our community. Together they will select our next medical school class.

Earlier this year, Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., was added to our ranks as chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy. She is the first female African-American chair in our medical school, and she brings a valuable perspective to her role as associate director for disparities research in the Massey Cancer Center. Recruited from Georgetown’s respected cancer center, she chairs a unique department here. I like to call it translational public health, and it begins with studying an intervention’s effectiveness. Findings inform policy briefs – a few of which have already been very helpful to Virginia’s General Assembly – and translate into widespread dissemination. I have high hopes for the impact this department will make, beyond the theoretical and into practical application.

Michael Donnenberg, M.D., has stepped into the role of Senior Associate Dean for Research and Research Training. An infectious diseases physician-scientist who built a 26-year career at the University of Maryland, he’ll oversee our M.D.-Ph.D. students as well as other training programs and also will lead the school’s research effort. Across the nation universities have seen research funding decline, but VCU’s research enterprise has grown by $60 million over the past decade, putting us in the top 100 universities for both federal and total research expenditures. I’m proud to see the medical school’s role in that, with our research portfolio consistently representing at least half the total funding.

The Department of Anesthesiology made a couple key recruitments this year with the addition of Michael Scott, M.D., known for his work in enhanced recovery after surgery, and Marc Huntoon, M.D., the editor-in-chief of the influential journal Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. We were also happy to welcome Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D., to lead the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine where he’ll set up a lung cancer screening program. Recruiting great chairs and faculty members like these will be what I remember most from my tenure as Dean.

Another important milestone for me has been watching the McGlothlin Medical Education Center take shape with its simulation scenarios, learning studios and – importantly – its potential for endless impact. As I walk its halls, I see students, residents, medical faculty and other health care professionals who’ve come to learn, to teach and to change lives. They’ll do that here in our hospitals and clinics, as well as in our community and ultimately across the country and across the world. The ripple effect is mind-boggling, and I’m so thankful to have had a role in making this place a reality.

Of course, I didn’t do it alone. That would have never been possible. It was a team effort on a grand scale. In fact, so many of the things that have happened in the past 11 years have been a team effort.

And so I’d like to conclude this letter with a thank you. I am grateful to the faculty, staff and chairs who embraced my ideas – and challenged them when need be. One of the things I’ve liked best is schmoozing with them in the hospital’s faculty lounge. We hashed out ideas together in one of the most collegial environments I’ve ever encountered. It’s been a privilege to serve with them as a colleague and Dean, and it will be a pleasure to remain on this faculty as I devote my attention to my funded research program.

I must also thank our wonderful alumni family who – all across the country – offered their friendship and their support. You have helped build the school’s reputation through your own accomplishments, as well as by backing efforts on the MCV Campus to advance teaching, discovery and clinical care. It has been a rare honor to work with you on behalf of this outstanding medical school.

Thank you for all that you do in the tradition of the Medical College of Virginia. Please know you have my friendship and my very best wishes for the New Year.

Jerome F. Strauss, III, M.D., Ph.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System