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School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

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

August 17, 2016

School of Medicine’s Annual Report Available

Dean StraussDean Strauss

Sometimes our pace is so busy and the next project so pressing that we don’t take time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished.

That’s one reason the School of Medicine’s Annual Report is helpful. It makes me stop and remember:

• The M.D. program continues to see record numbers of applicants.

• The Liaison Committee on Medical Education granted us a full eight-year accreditation.

• The Class of 2016 achieved one of the most successful matches in the medical school’s history.

• We are one of only 10 institutions chosen by the AAMC to pilot curriculum and assessment of the core entrustable professional activities.

• The Departments of Social and Behavioral Health and Healthcare Policy and Research merged to form the new Department of Health Behavior and Policy. An outstanding new Chair, Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., has been recruited and will begin tenure on September 1, 2016.

• Our aggressive renovation and capital construction program resulted in the completion of the first phase of a four-phase Sanger Hall renovation as well as renovation projects in West Hospital for key faculty recruits.

• A state of the art PET/CT System acquired by the Center for Molecular Imaging will be the first installation of this system in the U.S.

• The School of Medicine’s research funding grew to $131.5 million in total award dollars.

• Faculty submitted 51 invention disclosures and 25 patent applications along with executing two licensing agreements.

In the Annual Report you’ll find both data and narrative. It even has some forecasts, for example: It is predicted that a bedside ultrasound probe will be to the physical examination of the future what the stethoscope is now.

I invite you to review the 2015-16 Annual Report and take time to consider the past year’s accomplishments.

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

August 2, 2016

Michael Donnenberg, M.D., named Senior Associate Dean for Research and Research Training and Professor of Internal Medicine

Michael Donnenberg, M.D.Michael Donnenberg, M.D.

I am pleased to announce that following a national search, Michael Donnenberg, M.D., has been selected to serve as Senior Associate Dean for Research and Research Training and Professor of Internal Medicine. He will begin his tenure on November 2, 2016.

Dr. Donnenberg is a physician scientist whose work encompasses research in bacterial pathogenesis, care of patients with infectious diseases, and involvement in all phases of physician and physician scientist education. Dr. Donnenberg is a graduate of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He completed Internal Medicine residency at the Bayview Campus of Johns Hopkins and Infectious Diseases fellowship at Tufts/New England Medical Center. After additional postdoctoral research training at the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland, Dr. Donnenberg joined the faculty in 1990, where he has spent his entire career.

Dr. Donnenberg’s research is focused on the molecular pathogenesis of infections due to Escherichia coli and on the biogenesis and function of bacterial surface appendages called type IV pili, used by many pathogens to adhere to host cell surfaces. His work has been continuously funded by the NIH for 25 years. His publications include over 100 original manuscripts, numerous reviews, books and book chapters, with over 15,000 citations. He is a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Microbiology and a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He is a recipient of the Oswald Avery Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Dr. Donnenberg has been honored for his commitment to education. He was an inaugural member of the Pass and Susel Academy of Academic Excellence at the University of Maryland and has been awarded numerous teaching commendations. Since 2012 he has been director of the Medical Scientist Training Program for M.D./Ph.D. students. On a personal note, he is the father of three young men and is married to a global public health entrepreneur. He is an avid runner and an amateur oyster gardener.

My thanks go to Dr. John Nestler, Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, who led the national search, and the search committee, who identified Dr. Donnenberg as the next leader of Research and Research Training.

I would also like to thank Dr. Gordon Archer, our valued founding Senior Associate Dean for Research & Research Training who retired as Dean last August. I am grateful for his many years of service at the School of Medicine.

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

June 20, 2016

Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D., to be Chair of the Department of Health Behavior & Policy

JFStrauss 160115_206_aj_ar
Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D.

I am pleased to announce that, following a national search, Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., has been selected to serve as chair of the Department of Health Behavior & Policy. She will begin her tenure on September 1, 2016. Dr. Sheppard will also serve as Associate Director for Disparities Research in the Massey Cancer Center.

Dr. Sheppard is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University. She has been recognized by the National Institute of Health as a Disparities Scholar and serves as the Assistant Director of Health Disparities Research at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her long-term career goal is to reduce inequities in cancer outcomes through scholarship, teaching and service. She has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society and other entities to pursue this goal.

She has harnessed her expertise in health services research, clinical trials and behavioral interventions to address gaps in care for African American, African immigrant and Latina populations. Dr. Sheppard has led studies focused on factors that have potential to improve cancer outcomes such as treatment adherence, patient-provider relationships, obesity and physical activity. Her team has been the first to develop and test decision support and lifestyle interventions for African American and Latino women. In 2013 she completed leadership training from the Higher Education Resources Services (HERS) which is focused on supporting women leaders.

Close relationships with community organizations have been a driving force behind her work. Dr. Sheppard is a recipient of the Dr. Herbert W. Nickens Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges and an Outstanding Research Achievement Award from Georgetown University Medical Center. Dr. Sheppard is active in service at the University and in her community as a board member of Georgetown Women in Medicine and has served on several regional and local advisory boards. Recently, she received the Torch Bearer award from the African Women’s Cancer Awareness Association. Currently, Dr. Sheppard is completing terms as a permanent member of study sections at the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. She was recently nominated and selected as a distinguished alumna from the Old Dominion University College of Health Sciences.

Dr. Sheppard received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from James Madison University and Norfolk State University respectively. She received her doctoral degree in health services research from Old Dominion University and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Association of American Medical Schools funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy.

My thanks go to Dr. PonJola Coney, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, who led the national search, and to the search committee, who identified Dr. Sheppard as the next leader of Health Behavior & Policy. I also want to express my gratitude to Dr. Jennifer Elston-Lafata for her distinguished service as Interim Chair.

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

March 23, 2016

Dean Strauss announces intent to step down

It has been my intent to depart from my roles of Dean of the School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs in the Health System after completion of our LCME accreditation site visit so I can be attentive to my funded research program.

With that successful visit now under our belt, it is now time to start the search for my successor.

JFStrauss 160115_206_aj_ar
Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D.

It has been a privilege to be a part of the School of Medicine and to work with our gifted faculty, residents, students and staff to achieve aspirations that were bold and far-reaching.

Initiatives that have been formulated over the past few years promise to bring even greater recognition to our school and health system. I will do whatever I can to help these become a reality while I spend the next phase of my academic life as a faculty member.

Meanwhile, I will remain on as Dean until the national search is successfully concluded.

A few months ago, I realized that I am the longest serving full-time employed Dean in the School of Medicine’s history. Believe me, that could not have happened without the collective engagement of those who work daily to make the school and health system exceptional in all domains.

I particularly want to thank our alumni and our loyal supporters in the community who have made it possible through their encouragement and philanthropy to pursue our goals of excellence in education, clinical care and discovery.

Cathy and I have made many friends through MCV and the MCV extended family, and we treasure those relationships. Please accept my profound gratitude for welcoming the two of us and for partnering with us.

It has made the nearly 11 years I have been working with you incredibly rewarding, and with the pace of progress, seemingly all too fleeting.

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

March 14, 2016

A trio of facilities coming online to meet community needs

Children's Pavilion cache-8897-0x0

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s new Children’s Pavilion

Last week we cut the ribbon on the Children’s Pavilion. The 15-story, 640,000-square-foot facility opens to children and families later this month, bringing together nearly all pediatric outpatient services under one roof.

In 2014, 90 percent of visits to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU were outpatient, and there’s a growing need for coordinating those services. This $200 million facility aims to meet that need, and do it in an environment designed to delight children: outdoor space, an interactive virtual river with fish and turtles that swim and giant chimes you can play.

The idea of consolidating care so that patients can easily access services reflects a change in how we – as an academic medical center – expect to deliver care in the future. We aim to provide easy access to expertise at the Children’s Pavilion and also in another new outpatient center set to open next month in Short Pump.

The VCU Health Neuroscience, Orthopaedic and Wellness Center is built around the goal of keeping patients moving. In medicine, we can sometimes be guilty of staying in our silos. The N.O.W. Center breaks that down by creating pods based on a patient’s condition – like joint health or movement disorders – rather than a physician’s specialty. With labs, x-ray and physical therapy all on site, we could get done in a single visit what might have taken multiple appointments over several days.

We’ll also sharpen our focus on the patient experience. Technology will help us determine how long a patient has to wait before being seen, and at each visit, we’ll collect their feedback on three key indicators: depression, pain and function. There’s a lot of variability in how patients are treated for the same condition. Some of that is due to patient preference, and some due to a doctor’s practice. Those three indicators will help us create consensus on what is the best approach. That’s important to patients and their doctors, of course, as well as to employers, insurers and the government.

In recent years, our state and country have been grappling with how to expand what are clearly inadequate resources for treating mental illness. A new inpatient, outpatient and research facility for the Virginia Treatment Center for Children is a part of our solution. Thanks to a $56 million state appropriation, a state-of-the art facility is being constructed and is set to open in summer 2017 on the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Brook Road Campus. The space will enable VTCC to expand its inpatient acute services from 24 to 32 beds and triple the outpatient space for mental health services for children ages 3-17. This will be a huge help for statewide families who need urgent services for their child.

The new facility is a component of the Department of Psychiatry’s Healthy Minds Campaign that will also raise funds to expand programs and research. Joel Silverman, M.D., chair of the Psychiatry Department, tells me the campaign has been a tremendous opportunity to raise awareness of the need and demand for more quality mental health service throughout Virginia. In addition to the state appropriation, the campaign is raising an additional $15 million to expand research, education and clinical care programs. Nearly $6.5 million in private funds has been raised since the campaign kicked off in 2011. If you’d like to help, call Lynn Meyer at (804) 827-6297 or lynn.meyer@vcuhealth.org.

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