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School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

February 7, 2014

U.S. News & World Report Ranking of Best Hospitals: A Flawed Process

For years, the U.S. News & World Report (USNWR) magazine has used a complicated formula for ranking hospitals and health systems. Some of their measures are valid comparisons and include mortality rates, quality metrics and structural factors. One of the variables USNWR has used is a ‘reputational score’ that has been traditionally based on a random survey of U.S. physicians.

However, as you may know, this year USNWR has changed its approach for deriving the reputational score. In addition to surveying 200 board-certified specialists for their opinion on hospital quality, they will also survey 50,000 board-certified specialists who are registered with Doximity, an online professional network for physicians. Only physicians registered with Doximity will have access to the new survey.

This non-random approach by U.S. News & World Report has triggered a response from some to encourage loyal physician supporters, such as medical school alumni, to sign up for Doximity. I do not condone trying to influence alumni to register for Doximity. This is merely a subtle effort to persuade physicians to vote favorably for their alma mater, and it has the potential to corrupt the survey results.

The Best Hospitals ranking has long been criticized for relying on the reputational score, rather than on important quality measures. The USNWR has tried to address that this year by increasing the weight of the patient safety score. Even so, reputation factors heavily into the final formula – more than double the weight of patient safety.

Even flawed rankings have influence, but I will not participate in further degrading what should be an objective evaluation of a hospital’s quality. I advise our alumni who wish to participate in the survey to follow their conscience in communicating their opinions.

The above Feb. 7 blog post was edited to clarify that USNWR will use a pair of surveys to derive the reputational score component of its annual Best Hospitals rankings.

December 19, 2013

2013 End-of-Year Letter to the Alumni

I count it an honor to be Dean of this outstanding medical school in the year in which we mark the 175th anniversary of our founding. It has allowed me to be part of some significant milestones in the life of our school.

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 2013 edition, full of the latest happenings from the MCV Campus.

A highlight of this year was the opening of the McGlothlin Medical Education Center. It is a facility that is transforming medical education. Not only here on the MCV Campus, but across the country. We have a steady stream of medical educators from around the nation – and even around the world – who come to see for themselves how we have created innovative learning spaces that give our students meaningful clinical experiences early in their studies. And we hear from those students that the new curriculum is living up to their expectations with its opportunities for teamwork, case-based problem solving and basic science knowledge applied to clinical scenarios.

Other important milestones this year were the enrollment of our largest M1 class ever (210 students), which was selected from the largest applicant pool that the School of Medicine has ever had (7,165), and the launch of our 1838 Campaign with a goal of $25 million. With the help of our alumni and friends, we plan to commemorate our founding year and build a scholarship endowment worthy of the tradition of the Medical College of Virginia. One that will be on par with those at our peer institutions. The campaign was announced in November along with the news that the Grandis family had made a $1-million gift to create the medical school’s first full-tuition scholarship endowment.

It is important to me personally to contain the cost of medical education and reduce the burden of debt that graduating students bear. I have worked hard to limit tuition increases, and now our school’s tuition and fees are the lowest in Virginia. I would like to see our scholarship program be as competitive. It has been enormously gratifying to hear from alumni who share my view.

Private philanthropy has benefited our school on other fronts. For example, 19 of our 26 current department chairs hold endowed professorships and chairs. Those resources have allowed us to recruit exceptional clinicians and researchers to lead our programs.

Since arriving here in 2005, I have discovered that MCV’s collegial environment makes it a place where many choose to serve their whole careers. This is not true at all medical schools. As a result, our school has benefited tremendously from the stability and wise leadership of long-serving department chairs. As those tenures draw to a close, I have had the responsibility of naming their successors.

The most recent arrival is Charles (Chuck) Clevenger, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Pathology and holder of the Carolyn Wingate Hyde Endowed Chair of Cancer Research. I have known Dr. Clevenger many years, since the days when we were both on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. So I was particularly pleased to see him join us from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He specializes in breast cancer and will be an asset not only to Pathology but also to the Massey Cancer Center through his NIH-funded basic and translational research.

We have recruited an exceptional cohort of junior and senior faculty members this year, totaling 155. Let me highlight two of these new senior faculty members. We have welcomed Gerry Moeller, M.D., from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He brings a focus on brain imaging in addiction medicine and has taken the helm of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry and the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, which has a new functional MRI research facility. With his extensive experience in the study of cocaine addiction and impulsivity and his research grant support, he will foster the link between clinical research and ongoing preclinical and genetic addiction research taking place at our medical school.

Another newcomer is Gene Peterson, M.D., Ph.D., M.H.A., who has taken on a role for patient safety and quality care that is unique in academic medicine. Dr. Peterson’s responsibilities as Chief Safety and Quality Officer and Associate Dean for Patient Safety and Quality Care cross over traditional boundaries separating the domains of clinical, academics and research. He will integrate all of our medical students and residents into our efforts to address patient safety. This will have an immediate effect on the VCU Medical Center’s goal to become the nation’s safest health system. Perhaps even more importantly, it also will have a lasting impact on the U.S. health care system as our young physicians leave the MCV Campus for hospitals across the country to care for patients for decades to come.

It is goals and initiatives like these that set us apart. Our reputation continues to increase, and we were proud to be honored by U.S. News and World Report for the second year as a top hospital in Virginia.

On the research front, I am pleased to report that, despite economic pressures on external research funding, VCU’s research awards in fiscal year 2013 topped $248 million. Our medical school represented more than half of that total. We have had a strong start in fiscal year 2014 as well. First, a $62-million grant to study mild traumatic brain injury was announced – the largest federal grant ever awarded to the university. That was closely followed by a $3.2-million award to determine whether high doses of vitamin C can effectively treat septic lung injury resulting from infection, $7.4 million to study how microorganisms found in the vagina influence health and disease in women and their babies, and an $18.1-million study of electronic cigarettes and other modified risk tobacco products.

In these and other areas, we have made a name for ourselves. The field of heart disease also comes to mind. I have written to you in past years about our ARCTIC protocol for patients who suffer cardiac arrest. In addition, our surgeons were the first on the East Coast to implant an artificial heart in 2006, and now our program is the most active center in the U.S. An ongoing $20-million campaign for the Pauley Heart Center will support those programs and allow us to expand in the direction of disease prevention, women’s cardiovascular health and congenital heart disease. Campaigns for the Neurosciences and for the Massey Cancer Center are similarly built to capitalize on current successes and grow to meet new needs.

I hope you enjoy learning about the advances taking place on the MCV Campus. We have a proud legacy, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of the school’s on-going contributions to medicine, science and public health. I am also grateful for your partnership as we move forward with our academic and clinical missions. Indeed, the successes of our alumni make the strongest possible statements about the longtime and continuing strength of the School of Medicine.

August 5, 2013

Dean Jerry Strauss welcomes the Class of 2017

Orientation Week for our incoming medical students always begins with our school’s traditional Roll Call.

It’s more than making sure every student we expected has arrived on campus – though there’s an inherent tension in the question of whether a seat will become available at the last minute for someone on the waiting list.

That sense of drama is no doubt emphasized by the setting. Roll Call is held in the historic Egyptian Building. The oldest medical college building in the South, we’ve used it continuously since the fall of 1844.

But chiefly, Roll Call is a significant milestone because of its symbolism. At last you, who’ve worked so hard toward this goal, are becoming part of our medical community. You are joining the medical school and taking your place among generations of physicians, who date back to our school’s 1838 founding.

Yours is a special class, matriculating in the year in which we mark the 175th anniversary of that founding. You’ll be the first class whose entire four-year program will be completed within the walls of the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Education Center.

The facility is a culmination of years of hard work by our faculty to build a curriculum and space that is second to none. You in the Class of 2017 will be the first to participate in its innovative approach that we believe represents the future of medicine.

That vision has practical implications for next week, when you and your classmates will be in what we’re calling “boot camp” for the Practice of Clinical Medicine. You’ll spend most of the week learning to obtain a history and physical. You’ll perform your first physical examination on a standardized patient by the end of the week. In the past, students typically did not learn this skill set until well into the first semester.

When you – on some distant day, far into the future – look back to your years here on the MCV Campus, I hope that you recall it as one of the best times of your professional life. That’s what I hear when I speak with our alumni, whose experience here has made them fast and firm friends to MCV.

Roll Call is your introduction to that great tradition. And I welcome you.

July 5, 2013

Dean Jerry Strauss commends Jim Neifeld’s tenure as Surgery Chair

James P. Neifeld, M.D. completed his tenure as Chairman of the Department of Surgery effective June 30. Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D. Professor of Surgery and Chair of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, assumed the role of Interim Chair effective July 1.

I want to express my profound gratitude to Jim and his faculty for his accomplishments as department chair during the past 10 years. Approximately two-thirds of the members of the Department have joined since 2003, the number of operations has dramatically increased, the number of clinic visits has gone up commensurate with this and our services are in demand throughout the greater Central Virginia area. The residency program flourished under the direction Dr. Brian Kaplan as Program Director, with a resulting large increase in the number of applicants. The undergraduate medical education program, now directed by Dr. Rahul Anand, is highly regarded and more of our students are electing to pursue careers in surgical specialties. Programmatically, the Cardiothoracic Surgery has achieved international prominence with its total artificial heart and VAD programs. The solid organ transplant program contributes to the VCU Health System’s national ranking in kidney disease. Pediatric Surgery has received wide-spread recognition for complex surgeries, including the separation of conjoined twins, procedures that engaged surgical specialists in other divisions of the Department. The Department’s Trauma and Burn programs are highly regarded and have achieved the highest levels of accreditation. In addition, research in the Department increased under Jim’s leadership with federally funded research in Trauma, Surgical Oncology, Transplant, and Plastics. Going forward, Jim will take on a major role in the Department of Surgery’s education programs and will continue to have and work on expanding an active surgical oncology practice .

In recognition of these accomplishments, and his other contributions to the University, Jim will receive the Presidential Medallion at the 31 st Opening Faculty Address and Convocation on Wednesday August 21 st at the Siegel Center. I hope that you join your faculty colleagues as Jim is recognized for his outstanding service to the School of Medicine, the VCU Health System and the University.

June 17, 2013

Strauss shares views via Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has published a commentary piece from Dean of Medicine Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., on the newspaper’s Op-Ed page. Strauss weighed in on a proposal by the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee that could result in a dramatic 20 percent decrease to the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

Published in the June 12 newspaper, Strauss wrote, “A 20 percent cut represents a significantly greater funding reduction than what is proposed for every other area of domestic spending. From my vantage point as a physician, researcher and dean of the VCU School of Medicine, I am dismayed at the potential consequences of that decision.”

He went on to describe the impact that such a reduction would have on patients, medical schools and the economy and asked legislators to collaborate on a budget solution that protects our patients and preserves the life-saving research.

Read Strauss’ full op-ed online.

March 25, 2013

A Letter to the Medical School’s Alumni, Students and Faculty

To the medical school’s alumni, students and faculty,

When I joined VCU in 2005, I knew I was coming to a school steeped in tradition and with a history I would take pride in. It has been one of my great pleasures over the past eight years to learn about the accomplishments of alumni, faculty and students who have shaped our medical school’s reputation and the rich legacy of the Medical College of Virginia.

Since 1968 our history has been conjoined with the Virginia Commonwealth University’s. The merger between MCV and RPI that created the university was necessary for our future in an era when free-standing medical schools were vulnerable. Being part of a larger university has benefited our school in many ways, but you know there have been growing pains along the way.

SOM Diploma

You may know that we recently encountered another hurdle when the Medical College of Virginia Campus designation was removed from the university’s diplomas. When the students learned of this decision, many contacted the university’s administration to urge them to reconsider. These students are proud of our school’s long history, just as our alumni and faculty are. Many of the alumni spoke up, too, and I know that university administrators heard from many families whose connections with the MCV Campus span multiple generations.

I, together with other leaders at the university, listened carefully to the concerns of our students and alumni. Today, I am pleased to report to you that this issue has been resolved in a manner that I believe we can all be pleased with. Our students will now be able to elect to receive a “legacy diploma” which includes “Medical College of Virginia Health Sciences Division” on the diploma as specified in the Code of Virginia when VCU was created. This option will be available to all students who are eligible to receive degrees from a health science program at VCU.

I try to see issues like these as opportunities to remind our community that MCV’s history is one of VCU’s crowning jewels. To be sure, our medical school benefits from the relationship, especially now, as we witness a new wave of mergers between stand-alone medical schools and universities. We have been fortunate: the strong engineering school on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus opens important and productive opportunities for our faculty and students. The School of Education has collaborated with faculty at the medical school to sharpen teaching skills. And VCU Arts – the nation’s top public arts school – is our partner in creating a unique standardized patients program that will give our students regular and intense case-based training.

Our recent conversations have encouraged a new appreciation for the respect and affection that the MCV name inspires. It is a unifying connection among thousands of physicians and scientists. As it happens, this is the perfect year to celebrate that tradition, as we mark the medical school’s 1838 founding. It is a point of particular pride for me that the celebration is not limited to the medical school. The whole university will embrace the 175th anniversary.

In this milestone year, we will add new accomplishments to our storied tradition. In April, the McGlothlin Medical Education Center will open its doors to generations of future physicians who will train in innovative, clinically based learning spaces. This building is a testament to the support that our alumni have shown their alma mater – making $190 million in gifts and pledges that have fueled the first phase of what will clearly be the most successful fundraising campaign in the medical school’s history.

This year we will also establish the 1838 Fund. Representing the second phase of the medical school’s campaign, the 1838 Fund will build a scholarship endowment on par with those at our peer medical schools. We must provide meaningful scholarship support to medical students who study in the tradition of the Medical College of Virginia.

In my conversations with those students, it’s clear that they love the MCV tradition. They also feel a responsibility to live up to what one student described as “a bar set by 175 years of history.” Thank you for what you’ve done to raise that bar.

Sincerely,

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

January 4, 2013

End-of-Year Letter to the Alumni

This year, we will celebrate the 175th anniversary of our school’s 1838 founding. Over those years, we have enjoyed many accolades and awards, most recently the announcement that U.S. News and World Report had ranked our medical center as the No. 1 hospital in Virginia. The ranking was propelled by four programs — nephrology, pulmonology, orthopaedic surgery and urology — that ranked among the country’s top 50. Of the nation’s roughly 5,000 hospitals, fewer than 150 have even one ranked specialty.

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 2012 edition, full of the latest happenings from the MCV Campus.

You — who trained in our clinics and learned from the physicians and scientists on faculty — know this ranking is a product of the clinical experience found on the MCV Campus. The unmatched breadth of clinical exposure challenges our skills and keeps us on the leading edge of medical advances. The promise of that kind of training continues to draw students today. This year, the largest applicant pool in the school’s history vied for a seat in the Class of 2016. We received more than 7,000 applications, including one submitted by Akeem George.

The Virginia Beach native has always known he wanted to be a physician and to serve, specifically, his hometown. We like to see that our applicants have a genuine enthusiasm for and knowledge of what medical practice is like. Mr. George was exceptional on that score, volunteering in free clinics in both Virginia Beach and Richmond. Now, a few months into his medical studies, he’s still finding time to give back as a mentor to a 12-year-old boy in Church Hill. We’re not the only ones who think highly of him. This fall, he learned he had been chosen by the Britt Scholarship Fund in Hampton Roads to receive its $10,000 scholarship, renewable for each of his four years in medical school. This is a particularly proud honor because the scholarship carries the name of L.D. Britt, M.D., who was the first African-American to be appointed a professor of surgery in Virginia and one of Mr. George’s role models for his dedication to his community.

With the Class of 2016, we’ve debuted fmSTAT, a dual-admissions program for high-quality students interested in family medicine and primary care. A half dozen students were chosen from the more than 100 who applied. These students will benefit from hand-picked mentors as well as unique training experiences. And they will be in good company. Nearly half of our 800 students registered as members with the American Academy of Family Physicians, making our family medicine student-interest group the largest in the state. The group actively stirs up interest in the field and this year, for the seventh time since 2004, it was one of just nine groups in the U.S. recognized with the AAFP’s Program of Excellence Award.

All of our students are looking forward to the opening of the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Education Center. At the heart of the MCV Campus, the facility will provide new training experiences, including earlier clinical exposure and unique twists to integrate the basic sciences into those experiences.

We are already changing the curriculum to incorporate the kind of teamwork you see today in health care. Alan Dow, M.D., is using the support he receives as one of five Macy Foundation Scholars in the nation to create a simulation-based training project for fourth-year nursing and medical students. The experience teaches them skills for collaborating across professions, how to work together to assess and treat patients with an acute change in clinical status, as well as how and when to hand off a patient. We want our students to be prepared for real-world practice on the first day of their residencies.

Experiences like that will become more common through all four years of medical school and in residency training once the Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety expands to two floors in the new building. Part of the space will house our new standardized patient program, complete with two-way mirrors, video recorders and observation rooms. In this project, we’ve benefited from our proximity to VCU’s renowned arts program, creating a partnership that may be the only one of its kind in the U.S. Our faculty has teamed up with the Department of Theatre to write patient cases, cast and train would-be patients and orchestrate the exercises. Our theatre colleagues coach actors of various ages and demographics on specific medical cases so they can reliably present the history, body language and physical symptoms as well as patients’ emotional and personal characteristics. They’ll even customize cases according to the needs of different departments and specialties.

The McGlothlin Medical Education Center will be the third significant addition to the MCV Campus since 2008′s opening of our Critical Care Hospital. That was followed a year later with the opening of the Molecular Medicine Research Building. Now that the Medical Education Center is nearly complete, we’re moving forward with plans for a new pediatric ambulatory care facility set to open in 2015. This $168 million, 640,000-square-foot Children’s Pavilion will be the region’s largest and most advanced outpatient facility dedicated to children. It’s a product of our recent partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Richmond and will bring under one roof the majority of our hospitals’ outpatient pediatric services.

Populating these buildings are faculty members who use their expertise to benefit their fields and ultimately patients on a broad scale including:

  • PonJola Coney, M.D., director of the Center on Health Disparities: the medical school’s fifth member elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology, David Chelmow, M.D.: who led work on the new Pap test guidelines recently issued by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • Stephanie A. Call, M.D., MSPH: one of just 10 program directors across the country honored by the ACGME with the Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award for her innovative approaches to training internal medicine residents
  • Pathologist Greg Miller, Ph.D.: who is wrapping up his presidency of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry
  • Internal Medicine’s Domenic A. Sica, M.D.: president-elect of the American Society of Hypertension

So many of these achievements are due in part to you, the members of our alumni body. The Medical Education Center, for example, would not be possible without your generosity. Your support of the facility fueled the success of the first phase of our Campaign for Medicine, which has raised more than $44 million. That is a remarkable and unprecedented milestone in our school’s history.

I hope you will make a point of returning for Reunion Weekend in the future because I look forward to showing you the physical transformation taking place on the MCV Campus. In my view, our new facilities reflect the superior training, compassionate care and curiosity for discovery that have always been hallmarks of our school.

June 13, 2012

Timeless Teachings

In May, I stood on the stage before the Class of 2012. They were bright and clever in the classroom, and adept at mastering clinical skills. But most of all, they had taken to heart the concept of humanism in medicine. The principles their faculty shared through programs such as Project HEART — like treating patients with respect and empathy — came naturally to them.

Convocation 2012

The Dean of Medicine, Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., addresses the Class of 2012 at the medical school’s convocation ceremony.

So with their diploma, we offered the Class of 2012 a last reminder of those principles, which we hope all our students will embrace. It was in the form of a 10-page pamphlet entitled “Advice for the Journey from M.D. to Physician.” It was brought to our attention by Walter Lawrence, M.D., professor emeritus of surgery. He recommended it because it offers sound advice on the nuts and bolts of being a physician — some timeless teachings.

The authors are Charles L. McDowell, M.D., and William H. Bowers, M.D., pioneers in upper extremity surgery and longtime friends. They are now retired from private practice, but continue as clinical faculty in our Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and in their responsibilities for patients and teaching at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Together, they have more than 90 years of collective experience. Some of that wisdom has been passed on through journal articles and textbooks, and they’ve been invited to lecture at elite medical schools in the U.S. and Europe.

A few years ago, they decided to collect their views on what it takes to grow into a successful physician. Dr. McDowell says their goal was to encourage young physicians to keep studying, and take pleasure in the profession they had worked so hard to enter. They shared their early drafts with peers who told them they should write a book. But they felt strongly that their target audience would never read a whole book on this topic. Instead, they distilled it down so that it could be read in one sitting.

The pamphlet is full of wisdom drawn from their collective experiences, and from their personal role models. In fact, first among their recommendations for newly minted M.D.s is to find their own role models to emulate. There’s also practical advice on listening to patients, eliciting detailed histories and sharpening the powers of observation — skills that are vital for forming an accurate diagnosis. It is a compilation of many of the issues that we talk about during a student’s training, but never have articulated in a concise and approachable form.

Drs. McDowell and Bowers were very generous to donate copies of their pamphlet for us to share with our graduating students. Chris Woleben, M.D., a member of the medical school’s Class of 1997, is now the School of Medicine’s Associate Dean of Student Affairs. In his remarks at our convocation ceremony, he suggested the graduates read it the night before they begin residency training. And while I do hope they’ll get a good night’s sleep on June 30, I also hope they’ll stay up late enough to follow that piece of advice.

Advice For The Journey From M.D. To Physician

In their pamphlet, Drs. McDowell and Bowers include nearly 20 reading recommendations. They note: “The list is an introduction to the literature of human striving, observation and humor with an emphasis upon the doctor’s experience.” The list includes:

  • Aequanimitas and A Way of Life, Sir William Osler (essays on maturation of physicians)
  • The Citadel, A. J. Cronin (the story of a young physician under external pressures; a novel)
  • Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis (a story of a physician dealing with family and professional choices; a novel)
  • Middlemarch, George Eliot (a novel)
  • Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald (a novel)
  • Ten Fingers of God: The Life and Work of Paul Brand, D. C. Wilson (biography)
  • The Cry and the Covenant, Morton Thompson (fictionalized story of Ignatz Semmelweis’ struggles with science and peers in the early days of understanding the true nature of infection)
  • How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman, M.D.
  • When All the World Was Young, Ferroll Sams, M.D. (humorous experiences of maturation by a general surgeon)
  • Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, Louis Thomas
  • The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy (an example of remarkable skills of observation; a novella)
  • An Enemy of the People, Henrik Ibsen (a principled physician in a serious dilemma; a play)
  • Ozymandias, P. B. Shelley (a poem describing overweening hubris)
  • The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S. Eliot (a poem describing the regrets of a man who did not grasp an essential meaning of life)
  • On Doctoring, 3rd Edition, R. Reynolds, M.D. and J. Stone, M.D., 2001 (compendium of stories and poems)
  • Medicine in Quotations, 2nd Edition, E. J. Huth and T. J. Murray, American College of Physicians, 2006
  • Bartlett’s Familiar Medical Quotations, Maurice Strauss, Little Brown, 1988
  • The Hospital, movie, black comedy starring George C. Scott (performance nominated for Academy Award)

January 13, 2012

The White House Comes to Richmond

It’s not every day that you get to share the stage with the First Lady.

Dean Jerry Strauss shared the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama

Dean Jerry Strauss shared the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama. He represented the 101 medical colleges that signed a pledge to support the Joining Forces initiative.
Photo courtesy of VCU Creative Services

In fact, one of our students was much more precise when she told me afterwards that it was a once in a lifetime experience.

It’s an enormous source of pride for me that our university had the honor of hosting Michelle Obama for her announcement of the Joining Forces initiative. The White House said we were selected because we are a national leader in TBI research and a strong partner with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.

Medical students at the Joining Forces announcement

About 200 of our medical students were on hand for the Joining Forces announcement, some in the audience and others on stage, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with service members from Fort Lee.
Photo courtesy of medical student Sneha Kondragunta

The First Lady spoke powerfully about the need to conduct new research in the areas of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. And more than 50 deans from the country’s other medical schools were on hand as a visible demonstration of our commitment to doing so.

Today we have a far better understanding of combat-related injuries than when I first learned about them some 40 years ago as a medical student. That was during the Vietnam conflict. Little was known at the time, and there was no formal medical education related to these significant issues. I remember the uncertainty and frustration of caring for the warriors, whose lives had been changed dramatically because of their injuries and battle experience.

Joining Forces

The White House chose VCU for the site of its Joining Forces announcement because our medical center is a national leader in TBI research and a strong partner with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.
Photo courtesy of VCU Creative Services

However, physicians working in the combat zones were developing new approaches to manage TBI. Some of them, like our chair of Neurosurgery, Dr. Harold Young, applied what they’d learned when they returned to America. Dr. Young partnered with basic scientist Dr. John Povlishock, our chair of Anatomy and Neurobiology. Their research, and that from faculty at other medical schools across the nation, has positioned us today to commit to our service men and women that they will receive the medical care they deserve.

Partnering with Veterans Administration Medical Centers, of course, is vital to meeting that goal. We on the MCV Campus are fortunate to be affiliated with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and to have Dr. David Cifu leading that partnership. His Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation is one the country’s top programs, and it works alongside the VA to conduct groundbreaking research and to establish nationally recognized clinical programs, like the polytrauma center that treats seriously injured American soldiers and Marines.

I had the honor of standing behind the podium this week. But I could only do so knowing that I was speaking on behalf of our faculty, our students and our alumni who have and will play such significant roles in delivering and improving the care that our veterans and service members receive.

See photos from the announcement.

Watch highlights from the Joining Forces Announcement. (2:11 minutes)

Watch the announcement in its entirety. (33:38 minutes)

August 18, 2011

The Class of 2015: Chosen for their Potential

There are 200 new medical students on the MCV Campus this week. These students were chosen from more than 6,450 applications — our highest number ever, and an incredible increase from the 4,200 applicants to the school in 2005.

White Coat Ceremony

The selection of the Class of 2015 involved more than one year of work by Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M.D., associate dean for admissions, and the Admissions Committee. Each individual was chosen for their accomplishments and, even more important, their potential.

In this age of health care reform, it is potential that occupies all our minds. We face a projected shortage of physicians in the primary care fields and face much uncertainty over the medical profession at large. For the moment, there is no national plan on the horizon to fix the global workforce problem. And so I believe that our solutions will have to be local. That is the argument I have made in an article published in the summer issue of the Richmond Academy of Medicine’s newsletter.

In it, I describe our school’s plans for encouraging primary care careers, teaching population disease management and forging interdisciplinary training with nursing, pharmacy and allied health that will help to build consensus over scope of practice. Our school already has made progress on these and other fronts, always with our commitment to our patients at the core of our planning.

That message of patient-focused care is what we wanted to impress upon the Class of 2015 at last week’s White Coat Ceremony. This year’s keynote speaker was Internal Medicine Professor Peter A. Boling, M.D., and there is no one better able to inspire future physicians with the message of what a privilege it is to care for patients in times of illness and distress.

Boling joined our school’s faculty after completing his internal medicine residency training on the MCV Campus in 1984. In the early 1990s, he began making house calls, carrying a practice load of several hundred patients, some of whom he has now treated for more than a quarter century.

He champions the house calls approach at the national level and, in a very personal way, here on the MCV Campus. He leads our school’s program that provides in-home primary care for more than 5,000 home-bound, frail adults. It is through his program that each one of our medical students is introduced to this approach to patient care.

Boling could have educated his White Coat audience with a plethora of stats supporting the value of house calls. But instead he told a story. Of a 97-year-old woman who is a master gardener and a retired teacher whose accomplishments sometimes landed her in the local newspaper. These are pieces of her life, he told his audience, of which he would have never learned, except that he visited her in her home.

In her home, he tracked and treated her chronic illness. In her home he met her adult daughter who serves as her care-giver. And it was in her home that he built a years-long relationship with the two of them.

They returned the favor at our White Coat Ceremony when they took the stage to share their wisdom with our medical students. They exhorted the students to listen to their patients, and reminded them that caring for patients sometimes extends to caring for the whole family.

But nothing spoke more strongly than their very presence on the stage, standing alongside the physician who has grown to know them so well.

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Read Dean Strauss’ article published in the Richmond Academy of Medicine’s summer issue of its newsletter, Ramifications: The Physician Workforce: A National Problem Requiring Local Solutions.