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School of Medicine Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

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.