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