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School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

December 2014 Archives

December 19, 2014

2014 End-of-Year Letter to the Alumni

One of the great pleasures of being Dean of this Medical School is hearing about the outstanding things that happen in our community. The alumnus who’s been named Pediatrician of the Year in Wisconsin. The student who was one of just five winners in the American College of Physicians’ research abstract competition. Or the alumnus who was named Best Young Investigator at the Department of Defense’s premier scientific meeting. I am proud to learn these stories and am glad we have a new magazine, 12th & Marshall, in which to share them with you. This magazine was not intended to take the place of the MCV Alumni Association’s Scarab. Instead, 12th & Marshall will be devoted entirely to the life of our Medical School and Health System. We need your input to make future issues as interesting as the first. Please be in touch with us at MedAlum@vcu.edu to share your story ideas and latest news.

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 2014 edition, reporting the latest happenings from the MCV Campus.

Like other major medical centers across the country, we have been preparing our Ebola response. Along with the University of Virginia, we are one of the Commonwealth’s two designated hospitals – and among 35 in the nation – for evaluating and treating patients. Our expanded simulation center has been key for training and assessing the readiness of the 30 physicians and 35 nurses who are preparing to safely care for an Ebola patient. Center Director Ellen Brock and her team have been working with health system educators to develop a rigorous simulation-based training program that equips interprofessional teams to collectively devise solutions to anticipated and unanticipated needs. Simulations are used not only for training how to safely don and doff personal protective equipment but also for performing patient-care tasks in the isolation unit. Trained observers are on hand for each session to spot areas of difficulty and provide feedback to the trainers. The level of evaluation being conducted was commended as unique and novel to other institutions during a recent visit by the CDC.

This kind of intensive preparation is an example of why the VCU Medical Center won the American Hospital Association’s McKesson Quest for Quality Prize earlier this year, and why we have a dozen Beacon award-winning units – the most in the U.S. – recognized by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. To borrow a favorite phrase from John Duval, the CEO of MCV Hospitals: “You can’t train a good doctor in a bad environment.” Be assured our hospital continues to be a place to learn best practices.

I’ve written to you in previous years about how the new McGlothlin Medical Education Center made it possible for us to dramatically transform our curriculum. Students from the Class of 2017 are the first to be fully immersed in our new approach, and by the time you get this letter, they will have completed their three semesters in the preclinical curriculum. They study in an environment that promotes self-directed learning and team-based problem solving, skills that will serve them well in their clinical years and for their entire career. It’s more than just instilling knowledge. They’re developing skills for reasoning, critically examining materials, making decisions and knowing their limitations so they can seek the right resources at the right time. When they get back from winter break, they’ll prepare for Step 1 of the USMLE boards. That will be our litmus test for how the compressed preclinical curriculum stacks up.

By reducing the time spent in preclinical study, we’ve been able to expand clinical training by nearly an entire semester. After the students take the boards in March, they’ll begin that phase of their training. The seven traditional rotations are still in place, but added to those are opportunities for foundational and advanced electives that can be matched to a student’s specialty interests. We’ve built in both time and flexibility for students to map out a path that will best prepare them for residency. Our goal is to maintain the reputation we’ve earned over time: “I was so much better prepared than my fellow interns from other schools.”

More students than ever before are vying to study with us. We have 9,006 applications in hand, and our admissions committee will conduct over 900 interviews for the 216 seats in next year’s class. Because it is so competitive, please advise applicants you know that they’ll need not only great grades and MCATS but also significant medical and community service experiences.

University-wide, our research enterprise hit an all-time high of $262.3 million this past year. A major driver of that record-breaking total is the Medical School, which represents more than half of the year’s grant awards. What’s most interesting is the success we’re having competing for interdisciplinary, multi-program awards. These projects involve several investigators, who typically span multiple departments, schools and even campuses. I’d like to share with you two good examples of that.

A $6-million grant will create a center to develop medications to treat cocaine addiction. Despite 30 years of research, no approved medication yet exists. Our lead investigator Gerard Moeller, M.D., believes the field’s history of failed clinical trials is due to insufficient preclinical and early clinical evaluation to thoroughly characterize compounds. That’s where we’ll concentrate our efforts. A second, $6.9-million grant will expand the VCU Alcohol Research Center’s focus on preclinical and clinical studies. A nearly decade-long collaboration spans the Departments of Psychiatry, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Human and Molecular Genetics. Together they combine expertise in animal models with a research program in the human genetics of alcoholism, which gives us a better chance to understand what makes us vulnerable to alcoholism. There are only 15 other similar centers in the U.S.

Our faculty continue to be leaders in their fields and are regularly elected to serve as presidents of national specialty societies. You will recognize some of their names: Domenic Sica, M.D., leads the American Society of Hypertension; Celeste Powers, M.D., Ph.D., the United States & Canadian Academy of Pathology; and Curtis Sessler, M.D., the American College of Chest Physicians. Additionally, in the coming year, Michel Aboutanos, M.D., M.P.H., will take the reins of the Pan-American Trauma Society; Bruce Curran, M.S., the American Association of Physicists in Medicine; Babette Fuss, Ph.D., the American Society for Neurochemistry; and Tony Kuzel, M.D., M.H.P.E., will head the Association of Departments of Family Medicine.

This month, we marked progress on two important building projects that will improve our delivery of medical and psychiatric care for children. The first was a topping-out ceremony for a Children’s Pavilion that will open in early 2016 to provide comprehensive ambulatory services. We also broke ground on a construction project on Brook Road that will relocate and expand the 50-year-old Virginia Treatment Center for Children.

Please join me in celebrating this past year’s success.

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

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Updated: 08/19/2008