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School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

December 2015 Archives

December 16, 2015

2015 End-of-Year Letter to the Alumni

In a decade’s worth of letters to the alumni body, I have had the chance to tell you about an ever-growing applicant pool, the new McGlothlin Medical Education Center that houses our new curriculum and an expanding research enterprise that includes the largest grants in VCU’s history. It is a privilege to lead the medical school during such invigorating times, and I am glad to report there are more advances this year.

For one, we have a pair of new chairs to introduce you to. Harry Young, M.D., the beloved founding chair in the Department of Neurosurgery has retired, and it is only fitting that one of his former trainees has returned to the MCV Campus to lead the department that Dr. Young built. Alex Valadka, M.D., arrives from the Seton Brain and Spine Institute in Austin, Texas, where he was chairman and CEO. He has been investigator and co-investigator on 18 research grants, including serving as initiating investigator on a $33.7 million Department of Defense research consortium on mild traumatic brain injury. He will enrich our already exceptional community of traumatic brain injury researchers.

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 2015 edition, reporting the latest happenings from the MCV Campus.

Stephen Kates, M.D., has taken the helm of Orthopaedic Surgery. Arriving last month from the University of Rochester, Kates is a standout in his field with a highly funded and diverse research program. Of particular note, he developed the Geriatric Fracture Center Model of Care, which has been emulated by hospitals in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Latin America and Asia. His expertise will dovetail with our existing strong program in geriatric care.

If you graduated in the past three decades, there’s a good chance you know of Peter Boling, M.D., and his house calls program for homebound elderly. You will be proud to hear his vision for excellent and cost-efficient care has spread beyond Richmond. His team had a lead role in the creation and design of the Independence at Home Demonstration, a Medicare and Medicaid program which proved so successful in its initial year that it’s been extended for two years and is being considered as a permanent program.

There are two other examples of our faculty and students shaping training and patient care on the national front. Medical students are working alongside colleagues from dentistry, psychology, nursing, pharmacy, social work and community health in the second year of a national hotspotting project. A small percentage of patients account for almost half of total health care expenses in the U.S. This initiative is equipping students from 20 medical schools to identify high utilizers and facilitate care in a way that is patient-focused, home-based and cost-effective.

In the second project, we’re testing guidelines intended to eliminate the perceived gap between how medical school typically trains students and what is expected on day one of residency. There are 13 skills – like recommending tests, collaborating as part of an interprofessional team and prioritizing differential diagnoses – that we’re evaluating along with 10 other schools across the country.

With more than 9,500 applications this year, it is important to choose the right students for the 216 seats in the incoming class. When a student struggles, many times it comes down to communication issues, particularly in the third and fourth years that call on interpersonal skills, professionalism and ethical/moral judgment. For more than 10 years, McMaster University’s medical school in Canada has used multiple mini interviews to evaluate these qualities in applicants, and now 22 of the 144 U.S medical schools have joined them. Their collective experience shows that 10 interviews are necessary to properly judge a candidate’s potential to become a great physician. Next year, we will replace our current single interview with a set of ten 10-minute interviews. In order to launch our new process in August, we will need a cadre of faculty, students and – importantly – alumni who are willing to devote one Saturday a month from mid-August through mid-March to the mission of selecting students who will thrive on the MCV Campus. If you are interested, please get in touch with our Admissions Dean, who is an alumna herself, Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, at mwcook@vcu.edu.

Four years ago, I wrote to you about what was then a new program: fmSTAT. It’s a dual admission program in the medical school that nurtures students who want to be family physicians. It gives them four years of workshops, training and mentors – many of whom are alumni. With a current enrollment of 30, we’ll graduate our first class of fmScholars in the spring. The program is having a significant positive impact on graduating students’ specialty decisions. I remember when I arrived on campus, just 11 students matched into family medicine residencies. This year we’re on track – for the second year running – to see more than 20 match into the field. Results like that are raising our profile on the national front: US News ranked us among the top 50 medical schools for primary care. Our next step is to build a scholarship endowment so that graduates heading into family medicine won’t be saddled with a load of debt.

Endowments like that one make a difference. Over these past 10 years, I have seen 31 new professorships and endowed chairs established in the medical school and the VCU Massey Cancer Center. That financial backing allows us to recruit and retain exceptional faculty members whose national stature translates to advances for our patients, unique opportunities for our students and an elevated profile for the school as a whole. For the first time in our history, the school’s faculty boasts five Institute of Medicine members.

Endowments and private gifts also fuel new centers and institutes. In the last decade, the School of Medicine and Massey have raised $352.5 million. That financial infusion has taken concrete form around campus in, for example, the VCU Pauley Heart Center, the Victoria Johnson Center for Lung Disease Research and the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center. Just this month, community philanthropist Ken Wright announced a $16 million gift – this time in support of translational research. I am grateful for vibrant community engagement and financial support.

Please continue to keep us informed about your own accomplishments. As I read the Class Notes section of the medical school’s new magazine, 12th & Marshall, I am reminded of the remarkable lives of our alumni. From leading national professional societies to devoting themselves to humanitarian causes around the globe and in their own communities, our alumni take what they learned on the MCV Campus and use it to heal, to teach and to lay a path for those who are coming in their footsteps.

I thank you for all that you do in the tradition of the Medical College of Virginia, and I wish you a wonderful holiday season.

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