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School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

2016 End-of-Year Letter to the Alumni

We’ve got two pieces of big news in the medical school right now.

Earlier this year, I announced my intention to step down from my post as Dean. Now, my successor has been named: Peter F. Buckley, M.D., will serve as the 24th dean of the medical school. He is a national leader in academic medicine and a psychiatrist who is recognized internationally for his schizophrenia research. He also has the benefit of more than five years as a dean under his belt at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia. I’m impressed with his credentials, but even more so by the notes we’re already receiving from alumni who know his reputation and are applauding his selection. He’ll begin his tenure on the MCV Campus in mid-January.

The second item I’m eager to report is our M4 students’ outstanding board scores. They had a 98 percent pass rate on the USMLE Step 1, and with nearly all results in hand, I’m confident they will hit that again on Step 2. But even more notable is the unprecedented number of students – 73 – who earned scores of 250 or higher. Scores like those are competitive for spots in top-flight residency programs.

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 2016 edition, reporting the latest happenings from the MCV Campus.

It’s a class full of bright students, and we’ve given them unparalleled preparation in our new curriculum. From the first days on campus, our students focus on patient scenarios. That approach sets them up for success – not only for the patient-based vignettes in Step 1 and Step 2, but also for residency and their careers.

When they face Match Day in the spring, these students will have the added bonus of the reputation won by the classes who’ve gone before them. Residency program directors at other schools tell us they can count on our students coming in prepared. They’re independent and ready to start contributing from day one. I think that’s because here on the MCV Campus they have a degree of autonomy. At some other schools, M3 and M4 students are still shadowing, and residents take the role of scribe. As you know, that’s never been our model. Here, with the attending’s supervision, students are going in and evaluating patients. Together with the residents, they form the team that takes care of the patient. They are encouraged to think, to do, to plan and to learn.

That environment has attracted 8,700 applications from prospective students so far this cycle. We’ll interview 700 of them in our multiple mini interview process that began in August. It’s a bit like speed dating, where each applicant meets nine interviewers who pose a single question. You might recall that in my letter last year, I asked for alumni to volunteer as interviewers. Many of you answered my call – thank you! Some even drive in from outside of Richmond. Those alumni have been joined by retired teachers and principals, social workers, our own M.D. and Ph.D. faculty and staff, along with M4s, dentists, pharmacists and nurses. I’m proud to see such broad representation from our community. Together they will select our next medical school class.

Earlier this year, Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., was added to our ranks as chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy. She is the first female African-American chair in our medical school, and she brings a valuable perspective to her role as associate director for disparities research in the Massey Cancer Center. Recruited from Georgetown’s respected cancer center, she chairs a unique department here. I like to call it translational public health, and it begins with studying an intervention’s effectiveness. Findings inform policy briefs – a few of which have already been very helpful to Virginia’s General Assembly – and translate into widespread dissemination. I have high hopes for the impact this department will make, beyond the theoretical and into practical application.

Michael Donnenberg, M.D., has stepped into the role of Senior Associate Dean for Research and Research Training. An infectious diseases physician-scientist who built a 26-year career at the University of Maryland, he’ll oversee our M.D.-Ph.D. students as well as other training programs and also will lead the school’s research effort. Across the nation universities have seen research funding decline, but VCU’s research enterprise has grown by $60 million over the past decade, putting us in the top 100 universities for both federal and total research expenditures. I’m proud to see the medical school’s role in that, with our research portfolio consistently representing at least half the total funding.

The Department of Anesthesiology made a couple key recruitments this year with the addition of Michael Scott, M.D., known for his work in enhanced recovery after surgery, and Marc Huntoon, M.D., the editor-in-chief of the influential journal Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. We were also happy to welcome Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D., to lead the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine where he’ll set up a lung cancer screening program. Recruiting great chairs and faculty members like these will be what I remember most from my tenure as Dean.

Another important milestone for me has been watching the McGlothlin Medical Education Center take shape with its simulation scenarios, learning studios and – importantly – its potential for endless impact. As I walk its halls, I see students, residents, medical faculty and other health care professionals who’ve come to learn, to teach and to change lives. They’ll do that here in our hospitals and clinics, as well as in our community and ultimately across the country and across the world. The ripple effect is mind-boggling, and I’m so thankful to have had a role in making this place a reality.

Of course, I didn’t do it alone. That would have never been possible. It was a team effort on a grand scale. In fact, so many of the things that have happened in the past 11 years have been a team effort.

And so I’d like to conclude this letter with a thank you. I am grateful to the faculty, staff and chairs who embraced my ideas – and challenged them when need be. One of the things I’ve liked best is schmoozing with them in the hospital’s faculty lounge. We hashed out ideas together in one of the most collegial environments I’ve ever encountered. It’s been a privilege to serve with them as a colleague and Dean, and it will be a pleasure to remain on this faculty as I devote my attention to my funded research program.

I must also thank our wonderful alumni family who – all across the country – offered their friendship and their support. You have helped build the school’s reputation through your own accomplishments, as well as by backing efforts on the MCV Campus to advance teaching, discovery and clinical care. It has been a rare honor to work with you on behalf of this outstanding medical school.

Thank you for all that you do in the tradition of the Medical College of Virginia. Please know you have my friendship and my very best wishes for the New Year.

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

Virginia Commonwealth University
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Updated: 08/19/2008