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School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

June 9, 2015

Sometimes I worry about our admissions committee.

Spring 2015 issue of 12th and Marshall

This year, we received a record 9,006 applications. We only have 216 seats. Committee members have the unenviable task of winnowing down the applicant pool, assessing drive, determination and dreams, and assembling the first-year class.

We see great grades and MCAT scores, of course, but the academic record doesn’t tell the whole story. So we look at each applicant holistically. That means the committee did more than 900 interviews.

They discover applicants who have unique experiences that enrich the learning environment for the whole class. At an average age of 24.5, the incoming students bring to medical school a variety of work experiences as well as public health service and medical missions around the world.

When I arrived in 2005, we had 4,877 applicants for 184 seats. Since then, across the nation, we’ve seen an increase in the number of students applying to medical school. By 2014, the national applicant pool had grown by 32 percent. In that same time span, applications to our own medical school increased by nearly double that.

Why does our growth far outpace the nation’s?

I’d say it’s our innovation. We’ve got a state-of-the-art building and one of largest simulation spaces in the country. Even deans and facilities staff from other medical schools visit campus to check it out.

Despite the increasingly competitive Match process that we told you about in the debut issue of the medical school’s 12th & Marshall magazine, we place most of our students into the specialties they want. All over the country. Matching to great residency programs. You can see where this year’s graduating class is headed.

And now this year’s USMLE Step 1 scores are starting to arrive. Our new curriculum gets students through their pre-clinical studies quicker than ever, so they take the licensing exam earlier than ever. (A story in the spring issue of 12th & Marshall will tell you more about that.) With 93 percent of the scores in hand, we’re seeing results that are 12-13 points higher than previous classes.

That’s important not only because it means those students can move into clinical training. Those scores are what residency program directors will look at in a couple of years to decide who they’ll consider for their programs. With scores above the national average, our students will be in a position to follow their dreams into the specialties they love.

Medical school applicants look at outcomes like these. It’s one of the reasons we have applicants from all over the country.

Unfortunately, it looks like the job of our admissions committee is getting even more difficult.

April 29, 2015

Alex Valadka, M.D., named chair of the Department of Neurosurgery

Alex Valadka, M.D.

Alex Valadka, M.D.

I am pleased to announce that, following a national search, Alex Valadka, M.D., will serve as chair of the Department of Neurosurgery. He will begin his tenure on August 24.

Valadka succeeds Harold F. Young, M.D., who is the founding chair of the Neurosurgery Department. I am profoundly grateful to Dr. Young whose leadership has been invaluable since he joined VCU as professor of neurosurgery in 1976. Today he is the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Chair in Neurosurgery and director of the Harold F. Young Neurosurgical Center at VCU Medical Center. I credit Dr. Young with building a department that’s among the nation’s leading head-trauma programs. In addition, the department has generated more than $25 million in sponsored research from the NIH and is a top training program for neurosurgeons, including Dr. Valadka who completed his residency training on the MCV Campus in 1993.

Currently, Dr. Valadka is chairman and chief executive officer of the Seton Brain and Spine Institute in Austin, Texas, the largest, most comprehensive neuroscience program in Central Texas. He has a strong clinical and research interest in neurotrauma and critical care as evidenced by his research funding and record of scholarly publication. Dr. Valadka 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 is author and co-author on more than seven dozen scientific papers and was co-editor on the textbook Neurotrauma: Evidence-Based Answers to Common Questions. He also is an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

He is active on the national front and has served as chair of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS)/Congress of Neurological Surgeons Section on Neurotrauma and Critical Care; as chair of the Neurosurgical Specialty Group of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Committee on Trauma; and on the boards of directors of the AANS and the Coalition for American Trauma Care. He has chaired the Washington Committee for Neurosurgery and served as vice president of the AANS. He served as a standing study section member for the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and continues to be a frequent ad hoc reviewer. His current responsibilities include serving as treasurer of the AANS and governor of the ACS as well as membership on the board of directors of the National Trauma Institute. He is associate editor of the Journal of Neurotrauma and section editor for Neurosurgery. He is the Consultant to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, and in that role, he helped create and implement important new initiatives to improve player safety

Dr. Valadka earned his medical degree at the University of Chicago in 1987 and completed his neurosurgery residency training on the MCV Campus in 1993. Afterwards, he joined the faculty of the Department of Neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine. In 2006, he accepted a position as professor and vice chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. In 2009, he moved to Austin where he became CEO of the Seton Brain and Spine Institute and worked to create an academic medical center in Central Texas.

Dr. Valadka is married to Richmond native Patricia Valadka, who earned a pair of bachelor’s degrees from VCU: in psychology in 1982 and in nursing in 1986. Please join me in welcoming them both back to Richmond.

My thanks go to David Chelmow, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who led the national search for a surgeon capable of following in the footsteps of Dr. Young and continuing the department’s traditional strengths in training and advancing the field of neurosurgical care.

February 3, 2015

Four medical school faculty chosen among 2015’s Blick Scholars

The Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences has announced this year’s Blick Scholars. Of the 10 faculty members chosen, four are from the medical school. Congratulations to:

· Carlos R. Escalante , Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics
· Jessica G. LaRose, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Health
· Qinglian Liu, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics
· Lindsay M. Sabik, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research

The Blick Scholars Program is made possible through the George and Lavinia Blick Research Fund housed at the MCV Foundation. Created with a generous $2 million bequest by Lavinia Blick, the fund was her gesture of gratitude for the care she and her family had received at MCV and later at the VCU Medical Center. Her only stipulation was that the gift be used to fund medical research on the MCV Campus.

Blick Scholars are chosen through a nomination process. They must demonstrate documented growth toward achievement of national or international recognition, a developing record of obtaining external research funding, collaborative scholarship and a primary faculty appointment in one of the health sciences schools. The fund made its first awards in 2010.

Every four years, the Blick Scholars Program chooses up to 10 junior faculty who receive an annual award for four years. This year’s awards will begin July 1, 2015.

January 26, 2015

Match season off to a good start with success for students matching in Urology, Ophthalmology

Results are in for students hoping to train in Ophthalmology and Urology — two highly-competitive specialties that have traditionally conducted early Match processes. Again this year, hopeful applicants outnumbered residency slots, and I am proud to see that all our students applying to these specialties have matched to strong residency programs.

Three current students and one former graduate saw success in the 2015 Ophthalmology Residency Match:
• Steven Fish – West Virginia University Eye Institute ( Morgantown, W.Va.)
• Katherine McCabe – New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (New York, N.Y.)
• Adam Pflugrath – VCU School of Medicine (Richmond, Va.)
• John Le, M’12 – VCU School of Medicine (Richmond, Va.)

Both the students participating in the Urology Match have secured positions:
• Zachary McDowell – Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, Texas)
• Jordan Southern – Geisinger Medical Center (Danville, Penn.)

In addition, 11 students have participated in a variety of military scholarship programs, which cover medical school tuition and fees. In exchange, after graduating, the students will serve one year of active duty for each year of scholarship support received. This year, three of the students elected to take a civilian deferment, and we are proud to see the remainder have matched into the specialties of their choice:
• Geoff Bader – Internal Medicine at Keesler AFB
• Erin Connor – Family Medicine at Madigan AMC
• Albert Marle – Internal Medicine at Eisenhower AMC
• Barbara Saber – Ob-Gyn at Portsmouth NMC
• Matthew Schorr – Transitional Year at Eisenhower AMC
• Philip Sholes – General Surgery at Walter Reed AMC
• Scott Toney – Pediatrics San Diego at NMC
• Brittany Wootten – Emergency Medicine at Portsmouth NMC

The Urology, Ophthalmology and Military match processes are independent of the National Resident Matching Program.

Recent years have seen the National Resident Matching Program become an ever-more competitive process. I’m glad to report that our medical school’s graduating class typically equals or exceeds the national average of students matching. We’ve also been nationally recognized for the proactive measures we take to ensure strong matches. Our students benefit from a toolkit developed by Christopher Woleben, M’97, H’01. He’s our Associate Dean for Student Affairs, and his toolkit helps him identify and troubleshoot potential issues our students might encounter. It’s proven to be so valuable that the AAMC published and shared the toolkit with its members nationwide. Since then, other institutions have looked to Dr. Woleben for guidance on dealing with potential Match problems.

When the clock strikes noon on Friday, March 20, envelopes will be handed out from coast to coast at our nation’s medical schools. I wish our students well as they finalize their rank order lists and prepare for that momentous day.

January 25, 2015

Dean Strauss’ salute to Sheldon Retchin

Sheldon Retchin, M.D., H’79

Sheldon Retchin, M.D.

Sheldon Retchin, M.D., H’79, first arrived on the MCV Campus in 1976 as a trainee. This month he departs, having risen to the posts of Senior VP for Health Sciences and CEO of the VCU Health System.

He is headed to Ohio State University where he’ll lead its Wexner Medical Center, and they’re fortunate to get him.

His leadership was one of the reasons I chose to come to Richmond in 2005, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to work closely with him over these past nine years. That experience has shaped my life, in professional, personal and lasting ways.

His energy and vision has transformed our campus. He’s overseen about a half-billion dollars in new construction in the last decade alone. He’s led a hospital, a physician practice plan and a Medicaid HMO that’s won acclaim as one of the few cost-effective programs for caring for an inner city, uninsured population.

That same concern for patients birthed his goal for us to become America’s safest health system. He’s seen us on our way to achieving that: our progress was honored last year with the AHA–McKesson Quest for Quality Prize.

Those initiatives have created a great training environment for the more than 4,500 students enrolled in VCU’s health science schools. The students have a true respect and affection for him. That was in evidence last year when the medical school’s graduating class of 2014 asked him to be its convocation speaker. Dr. Retchin responded with the unforgettable story of Otis, a blues-playing toll-booth attendant who became his friend and eventual patient. In Otis’ memory, Dr. Retchin himself pulled out a harmonica to deliver his own blues riff.

I will always admire the humor, enthusiasm, dedication and, yes, musicality that he brought to his responsibilities. Our campus carries his indelible mark. He deserves to be proud of the work he’s done. And I am grateful to call him my friend.

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.

July 2, 2014

Two Medical School Faculty to be Honored at VCU Convocation

Later this summer, we will see two of our faculty recognized for their truly remarkable contributions to the School of Medicine, VCU Health System and University at VCU’s 32nd Opening Faculty Address and Convocation. Robert L. Balster, Ph.D., will receive the Presidential Medallion and Marc P. Posner, M.D., will be honored with the Distinguished Service Award.

Robert L. Balster, Ph.D.

Robert L. Balster, Ph.D.

Between the two of them, they have 70 years of service on the MCV Campus, long and distinguished careers that have raised our national and international reputation. Hailing from two very different arenas – Dr. Balster’s skill and expertise has shaped our nation’s drug abuse policy, and Dr. Posner has been a pioneer in the transplant field – they are alike in their commitment to students and trainees. In untold hours of mentoring, teaching and inspiring, these two faculty have influenced generations of scientists and surgeons and have built a remarkable legacy.

Robert Balster, Ph.D., is the Luther A. Butler Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology. His 40 years on faculty have yielded a remarkable list of accomplishments that includes continuous funding from the NIH since 1976. He has applied his scientific knowledge to drug abuse policy as a former chair of the FDA Drug Abuse Advisory Committee and as a former member of the World Health Organization Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Dependence. Here on campus, he became the founding director of VCU’s Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies with the mission of assembling a multi-disciplinary effort that would attract faculty from throughout the university. By 2013, the Institute had attracted 48 faculty representing 13 departments in five schools. In FY2012, they were the recipients of 93 grants and contracts totaling $21.3 million.

He has advised 13 doctoral students and 15 postdoctoral trainees. In 2000, this dedication was recognized when he was named the first recipient of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence’s Mentorship Award and, six years later, with the NIDA International Program’s Excellence in Mentorship Award.

Marc P. Posner, M.D.

Marc P. Posner, M.D.

Marc P. Posner, M.D., professor and the David M. Hume Chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery, has served in many capacities over 30 years, including being at the helm of the Hume-Lee Transplant Center for the past decade. Over his tenure, the transplant field has changed significantly, from being considered an experimental therapy to becoming today’s standard of care. A true pioneer in the field, he worked with legendary surgeon H.M. Lee, M.D. to perform some of the first successful liver transplants in the U.S. In 1998, he started one of the country’s first living donor liver transplant programs, offering the hope of a shorter waiting period for the 17,000 people in need of a liver transplant. Creating the program involved overcoming truly complex challenges from both the ethical and surgical perspectives, but Posner persevered and led the VCU Medical Center to its current position as one of the most successful living donor liver transplant programs in the U.S.

On a national level, Posner has helped to develop the United Network for Organ Sharing’s National SWAP program that allows someone to donate an organ on a patient’s behalf so that he or she can receive a compatible organ from someone else in return. It has the potential to create an extra 2,000-3,000 kidney transplants a year. Despite his busy clinical schedule, he is dedicated to sharing his knowledge. He has authored over 200 peer-reviewed publications and is revered for his commitment to weekly sessions for trainees to help them appreciate the complexities of the acute and chronic diseases our patients face each day.

VCU’s 32nd Opening Faculty Address and Convocation will begin at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, August 20, 2014, at the Stuart C. Siegel Center with a reception immediately following. If you plan to attend, please RSVP by Aug. 15, 2014, to Kathleen Blankenship at blankenshike@vcu.edu, or 804-828-5880.

May 7, 2014

Class of 2014 selects Sheldon Retchin as convocation speaker

Sheldon Retchin

It is with great pleasure that I announce the Class of 2014’s graduating students have chosen Sheldon Retchin, M.D., M.S.P.H., as their convocation speaker.

He’s a geriatrician whose days are filled with young people. As VCU’s Senior VP for Health Sciences, he bears responsibility for the more than 4,500 students enrolled in the MCV Campus’ five health science schools. When he arrived in Richmond 37 years ago, he was a trainee himself. After earning undergraduate, medical and public health degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, the North Carolina native came to the MCV Campus for residency training in internal medicine.

The students may be hoping Dr. Retchin will share wisdom gleaned from his experiences as CEO of the VCU Health System where he leads an 865-bed hospital, a 625-physician practice plan and a 175,000-member Medicaid HMO that’s been celebrated as one of the few cost-effective programs for caring for an inner city, uninsured population.

Or maybe they want to hear how a love for swimming and music morphed into his patent for the SwiMP3™ underwater music player.

Whichever the case, the Class of 2014 has made a good choice. I’m looking forward to Dr. Retchin’s remarks as much as they are.

The medical school’s convocation ceremony will take place on Friday, May 9 at 3 p.m. at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Dr. Retchin has recently been appointed as the inaugural holder of the Seymour and Ruth Perlin Professorship in Health Administation and Internal Medicine.

February 7, 2014

U.S. News & World Report Ranking of Best Hospitals: A Flawed Process

For years, the U.S. News & World Report (USNWR) magazine has used a complicated formula for ranking hospitals and health systems. Some of their measures are valid comparisons and include mortality rates, quality metrics and structural factors. One of the variables USNWR has used is a ‘reputational score’ that has been traditionally based on a random survey of U.S. physicians.

However, as you may know, this year USNWR has changed its approach for deriving the reputational score. In addition to surveying 200 board-certified specialists for their opinion on hospital quality, they will also survey 50,000 board-certified specialists who are registered with Doximity, an online professional network for physicians. Only physicians registered with Doximity will have access to the new survey.

This non-random approach by U.S. News & World Report has triggered a response from some to encourage loyal physician supporters, such as medical school alumni, to sign up for Doximity. I do not condone trying to influence alumni to register for Doximity. This is merely a subtle effort to persuade physicians to vote favorably for their alma mater, and it has the potential to corrupt the survey results.

The Best Hospitals ranking has long been criticized for relying on the reputational score, rather than on important quality measures. The USNWR has tried to address that this year by increasing the weight of the patient safety score. Even so, reputation factors heavily into the final formula – more than double the weight of patient safety.

Even flawed rankings have influence, but I will not participate in further degrading what should be an objective evaluation of a hospital’s quality. I advise our alumni who wish to participate in the survey to follow their conscience in communicating their opinions.

The above Feb. 7 blog post was edited to clarify that USNWR will use a pair of surveys to derive the reputational score component of its annual Best Hospitals rankings.

December 19, 2013

2013 End-of-Year Letter to the Alumni

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.