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School of Medicine Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine: Message From the Dean

January 13, 2012

The White House Comes to Richmond

It’s not every day that you get to share the stage with the First Lady.

Dean Jerry Strauss shared the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama

Dean Jerry Strauss shared the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama. He represented the 101 medical colleges that signed a pledge to support the Joining Forces initiative.
Photo courtesy of VCU Creative Services

In fact, one of our students was much more precise when she told me afterwards that it was a once in a lifetime experience.

It’s an enormous source of pride for me that our university had the honor of hosting Michelle Obama for her announcement of the Joining Forces initiative. The White House said we were selected because we are a national leader in TBI research and a strong partner with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.

Medical students at the Joining Forces announcement

About 200 of our medical students were on hand for the Joining Forces announcement, some in the audience and others on stage, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with service members from Fort Lee.
Photo courtesy of medical student Sneha Kondragunta

The First Lady spoke powerfully about the need to conduct new research in the areas of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. And more than 50 deans from the country’s other medical schools were on hand as a visible demonstration of our commitment to doing so.

Today we have a far better understanding of combat-related injuries than when I first learned about them some 40 years ago as a medical student. That was during the Vietnam conflict. Little was known at the time, and there was no formal medical education related to these significant issues. I remember the uncertainty and frustration of caring for the warriors, whose lives had been changed dramatically because of their injuries and battle experience.

Joining Forces

The White House chose VCU for the site of its Joining Forces announcement because our medical center is a national leader in TBI research and a strong partner with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.
Photo courtesy of VCU Creative Services

However, physicians working in the combat zones were developing new approaches to manage TBI. Some of them, like our chair of Neurosurgery, Dr. Harold Young, applied what they’d learned when they returned to America. Dr. Young partnered with basic scientist Dr. John Povlishock, our chair of Anatomy and Neurobiology. Their research, and that from faculty at other medical schools across the nation, has positioned us today to commit to our service men and women that they will receive the medical care they deserve.

Partnering with Veterans Administration Medical Centers, of course, is vital to meeting that goal. We on the MCV Campus are fortunate to be affiliated with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and to have Dr. David Cifu leading that partnership. His Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation is one the country’s top programs, and it works alongside the VA to conduct groundbreaking research and to establish nationally recognized clinical programs, like the polytrauma center that treats seriously injured American soldiers and Marines.

I had the honor of standing behind the podium this week. But I could only do so knowing that I was speaking on behalf of our faculty, our students and our alumni who have and will play such significant roles in delivering and improving the care that our veterans and service members receive.

See photos from the announcement.

Watch highlights from the Joining Forces Announcement. (2:11 minutes)

Watch the announcement in its entirety. (33:38 minutes)

August 18, 2011

The Class of 2015: Chosen for their Potential

There are 200 new medical students on the MCV Campus this week. These students were chosen from more than 6,450 applications — our highest number ever, and an incredible increase from the 4,200 applicants to the school in 2005.

White Coat Ceremony

The selection of the Class of 2015 involved more than one year of work by Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M.D., associate dean for admissions, and the Admissions Committee. Each individual was chosen for their accomplishments and, even more important, their potential.

In this age of health care reform, it is potential that occupies all our minds. We face a projected shortage of physicians in the primary care fields and face much uncertainty over the medical profession at large. For the moment, there is no national plan on the horizon to fix the global workforce problem. And so I believe that our solutions will have to be local. That is the argument I have made in an article published in the summer issue of the Richmond Academy of Medicine’s newsletter.

In it, I describe our school’s plans for encouraging primary care careers, teaching population disease management and forging interdisciplinary training with nursing, pharmacy and allied health that will help to build consensus over scope of practice. Our school already has made progress on these and other fronts, always with our commitment to our patients at the core of our planning.

That message of patient-focused care is what we wanted to impress upon the Class of 2015 at last week’s White Coat Ceremony. This year’s keynote speaker was Internal Medicine Professor Peter A. Boling, M.D., and there is no one better able to inspire future physicians with the message of what a privilege it is to care for patients in times of illness and distress.

Boling joined our school’s faculty after completing his internal medicine residency training on the MCV Campus in 1984. In the early 1990s, he began making house calls, carrying a practice load of several hundred patients, some of whom he has now treated for more than a quarter century.

He champions the house calls approach at the national level and, in a very personal way, here on the MCV Campus. He leads our school’s program that provides in-home primary care for more than 5,000 home-bound, frail adults. It is through his program that each one of our medical students is introduced to this approach to patient care.

Boling could have educated his White Coat audience with a plethora of stats supporting the value of house calls. But instead he told a story. Of a 97-year-old woman who is a master gardener and a retired teacher whose accomplishments sometimes landed her in the local newspaper. These are pieces of her life, he told his audience, of which he would have never learned, except that he visited her in her home.

In her home, he tracked and treated her chronic illness. In her home he met her adult daughter who serves as her care-giver. And it was in her home that he built a years-long relationship with the two of them.

They returned the favor at our White Coat Ceremony when they took the stage to share their wisdom with our medical students. They exhorted the students to listen to their patients, and reminded them that caring for patients sometimes extends to caring for the whole family.

But nothing spoke more strongly than their very presence on the stage, standing alongside the physician who has grown to know them so well.


Read Dean Strauss’ article published in the Richmond Academy of Medicine’s summer issue of its newsletter, Ramifications: The Physician Workforce: A National Problem Requiring Local Solutions.

April 28, 2011

A New Home for the Medical School

James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Educatio Building rendering

The medical education building that is currently under construction at 12th and Marshall streets will be named the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Education Center in honor of that couple’s remarkable and longtime generosity to the medical school.

Today was unlike any other. Any other in my own personal experience. Any other in our medical school’s history.

Today we announced the latest example of the extraordinary generosity of Jim and Fran McGlothlin. This couple has been longtime friends of the medical school and, specifically, of Dr. Harry Young and his neurosurgery team.

Inspired as they were by his compassionate and skillful patient care, they wanted to make a contribution to the training of future generations of physicians. And with a gift of $25 million, they have made a powerful statement of support for our own medical school’s future.

In recognition of the McGlothlins’ generosity, the Board of Visitors will name the medical education building that is currently under construction at 12th and Marshall streets as the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Medical Education Center.

The building will be an important addition to Richmond’s architectural heritage. I.M. Pei’s internationally acclaimed architectural firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, has designed a landmark that, much like the Egyptian Building, will continue to draw visitors more than 160 years after its completion.

And just like that historic structure, our new facility will attract not only because of its design, but also because of the influence it will exert in the field of medicine. Its interior has been thoughtfully crafted to house the most significant renovation to the school’s curriculum seen in 30 years.

This new facility will allow us to help meet the projected physician shortage by accommodating an increase in class size from 200 to 250, increasing the total medical student body to 1,000. Just as importantly, the building will allow opportunities for small-group and even individualized learning. With a focus on team-based, clinically-driven problem solving, two floors will be devoted to the Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety, where high-tech advances create a low-risk setting for students to confront situations physicians face in clinical practice.

Learning studios

Learning studios are designed for flexibility, with team-based, clinically-driven problem solving in mind.

In addition, the top floors of the new building will house the Massey Cancer Center’s Research Pavilion, which will serve as a hub for clinical trials as well as cancer prevention and control.

In this building, we will pioneer new approaches to training physicians and to research. Even before the McGlothlins’ announcement, it had won the support of alumni and friends who had committed $8.2 million to the medical school’s campaign that encompasses the building as well as scholarships and professorships. With this announcement, we move into a more public phase of our campaign and expect to expand our cadre of supporters who will join the McGlothlins and other donors in making a statement of support for our vision of medical education’s future.

August 25, 2010

New Beginnings

Dr. Jerome Straus III and new student at the 2010 White Coat Ceremony

At the 2010 White Coat Ceremony, Dean Jerry Strauss helped incoming students into their first white coats.

Some people say it’s like drinking from a fire hose. And it’s true. Over the next four years, our first-year medical students must absorb an enormous amount of material about the human body and human disease.

But I say that’s not the real challenge. The true test is learning how to turn all that knowledge into wisdom. Wisdom that will equip them to provide compassionate and skilled care for their future patients.

When I welcomed this year’s incoming students to campus, I reminded them that they are well prepared for this challenge. After all, 6,350 applicants were competing for the 200 seats available in the Class of 2014. This is a highly select group, chosen not just for their test scores, but also for a demonstrated passion for the health care field.

Now that they are here, they will take advantage of an exceptional learning environment. The past five years have brought important changes to the VCU Medical Center, with more than three-quarters of a billion dollars of investment in new and planned facilities, people and programs.

Our new students will first benefit from the renovations to the Gross Anatomy Lab and to the Larrick and Hunton Student Centers. Soon they will also see patients in the Critical Care Hospital — a facility that is visited on a monthly basis by leaders from other medical centers who want to duplicate its innovations. The Goodwin Research Labs, the Molecular Medicine Research Building and renovations to research space in Sanger Hall will give students with an interest in biomedical research an outstanding arena for their studies.

The Richmond community itself will become a place for learning as they find ways to serve its citizens through health screenings, free clinics and even K-12 tutoring.
Those experiences together create an environment for education, healing and discovery. An environment that transforms knowledge into wisdom.

March 22, 2010

Match Madness 2010

When it comes to milestone moments, there’s nothing like Match Day.

Envelopes handed out a noon. Fourth-year students wondering where they’re headed for the next stage of their training. It’s high drama.

And for our students, the celebration that followed was unprecedented.

Ninety-seven percent of our students who were eligible to start a residency program matched successfully. Their success exceeds the national 93 percent Match rate. I count that as a particularly noteworthy achievement because this was the largest Match ever with more than 30,500 applicants competing for not quite 23,000 first-year positions.

Many of our students are headed to some of the most competitive programs across the nation:

  • One matched into Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, taking one of the country’s only 10 such positions.
  • Six matched into Otolaryngology and seven into Orthopedic Surgery, which were two of the most competitive fields for applicants this year.
  • Thirty-six have chosen programs in the VCU Medical Center and dozens more are going to other prestigious programs like the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Emory, Duke, Yale, Brown, NYU, UT Southwestern and the Mayo Clinic and Georgetown.

And we’re equally proud of the 82 students who are going into primary care related specialties. Against the backdrop of the health-care reform debate in Washington D.C., these students are devoting themselves to careers that are essential for delivering compassionate, cohesive care to America’s aging population.

On the VCU Medical Center side of the Match, it was great to see that for the second year in a row our residency programs were totally filled with outstanding candidates. In this respect, too, we are making connections with premiere schools. First-year residents who start in July will come from programs like Dartmouth, Hopkins, Penn, and UNC. The class looks amazing and their board scores and other measures are incredible.

Congratulations to all our students, those going and those coming. Graduation is around the corner, but nothing quite compares to Match Day with its excitement, camaraderie and hope for the future.

September 10, 2009

International Experience Shapes Perspectives on American Health Care

Veronica Sikka, M.D.

Back in the U.S., Sikka is now training in the Department of Emergency Medicine residency program.

When Veronica Sikka, M.D., returned from a month’s rotation in Chandigarh, India, she told me that she had a new appreciation for how the South Asian country had learned to practice very sophisticated medicine with minimal resources.

During the spring of her fourth year in medical school, Sikka traveled to the world’s second-most populous country under the auspices of VCU’s partnership with the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research. The Institute is located in Chandigarh, a northern city that boasts the highest per capita income in the country and some of the brightest clinical minds in India.

Nevertheless, Sikka found limited beds and staffing and strained financial resources at the Institute, which serves as the city’s Level I Trauma Center. In her experience however, those limitations did not translate into diminished health care quality.
Assigned to the emergency department, Sikka worked long hours, seeing patients and discussing their differential diagnoses and treatment plans with attending physicians. In the midst of her experience, she was reminded of a 2006 Institute of Medicine report that emphasized that U.S. emergency physicians work in a fragmented system of emergency care with limited interhospital and out-of-hospital care coordination, too few on-call specialists, minimal disaster readiness, strained inpatient resources and inadequate pediatric emergency services.

“If we could take the efficiency India has achieved with their access to modern technology but increased emphasis on basic clinical exam skills,” wrote Sikka, “and combine it with American’s current health care resources that are far more abundant than what is available in India, we have awesome potential to address many of the problems highlighted in the IOM’s recent report.”

She offers this as an example: “Rather than immediately resorting to imaging and labs, the physicians there are great clinicians first and foremost—using their clinical skills and acumen to guide patient management as opposed to a lab value or image. Sometimes we get so dependent on tests and imaging here that we forget that perhaps the best judge of a patient’s disposition is not necessarily a blood value or an x-ray but the clinician’s sixth sense of what he or she feels is going on with the patient.”

VCU International Partnership Universities

Our medical school established its partnership with the Institute in 2006 to foster just this kind of experience. Already yielding faculty collaboration in the fields of psychiatry, genetics and internal medicine, it is one of 15 partnerships that VCU has established with international universities and one of three international agreements forged by the medical school.

Psychiatry Professor Ananda Pandurangi, M.D., is director of our partnership with the Institute. He says that it’s a great learning place for our students and residents in various disciplines because of three unique qualities. “They are a top-ranked academic medical center in India, a tertiary care hospital with 64 different medical-surgical specialties and yet they also see a significant number of patients receiving care for the first time from two surrounding states.”

With a bachelor’s, two master’s, a Ph.D., and M.D. to her credit, Sikka’s connection to VCU now spans more than a decade and is ongoing. She is now training in the Department of Emergency Medicine residency program. “VCU is one of a kind in its strong commitment to ensuring students and residents are given access to ample opportunities that will enrich their education and training. I had many opportunities to transfer to other institutions throughout my educational and residency training, but VCU is difficult to match.”

She says that this experience was a wonderful opportunity to “gain a unique insight into how healthcare is delivered in countries that were once third world nations and today are on the cutting edge of medical technology. As we enter a historical era in our country where we are starting to question our healthcare system and determine what we can do to make it better, it is helpful to have an international perspective to inform our national debate.” Wanting to eventually pursue a career that combines both academic emergency medicine and health policy, Sikka believes global perspectives such as the one gained in India will position her well for the coming years.

August 14, 2009

Roll Call

Dean Strauss

On Monday at Roll Call, their names were read one-by-one. And one-by-one, they stood to take their place in the Class of 2013. As the week progressed, I watched them get to know one another and get to know the MCV Campus, and was struck by the thought that these students will be agents for change. They will be the ones to transform American health care into whatever form it takes in the coming years.

Although the future course for American healthcare is yet to be defined, I remain optimistic that meaningful change can occur. I’m from Chicago. And I’m a Cubs fan. So I’m well equipped with the necessary patience, passion and hope.

And I am confident that our school serves as an outstanding training ground in that regard. On the one hand, our students participate in our nationally recognized Project HEART program that nurtures their spirit and their commitment to empathetic care. On the other hand, they will work with our health care information technology system that is ranked as one of the best in the country. The juxtaposition of these programs is particularly interesting to me. They offer fundamentally different views on medicine, but without each other, they are useless. Our Health System’s innovative approach to medical homes for the under-served is touted as a national model.

So as our students celebrated the first official milestone in their medical careers, I reminded them that medicine is a science. Doctoring is a profession. Health care is a business. By the time they finish their four years here on the MCV Campus, I know that they will be equipped with the wisdom to reconcile these perspectives as their careers progress.

July 6, 2009

A Magician Leads Peds

No doubt about it. One of the first things to catch your attention when you look over Bruce Rubin’s CV is his affinity for all things magical. Not only does he work it into his patient exams, he teaches it to students, to residents and even to practicing pediatricians at CME conferences around the world.

He maintains that physicians are natural magicians, with our special costumes, magical potions and incantations. We’ve even got X-ray vision, to his way of thinking.

But Dr. Rubin’s magician’s props are tongue depressors and ear specula, with the occasional rubber band or sponge ball thrown in. And his goal is communication. “It gets the kids interested, listening and engaged. And it makes me more human and less intimidating,” he says.

Dr. Rubin works his magic

Dr. Bruce Rubin, the new department chair for pediatrics, works with an impromptu magician’s assistant on a recent afternoon at the Children’s Medical Center.

Or maybe the first thing to catch your attention was his amazing record of professional accomplishment.

He says that he’s known as the mucus guy. But I say he’s known for developing effective and appropriate aerosol therapy for children with lung diseases. And for advocating the antibiotic drug azithromycin for cystic fibrosis.

He’s also known for setting the traditional understanding of CF on its head by discovering that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s not that there’s too much mucus in the CF airway. Instead CF patients’ lungs fill up with pus. And that, of course, leads to a very different treatment approach.

Patients around the world know him for his mucus clearance clinic, which is the only like it in North America. And others know him for his study and treatment of plastic bronchitis, a deadly disease that takes its name from the way the mucus forms a fibrous cast that—when pulled from the lungs—clearly mirrors the branching of the bronchial tree. Dr. Rubin maintains the international registry for patients with this rare condition, and he’s working to develop disease models so that he can better understand and treat it.

Here on the MCV Campus, he’ll continue his patient care and his research. But interestingly, he thinks that of all the different jobs you can have at a hospital, being chair of pediatrics is the best. He says that pediatricians are genetically programmed to be nice and nurturing. “Even the most difficult pediatrician is still a pediatrician, and that’s what makes this so much fun.”

May 11, 2009

Goodbyes are Bittersweet

Enrique Gerszten, M.D.

Graduation Speaker Enrique Gerszten, M.D., it has been said, perhaps more than any other faculty member, helps students to understand and appreciate the honor and responsibility of being a physician.

At this time of year, we’re accustomed to saying goodbye to the students who have trained with us for the past four years. It’s bittersweet, as we salute their accomplishments and share a few parting words of advice. On Friday, that responsibility will fall in part to Enrique Gerszten, M.D., who will serve as the medical school’s convocation speaker.

This year Dr. Gerszten, too, is marking a milestone, as he transitions from full-time responsibilities to the role of Professor Emeritus.

We all—myself included—remember our first interaction with him. For some, the relationship began at their admissions interview when they discover they’ve drawn Dr. Gerszten. Others met him for the first time during the second-year Pathogenesis course that he has directed for more than three decades. In his address to the Class of 2009, he’ll be speaking to an audience he knows well.

The Class of 2009 and I joined the MCV Campus at about the same time. Their White Coat Ceremony was one of my first responsibilities after being appointed as Dean. In the time since, I have enjoyed getting to know and admire this remarkable class, whose members include:

Kyle Eliason

Kyle Eliason

Kyle Eliason is headed to the University of Iowa for his internal medicine residency.

Kyle Eliason, who says he learned what medicine was all about before he even arrived on campus. It was December 1, 2004, when he underwent a living donor liver transplant, donating 55 percent of his liver to his brother and best friend, Eric. Kyle’s four-year Aesculapian Scholarship was made possible by the medical school’s Annual Fund; now he’s headed to the University of Iowa for his internal medicine residency.

Jemilat Badamas

Jemilat Badamas

Jemilat Badamas will train in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins-Bayview.

Growing up in Ibadan, Nigeria, Jemilat Badamas, always knew she was bound to study in America. At 18, she moved to the U.S. to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, first as an undergraduate in Baltimore and then here at our School of Medicine. Her four years have been distinguished by her coursework—in her third-year she was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society—as well as for her commitment to the community. Volunteering at Richmond homeless and remote-area clinics and mentoring high-school students interested in medical careers are just some of the things she has made time to do.

David Buxton

David Buxton

David Buxton at the medical school’s Aloha-themed Match Day celebration.

David Buxton, too, has always believed in the value of volunteer service. That dedication led to his being named as the first recipient of the Harry and Zackia Shaia Scholarship that offers four-year support to a student with a demonstrated commitment to the community.

Next year, he will have responsibilities over and above those that come with his Brown University psychiatry residency. David has been selected by the Journal of the American Medical Association as one of 12 students who will serve as next year’s editors of “Virtual Mentor.” The online publication encourages medical students to discuss bioethics topics, and David has already claimed a theme for his issue: pediatric palliative care. It’s a topic that reflects David’s plans for his own career. He has regularly spent time shadowing Dr. Bob Archuletta, a local physician who was among the first to become board-certified in pediatric palliative care. And David, in fact, already has a publication credit in the field: his account of grappling emotionally and spiritually with a patient’s death appeared in the Journal of Palliative Medicine last year.

Branden Engorn

Branden Engorn

Branden Engorn was singled out by the pediatrics department for the Elizabeth Joanne Harbison Memorial Award. He will train in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The list of Branden Engorn’s service to his class and to his school is a long one that includes his presidency of the Medical Student Government Association, Admissions Committee member and third-year clerkship group leader. His commitment to leadership extends outside of the medical campus through community service and even lobbying city and state officials on health concerns of not only medical students but the community in general. On top of all this, Branden ranks in the top of his class.

His four-year record of remarkable accomplishments was recently recognized by the Joseph Collins Foundation. Established by the late Dr. Collins to assist “ambitious and determined” students in their study of medicine, the foundation selected just four students in the nation for its Beverly Chaney Award that carries a cash prize of $10,000.

These are four of our 174 students who will earn their medical degree this month, each with a unique success story. Together they created a phenomenal class, who have made us proud, and project a bright future for American medicine.

Goodbyes are bittersweet.

April 20, 2009

Opening a new Door to Discovery

Some say that good things come to those who wait.

I’m glad to be able to say that—in this instance—we didn’t have to. As it happens, the Molecular Medicine Research Building is opening ahead of the original schedule set forth in the School of Medicine’s Strategic Research Initiative.

New Molecular Medicine Research Building

8:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Scientific Symposium, Kontos Medical Sciences Building
12 noon — Building Dedication, Molecular Medicine Research Building

On each of MMRB’s eight floors, you can find the power to transform our understanding of illness and disease and to ultimately uncover new therapies and cures. The cohort of researchers who will occupy the building are outstanding scientists and having them in this wonderful new environment should bring out the best in their creativity.

In fact, one of my favorite things about the new building is its open labs that will encourage interaction among these researchers—even among those of different disciplines.

To mark the building’s opening, we have asked two exceptional scientists to come to the MCV Campus and challenge us to think about biomedical problems in new ways. Joining us for a scientific symposium on April 24, in the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building Auditorium, are:

  • J. Silvio Gutkind , Ph.D., who is chief of the Oral and Pharyngeal Cancer Branch of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. He is an internationally acclaimed researcher in cell signaling networks and cancer, topics which will be the focus of his presentation on Friday.
  • Charles Stevens , M.D., Ph.D., a world-renowned professor of molecular neurobiology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. A National Academy of Sciences member since 1982, he has a particular interest in synaptic vesicles and synaptic transmission. His talk is titled “Darwin and Huxley Revisited: On the Origin of Allometry.”

The symposium will culminate the noon-time dedication of the Molecular Medicine Research Building. Brief remarks will be followed by the chance to tour one of the building’s labs.

Please join us for the symposium, the dedication or both, as we commit the facility to a new era of discovery and ourselves to the pursuit of science that demonstrably improves health and patient care.