Jump to content
Placeholder image for header
School of Medicine discoveries

26
2016

Longtime Microbiology faculty member Deborah Lebman endows scholarship via her estate plans

Deborah Lebman, Ph.D.

Deborah Lebman, Ph.D.

She makes a difference in students’ lives every day. Now she’s laid the groundwork for her impact to continue even after she leaves the MCV Campus.

Associate Professor Deborah Lebman, Ph.D., joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in 1989. A self-proclaimed “fan of our students,” for 18 years she’s directed the immunology course for the medical students and with the advent of the medical school’s new C3 curriculum became co-director of the Infection and Immunity Division.

For several years, Lebman has been a member of the medical school’s admissions committee where, she says, she sees what a great need there is for scholarships.

Earlier this year, she decided to take action and made provisions in her estate plans to create a medical student scholarship.

“I believe that our greatest impact comes from what we give to others,” said Lebman. “Creating a scholarship fund serves the dual purpose of expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to teach the next generation of physicians and giving someone else the opportunity to leave a mark on society.”

Her bequest was featured in the July edition of VCU’s philanthropy email newsletter, Black & Gold & You, that described how bequests can promote academic excellence and strengthen VCU as a diverse premier urban research institution.

The newsletter outlines some benefits associated with bequests:

• Easy to make — You retain your assets throughout your lifetime.

• Revocable — You can make changes to beneficiaries of your estate throughout your lifetime.

• Flexible — Your bequest can be directed to support the university as a whole or a school/program that is important to you.

Photography by Will Gilbert

26
2016

“The best year of my life:” Neurosurgery resident conducts brain tumor research in New Zealand

Lisa Feldman, M.D.

Supported by the most prestigious fellowship in neurosurgery, resident Lisa Feldman spent a year doing research in New Zealand.

As a sixth-year neurosurgery resident, Lisa Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., aches for her patients battling aggressive brain tumors.

Despite surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the average life expectancy for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive type of brain tumor, is 15 months.

“We have to do better than that,” she said. “It’s so frustrating. I see so many patients suffering.”

Thanks to a prestigious fellowship and numerous collaboration efforts, Feldman is feeling optimistic about the future. The Chicago native was selected last year for the William P. Van Wagenen Fellowship, which awarded her a $120,000 stipend and $15,000 in research support. She used the funds to travel to New Zealand, where she studied perfluorocarbons as a new oxygen delivery therapy in hopes of reversing the death of healthy cells that results from radiation treatment of brain cancers.

“Our preliminary findings are very exciting,” said Feldman, who just returned to Richmond. “We are discovering that nanoparticles do improve tumor sensitivity to radiation.”

Feldman worked alongside physicians, scientists and researchers at the University of Auckland and the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington. She is also collaborating with Washington University in St. Louis and her home Neurosurgery Department on the MCV Campus.

“The year I spent in New Zealand was extraordinary in that I had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in the world,” she said. “It was the best year of my life.”

The teams have landed two more grants from the local government in New Zealand and the University of Otago to replicate their findings. Feldman is hopeful the next step will be clinical trials.

“Now that I’m back, we have weekly Skype calls,” she said. “Collaboration is absolutely crucial. There’s no way we could dream of accomplishing this without working together.”

Lisa Feldman, M.D.

In addition to studying how perfluorocarbons could help patients battling aggressive brain tumors, Feldman also spent time exploring New Zealand and says, “The country is absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous.”

Feldman is the Department of Neurosurgery’s first Van Wagenen Fellowship winner. The fellowship was established by the estate of Van Wagenen, one of the founders and first president of the Harvey Cushing Society, now the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

“This is a big deal,” said R. Scott Graham, M’92, H’98, director of the Department of Neurosurgery’s residency program. “It’s the most prestigious fellowship to win in neurosurgery.

“Lisa has the perfect personality to get an award like this because she is so collaborative. She’s good at searching out people who have the skills that match her interests. She knows that you can accomplish so much more as a team than on your own.”

Feldman, 38, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from McGill University in Montreal. While conducting research for her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Montreal Neurological Institute, she regularly performed brain surgery on lab mice. It wasn’t long before she had an epiphany.

“I realized I really enjoyed operating,” she said. “I enjoyed the procedure. That’s what motivated me to go to medical school. I thought it would be much more fulfilling to help people.”

She earned her medical degree from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 2010 before coming to the MCV Campus for her residency. She is currently completely a three-month rotation at McGuire VA Medical Center, where she is mainly performing spine surgery. She will return to the MCV Campus in September to concentrate on brain surgery.

“That’s where my passion is – coming up with better ways to help my patients,” said Feldman, who will complete her residency in July 2018. “I am so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had here. I’ve learned so much. It’s a dream come true.”

By Janet Showalter

12
2016

Leaving his mark: Former tattoo artist takes non-traditional route to Ph.D.

Ed Glass was working as a tattoo artist in a small strip-mall shop when he had a clear vision of his future.

“I suddenly realized that when I’m 85, I didn’t want to look back and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t do anything.’ “I wanted to leave a lasting positive mark.”

With a bachelor’s degree in computer science from VCU already in hand, Glass set his sights on a Ph.D. in biostatistics because of his love for computers and science. His first obstacle in achieving his goal became quite obvious as the application process began.

Ed Glass, PhD candidate

“Don’t ever handicap yourself by being afraid,” says Ed Glass, who should be awarded his Ph.D. in August.

“I’m not your typical Ph.D. candidate – far from it!” Glass said. “I imagine most professors were rightfully suspicious of this guy who just walked out of a tattoo shop and showed up saying, ‘Hey, this math stuff looks interesting.’ I was totally intimidated. But I’m not shy.”

There was also the matter of Glass’ age. When he applied to the MCV Campus, he was in his mid-40s. That’s more in line with the age of a professor, not a student. But after reviewing strong recommendation letters and a passionate cover letter, the biostatistics program welcomed Glass with open arms.

“Ed is definitely a role model to others,” said Russell M. Boyle, M.A., assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics. “People look at him and say, ‘he’s put in all this hard work, I can too.’ Ed is a wonderful contribution to the culture here.”

Still, Glass had no idea what to expect his first day of class in 2011.

“I’m not sure my classmates knew what to make of me,” he said. “I was surrounded by 20-somethings. But you know what? I never felt out of place. They made me feel right at home.”

That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. After the first two semesters, Glass and his classmates had to pass a qualifying exam that included both theory and applications. They took a comprehensive exam and completed their dissertation proposal in the following years.

Glass will defend his dissertation, which examines the variability of coefficient estimates when applying linear regression to biological data, at the end of July. He should be awarded his Ph.D. in August.

“It’s certainly been a challenge,” said Glass, now 51. “At this age, the brain starts to slow down. I have pulled all-nighters on more than one occasion. There’s definitely more recovery time, that’s for sure.”

After graduation, Glass hopes to work in research for a few years before teaching at the college level.

“I want to pass the baton to the next generation,” he said.

Glass grew up in Hampton and planned to work in the family surveying business. Being severely allergic to poison oak, however, did not bode well for his career as a surveyor. He then tried his hand at several jobs, including painting T-shirts at the mall.

In 1995, he attended the Richmond Tattoo Festival and found what he thought was his calling.

“I saw there the most beautiful artwork I had ever seen,” said Glass, who has about 10 tattoos. His favorite is the “feet of clay” lettering on his toes.

He got his tattoo license and began practicing in Richmond, but after a few years enrolled at VCU to study psychology. To meet core requirements, he had to take remedial algebra.

“I figured I was dumb at math,” he said. “But as I began to understand it, I really liked the stuff.”

He changed majors to computer science just as the industry was exploding. But by the time he graduated in 2001, the economy had weakened. He dusted off his portfolio and went back to tattooing.

Ten years later, he wanted more.

“Biostatistics is a marriage of my love for computers and science,” Glass said. “The work is so important. People who work in research and conduct clinical trials will one day find a cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s. These people are heroes, but rarely do you hear about them. Instead, we devote a full section of the newspaper to sports or entertainment. There’s something wrong with that.”

Glass hopes that as a teacher he can be a role model to others, sharing his passion for science and instilling a work ethic that knows no limits.

“I knew getting my Ph.D. wouldn’t be easy,” he said. “But nothing worthwhile is. If there’s something you want to do, don’t hesitate. Don’t ever handicap yourself by being afraid.”

By Janet Showalter

05
2016

Student group to receive national honor for promoting the scope of family medicine

VCU’s Student Family Medicine Association

VCU’s Student Family Medicine Association is one of 17 student interest groups in the nation to be honored this year.

Each year, the American Academy of Family Physicians honors student-run Family Medicine Interest Groups for their outstanding activities in generating interest in family medicine.

VCU’s Student Family Medicine Association is one of 17 FMIGs to be honored this year. They’ll accept the Excellence in Promoting the Scope of Family Medicine award on July 29 during the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students in Kansas City, Kansas.

The SFMA on the MCV Campus is one of the oldest and most active student organizations in the medical school and in the state of Virginia. Annually it organizes workshops as well as community and clinical experiences to give medical students a chance to learn more about the role family physicians play within the field of medicine and in the greater community. In addition to a variety of lectures, this past year it coordinated health screenings and sports physicals in medically underserved communities as well as volunteering opportunities and workshops.

“Our SFMA does an exceptional job of finding ways to demonstrate for their classmates how dynamic and diverse family medicine is,” said faculty advisor Judy Gary, M.Ed., assistant director of medical education in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health.

SFMA Workshop

SFMA organizes workshops for practicing physical exam skills as well as bringing in community physicians to address hot topics like vaccines and palliative care.

“They organized workshops for practicing physical exam skills as well as bringing in community physicians to address hot topics like vaccines and palliative care. And each time, the physician speakers discussed the field, their experience practicing in a variety of settings and how they incorporate special interests like sports medicine, women’s health, geriatrics and integrative care into their practice.”

The AAFP’s Program of Excellence Awards recognize FMIGs from around the country for their efforts to promote interest in family medicine and family medicine programming.

“Attracting medical students to the specialty of family medicine is critical to addressing the ongoing primary care physician shortage,” said Clif Knight, M.D., senior vice president for education at the AAFP. “Excellent FMIGs such as these award winners are an important component in these efforts. They’re essential to helping medical students understand the professional responsibilities and satisfaction of being a family physician.

The AAFP has posted SFMA’s winning application online as an example of best practices and programming ideas for FMIGs nationwide.

21
2016

How to get a head start and a leg up

Pre-Matriculation Program

Four medical students, including Chris Filosa, are teaching assistants in the Pre-Matriculation Program. They’re giving participants a head start with coursework, tips and techniques for succeeding in medical school.

Wei-Li Suen has a master’s degree in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In four more years, he intends to have his M.D. from VCU – a goal that came into focus more clearly as he worked his way through the Pre-Matriculation Program this June. “It was great practice to balance the course work with the piano performances I had in June,” he says.

Assistant Dean for Admissions Donna Jackson, Ed.D., nods her head in agreement. “This program is ideal for those students who need a head start for any number of reasons,” she explains, “often because they were liberal arts – not science – majors in college.”

Work/life balance. And so this year, 20 students chose to give up a month of their summer to plunge into the coursework that awaits all their first-year classmates who’ll matriculate in August. “It helped that these classes don’t factor into our medical school record,” confides Suen. It also helped that they were led by four inspiring teaching assistants. Medical students Chris Filosa, Jessica Li, Iffie Ikem and Jon Williams – all entering their second year on the MCV Campus — were pre-matric students themselves at this time last year, so they personally understand the challenges and rewards of the program.

“We want to make it a realistic experience for these students,” says Filosa. “In just one month, they get a good idea of what to expect. It’s tough, but they bond, and if you have a core group of friends, it becomes easier. We teach them not to sweat the small stuff.”

Pre-Matriculation Program

Rows of students line up to thump the classroom walls. They’re practicing a technique called percussion – using sounds to assess underlying structures. The studs behind the wall are a temporary stand in for students who’ll one day tap a patient’s back to listen and assess whether the lung is filled with air or fluid.

Find the studs. Despite all the technological advances in medicine, the hands-on physical remains important. Students are taught a technique called percussion – using sounds to assess underlying structures. Air, solids and fluid all have distinct noises, so when physicians tap a patient’s back to assess lung health, they can tell, for instance, if the lung is filled with air or fluid. That’s why rows of students line up to thump the classroom walls in order to locate the wooden studs underneath. It’s good practice — tapping the stud produces a different sound from tapping an empty wall.

One for all, all for one. After a month, the class has bonded, just as Filosa predicted. “Every small victory is a victory for all of us,” Ikem emphasizes. “Keep in touch with each other on the Facebook page. Say hi if you see us. We’re here for you. We’re paying it forward — that’s why we signed up for this.”

Five years in, the program is a success. “I do monitor these students,” Jackson says. “They tend to do better in med school. Many become student leaders. And they’re all better prepared for the daily rigor and the school/life balance. That’s good experience for them, and reflects back well on the school.”

By Susie Burtch

Name Pre-Matriculation Program
Purpose Exposure to the curriculum before starting med school
Founded 2011
Length Four weeks in June
Students 25 maximum
Courses Anatomy; Biochemistry; Physiology; Practice of Clinical Medicine (PCM)
Finances Housing, parking and gym access paid; stipend for food and incidentals
21
2016

Kelley Dodson named first female president of the Virginia Society of Otolaryngology

I think my presidency definitely reflects the change in traditionally male dominated surgical specialties to now being more representative and inclusive of women as a whole.

“I think my presidency definitely reflects the change in traditionally male dominated surgical specialties to now being more representative and inclusive of women as a whole.”

Housestaff alumna and School of Medicine faculty member Kelley M. Dodson, M.D., was installed as president of the Virginia Society of Otolaryngology on June 4. She is the first female president in the society’s nearly 100-year history.

It’s a milestone that Dodson says has special meaning for her.

“I think my presidency definitely reflects the change in traditionally male dominated surgical specialties to now being more representative and inclusive of women as a whole.”

Dodson has been involved with the society for a half dozen years. She served as president-elect last year and before that as vice president.

Through her service, she says, “I have gained significant insight especially into legislative issues facing the commonwealth of Virginia, as we have been very active in the legislative process on issues affecting our specialty.”

Kelley M. Dodson, M.D.

Kelley Dodson, M.D.

The Virginia Society of Otolaryngology was chartered in 1920. It provides continuing medical education for its members and addresses political and regulatory challenges affecting practice issues. Each spring, the society holds an annual meeting, which was held this year in McLean, Va.

Dodson has a clinical interest in pediatric otolaryngology as well as in congenital and genetic hearing loss. On the research front, she is interested in language and speech outcomes in children with hearing loss and has been involved with genetic studies of tinnitus and different forms of hearing loss. She also studies pediatric chronic rhinosinusitis and the mask microbiome in cystic fibrosis.

After completing her residency in the Department of Otolaryngology on VCU’s MCV Campus, Dodson joined the medical school’s faculty in 2005. She is now director of the department’s residency program.

By Erin Lucero
Event photography by Susan McConnell, Virginia Society of Otolaryngology