Jump to content
Placeholder image for header
School of Medicine discoveries

20
2016

The Write Stuff: M4 Jennifer Tran shares her journey through blogging

Butterflies wreak havoc on Jennifer Tran’s stomach when she thinks about speaking in public.

“I’m not great at it,” she said. “I get really nervous. But I enjoy sharing my thoughts and ideas with others.”

So Tran, a fourth-year student in VCU’s School of Medicine, turned to blogging.

“For me, writing is a way to reflect on things I’ve done,” she said.

Tran began blogging as an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund. A recipient of the scholarship in 2007, she wrote career and motivational pieces for other scholarship winners.

After graduating in 2011 with a degree in biology, she worked for a year at the National Institutes of Health before coming to the MCV Campus. During her second year of medical school, she began blogging for the AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries, and during her third year for Merck Manual website’s Student Stories, a medical education blog.

“I hope those who read my blogs get a real sense of what the day-to-day life of a medical student is like,” says the Class of 2016’s Jennifer Tran. “I hope they inspire and educate young people who are thinking about a career in medicine.”

“In medical school, you are always on the move,” she said. “Writing gives me a chance to stop and really think about things.”

She’s written about clinical rotations, encountering a simulated patient (mannequin), the value of mentors, lessons learned from her first patients, volunteering with the underserved, being a fourth-year, Match Day, traveling abroad and taking national exams, among other things.

“I hope those who read my blogs get a real sense of what the day-to-day life of a medical student is like,” she said. “I hope they inspire and educate young people who are thinking about a career in medicine.”

In one blog, for example, she talks about her pediatrics rotation: “Pediatrics wasn’t what I expected. Going into the clerkship, I thought this was going to be one of my top three, even toppling family medicine or internal medicine as my intended field of choice. Back in college, much of my medical volunteering and shadowing was in pediatrics. I had found kids to be so fun, their conditions to be interesting, and the attendings to be some of the most kind teachers. Yet, after six weeks, I find myself no longer wanting to be a pediatrician. I still really like kids, laughing and playing with them, but I’m not sure I want to forever be perceived in a kid’s mind as the evil one or the one that is trying to hurt them.”

She’s also written about her dream of becoming a family physician and serving the poor, a goal strengthened by the School of Medicine’s International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship Program. I2CRP is a four-year program that fosters the knowledge, skills and values needed by doctors to provide quality and compassionate care to the less fortunate.

“Blogging has really helped me be sure of what I want to do,” she said. “It’s helped me solidify my career goals. It allows me to reflect on experiences – what I liked about them and perhaps what I didn’t like. It keeps the experiences fresh.”

Working with the underserved, Tran said, will allow her to provide quality medical care to those who might not otherwise receive it.

“I’m really drawn to this area,” she said. “I’ve seen people who live on the fringes of the healthcare system. It’s my mission to make sure they get the care they need.”

Tran, who is heading to Brown Medical School’s Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island for her family medicine residency, is the eldest child of Vietnamese refugees and the first in her family to attend college. For her, becoming a physician is almost surreal.

“My parents are very proud,” she said. “But I have not come to terms yet that I’m going to be an actual doctor. As a medical student, there is always faculty there to supervise and help. As a resident, my name will be on the patient’s record. It will all count. For me, it’s a bit scary. ”

The perfect topic for yet another blog.

“Writing is such an individual thing and a great way to share your hopes and your fears,” Tran said. “It’s something I’ll always find time to do.”

An excerpt from a blog for Aspiring Docs Diaries about her volunteer experience at the Remote Area Medical (RAM) expedition in Wise, Virginia, during her second year.

“In my role as a volunteer, I was able to listen to patients’ stories and gain an understanding of their health problems in the context of the socioeconomic obstacles that they face on a daily basis. Each day of the clinic, I met patients who had been up at four o’clock that morning, so that they would be one of the first hundred in line for the opening of the clinic at six o’clock. I talked to patients about different chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Nevertheless, hearing some of the stories and seeing some of the medical conditions broke my heart at moments.

“With access to a primary care physician, the pain of a broken bone that did not heal correctly, the inability to read a book, the chronicity of arthritis in one’s joints, among other complaints, may have been resolved sooner so that these patients could return to having the best quality of life possible. Yet, by the end of the clinic, I realized that my efforts and the endeavors of all the RAM volunteers were worthwhile and at times, potentially life-saving. We were able to provide preventive care and other specialty services in over 3,000 patient encounters, giving people health care they would have otherwise gone without. It was my first RAM expedition, but I do hope to return in the future. Most importantly, this clinic has helped me reaffirm my passion for helping the medically underserved, which is something that will enable me to persevere through the long year of challenging, but interesting, courses.”

Continue reading at AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries.

By Janet Showalter

20
2016

Pathology alumnus credits Harry Dalton with starting his career in the lab

After a 38-year tenure, Peter H. Huley, MS’77 (PATH), retired in January 2013 from his position as senior vice president of lab operations with LabCorp in Burlington, N.C. He recalls how meeting the longtime School of Medicine professor Harry Dalton, Ph.D., put him on the path to graduate school. “MCV and the education made available to me there made a huge difference in my life,” says Huley.

Taking a break from the lab in the 1970s, Peter H. Huley, MS’77 (PATH), made time for a picnic with his daughters and wife, Tracy, at the nearby Capitol Square.

He’d been working as a supervisor of the microbiology department and a medical technologist at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., before Dalton met him at a workshop. “He convinced me MCV was the next step in my career.”

When he began grad school on the MCV Campus in 1975, he and his wife Tracy moved with their 18-month-old daughter into married student housing at Jarrett apartments. That same year, he took a job with Physicians Clinical Lab, a small, pathologist-run private medical lab that through a series of mergers and acquisitions eventually became LabCorp.

By the time Huley graduated with his masters in 1977, a second daughter had arrived, and Huley was mapping his course to a Ph.D. But though he’d go on to pass his written and oral comps, “it became apparent that in the three main focuses of my life, family, work and school, something had to go. Doing all three at that time was not sustainable. I withdrew from the pursuit of the Ph.D. and from MCV.”

Physicians Clinical Lab was acquired first by Consolidated Biomedical Labs and then by Roche Biomedical Labs, which ultimately became LabCorp. Huley grew along with the company. A leadership role in microbiology for RBL’s national lab led to a move to corporate headquarters in Burlington, N.C., where he managed the growing microbiology lab and the national standardization of the microbiology lab discipline within RBL.

Peter H. Huley, MS’77 (PATH), with his wife, Tracy, and daughters, Colleen and Krista.

After the merger that created LabCorp, he eventually took on responsibility for the entire Burlington lab, the largest lab in the company and, possibly, in the world. By the time he retired in 2013, it was receiving samples from about 100,000 patients a day.

“The years at MCV, and especially the association with Dr. Dalton, were invaluable. MCV prepared me for the future. As Louis Pasteur is reported to have said, ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’ Although perhaps not in the context intended by Pasteur, that statement certainly applied to me. I will always hold my time at MCV in high regard. The people were world class. The environment was challenging and stimulating. Although I did not complete a terminal degree, I was able to take the education gained at MCV, build on it, and use it to enhance patient care for millions.”

Huley now lives in Beaufort, N.C., with Tracy, his wife of 45 years.

20
2016

A dozen fourth-years do clinical rotations in Italy and Spain

Katie Waybill, M’16, was awestruck by the pace of life in Messina, Italy.

“It was so much slower,” she said. “It really gave us a chance to feel the culture of the city, to live every moment.”

Waybill was one of six fourth-year medical students to travel to Italy in February as part of a four-week international exchange between the VCU School of Medicine and the University of Messina. Another six students just returned from Spain as part of an exchange with the University of Cordoba.

“It’s so much better when you are learning a language to be immersed in the environment,” said the Class of 2016’s Ellie Balakhanlou. “I feel like I left there more competent because I was forced to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and really converse in the language.” Pictured here: The students on the Cordoba rotation on a trip into the High Atlas Mountains, where they visited some Berber villages.

“This is a great way for our students to see how healthcare is performed in other parts of the world,” said Chris Woleben, M’97, H’01, associate dean for student affairs who helps coordinate the exchange. “This experience helps our students become well-rounded in dealing with patients who come from different backgrounds.”

The medical exchange between the three schools began 10 years ago. This year, about 30 students from the MCV Campus expressed interest, with 12 selected through a lottery process. When they applied, they selected the specialty that interested them the most and were matched with physicians to shadow.

“Medical students there don’t get as many hands-on experiences as we do here,” said student Sushmita Gordhandas, who traveled to Spain. “But I still learned a lot. It was interesting to see how different healthcare is in another country.”

Gordhandas, who will be moving to Seattle for her OB-GYN residency at the University of Washington, rotated in radiology while in Spain. She saw a variety of cases, from a brain tumor to broken bones.

“In the U.S., there’s more of a mindset that your life is your job,” she said. “In Spain, you do your job and go home to your family. You work hard, but family is the priority. That was one difference, but the biggest thing we encountered was the language barrier. That was a little challenging, but it all worked out. We had friends on our side.”

Many of their counterparts who already had rotated on the MCV Campus as part of the exchange were happy to lend a helping hand, and many of the assigned professors spoke English.

“Some of the residents had already been here and were familiar with MCV,” said Waybill, who will stay in Richmond to complete her internal medicine residency. “Their English was really good. They helped us so much.”

For Ellie Balakhanlou, the trip to Cordoba gave her the opportunity to flex her Spanish-speaking muscles.

“It’s so much better when you are learning a language to be immersed in the environment,” she said. “I feel like I left there more competent because I was forced to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and really converse in the language.”

“It was a clinical rotation for us, but we learned so much outside of that,” said Waybill, who rotated in radiology. She reviewed chest x-rays and saw everything from bowel cancer and congenital heart anomalies to pneumonia. She also had the opportunity to run CT scans on two Vatican mummies. “I am so appreciative for the chance to live in another culture.” Pictured here: The students on the Messina rotation on a day trip to Sicily.

Balakhanlou will stay at on the MCV Campus for her residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation. While in Spain, she was part of the physical rehabilitation rotation and worked with cardiac, pulmonary and pediatric patients.

“I got to do some exams and talk with the patients,” she said. “It was great. The doctors introduced us as Americans and all the patients were so welcoming. They joked with me that I got the chance to practice my Spanish with them while they got to practice their English with me. It was a fascinating experience.”

Each group made time for sightseeing. In Italy, for example, the students spent a weekend in Tuscany, visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa and saw Greek ruins in Agrigento.

“It was a clinical rotation for us, but we learned so much outside of that,” said Waybill, who rotated in radiology. She reviewed chest x-rays and saw everything from bowel cancer and congenital heart anomalies to pneumonia. She also had the opportunity to run CT scans on two Vatican mummies. “I am so appreciative for the chance to live in another culture.”

With a growing number of students applying for the exchange, the medical school hopes to expand the program to include more countries in the coming years.

“In an ever increasing globalized world, it’s important to have inter-cultural experiences,” said Michael Ryan, M.D., assistant dean for clinical medical education. “It makes our students more valuable and better equipped to understand our complex world.”

And become better physicians in the process.

“Health care is different no matter where you go,” Waybill said. “No one system is perfect. But if you can take the strengths from all, it will allow us to have a cohesive relationship with other nations and work toward a stronger healthcare system for everyone.”

By Janet Showalter

24
2016

The EMR drove him to it

It was the summer of 2014, and Darren S. Witte M’96, H’00, was facing the stress of migrating eight years of patient data into a new electronic medical record.

He’d merged his internal medicine and pediatrics practice with the VCU Health System and was getting to know the system’s Cerner EMR. After long nights of sweating the details, he got a suggestion from his clinical coordinator: find a distraction and blow off some steam.

Darren Witte, M’96, H’00, behind the wheel of his 1970 Karmann Ghia.

Good thing there was a Vintage Volkswagen show coming up that weekend.

“I have this memory from when I was about 7,” Witte says, “of this gorgeous green car. It was frequently parked at a store where I went with my parents.”

Back then, he wasn’t yet a Volkswagen fan and didn’t know what the car was. But 35 years later, he spotted the same compelling curves that were a vivid reminder of his childhood love. It was a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.

He started frequenting car shows hoping to catch another glimpse, but sightings were rare. That weekend’s show was no different. When he recounted his disappointment to his clinical coordinator, Lesli Davis, she made another suggestion, “Maybe you just need to find one of your own?”

Witte began doing some research. After work or before bedtime he’d snatch a few minutes, but the car proved elusive, especially on the east coast where either harsh winters plus road salt or high heat and humidity take a toll on paint and cause body panels to rust out.

An aerial view of Bug Out, the all-Volkswagen car show based in Virginia that’s one of the largest in the country.

“They made about 445,000 Karmann Ghias between 1954 and 1974,” says Witte. “It is estimated that maybe only about 10 percent of those remain on the planet today, and many are getting consumed two-for-one as donors for restorations. I found a few really rusty ones that would have taken more work and money than I was willing to put in. I didn’t need more stresses.”

Then one night, he spotted a pastel blue 1970 Karmann Ghia for sale online that looked to be in great shape. Originally from California, the car was owned by a surgeon who’d moved the car with him to South Dakota and kept it garaged. The seller sent him some high quality photos and answered his questions.

“I’m surrounded by neighbors who are car guys so I showed them the pictures, and we talked it all over. … Then I told my wife! I decided to take a calculated risk.”

A few weeks later, an enclosed auto trailer brought it from South Dakota to his practice’s parking lot. “My clinical coordinator, Lesli, was right there snapping pictures in the early morning hours when it was delivered.”

Darren Witte, M’96, H’00, with his wife and daughters at the May 2015 Bug Out where his Karmann Ghia took first place in her class.

Forty-four years spent in western climes had left Witte’s vintage car in near perfect condition, but he and his neighbor enjoyed tinkering with it, nonetheless. “I’m pretty good at paint and body work, and my neighbor, Wally, has been great to teach me a lot of mechanical skills. We decided to get it in tip top shape in time for Bug Out the next spring.”

The aptly named all-Volkswagen car show is based in Virginia and is one of the largest in the country. Volkswagen enthusiasts race their cars, enter them in competitions for best of show and swap stories about their passion.

Witte and his neighbor were rewarded when the car took first place in her class. More blue ribbons followed at other local shows. “I’ve maintained a long-distance friendship with the surgeon who owned the car before me and tell him about the shows we go to and what we win. He’s happy to see that it went to a good home and is being enjoyed.

“I like meeting others who have stories about their own connections to Karmann Ghias,” he says of the car events he now frequents. “It’s fun to drive, but I also really love just sitting back and admiring its shape. There’s just something about the shape of that car.”

Witte is a regular at the local Cars and Coffee event that’s held every other Saturday in Richmond. He often takes his 8- and 12-year-old daughters along. “There’s a big car culture in Richmond, and it’s important that we expose our youth to it so that we can continue to preserve the interest in and value of vintage vehicles as time goes on.”

He says that Karmann Ghias are great starter collector cars. In the past few years they have been starting to see an uptick in popularity and value. “I feel like I got in on the ground floor.”

By Erin Lucero

19
2016

MacGyver medicine: Medical school team wins wilderness medicine event

Stabilizing a patient with spinal cord injury. Emergency tracheotomy. Intubation. It’s all in a day’s work.

Except now imagine doing these procedures while mountain biking, canoeing, running through the woods with map and compass, and carrying all your supplies on your back.

The Class of 2016’s Phil Griffith, Chris Woleben, M’97, H’01, and the Class of 2017’s Jenika Ferretti-Gallon prevailed in the Mid-Atlantic MedWAR that combines wilderness medicine and adventure racing.

Sounds almost impossible, but the medical school’s Lactated Ringers team prevailed at the Mid-Atlantic MedWAR (Medical Wilderness Adventure Race) competition on March 19.

MedWAR events pit three-person teams of wilderness medicine enthusiasts against each other for a day-long event that challenges their medical knowledge, orienteering skills and stamina. The competition, held in several locations throughout the U.S., was created in 2000 by two emergency medicine physicians with a passion for adventure racing. MedWAR events have no route markers, water stations or cheering spectators; instead they simulate backcountry rescue situations so participants can test and improve their skills.

The Class of 2016’s Phil Griffith heard about the event last year and decided it was the perfect venue for his love of the outdoors and career plans as an emergency physician. “Emergency medicine fits with wilderness medicine,” he noted. Except in the outdoors, “You’re practicing with fewer resources, higher evacuation times and the same principles of stabilize and improvise.”

He participated in the event for the first time last year with Chris Woleben, M’97, H’01, on a team dubbed the Lactated Ringers. This year, the Class of 2017’s Jenika Ferretti-Gallon joined them.

An associate professor in the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Woleben is also associate dean for student affairs in the medical school. Though he’s far more experienced in medicine, Woleben calls the students “the masterminds to our team’s success.”

The competition, held in Newport News, includes three loops (four for more advanced competitors) consisting of questions and hands-on scenarios. Each team must navigate to checkpoints where they will encounter physical challenges or wilderness medicine simulations, which they must successfully complete before moving forward.

The team takes its name from Ringer’s lactate solution that’s often used for fluid resuscitation after blood loss due to trauma, surgery or other injury.

During the race, which the Lactated Ringers completed in under seven hours by mountain bike, canoe and foot, they performed a cricothyrotomy on a pig trachea and removed a fish hook from someone’s skin (using a pig’s foot as a stand-in). One memorable scenario involved stabilizing a skydiver who had landed in a tree and sustained spinal cord injury.

The trio capitalized on the lessons learned from the experiences of the 2015 team.

“The reason for our success was that we planned in advance,” said Ferretti-Gallon. “We practiced orienteering the weekend before the race at a Boy Scout camp.”

The group also knew what to carry in their pack, smaller than last year’s but still a hefty 20 pounds of wilderness supplies. “The most important thing you can have is gloves,” said Griffith. “And a knife is always useful.” The group also hauled water purification equipment, shelter, epinephrine for anaphylactic shock, gauze and a CPR mask. A skin stapler came in handy, too, for making quick repairs on their simulated victims so the team could get back on the course.

With few penalties for wrong answers and some bonus points for their knot-tying skills, the team was named winner of the Intermediate division. In addition to bragging rights, the team won a copy of “Improvised Medicine,” a book Griffith dubs MacGyver medicine. “Actually, I’ve had my eye on that for a while,” he said.

It also gave them confidence. “MedWAR can change the way you think about practicing medicine,” Ferretti-Gallon said. “It gives you skills to apply in the field. It’s encouraging and it’s empowering.”

She’ll hold down the fort next year at MedWAR, as Griffith moves to Ohio for residency.

However, he remains prepared for anything he encounters. “I always try to keep my medical bag with me. And my keychain is just exploding now with a bag of gloves, a pocket knife and other supplies.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

12
2016

Guests from a dozen states pack reception celebrating the Kirkpatrick Professorship

Affection and respect for Barry Kirkpatrick, M’66, filled the reception hall on March 12. The evening celebrated the successful completion of a campaign to honor a pediatrician who was as dedicated to the tiniest babies as he was to training medical students and residents.

Longtime faculty member Barry Kirkpatrick, M’66, with six of the neonatal‐perinatal medicine fellows he’s trained. Dozens of former trainees were on hand to celebrate the creation of a professorship that bears his name.

In 1973, Kirkpatrick established the first Neonatal ICU at MCV Hospitals. It was also the first in Central Virginia and would grow to become one of the largest on the east coast. He shared his knowledge and skill with generations of future physicians, creating a fellowship training program in neonatal‐perinatal medicine and an innovative community pediatric clerkship for medical students and residents. He ultimately was named vice chairman for education in the Department of Pediatrics.

Those former residents and students en masse supported a campaign to endow the Barry V. Kirkpatrick, M.D., Professorship. The campaign enjoyed the broadest base of support of any in the medical school in recent years, with scores of commitments coming in from 21 states.

About 150 of those Kirkpatrick fans were on hand in March at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens to celebrate the professorship that will support the teaching mission of the Department of Pediatrics. kirkpatrick-gallerybuttonTogether they recalled the many firsts that Kirkpatrick pioneered: the first 600-gram baby, introducing mechanical ventilation for infants and designing a van to transport newborns from surrounding hospitals to the MCV Campus. In addition, he and surgeon Tom Krummel, H’83, established the east coast’s first ECMO program in 1980 at a time when it had only been offered for infants at UC Irvine, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan. They went on to help other university medical centers get their own programs up and running. These were dramatic advances at a time when the medical field was just beginning to learn how to save the lives of very premature babies.

Dawn Mueller, M’72, F’75, a retired associate professor of pediatrics at VCU, was the first of Kirkpatrick’s seven fellows. She was also the chief champion of the professorship campaign, writing letters and making phone calls to ensure everyone had an opportunity to participate.

At the March reception she noted the Kirkpatrick Professorship now takes its place beside endowed professorships honoring Walter Bundy, M’45, and Edwin Kendig, H’36, two other longtime faculty members in the medical school. Mueller characterized the three physicians as “the pantheon of iconic Richmond pediatricians,” and added, “This trio of professorships extends their legacies and influence for generations to come.”

By Erin Lucero