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School of Medicine discoveries

November 2008 Archives


The day that George Vetrovec, M.D., discovered the Pauley Heart Center was named one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals for cardiovascular care.

The VCU Medical Center was identified as one of the top 100 U.S. hospitals that set the nation’s benchmarks for cardiovascular care, according to a Thomson Reuters study. It is one of only two Virginia hospitals named in the study.

“The significance of the Thomson Reuters study is that it really measures patient outcomes, compliance with national guidelines and quality of patient care,” said George W. Vetrovec, M.D., Kimmerling Professor of Medicine and chair of the Division of Cardiology, VCU Pauley Heart Center.

The VCU Pauley Heart Center is recognized nationally for treating heart failure and heart transplantation, and was the first on the East Coast to implant the CardioWest temporary Total Artificial Heart — the only total artificial heart approved by the FDA.

The annual study examined the performance of nearly 1,000 hospitals by analyzing clinical outcomes for patients diagnosed with heart failure and heart attacks and for those who received coronary bypass surgery and angioplasties. Thomson Reuters said the top 100 hospitals identified in the study provide enormous value to their communities because heart disease is still the nation’s No. 1 killer.

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VCU Medical Center one of top 100 hospitals for cardiovascular care


The day the medical students discovered the power of honoring their “first patients.”

In honor of those who gave so much of themselves for the betterment of others. Your memory will live on not only in those who loved you, but also in those who received your precious gift.

Engraved on a bench donated by the Class of 2006 that now sits in the Memorial Garden, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Henrico County, Virginia.

Students Recall Fear, Fascination of the Anatomy Lab

An overcast day a week before the Thanksgiving holiday found 48 second-year students gathered in a circle at Forest Lawn Cemetery. At the foot of a hill, in a low-lying glen, the students remembered and thanked those who had donated their bodies to medical science.

The generosity of those donors had shaped the students’ first year of medical school—sometimes in dramatic ways—in the confines of the anatomy lab. Often regarded as the first patient a medical student encounters, the cadaver is invaluable in helping medical students develop a ‘visual picture’ of the body’s three-dimensional structure and ultimately understand its functions.

As they stood facing one another across their circle, the students reminded each other of the first day they walked into the anatomy lab. They recalled their fascination—even infatuation—with learning, but also the fear that came with tackling something they’d never done before.

One student remarked that in the lab, they found greater opportunities for learning than ever before, but with that came greater responsibility. His classmates wondered if those who chose to donate their bodies had any idea of the detail and intensity with which they would be studied. “They entrusted us with this gift. They are amazing people to choose to do that.”

For different students, different parts of the body presented particular challenges. For some, the foot reminded them—again—that the cadaver had once been a living being. For another it was the perfectly painted pink fingernails she found when they began the dissection of the hand.

Though she did not know the cadaver’s given name, she called her Julia because “it’s such a pretty name.” But she knew from her study of Julia’s organ systems that the elderly lady had not been in good enough health to have painted her nails so carefully herself. Instead, the manicure was evidence that someone had loved her, and taken thoughtful care of her. Just as the student and her family do for her grandmother now, when they take her out for a manicure.

Though their days in the anatomy lab concluded more than 11 months ago, the students say that they still remember lessons learned there. Another course, Foundations of Clinical Medicine, takes the students into the community to preceptors’ primary care offices. There, one student meets patients who complain of problems with their rotator cuff. Because of the hours spent in the anatomy lab, “I can picture the rotator cuff, I know what it looks like and how it is supposed to work.”

The students work in teams through the 80 hours of scheduled time in the M1 lab. And most students double that time commitment by going back to the lab in the evenings or early in the morning. That time spent together forges strong bonds among team members and study partners.

Those relationships get their start on the very first day in the lab—a day that, for some, proves to be the hardest of the entire course. Remembering their difficulties in confronting the cadavers for the first time, students thanked their classmates for coming alongside them and encouraging them.

With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, surrounded by tall oaks and standing in the crisp leaves that had recently fallen, the students voiced what a privilege it had been to study in the anatomy lab and—on a broader scale—to pursue their medical degree. “Not many people get to do this.”

Cadavers used in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology are obtained through the State Anatomical Program, which is administered through the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The vast majority of these are donated by individuals and families with a deep interest in furthering the causes of science and medical education.

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Information on body donation


The day the medical students discovered the timely administration of anti-venom can lower the death rate of snake-bite victims to less than 4 percent.

With perpetrators ranging from tiny fire ants to a nine-and-a-half-foot bull shark, Virginia’s chief medical examiner visited VCU’s MCV Campus to introduce medical students to the sometimes deadly encounters that Virginians have had with the animal kingdom. Leah Bush, M.D., Virginia’s chief medical examiner, also happens to be an alumna of the School of Medicine.

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Spider bites, bee stings and shark attacks. Oh my!


The day Dr. William Walker discovered his paper on returning to work after brain injury would be honored as the best in the field.

William Walker, M.D., the Ernst and Helga Prosser professor and medical director of the VCU Rehabilitation and Research Center, received the Mitchell Rosenthal Award for best research paper of 2006 and 2007 from the nationwide Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems database. The paper, “Occupational Categories and Return to Work after Traumatic Brain Injury: A Multicenter Study,” was published in the December 2006 issue of Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

In the study, Walker and his team examined whether the type of job a person had before a traumatic brain injury (TBI) influences his work disability. The team reported that people with manual labor jobs are at the highest risk for remaining out of work one year after TBI, while professionals/managers have the best rate of return to work.

“This knowledge should improve disability counseling for patients and their families after severe TBI and ultimately lead to advances in their vocational rehabilitation,” Walker said. Walker received a plaque at the TBI Model Systems’ project directors meeting in Washington, D.C., in December. The TBI Model Systems program is a national collaboration of 17 medical rehabilitation centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

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Updated: 04/29/2016