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July 2012 Archives


National recognition for family medicine student group

For the seventh time in nine years, the Student Family Medicine Association (SFMA) was recognized for its efforts in stimulating interest in family medicine and family medicine programming. In a field described as the largest and most competitive yet, the student interest group once again proved its preeminence as one of just nine groups in the U.S. to be honored with a 2012 Program of Excellence Award at the American Academy of Family Physicians’ national conference held in Kansas City, Mo., on July 27.

The SFMA regularly offers hands-on workshops for students.

The SFMA regularly offers hands-on workshops for students. In March, the Chesterfield Family Medicine Residency Program hosted a blood draw/IV insertion workshop where the students were taught the correct technique and then given the opportunity to practice.

The SFMA exposes students to a wealth of information and experiences in the area of family medicine. Judy Gary, M.Ed, SFMA’s faculty advisor, says that it is one of the most active and engaged student groups on campus.

“Its guest lectures, community service projects, clinical workshops and socials help prepare and recruit students to the field by highlighting the role that family physicians play in the overall health system,” says Gary, who is also the Department of Family Medicine’s assistant director of student medical education and the coordinator for the newly formed fmConnect.

The SFMA is the largest and most participatory of Virginia’s Family Medical Interest Groups; nearly half of the approximately 800 VCU medical students registered as AAFP student members in 2012.

SFMA participates in a number of service projects that care for the underserved including the RAM (Remote Area Medical) clinic in rural Wise Co., Va., and at the MOM (Missions of Mercy) Clinic in Gloucester, Va., as well as health screenings for the homeless and the growing Hispanic population in the Richmond area. SFMA also plays an active role in VCU’s own Community Health Fair.

Co-president Kara Rothenberg said, “VCU students are very passionate about community service and we are very proud of the ongoing commitments SFMA has to giving back to the community.” Co-president Michael Cieslinski added that the SFMA has expanded its scope of service within each of these projects this year to include more screening and counseling roles in order for students to better understand the overall challenges to care faced by each demographic.

Housestaff alumnus James Anderson, M.D. with students

The workshop was led by housestaff alumnus James Anderson, M.D., who completed his family medicine training with the Chesterfield Family Medicine Residency and is now an associate clinical professor of family medicine. In addition to learning clinical skills, workshops give students the chance to interact with family physicians and learn about their careers.

Also new in 2012 was the establishment of fmConnect, a separate group designed specifically for third- and fourth-year students to maintain contact and provide programming that accommodates these students’ complex schedules as they complete clinical rotations. The group provides students with more focused programming, advising and information as they pursue careers as family physicians.

SFMA offers workshops and lectures that provide hands-on experiences that might not otherwise be available to students in their first two years of study. The events are so popular that would-be participants sometimes have to enter a lottery to win a seat at the workshop. Professional development opportunities organized by SFMA throughout the year give students access to both professional organizations and leaders in the field.

Gary was especially pleased to see 26 students attend the VAFP Wintergreen Family Medicine Conference this year — making up the largest student contingent of any of the state’s medical schools.

One of the group’s lectures was given by Hunter Jamerson, J.D., VAFP lobbyist, who discussed the current state of legislation directly affecting the practice of family medicine in Virginia. This lecture parlayed into yet another first for the SFMA: a group of students led by Mark Ryan, M.D. participated with the VAFP physician members in a lobby day during the meeting of the Virginia General Assembly session.

The AAFP has featured this year’s Program of Excellence Awardees on its website to promote best-practice recommendations for other family medicine student groups. Read the SFMA’s winning submission.


Peers advise third-year students on clinical rotations and teamwork skills

As the Class of 2014 enters its third year of medical school, students participated in a four-day orientation to prepare for their transition to working full-time with patients.

Up to now, the students have spent the bulk of their time in classrooms. In the coming year, they’ll form teams of about a dozen students a piece who will train together under the guidance of physicians as they rotate through the seven specialties of internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, family medicine, psychiatry, neurology and pediatrics.

The medical school’s curriculum office coordinated this orientation, which prepared rising third-year students for the various challenges they will face. Students learned emergency preparedness and life support techniques and completed workshops on injecting medicine directly into a muscle and Foley catheter placement. They even practiced washing their hands – learning to scrub so thoroughly that they wouldn’t carry bacteria or disease from one patient to another. Professors also advised the students on pager use and social media etiquette.

Rising fourth-year students stopped by the orientation to give their peers guidance. Five students led a panel discussion, in which they told stories about how working and being evaluated as a team could prove to be one of the most important and difficult transitions of the third year.

“It’s always easier to be on a rotation by yourself,” Amy Hempel said. “It’s much more challenging to work as a team.”

But, the seasoned students advised, once third-year students connect as a team, their rotation groups will be excellent support systems and a valuable part of the learning process.

Panel members also described the difficulty of having a patient die.

Dustin Anderson, one of the rising M4s, told of how he bonded with an elderly patient and his family. As his condition worsened, the patient moved to palliative care. After two weeks, the patient passed away and Anderson mourned the loss. Several of his classmates shared similar experiences.

“You won’t be alone,” Hempel advised. “Your team will go through it with you.”

The incoming third year students sought feedback on the best study resources, ways to balance life outside of medical school and tools to improve their skill with medical procedures. Though the past year was a challenging one, the rising fourth-years said third year was the best part of medical school.

“Third year is exciting, because you get to see things you’ve never seen before,” Philip Ernest said. “You should go into the year with the perspective that there are a lot of things to learn. See the value in learning new things.”


NPR calls on Laura Siminoff

Laura A. Siminoff, Ph.D., spoke with National Public Radio’s All Things Considered for the program’s four-part series on human tissue donation.

The professor and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Health studies how people make health care decisions, including the decision of whether or not to donate organs and tissues.

For the radio series, Siminoff provided perspective on the interaction between tissue banks and donors’ families, and also on the options that people have to specify which organs or tissues can be used for donation, or even for what purposes they can be used. All but 11 states allow donors to have more input than a simple yes/no on the donation question.

Read the transcripts or listen to the radio stories, Calculating the Value of Human Tissue Donation and Am I a Tissue Donor, Too?


Worldwide media coverage draws attention to the Center for Human-Animal Interaction

Related story: Dogs open door to lasting friendship

 Sandra Barker, Ph.D. and Randolph Barker, Ph.D.

Psychiatry professor Sandra Barker, Ph.D., with her husband and research partner Randolph Barker, Ph.D., a professor in the business school. Their interdisciplinary collaboration provides a better understanding of human and animal interaction.

Sandra Barker, Ph.D., the Bill Balaban Chair in Human-Animal Interaction and psychiatry professor, has been thrilled to see her team’s findings on the benefits of dogs in the workplace appear in leading media outlets across the U.S. and the globe, in countries including Hungary, Australia and Japan.

“We were totally amazed by the attention it has received, because it was a preliminary study,” said Barker, who directs the Center for Human-Animal Interaction, an interdisciplinary research center based in the School of Medicine. “We thought locally we might get a few interested media contacts, but Time Magazine was the first interview Randy did. It snowballed from there.”

Barker is referring to Randolph Barker, Ph.D., her husband and fellow researcher. Their academic interests have led to opportunities for collaboration including the recent study that showed the benefits of bringing pets to the workplace. The Barkers have tried to accommodate as many interview requests as possible, with Randy Barker, a management professor in the VCU School of Business, handling the majority. In the weeks following the study’s publication, he gave 18 interviews to media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, CBS News, NPR and the Los Angeles Times.

International media coverage has spotlighted the research, including:

VCU’s media office has identified more than 500 articles mentioning the research, and readers and viewers everywhere are responding to the interdisciplinary team.
“Almost all of the responses have been very positive,” Barker said. “Several within the VCU community wanted to see if they could bring their dogs into the workplace. A number of people want to collaborate on research, and some want to come and work for the center.”

Barker said it is rewarding to talk about her unique team and to share research that resonates with people.

“It increases awareness of the unique type of research we’re doing here, attracts collaborators and may generate donations, since we receive no direct funding from the university or hospital and operate totally on donations.”

Dogs open door to lasting friendship

Where the Barkers’ research documents the benefits of dogs entering the workplace, two MCV Campus faculty members discovered a lasting friendship that got its start outside the workplace – at a Boston dog park 20 years ago.

In the early 1990s, Claudia Testa, M.D., Ph.D., watched her boyfriend’s golden retriever, Tristan, become fast friends with Kodiak, a chocolate lab. Soon after, she met the lab’s owner, a fellow physician-scientist named Steven Grossman, M.D., Ph.D. The two found common ground in their shared M.D.-Ph.D. experience.

Tristan and Kodiak

Tristan and Kodiak’s friendship lured their busy owners from the lab to explore the great outdoors. Claudia Testa, M.D., Ph.D., and Steven Grossman, M.D. Ph.D., renewed their friendship 20 years later when they reunited on the MCV Campus.

At the time, Testa was completing her Ph.D. research in the neuroscience labs at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Grossman was an internal medicine intern at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

The dogs’ friendship pushed their busy owners to get outside and relax. “My main memories are of our lives entirely revolving around these dogs even as we all were engaged in various aspects of medical and scientific training – Claudia and the dog’s owner, Andy, both as M.D.-Ph.D. students, my wife as a Ph.D. student, and myself as an intern/resident,” Grossman said. He recalled field trips to take the dogs to the beach, hours spent playing fetch, swimming at Wellesley College and sledding in parks.
But the owners had work to do. Since they were putting in long hours at the clinic and lab, they eventually set up doggie day care, alternating between Tristan and Kodiak’s apartments. Testa said she can picture them, “gazing out the windows as their owners headed out to lab.”

The researchers stayed in touch as Testa moved to Atlanta and the Grossman family headed to the Boston suburbs. Over the years, communication became sporadic, until early 2012 when they were surprised to learn they had arrived on the MCV Campus within months of each other. In July 2011, Grossman was recruited to the Dianne Nunnally Hoppes Endowed Chair in Cancer Research to lead the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care. Testa was named the Joan Massey Chair in the VCU Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center two months later.

Because the two hold Endowed Chairs in their respective disciplines, they were asked to speak to a medical school publication about how philanthropy supports their research. During the interview process, they heard one another’s name. “Well, I immediately sent off a ‘What are you doing in Richmond?!’ email,” Testa said. “I applaud Dean Strauss for his perspicacity in recruiting a great friend of mine to move to VCU.”

The two researchers again find themselves living near one another. Though they’re in the same neighborhood, a reprise of doggie daycare looks unlikely. Ever-faithful to the Labrador breed, the Grossman family has a new black lab. Testa, however, currently describes herself as pet-deprived.


Alumnus Tachi Yamada featured in JCI’s “Conversations with Giants in Medicine”

Tadataka “Tachi” Yamada, M.D., who completed his residency training on the MCV Campus in 1974, has been featured in the Journal of Clinical Investigation’s video interview series “Conversations with Giants in Medicine.”

In the interview, Yamada describes how his residency with the MCV Campus’ “strong GI division” sparked his excitement for the field of gastroenterology.

Over the course of the interview, Yamada recounts a career that took him from academic medicine into the pharmaceutical industry and ultimately to the presidency of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Program, where he oversaw over $9 billion in programs.

“Being a physician is tremendously liberating,” Yamada tells his interviewer. “You can be a great clinician, you can be an academician doing clinical work or teaching or doing science, you can be an administrator, you can work in government, you can work in industry, you can work in philanthropy — there’s no limit to what you can do. I found it tremendously invigorating and exciting to do different things in different phases in my career. I’m not saying that that’s the best way, but it certainly is a fun way to be a physician and to learn that you can contribute to patient welfare in different ways.”

In 2011, Yamada was recognized by VCU as the School of Medicine’s Alumni Star. He returned to the MCV Campus to accept the award and to speak with students about his passion for global health.

The 38-minute video interview is the latest in the JCI series that has featured other distinguished physician scientists including director of the National Cancer Institute, Harold E. Varmus, M.D., as well as Nobel Prize winners Joseph Goldstein, M.D., and Michael Brown, M.D.

Watch JCI’s video interview with Tadataka “Tachi” Yamada, M.D., H’74. A transcript of the interview is also available.

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Updated: 04/29/2016