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School of Medicine discoveries

August 2012 Archives


Alpha Omega Alpha calls national attention to third-year student

The national organization of Alpha Omega Alpha recognized School of Medicine student Kate Pearson’s research on Honduran health care in its recent online publication. Pearson, now a third-year medical student, was awarded the 2011 Alpha Omega Alpha Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship and used the funding to investigate the barriers to providing medical care to different parts of Honduras.

Kate Pearson

Kate Pearson

Pearson’s research focused on three different Honduran communities. Though they are near each other, one of the communities is suburban, and the other two are rural. All three locations are aided by the Honduras Outreach Medical Brigada Relief Effort (HOMBRE), a yearly medical mission trip organized by first-year School of Medicine students.

After a year of research, Pearson found a heavy burden for the remote communities in trying to access healthcare. Challenges include cost, facility overcrowding, transportation and distance to the clinic. In January 2012, her findings were presented to the local government in Yoro, Honduras.

“I was both excited and nervous to have the findings presented, knowing that it could permanently shape future trip planning,” Pearson said. “I was confident in our findings, though, and felt very empowered that the work has allowed us to tailor the mission to provide care to the most needy communities.”

In addition to sharing the results with the Honduran people, Pearson was first-author on a manuscript of her work published in the International Journal of Family Medicine. She now has completed the research fellowship, but remains focused on finding ways to provide excellent patient care as she pursues her career in medicine.

“The experience has continued to motivate me both in pursuing research and in my medical education. It continues to remind me how valuable a medical education is — and how a small community and a small team of thoughtful health professionals can come together to make powerful change.”

In late August, Pearson was interviewed by the AOA about her fellowship experience. The interview as well as her abstract are online.


Dave Cifu and Jeff Kreutzer find link between brain injury and crime

Professor Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D.

Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D.

Virginia Public Radio spoke with Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’s Chair David Cifu, M.D., and Professor Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D., about a connection they’ve discovered between brain injury and crime.

“Overall, about one in four people that we saw in our practice was somehow involved with the law, and so we began thinking about the relationship between brain injury and crime,” Kreutzer told Virginia Public Radio.

The researchers say frustration and irritability can be common characteristics following a traumatic brain injury. When that gives rise to violence or impulsive behavior, a patient may sometimes find themselves in trouble with the law.

To discover the extent of the issue in Virginia prisons, Kreutzer developed a set of tests that were given to 600 juvenile offenders. He found that 20 percent had a suffered a previous brain injury. Kreutzer, who holds the Rosa Schwarz Cifu Professorship in Cancer Rehabilitation, directs the Virginia Traumatic Brain Injury Model System of Care.

David Cifu, M.D.

David Cifu, M.D.

Cifu, who holds the Herman J. Flax professorship in PMR, also serves as national director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ PMR Program. He points out that 20 percent of servicemen experience a brain injury and will have to learn to handle the anger and other medical complaints that accompany the injury.

Listen to the radio segment, Virginia Researchers Explore Link Between Brain Injury and Crime, or read a transcript posted on WAMU 88.5’s website.


Five physicians contribute to international database of best practices for medical education and training

Five physicians in the medical school have been recognized for their contributions to MedEdPORTAL, a free online database that allows educators and administrators in health science schools to share peer-reviewed educational approaches and material.

  • Steven Bishop, M.D., resident physician, internal medicine
  • Stephanie Call, M.D., MSPH, associate professor, internal medicine
  • Jeffrey Kushinka, M.D., assistant professor, internal medicine
  • Michael Sean Ryan, M.D., FAAP, assistant professor, pediatrics
  • Rita M. Willett, M.D., associate professor, internal medicine

In 10 publications, the physicians shared a range of experiences, from team-based training modules on chest pain and anemia to a simulation designed to teach medical students how to handle respiratory distress in children. Because many of the training experiences were interdisciplinary, the physicians collaborated with four professors from other VCU schools:

  • Ericka L. Breden, Pharm.D., BCPP, CGP, FASCP, clinical assistant professor, inpatient pharmacy
  • Angela H. Flack, M.Div., assistant professor, patient counseling program
  • Bruce D. Rybarczyk, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology
  • Brigitte Luong Sicat, Pharm.D., BCPS, CDE, associate professor, pharmacotherapy and outcomes science

MedEdPORTAL is accessed in over 195 countries and by over 10,000 health education institutions including medicine, dentistry, osteopathy, nursing, pharmacy and public health. The database is a program of the Association of American Medical Colleges, which is an association representing all 138 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems; and 90 academic and scientific societies.


Alumna Kate Powis makes headlines at Harvard

Half the academic year, you’ll find the Class of 2003’s Kate Powis in Africa. There she works with the Botswana-Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Partnership on preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, among other things.

Even she probably wouldn’t have predicted that 13 years ago. At that time she was still working as vice president at Circuit City with an eye on staffing requirements and prepping for meetings with Standard and Poors.

That dramatic career change caught the attention of editors at Harvard Public Health, who have featured Powis in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the magazine.

Soon after Powis joined the AIDS project, Harvard associate professor Roger Shapiro, M.D., M.P.H., recognized her unusual skill set. After she helped the team switch to an electronic data collection system, she found herself given an expanded role within the project.

“Kate can do everything, which makes her unique,” Shapiro told Harvard Public Health. “She’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever met. She approaches her job with an attention to detail that’s rarely seen. And she has a sense of the larger picture — how the research fits into the public health infrastructure in Botswana.”

Powis told the magazine that she sees common ground between her former and current responsibilities.

“In many respects, I am doing the same thing now as I did before. I look at medicine and research with an eye toward improving systems, automating things, ensuring that errors can be eliminated — whether it be errors in the provision of care or errors in the collection of data for research,” she says. “But because of the women and children I’m working with, and the impact I am having both on individual lives and collectively in the public health arena, I know I’ve now found my true calling.”

After earning her medical degree on the MCV Campus in 2003, Powis completed residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital and a master’s in public health at Harvard. When she’s not in Africa, she’s back in the Boston area at a Mass General primary care center in Chelsea. Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health recognized her work with a five-year career development grant.

Read the article from Harvard Public Health, Finding Her True Path.


Housestaff alumnus serves as Olympic physician

With London’s 2012 Olympics grabbing everyone’s attention, housestaff alumnus Jim Miller is working behind the scenes at Olympic Park Aquatics Centre as a physician to the swimmers, divers and other athletes competing in the aquatic events.

According to the Aug. 2 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Miller is one of eight physicians on the Federation Internationale de Nacion Sports Medicine Committee providing medical coverage for the aquatic teams.

“The pageantry of the Olympic stage is unlike anything at any other time in the world,” he told the Times-Dispatch. “It’s a unique opportunity to be there.”

Miller completed his family medicine residency in 1980 at the Riverside Family Medicine Residency, which is one of five residency sites around the state that are associated with the Department of Family Medicine. Riverside Family Medicine Residency was founded in 1971 and is one of the oldest family medicine programs in the country. It has produced more than one-third of VCU’s family medicine residents.

Miller, who is board certified in Sports Medicine, also serves as an associate clinical professor in the School of Medicine.

In 1994, Miller founded Family Practice Specialists of Richmond. He expects his international experience as an Olympic physician will shape the care he delivers to patients back home.

Read the Times-Dispatch article, Midlothian doctor serving aquatic Olympic athletes in London.

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Updated: 04/29/2016