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November 2013 Archives


New journal debuts, explores the art of medicine

MLM cover

The photo on the cover of the inaugural issue Medical Literary Messenger was taken by the Class of 2014’s Bryan Jarrett.

A new journal, the Medical Literary Messenger, has debuted. It is the brainchild of Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., M.P.H., FACP, associate hospital epidemiologist and professor of internal medicine, epidemiology and community medicine.

“I have been thinking about creating a medical literary magazine at VCU for years,” says Bearman who notes the Department of Internal Medicine for many years published a print magazine Between Rounds that is now defunct. “I felt it necessary to both satisfy my literary needs and to resuscitate a medical-literary forum at VCU.”

Envisioned as an artistic voice for the healing arts, the debut issue features the work of nearly two dozen contributors. Works include photography, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and even anatomical drawings based on the artist’s trips to the gross anatomy labs of Anatomy Professor Hugo Seibel, Ph.D., now retired.

The new journal will be published twice a year in a cost-effective electronic format to satisfy Bearman’s desire that it be freely accessible and downloadable by all. “In an electronic format, and with the use of social media, the Medical Literary Messenger allows us to have a much more expansive reach and attract a greater diversity of writers.”

MLM picture

A pair of ink drawings by David J. Bromley are featured in the Medical Literary Messenger’s debut issue. The above arm dissection was based on the artist’s trips to Dr. Hugo Seibel’s gross anatomy lab.

Bearman set about assembling a volunteer editorial team from around the VCU Medical Center that includes faculty, staff and students. “It took us about one year to get the project off the ground,” says Bearman. “The Medical Literary Messenger is very much a labor of love for all of us.”

The response to the journal’s call for submissions yielded a quality and quantity of work that thrilled the editorial team and guaranteed a competitive selection process.

The authors and artists featured in the debut issue include some, like Robert Eastwood, who have published extensively. With two poems featured in the issue, Eastwood is a recipient of the Berkely Poets’ Dinner Grand Prize and the Ina Coolbrith Circle Grand Prize and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, an American literary prize that honors works published by small presses.


Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., M.P.H., FACP

Another contributor is emergency room nurse Stacy R. Nigliazzo whose poetry has appeared in numerous journals including JAMA, Third Space and the Bellevue Literary Review. She recently published a book of poetry, “Scissored Moon.”

The inaugural issue’s authors and artists also include a number with ties to VCU and to its School of Medicine.

“The experience of illness, wellness, health and medicine is nuanced, personal and shaped by innumerable factors. We hope to explore these perspectives and the art of medicine by way of the essays, stories, poems and images submitted to the Medical Literary Messenger,” says Bearman. “By making the MLM an open access publication, we hope to share our medical-literary experience with a diversity of readers.”

The Medical Literary Messenger is among a cadre of medical literary projects based in the nation’s medical schools, such as The University of Virginia’s Hospital Drive and the University of New Mexico’s Medical Muse.

You can find the inaugural issue of the Medical Literary Messenger online.


Alumna Esther Johnston honored with AAFP Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education


Alumna Esther Johnston receiving the AAFP’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education

The American Academy of Family Physicians has honored the Class of 2011’s Esther Johnston with its Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education. Of the 3,200 eligible family medicine residents, only a dozen are selected for this esteemed designation. They received their awards at the AAFP Scientific Assembly in San Diego in September.

The AAFP award recognizes outstanding family medicine residents for their leadership, civic involvement, exemplary patient care and aptitude for and interest in family medicine. Johnston is now a third-year family medicine resident in Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona.

In announcing her selection, the AAFP highlighted Johnston’s interest in global and public health. The announcement praised her effort to raise funds for the first phase of a deworming and nutrition project in the Kibera slum just outside of Nairobi, Kenya.

Johnston first traveled to Kenya from the MCV Campus on a trip funded by a CDC-Hubert Global Health Fellowship. She was awarded the fellowship while a fourth-year medical student in support of her work on community-oriented measles outbreak response activities in the African state.

She says it was during her undergraduate studies that she first fell in love with global health, working across the border at the Flying Samaritans Chapultapec Clinic in Mexico throughout her four years of college. She broadened that interest in medical school, taking a one-year leave of absence to complete an M.P.H. in international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a focus on humanitarian assistance and refugee health.

The University of Arizona’s family medicine residency, she says, is giving her the procedural and diagnostic skills to practice in underserved areas within the U.S. and around the world. “Our in-patient service offers tremendous opportunities to practice under-served medicine: we treat the homeless, the incarcerated and patients suffering from rhabdomyolysis and intestinal illnesses who are brought to us in the custody of Border Patrol after the long foot crossing over the border from Mexico.”

After she completes residency, Johnston plans to seek a position that will allow her to balance her passion for clinical medicine with a commitment to public health and medical education. She is considering full-scope family medicine faculty positions in the U.S. and abroad.


Ph.D. candidate Matthew Allen-Daniels selected for ASM fellowship award


Matthew Allen-Daniels

The American Society for Microbiology has selected Matthew Allen-Daniels as a 2013 award recipient of its ASM Undergraduate Research Capstone Program.

Now a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Matt was a student in VCU’s Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at the time of his selection. The one-year biomedical PREP program provides recent college graduates from underrepresented groups with a paid, mentored research experience that prepares them for graduate-level training.

Originally from Longview, Texas, Matt studies a species of bacteria known as Mycoplasma hominis and its role in pre-term birth. M. hominis is frequently found in the amniotic fluid when women give birth preterm. However, the process that the bacteria uses to ascend the reproductive tract, enter the uterine cavity and invade the gestational sac is unknown.

Under the mentorship of Kimberly K. Jefferson, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology, Matt is trying to identify the molecular factors that contribute to virulence in M. hominis and better understand its role in pre-term birth.

The ASM capstone program seeks to enhance the presentation skills of underrepresented minority students by providing them with resources to transition to disciplinary scientific meetings. Each ASM awardee receives a two-year ASM student membership and up to a $1,500 in travel support to the ASM Capstone Institute and to the 113th ASM General Meeting if their abstract was accepted.

This year, 18 awardees were selected from 32 applications. Those selected must demonstrate superior research project involvement and knowledge, commitment to research and academic achievement. The American Society for Microbiology is the oldest and largest single biological membership organization, with over 37,000 members worldwide.


M2 Jennifer Tran blogs for AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries

Jennifer Tran

Jennifer Tran

The Class of 2016’s Jennifer Tran is sharing her second year of medical school with the world.

She’s writing about her experiences as part of a blog project conceived by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Called Aspiring Docs Diaries, the project is designed to inspire and educate young people who are interested in becoming physicians. She is one of two medical students blogging for the site that’s attracted hundreds of followers.

She discovered the blog last year when she read a few posts from a student blogger from Harvard. “I thought it would be neat to share my own experiences and contrast it to what the first year of medical school is like,” Jennifer said.

So when she saw a call for student writers go out this summer on the AAMC Facebook page, she decided to reply back. Turns out, the AAMC blog staff were happy to take her on.

So far she’s written about a volunteering experience that, she says, took her out of her comfort zone. At the start of her second year, she made the more than six-hour drive from Richmond to Wise, Va., to take part in a three-day Remote Area Medical (RAM) expedition. The RAM expedition provides vital health care to residents of southwest Virginia and even surrounding states.

“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,” wrote Jennifer. “We were able to provide preventive care and other specialty services in over 3000 patient encounters, giving people health care they would have otherwise gone without.” In addition to discussing chronic health problems like hypertension, diabetes and obesity, she also heard about the socioeconomic obstacles patients face on a daily basis.

In her second post, Jennifer blogged about her small group encountering a simulated patient in the school’s newly opened simulation center.

“Walking into one of the rooms at the Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety was like entering a typical hospital room,” wrote Jennifer. “I noticed the gowned patient in the bed, the vitals monitor, and assorted medical equipment. Although our patient was a mannequin, he could blink, breathe, produce a pulse in various parts of his body, and even talk!”

Faced with an overdose scenario, Jennifer’s team was able to pool their collective pharmacology knowledge and arrive at a diagnosis. She reported to her blog followers that they delivered treatment with three minutes to spare.

Jennifer is the eldest child of Vietnamese refugees, who fled their homeland 30 years ago. She’s the first person in her family to attend college. Jennifer says that she first became interested in medicine after her grandmother died from cardiac arrest. “Her death made me realize that medicine was the one field where I am intricately connected to patients, learning about their lives and helping them in health and sickness,” Jennifer said.

Read more about Jennifer Tran.


Chris Woleben’s toolkit for mastering the Match is distributed nationwide

Christopher Woleben, M.D.

Christopher Woleben, M.D.

A graduate of the medical school’s Class of 1997, Christopher Woleben, M.D., is now associate dean for student affairs at his alma mater. In that capacity, he’s been the architect of a four-year advising program that helps medical students select their paths in medicine and develop career planning skills.

Called Careers in Medicine at VCU, the program is now in its sixth year. Its success can be measured, to a certain degree, by the success rate our fourth-year students have had in matching to one of their preferred residency sites in the specialty of their choice.

But even well laid plans have to be responsive to changing conditions.

The Class of 2013 faced a challenging year. Nationally, the number of individuals applying for residency programs increased from 16,526 to 17,487, while the number of training spots remained steady. To complicate matters, the National Resident Matching Program had tweaked the process used to help place unmatched students to unfilled programs. Known as the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, and in just its second year of use, administrators and students were wary of its impact.

To reduce the risk of students going unmatched, Woleben developed a method for tracking the residency match process of his fourth-year medical students. With it, he was able to closely monitor their progress and identify at-risk students so he could intervene.

As students submit their initial application and begin interviewing at residency sites around the country, Woleben periodically surveys them with questions about the number of programs they applied to, the interviews they’ve secured and concerns they may have.

“If you’re able to identify students who may be at risk for going unmatched earlier in the application process, they can apply to additional residency programs or different specialties to increase their chances of matching,” Woleben points out.

Student participation is voluntary, but Woleben says that participation grows as students see the potential of increasing their opportunity to match. “In our first year of using the toolkit, the response rate was 45%, but it’s since grown to 90‐98%.”

This past year, close to 500 U.S. senior medical students failed to match. Despite this, 94% of our students matched into a residency program, compared to the national average of 93.7. For those students who were unmatched, half received a program offer within the first two rounds of SOAP.

This fall, the Association of American Medical Colleges approached Woleben with the request that he share his process with medical schools around the U.S. Complete with survey questions, an advisor checklist and tips, the M4 Match Survey Toolkit was distributed to the AAMC’s Group on Student Affairs in September.

According to Anita M. Navarro, M.Ed., a research analyst with the AAMC’s Careers in Medicine program, they’ve been getting good feedback on the toolkit. In November, Woleben had another chance to present his toolkit, this time at the 2013 AAMC Annual Meeting in Philadelphia as part of a panel discussion on counseling students at risk for going unmatched.

“Advising a student at risk of going unmatched is a challenge,” Woleben said. “You must be prepared to have a difficult conversation that balances a realistic assessment of their probability of matching with their desire to pursue their specialty of choice.”


Medical students team up with Richmond non-profits in DOCS 2013

Baughman Society

Members of the Baughman Society

On Saturday Nov. 2, medical students showed up en masse to lend a helping hand to community organizations in need. More than 150 students signed up for the Day of Community Service – known as DOCS for short.

In the School of Medicine, M.D. students are assigned to one of four medical societies according to their career and specialty interests, learning styles and proficiencies. The societies are designed to maintain the medical school’s close-knit camaraderie, and DOCS 2013 provided an opportunity to serve four community non-profits together.

Benacerraf Society

Members of the Benacerraf Society

The non-profit organizations were selected by the society leaders based on the history of their societies.

The Baughman Society worked with Safe Harbor Shelter to assemble toiletry packages for the men and women residing at the shelter. The Society is named for Mary Baughman, who was among MCV’s first female graduates.

Students in the Benacerraf Society built a jogging and walking track at Bellwood Elementary School with Fit4Kids. The Society carries the name of Baruj Benacerraf, an alumnus of the medical school who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology.

Harris Society

Members of the Harris Society

The Harris Society assembled welcoming baskets for children who participate in programs with SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now). The baskets included healthy snacks, school supplies and toys. The Society is named for Jean Harris, the first African-American student admitted to the medical school.

Students in the Warner Society worked with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Richmond to clean-up a stream near the James River. The Society is named for Augustus L. Warner, the medical school’s first dean.


Members of the Warner Society

One of the event’s organizers was the Class of 2016’s Miki Nishitani, VP of Community Service for the Medical Student Government. She says that “One goal is that the students in these societies will maintain long-term relationships with these non-profits through their commitment to service over the years. This way, the event will continue on annually and perhaps even bi-annually.”

For a closer look at the four medical school societies and their DOCS experience, click any of their images above to enlarge, or view a photo gallery capturing their day.

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Updated: 04/29/2016