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June 2014 Archives


Class of 2017’s Michael Krouse chosen for national leadership program in primary care


Michael Krouse, Class of 2017

Even before enrolling in medical school, the Class of 2017’s Michael Krouse has been committed to reducing health disparities and improving access to care for the underserved. He’ll spend this summer in Seattle, Wash., where he’ll be part of a program that aims to address the critical shortage in primary care providers.

Earlier this year, Michael was chosen for the GE-NMF Primary Care Leadership Program and its $7,000 fellowship. At Seattle’s HealthPoint Community Health Centers, he’s working alongside primary care physicians to provide patient care and is undergoing leadership training with the centers’ administration and board of directors. As he learns how HealthPoint is funded and operates, he’ll conduct an independent project evaluating patients’ use of a recently launched web-based portal.

“HealthPoint has recently launched a web-based portal that allows its patients to communicate with their providers over a secure messaging system in addition to having access to their patient plan, lab results, and referrals,” explains Michael. “However, not much is known about which patients are logging in and how they are using the portal.”

Patient portals and electronic health records hold great potential for improving care of chronic illnesses and promoting shared decision making by patients and health care providers. They could even help to overcome health care disparities if barriers that discourage patients from accessing the portal are identified and eliminated.

Michael will investigate which of HealthPoint’s patients are using the portal and if there are any trends in users’ gender, race or insurance status. He’ll also analyze which of the portal’s functions are most popular and what kinds of information patients communicate via secure message so that HealthPoint can enhance that function.

“I hope this project will be a step toward ensuring that all of HealthPoint’s patients benefit equally from the portal’s resources,” Michael says.

Michael was born and raised in New Orleans, La. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and philosophy. He also became interested in health disparities after leading two mission trips to an orphanage for mentally and physically handicapped children near Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Once on the MCV Campus, Michael continued to serve vulnerable populations as a member of the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program. Through the I2CRP, he’s provided health screenings for the homeless at the CARITAS Clinic and primary care at Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services with Melissa Bradner, M.D., M.S.H.A., associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health.

Michael says those experiences have been great preparation for his summer fellowship. He credits Mark Ryan, M.D., Steven Crossman, M.D., and Mary Lee Magee in the Department of Family Medicine for developing a robust program that exposes students to current topics in community-oriented primary care.

“The didactic sessions, panels and site visits in I2CRP increased my awareness of the challenges many communities face with regards to the social determinants of health,” Michael says. “The impetus for applying to the Primary Care Leadership Program was an expression of the lessons I learned in I2CRP and a desire to apply them.”

At its core, the six-week GE-NMF Primary Care Leadership Program is a service-learning rotation that aims to enhance the students’ training by combining clinical experience, site-specific projects and leadership training. In doing so, it aims to increase the pipeline of doctors, nurses and physician assistants who have the professional knowledge, cultural competency and commitment to provide quality healthcare for all members of a diverse society. Launched in 2012, the leadership program is made possible through a partnership of the General Electric Foundation and National Medical Fellowships, Inc. This year, 78 medical, nursing and physician assistant students are studying at nearly a dozen sites nationwide.


Master’s thesis is foundation for film that shatters old myths of Down syndrome


Benjamin Kaman (front) and his family are participating in a documentary about Down Syndrome that got its start with Kayla Claxton’s master’s thesis.

Leigh Ann Kaman fell to the floor when doctors told her that her newborn son, Benjamin, had Down syndrome. She and her husband, Brian, felt totally alone.

“It’s not the diagnosis you want to hear,” she said. “I felt scared, anxious and sad. I had to grieve the loss of the expectations I had for my first-born child.”

Now 12, Benjamin is enrolled in mainstream classes at school, loves to play sports, read, swim and go hiking with his parents and younger siblings, Samuel and Gracie. A far cry from what his parents feared.

“Quite frankly, we didn’t know what to expect,” Leigh Ann Kaman said. “There wasn’t a lot out there to help us figure it all out.”

That’s why the Kamans are ecstatic to be working with the VCU genetics and film departments on a project to help raise awareness about Down syndrome. Along with about a dozen other local families, the Kamans will be featured in a documentary that will illustrate the needs and aspirations of people with Down syndrome and bring about improvements in knowledge and access to community resources.

“We are just delighted about this,” said Colleen Jackson-Cook, Ph.D., director of the Cytogenetic Diagnostic Lab and professor of pathology. “What is so exciting is how many people have pulled together to make this happen. That is so gratifying.”

The VCU Council for Community Engagement, in partnership with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond, awarded the project $17,000. Jackson-Cook submitted the grant and is helping to develop the film. But her involvement is just the beginning.


Kayla Claxton, MS’14

As part of her thesis for her master’s degree in genetic counseling, Kayla Claxton, MS’14, developed a survey to assess the educational and service needs of parents who have children with Down syndrome. She distributed the 39-question survey to parents and service providers, analyzed the results, wrote a detailed thesis and presented her conclusions during an event at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond.

VCU is the only school in the state to offer an accredited master’s degree program in genetic counseling. It is part of the School of Medicine’s Department of Human and Molecular Genetics.

“I feel so proud to be part of the program and part of this project,” Claxton said. “This was not just my thesis project, but it’s something that will help the entire community. It is a great way to help people understand what Down syndrome is and to help parents realize they are not alone. ”

Claxton provided her conclusions and survey results to Sasha Waters Freyer, the chair of the Department of Photography and Film. Freyer is producing the film with help from 15 of her advanced documentary students. They are using the survey results to focus the content of the film.

“This is a great opportunity for the students,” Freyer said. “It’s working with a real world client, and it also serves the needs of the community. It’s nice to work on a project that you know will benefit a large audience.”

Freyer and her students began filming in March and now are in the editing stage. They hope to have a rough cut to show to Jackson-Cook and the Down Syndrome Association by the end of July. After some fine-tuning, the 20- to 30-minute film will be distributed to parents, healthcare providers and medical and education students. The National Down Syndrome Association has also expressed interest in showing it at its annual conference. In addition, plans call for a Spanish translation of the film by Eugenia Munoz, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish.

The documentary will replace a 1980s version that is terribly outdated. The new film will provide more updated information on a number of topics for parents, including insurance, medical advances and research, respite care and support. For medical students, it offers guidance on appropriate ways to deliver the diagnosis and interact with patients and parents. The film shatters the old myths of Down syndrome and shows how children can lead healthy, productive lives.

“I really wish something like this had been available when we were facing Benjamin’s diagnosis,” Leigh Ann Kaman said. “I am so happy to be part of this project, to be a ministry to someone who is hurting and facing a challenge.”

–By Janet Showalter

About Down syndrome
From The National Down Syndrome Society

  • Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
  • Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. One in every 691 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome.
  • More than 400,000 people in the United States live with Down syndrome.
  • People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions. Many of these conditions are now treatable, so most people with Down syndrome lead healthy lives.
  • Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades — from 25 in 1983 to 60 today.
  • All people with Down syndrome experience cognitive delays, but the effect is usually mild to moderate.
  • Quality educational programs, a stimulating home environment, good health care and positive support from family, friends and the community enable people with Down syndrome to develop their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

Two Pharmacology and Toxicology faculty honored by NIDA

A pair of professors from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology have been selected as 2014 winners of awards of excellence from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s International Program.

William L. Dewey, Ph.D., professor and department chair, received a special recognition award for excellence in scientific accomplishments and for his devoted service to the addiction research community. Charles O’Keeffe, M.B.A., professor, received the Award of Excellence in International Leadership for his role in advising three U.S. presidents on international health and drug policy issues and as a frequent consultant to the World Health Organization and other U.N. agencies.

The NIDA International Program works with colleagues from around the world to find evidence-based solutions to the public health problems of drug abuse, addiction and drug-related HIV/AIDS. Its Awards of Excellence winners are selected based on contributions to areas essential to the mission of the NIDA International Program: mentoring, international leadership and collaborative research. The awards were announced on June 14 at the 19th annual NIDA International Forum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“The 2014 Awards of Excellence winners are dedicated and experienced leaders in the international effort to advance drug abuse research and training,” said Steven W. Gust, Ph.D., director of the NIDA International Program. “This year’s winners have helped to prepare international scientists to work together across international borders and to lead the way for key scientific breakthroughs.”


William L. Dewey, Ph.D.

William L. Dewey, Ph.D.
The Louis S. and Ruth S. Harris Professor and Chair
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Dewey’s research – funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 45 years – focuses on the mechanisms of action of opioids and marijuana that change brain function and contribute to tolerance, dependence and addiction. He helped discover the role of endogenous opioids in sudden infant death syndrome and also investigates the effects of drugs on pain, cardiovascular alterations and respiratory depression.

He founded and leads the nonprofit Friends of NIDA, a coalition of individuals, scientific and professional societies and patient groups that supports the work of the institute. He has twice served as president of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence and received the CPDD Distinguished Service Award in 2009. NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D., presented Dewey with the NIDA Public Service Award in 2004, the same year he received the Commonwealth of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award in Science. Dewey received the VCU Presidential Medallion in 2012.

“While Dr. Dewey’s scientific contributions are significant, his service to the addiction research community is extraordinary,” said Gust. “His innovative educational briefings for members of Congress and their aides provide science-based information about addiction that helps improve U.S. drug policy.”


Charles O’Keeffe, M.B.A.

Charles O’Keeffe, M.B.A.
Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and in the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies

In addition to advising three U.S. presidents on international health and drug policy issues, O’Keeffe served as deputy director for international affairs of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy under President Jimmy Carter. He played a key role in securing U.S. approval for the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances and served on U.S. delegations to the World Health Assembly and the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs. He has been a frequent consultant to the World Health Organization and other U.N. agencies.

During his career as a pharmaceutical company executive, O’Keeffe worked with NIDA scientists and government officials in France and the U.S. to secure approval for buprenorphine to treat opioid dependence. He also developed the first abuse-resistant packaging for take-home doses of methadone and ran the largest clinical toxicology laboratory in the United States. At VCU, O’Keeffe worked with colleagues from King’s College London and the University of Adelaide in Australia to create the International Programme in Addiction Studies, an online master’s degree program.

“Professor O’Keeffe has worked tirelessly to educate policymakers, law enforcement officials and health care professionals around the globe about addiction policy and treatment,” said Gust. “His work with the International Programme in Addiction Studies prepares its international students to become leaders in translating addiction research into effective treatment, prevention and policy.”

Three other individuals were awarded 2014 NIDA International Awards of Excellence. Dennis McCarty, Ph.D., a professor at Oregon Health & Sciences University, was honored for Excellence in Mentoring. The award for Excellence in Collaborative Research went to Marek C. Chawarski, Ph.D., Yale School of Medicine and Vicknasingam B Kasinather, Ph.D., Universiti Sains Malaysia.


Biostatistics alumnus Karl Peace commended by the Virginia General Assembly

Karl Peace

Alumnus Karl Peace, Ph.D.

Alumnus Karl Peace, Ph.D., has been commended by the Virginia General Assembly as “a prolific biostatistician and devoted educator, [who] has contributed immensely to his field and inspired countless students at the Medical College of Virginia and other universities to achieve greatness in science and medicine.”

Peace earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Biostatistics in 1976 and for more than 30 years has served the department as adjunct or affiliate faculty. In addition to his service on the MCV Campus, Peace is senior research scientist and professor of biostatistics in Georgia Southern University’s Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health. The college’s Center for Biostatistics and Survey Research bears his name, and he is the founder of the Biopharmaceutical Applied Statistics Symposium, now in its 21st year as well as the Journal of Biopharmaceutical Statistics, now in its 23rd year.

In recognition of his contributions, House of Delegates member Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) offered House Joint Resolution No. 5073, approved by both the House and Senate on June 12.

The resolution describes Peace’s impact on the field of biostatistics and also notes that he has created scholarship awards that have helped more than 50 students earn master’s degrees or doctorates in biostatistics from VCU’s MCV Campus. He also generously supported the Hans Carter Professorship on the MCV Campus and GSU’s Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health bears the name of his late wife as well as many other education and charitable organizations.

As described in his autobiography Paid in Full, Peace was born into a family of southwest Georgia sharecroppers. He was the first person in his family to go to college and, as an undergraduate, a Georgia State Teacher’s scholarship supplemented by seven part-time jobs helped him complete his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, even while supporting his siblings and cancer-stricken mother.

Education proved to be the road that would change Peace’s life and that of his family. Rising from an entry-level biostatistician position at Burroughs-Wellcome to vice president of worldwide technical operations at Parke-Davis/Warner Lambert, Peace went on to start Biopharmaceutical Research Consultants Inc. in 1989. He provided expertise to dozens of international biotech and pharmaceutical companies and played a key role in the development and regulatory approval of dozens of medicines, including drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, hypertension, arthritis, anxiety, depression and panic attacks and gastrointestinal ulcers.


Student team one of 10 in country chosen to become hot spotters


VCU’s team of inter-professional students includes (from left to right): Emily Pratt, rising 3rd year masters student, School of Social Work; Andrea Ramos, rising 4th year student, School of Nursing; Tricia Olaes, rising 4th year medical student; Eveline Chu, rising 4th year medical student and Aziza Dang, rising 3rd year student, School of Pharmacy

In the United States, five percent of the population accounts for almost half of total health care expenses. That’s according to a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In the world of health policy and health reform, identifying those super-utilizing patients is sometimes called “hot spotting,” and it could be a key to controlling health care costs in the future.

A five-student inter-professional team from VCU is one of 10 chosen for a six-month learning collaborative to explore the root causes that lead to repeat visits to the hospital and drive up health care costs.

The team will be led by the Class of 2015’s Eveline Chu and Tricia Olaes. Both are medical students in the school’s International/Inner City/Rural (I2CRP) Preceptorship program who will use the experience as their capstone project.

The team’s faculty advisor is family medicine physician Katherine Neuhausen, M.D., M.P.H., who practices at VCU’s Hayes E. Willis Health Center, a primary care clinic serving primarily uninsured and Medicaid patients. The team will work with Neuhausen to select up to five clinic patients who are super-utilizers of hospital resources. They’ll look for patients with at least three inpatient admissions over the past 18 months who have uncontrolled chronic physical diseases, behavioral health conditions and social needs driving their high utilization.

To get started, the students will meet with patients in their homes to complete a needs assessment and action plan that will take into account such issues as the patients’ chronic medical diseases, health literacy, mental illness, substance abuse and social needs. They will also identify barriers to patients accessing healthcare and will accompany patients on doctors’ visits, even assisting with transportation or helping to obtain health insurance, as needed. If a patient is hospitalized, a team member will visit them in the hospital to determine if the action plan should be modified.

The students will draw on Neuhausen’s experience at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services where she conducted case studies of super-utilizers programs as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar. In addition to her position as assistant clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Neuhausen also serves as the director of delivery system transformation in the VCU Office of Innovation.

The students also will call on a policy advisory team of VCU faculty members for help in analyzing overarching patterns in patients’ experiences including the role of social determinants of health and identifying wider policy changes necessary to improve care for these patients. The inter-professional faculty team includes family medicine and internal medicine physicians, a medical anthropologist, a pharmacist, a clinical social worker and a gerontological nurse practitioner.

Over the course of the six-month program, the VCU students will participate in monthly case conferences and topical webinars with family physician and 2013 MacArthur Fellow Jeffrey Brenner, M.D. Brenner is the executive director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, which is organizing the project along with Primary Care Progress and the Association of American Medical Colleges. Each of the 10 student teams have been awarded a $700 grant to support patient needs such as bus passes, phone cards and canes. The students will also attend a hot spotter conference this winter hosted by Camden Coalition for students from all 10 sites to share their work.

The 10 academic health centers selected for the learning collaborative are:

  • Jefferson Medical College
  • Johns Hopkins SOM
  • LSU New Orleans SOM / Tulane SOM
  • Penn State COM
  • The Ohio State University COM
  • University of Rochester SOM & Dentistry
  • University of Washington SOM
  • UNC SOM/ Duke U SOM
  • Vanderbilt University SOM
  • Virginia Commonwealth University SOM

Rising M3 Adrian Diaz elected president of the LMSA Southeast Region


Class of 2016’s Margarita Corredor and Adrian Diaz

The Class of 2016’s Adrian Diaz will begin a one-year term as president of the Southeast region of the Latino Medical Student Association in June.

VCU’s LMSA chapter was established this past year through the efforts of Diaz and his classmate Margarita Corredor. Earlier this year, they attended the LMSA Southeast Regional Conference hosted by UNC-Chapel Hill.

“For the first time in my life I stood in a room surrounded by physicians whose childhoods, backgrounds and motivations resembled my own,” Corredor said. “I met women like me who have accomplished the goals I have set for myself, and that tangible inspiration was indescribably powerful.”

She was so impressed with the conference that she successfully advocated for VCU’s LMSA chapter to host the regional conference in 2016.

The VCU chapter aims to foster relationships between Latino medical students and physician mentors and to advocate for a higher quality of care for Hispanic patients. During the spring semester, LMSA students taught a six-week medical Spanish elective course that enrolled more than 120 students, including all those planning to travel on HOMBRE service trips this summer. After completing the course, most students reported they felt comfortable taking a history and performing a full physical exam in Spanish.

As the incoming president, Adrian was invited by the National Hispanic Medical Association to participate in their 18th Annual Conference, “Affordable Care Act & Best Practices for Hispanics” this past March. The conference drew Hispanic physician leaders from around the nation who collaborated on identifying cultural competence, literacy and language service programs for medical education and health care delivery.

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Updated: 04/29/2016