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July 2014 Archives


The Class of 2017’s Trina Chakrabortty uses yoga to promote a balanced life, connect with classmates

Trina yoga

Trina Chakrabortty demonstrates the “Tolasana” or scale pose.

After running her first marathon in 2008, Trina Chakrabortty decided the time was right to incorporate yoga into her daily exercise routine.

“My father encouraged it,” said Trina, who just completed her first year of medical school. “Something immediately clicked for me. I noticed I had more energy and my running got better.”

A few years later, she enrolled in a 200-hour teacher certification program so she could share her newfound love with others. Today, Trina teaches two to six classes a week on the MCV Campus at the Larrick Student Center, as well as several other locations around the city, including the Robinson Theater Community Arts Center in Church Hill.

Many of her students are classmates looking to escape the stresses and demands of medical school.

“Trina is fabulous,” said Kate Waybill, a member of the Class of 2016. “Medical school is all consuming, and Trina understands the stresses we go through. She is so good at helping us let go of everything around us. When I leave, I feel relaxed and rejuvenated.”

For Trina, the benefits have proven even more life-changing.

“Yoga keeps me sane,” she said. “It’s really all about balance, which is hard to keep in medical school. Yoga has helped me keep it all in perspective. There’s that mental clarity – the clearer and more focused you are, the better able you are to handle stress.”

At 29, Trina is not your traditional medical student. After graduating from the College of William & Mary in 2006 with a degree in neuroscience, she began to doubt her desire to become a doctor. Her father is a family physician, and Trina always thought that would be her path too.

Trina yoga

Trina Chakrabortty

“I had to take a detour first to get there,” she said with a laugh.

That change in direction took her west, where she earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California. She worked on campus in university admissions, where her work with prospective students and faculty in the School of Public Policy exposed her to the obstacles within healthcare and medicine. A short time later she traveled to India, her parents’ home country, and recommitted herself to medicine.

“That trip really opened my eyes,” she said. “There are a lot of parallels to the health care issues in this country – most notably the lack of access to health care in certain settings.”

Detour over. She started prepping for the MCAT, completed a one-year graduate-level certificate program and was accepted into the VCU School of Medicine. Since then, she’s been focusing not only on her studies, but also on her new duties as the Class of 2017’s wellness representative, chosen by her classmates to help them maintain a balanced life.

“Yoga is a great avenue to promote overall health and well-being with my classmates,” she said. “To help them is a real honor. Since I began teaching here, my classes have been packed. Some even ask if I can teach more often. To me, that is very humbling.”

Despite her busy schedule, Trina finds time to volunteer for Project Yoga Richmond. She also finds ample opportunity to promote health and wellness while assisting with planning the MCV Student Government Association Community Health Fair.

After graduating, Trina hopes to incorporate both yoga and medicine into her career.

“If I am going to tell patients to manage their lifestyle well, I need to do that myself,” she said. “To me, teaching people about good health at any level is what it is all about. Yoga has done a lot to enrich my life, so it only makes sense that I empower others to enrich their own.”

By Janet Showalter


Medical school unveils resource to help teachers inspire students

Kenneth Warren, Ed.D.

The medical school has debuted a new resource, iTeach in Medical Education, to help faculty meet the challenge of satisfying adult students’ need for small groups, case-based problem solving and simulation. The website is an online toolbox of podcasts, videos, presentations and news to help them create their own course content.

Hand in hand with the McGlothlin Medical Education Center’s 2013 opening came a new innovative approach to medical education. The most significant renovation to the VCU School of Medicine’s curriculum in more than 30 years, it’s designed to satisfy adult students’ need for small groups, case-based problem solving and simulation.

Such a complete curriculum redesign, though, calls on faculty members’ ability and willingness to abandon ineffective approaches and embrace new technologies and teaching methods.

To help that along, the medical school’s Office of Faculty Affairs has created a website, iTeach in Medical Education, to give faculty a toolbox of podcasts, videos, presentations and news that’s relevant and useful for creating their own course content.

On the site, they’ll find monthly features on faculty members like Peter Haar, M.D., Ph.D., a 2006 graduate of the medical school who is now on faculty in the Department of Radiology. He expanded the traditional gross anatomy course by providing CT scans for all 32 cadavers. He taught students how to analyze and interpret the scans with the help of a series of screencasts – online videos that combine computer screen displays with audio narration. The students could watch the videos any time, any place and on any device.

The site also currently features Alan Dow, M.D., and the Class of 2017’s Scott Hirsch. From the perspective of faculty and student, the two talk about how the school uses case-based learning to help students apply basic science knowledge to clinical scenarios.

Kenneth Warren, Ed.D.

Kenneth X. Warren, Ed.D.

“The site is designed to enable faculty to innovate their teaching methods, illuminate their best practices and inspire their learners,” says Kenneth X. Warren, Ed.D., assistant professor and instructional technologist for medical education. “It serves as a central location to share inventive strategies, faculty narratives and multimedia resources related to medical education.”

One of his goals is to promote faculty fluency in digital media and technology, and so the iTeach site serves as its own model in that regard. Powered by VCU WordPress, the easy-to-use publishing platform incorporates content like podcasts, YouTube videos and presentations. With Warren’s support, the faculty development group helps faculty manage information overload by curating the flow of information relevant to medical education and re-tweeting what’s most valuable.

In addition to disseminating information, Warren wants to build community among teaching faculty who are spread out over the MCV Campus, the McGuire VA Medical Center and the medical school’s Inova Campus in Fairfax. The site’s online forums will allow them to discuss their experiences with new methods and strategies.

Since its April launch, the site has been accessed nearly 2,000 times. Over the course of six weeks this spring, a quarter of the site’s visits came from outside of Virginia. So far, the resources from the teaching strategies modules are proving most popular with videos that include internal medicine’s Residency Program Director Stephanie Call, M.D., who shares perspectives on the value of team-based learning and Assistant Dean Michael Ryan, M.D., on the importance of writing meaningful learning objectives.


Geriatrics course developed at VCU to be licensed to other universities

Peter A. Boling, M.D.

Peter A. Boling, M.D.

With a reputation for one of the most advanced programs in web-based geriatric education, VCU’s latest course offering is now being licensed to other universities across the nation.

The innovative system for interactive web-based interprofessional education was first designed in 2010. By the end of the 2015 academic year, more than 1,500 senior students from VCU’s Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Social Work will have trained in this semester-long program.

Working in interdisciplinary teams of eight, the students are assigned a fictional scenario of a complex geriatric case, with each student receiving only the information typically available to that student’s discipline. They must use an electronic record simulator to share information, and they determine the best course of care on a discussion board which helps the team answer 65 challenging multiple-answer questions that reflect real world situations.

“In an actual healthcare environment, physicians, nurses, social workers and pharmacists have different perspectives on any given patient,” said Peter A. Boling, M.D., professor of internal medicine and chair of the Division of Geriatric Medicine. “Interprofessional training is becoming a national priority because healthcare, especially for complex cases, requires an interactive team of professionals from multiple disciplines. The LCME has made it a specific item upon which medical schools are now surveyed.”

The course was created with support from a $1 million grant from Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. VCU was just one of 10 institutions in the country selected to receive the four-year funding. Two medical school programmers, Chris Stephens and Joel Browning, designed the course’s computer program.

Boling and the course’s co-creator Alan Dow, M.D., presented the program at the national meeting of the Reynolds Foundation grant recipients where it was well-received by an audience of 250 seasoned educators. The program is now being licensed to other universities for geriatric interprofessional training. The first users in 2014 are the University of North Texas in Fort Worth, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and Kansas University in Kansas City.

“We want everyone who graduates from medical school and other professional schools to understand geriatric medicine and team-based care,” says Boling.


Memorial service for Frederick John Spencer to be held on MCV Campus on July 19, 2014

Frederick John Spencer

Frederick John Spencer, 1923-2014

British-born Frederick John Spencer immigrated twice to America: first to complete a residency in New York, and again in 1956 – this time to stay.

A world traveler whose interests carried him two and one half times around the globe, Spencer chose to settle in Virginia with his wife and children. He served the Virginia Department of Health in a number of capacities, including as State Epidemiologist.

In 1964, he was named Professor and Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia, a post he held until his retirement at age 61. In a two-decade career on the MCV Campus, he also served as the editor-in-chief of the MCV Quarterly, founder and director of the Health Testing Center and Dean of Students and Admissions. In a sign of his popularity, Spencer was asked four times to be the speaker at the medical school’s graduation.

Spencer was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Public Health as well as other peer-reviewed journals. In addition, he authored two books, one reflecting his professional interests and the second inspired by his lifelong love for jazz.

His death in June was mourned on the MCV Campus, where a memorial service will be held on Saturday July 19, 2014 at 5 p.m. in the Jonah L. Larrick Student Center, 900 Turpin St.

Dr. Frederick John Spencer, 90, of Ruther Glen, Virginia, died peacefully in his sleep at a private nursing home in Glen Allen, Virginia, on Tuesday, June 17, 2014. With the Virginia Department of Health, he served as Health Director of the Rappahannock Region and later as State Epidemiologist. At the Medical College of Virginia, he was the Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Dean of Students and Admissions.

Born in Newcastle, England, on June 30, 1923, Fred Spencer led a remarkable life, as an athlete, physician, soldier, musician, teacher, public servant, historian, author, and civil rights activist.

His ancestors had been farmers for centuries in Northumberland, England, and he grew up working on his uncles’ farms. His father was a career soldier, who retired to be a tea merchant, and he handed down to young Fred his love of the outdoors.

As a schoolboy, Spencer was named a King’s Scholar, an honor bestowed each year on only a handful of students. When the time came to choose a college, he turned down Oxford and Cambridge to stay close to home, attending Durham University.

Spencer was a world-class athlete. At university, he was on the rugby, cricket, rowing, and water polo teams. Rugby was his best sport, and he was named the starting fullback on the All-University team, the equivalent of an All-American. He could have played rugby for England’s international squad, but instead enlisted in the British Army as soon as he finished university.

With a degree in medicine, Spencer was commissioned as a Captain, and he signed on as a paratrooper with the 6th Airborne Division. Serving in Palestine during the British Mandate, he came under fire on several occasions, the worst when he went to retrieve a wounded soldier during a firefight between Israelis and Palestinians.

Spencer loved to travel, and after the army, he moved to Canada to intern at a hospital in Ontario, which he followed up with a residency at a hospital in New York.

In his teens, Spencer had fallen in love with jazz, and he taught himself the drums by playing along with records on a phonograph in the garage. As a young man in New York, he spent many nights watching his childhood idols perform at jazz clubs on 52nd Street, famed as Manhattan’s Swing Street. Whenever he could, he would sit in at jam sessions.

In 1950, Spencer took a job in southwestern Virginia with the State Health Department. A year later, he went into private practice with two other doctors in Christiansburg. He became friends with area musicians and eventually formed a jazz trio with a trumpet player and guitarist. The trio played at shows and college parties in the Blacksburg area and eventually cut an album at a local radio station.

As much as he loved Virginia, it had always been Spencer’s intention to go back to England. In 1953, he sailed on the French ocean liner, the SS Liberté, where he met Norma Spector, an American woman who would become his wife. Spencer would later remark that it was “a shipboard romance that didn’t end on the dock.”

Married in 1954, Fred and Norma Spencer settled in the north of England, where their daughter, Gillian, was born a year later. The young couple missed the United States, and in 1956, they moved for good with their baby girl to Virginia, where Spencer was named Health Director for the Rappahannock Region.

In 1957, Spencer took a leave of absence to attend Harvard and obtain a Master’s of Public Health before returning to Virginia. The Spencers’ son, Tony, was born the following year at Mary Washington Hospital and is now the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Caroline County.

Spencer was promoted to State Epidemiologist in 1962, and two years later, was named Professor and Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia, a post he held until his retirement at age 61. Over twenty years at MCV, he became also the Editor-in-Chief of the MCV Quarterly, founder and director of the Health Testing Center, and Dean of Students and Admissions.

Between 1964 and 1967, Spencer traveled to third-world countries for months at a time on a grant from the United State Agency on International Development (USAID). He conducted field surveys of six medical schools, 20 hospitals, and 26 medical centers in Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Papua, New Guinea. His travels carried him 2 1/2 times around the world. Based on his research and interviews, he co-authored with Edwin F. Rosinski a book entitled The Assistant Medical Officer: The Training of the Medical Auxiliary in Developing Countries.

Spencer and Rosinski’s book set out a program for training medical officers to serve in the villages of the Third-World, to treat minor maladies and recognize more serious cases that required transport to a hospital. The authors proposed that such officers would serve as the front line in discovering and containing the outbreak of potential epidemics. In 1967, Spencer and Rosinski presented their suggestions to the White House Conference on Health, and the United States adopted their ideas as a centerpiece of its World Health policy. Over the last five decades, medical auxiliaries in developing countries have been instrumental in isolating diseases like the Ebola and Marburg viruses.

Active in the civil rights movement during the Sixties, Spencer served as Vice-President of the Urban League in Richmond, where he worked toward ending racial discrimination in the former Confederate capital.

Popular with the students at MCV, Spencer was asked four times to be the speaker at the medical school’s graduation. In 1984, he retired from MCV as a Professor and Dean Emeritus. He stayed active, as the co-owner of a second-hand bookstore and as a lecturer on jazz and medicine at Elderhostels, and he went cross-country skiing every year until he turned 80.

At the age of 79, Spencer published a second book, Jazz and Death, in which he examined the lives and deaths of great jazz artists. The book was critically acclaimed and enjoyed modest sales in area bookstores and on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

In addition to his two books, Spencer was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the American Journal of Public Health, and Modern Medicine, among other publications.

Spencer was preceded in death by his wife, Norma Spector Spencer; his father, George Edward Spencer; his mother, Josephine Florence Spencer (née Hodgson); and his brother, Peter Spencer. He is survived by his daughter, Gillian Spencer, of Baltimore; his son, Tony, and daughter-in-law, Danielle, of Ruther Glen; his sister, Mary Fulton, of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England; and his four grandchildren, Lauren Spencer Meyer, Nicholas Spencer Meyer, Josephine Spencer, and Charles Spencer.

In accordance with his wishes, Dr. Spencer’s remains were cremated. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at 5:00 p.m., at VCU’s Larrick Student Center, 900 Turpin Street, Richmond, VA 23219, with a catered reception at the Larrick Center to follow immediately after the service. The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Ladysmith Volunteer Rescue Squad, P. O. Box 186, Ladysmith, Virginia 22501.


Rising M2 Celeste Lipkes takes second prize in national poetry competition

Celeste Lipkes

Celeste Lipkes

Celeste Lipkes has been an avid poet for years, taking great pride in her creative writing. But she often wondered if readers would find her work worthwhile.

“You always wonder if people are going to want to read what you write,” said Celeste, a member of the medical school’s Class of 2017.

That doubt is fading fast. Her work, which embodies a wide variety of life experiences, has been featured in several publications, including the Bellevue Literary Review. She has won a number of writing competitions, and most recently her poem “Victor” took second-place honors in the William Carlos Williams Poetry competition. The work is a braided piece, weaving together multiple stories of sacrifice.

“We receive roughly 500 submissions each year, so Celeste’s second-place prize is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Richard Berlin, M.D., a psychiatrist, poet and judge for the WCW competition. “Victor is a very powerful poem.”

Celeste grew up outside Tampa. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2011 with a degree in creative writing and a concentration in pre-med. She earned a master’s in poetry from the University of Virginia before coming to medical school.

“I became really interested in the sciences in high school because I had a lot of experience as a patient,” said Celeste, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 15. “I knew I wanted to do both – become a doctor while pursuing my passion for writing.”

During her senior year of high school, Celeste was so sick that she missed more than 50 days during a single term. Poetry offered her a way to cope.

“Writing is very therapeutic for me,” she said. “It was a way for me to come to grips with what I was going through.”

Although she doesn’t have as much time to write today because of the demands of medical school, Celeste is completing her first poetry manuscript. And with support from a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, she is working this summer on a series of essays about medical education. She also finds time during the summer to volunteer with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and teach poetry classes at the high school and college level.

“I want to be taken seriously in both my passions,” she said. “Poetry and medicine are alike in many ways. They are both focused on the narratives of people. With both, you are paying deep attention to something with the belief that in that attention, you will find valuable information.”

For “Victor,” she drew from her experience working in the neuroscience lab at Johns Hopkins. There, she was responsible for some lab procedures and looking after the mice. Her poem delves into the sacrifice of lab animals for the sake of scientific discovery, as well as the sacrifice of soldiers in combat.

“I think at the core of who we are, we are always looking for meaning,” she said. “I think poetry is a way of not only making meaning out of a situation, but bringing beauty to it.”

As she pursues a medical career in chronic care, Celeste hopes her continued writing will inspire others to share their stories and life experiences.

“I think many doctors turn to writing because so much of what we do is veiled from the rest of the world,” she said. “But writing is a great way to share what we go through as caretakers.”

Celeste’s poem, “Victor,” along with the poems of the other award winners, is available in an online PDF.

By Janet Showalter


M3s learn the ropes for clinical years

M3s learn ropes

Rising third-year students participated in half a dozen workshops during orientation week. Perioperative education instructors taught them how to scrub, gown and glove to establish and maintain a sterile field in the operating room.

In the course of earning a four-year medical degree, transitioning from the preclinical to clinical years is an important milestone. This summer, 193 third-year students marked that transition in a week of orientation activities.

The Class of 2016 participated in nearly a half dozen workshops – 167 students on the MCV Campus’ Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety and 26 of their counterparts at the Inova Campus’ Claude Moore Health Education & Research Center. They practiced clinical skills like drawing blood, intramuscular injections and inserting catheters. They also learned how to scrub, gown and glove to establish and maintain a sterile field in the operating room.

“Preparation for a career in medicine demands the acquisition of a large fund of knowledge and a host of special skills,” said Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the medical school.

Strauss spoke at the school’s annual Student Clinician Ceremony. Sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, the event is designed to provide guidance, information and support to medical students as they move into the clinical years.

“In the coming year, medical students will be pressed to demonstrate high standards of skill and performance,” Strauss said. “The Student Clinician Ceremony reminds those students and our faculty of the challenges and imperatives to providing humanistic care to patients at the same time.”

M3s learn ropes

A career in medicine requires a host of special skills. During M3 Orientation Week, small teams of students practiced inserting catheters in one of nearly a half dozen simulation sessions.

At the ceremony, Chris Woleben, M.D., F.A.A.P., the medical school’s associate dean for student affairs, reminded the students of the days when they first entered medical school. At that time, they were told they would hold many peoples’ hearts in their hands as they’d been called to the service of healing.

“During this year you will see many faculty and residents treating very seriously ill and, at times, difficult patients,” Woleben said. “This year will be one filled with awe, inspiration and obstacles to fulfilling your calling.” He encouraged the students to nurture those things that inspire them, rise above obstacles and develop their identities as physicians.

At the Student Clinician Ceremony, the medical school also recognized outstanding residents through the Gold Foundation’s Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award. Current fourth-year students chose six residents who exhibited particularly strong teaching skills and were role models for compassionate, relationship-centered care during the students’ third-year rotations.

Adrianne Colton, M.D.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
2012 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Sasa Espino, M.D.
Department of Surgery
2011 graduate of the VCU School of Medicine

Inna Garber, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry
2012 graduate of New York College of Osteopathic Medicine

David Jared Kobulnicky, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine
2013 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Brian Le, M.D.
Department of Plastic Surgery
2009 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Pete Meliagros, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine
2012 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

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Updated: 04/29/2016