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October 2015 Archives


Finding Tomorrow’s Doctors

Alumni Help Assemble Student Body

Want input on what makes a great physician? Ask another physician.

The admissions committee for the VCU School of Medicine includes many alumni who have decades of experience and insight into what makes an extraordinary doctor. About 10 of the 80 or so members of the committee are retired alumni and each year, they volunteer to help select the next generation of physicians.

Class of 2019
216 Matriculants
972 Total Interviews
9006 Total Applications

Last year the medical school received more than 9,000 applications for 216 spots, an increase of more than 1,000 over the previous year. Those applications are culled down to about 3,500 for the admissions committee to review. Nearly 1,000 students were interviewed by committee members.

“Working on the admissions committee can be a huge commitment,” said Michelle Whitehurst-Cook,
M’79, H’82, associate dean for admissions and an associate professor of family medicine. “But it is also very rewarding.” “It was very worthwhile experience,” said J. Latane Ware, M’59, a retired plastic surgeon who just rotated off the committee after four years. “Although it was a lot of hard work, I think I gained a lot out of it.

“One of the greatest things is that you get to see these great young people, smart and very accomplished, who want to go into medicine. “It makes you realize that we will have some good doctors to take care of us in the future.”

His classmate, Gilbert Bryson, M’59, H’66, a retired general surgeon who served three years, agrees. And not only does the committee try to identify the brightest prospects, “we try to persuade the truly outstanding ones to come to school here.”

Classmates Gilbert Bryson, M’59, H’66 (right) and J. Latane Ware, M’59.

Classmates Gilbert Bryson, M’59, H’66 (right) and J. Latane Ware, M’59.

Admission is very competitive. “We use a holistic review process,” said Whitehurst-Cook. “Grades and
MCATs are very important, but not the only thing we consider. Community service and clinical experience are important to let us know that the applicants know what they’re getting into. Not every smart person should be a physician. You have to be smart and nice to be an MCV student. And they are – and a lot of that goes back to who interviews them.”

The hours spent reviewing applications and interviewing students were gratifying, said Ware and
Bryson. Is there a downside? “Sometimes you interview someone you know would make a good physician, but, sadly, they don’t get accepted,” said Ware.

The intergenerational admission committee, which meets weekly, includes a variety of voices, from retired to practicing physicians, administrators and also current medical students.

“It’s wonderful to have retired physicians on the committee,” said Whitehurst-Cook. “The students look up to them and love to interact with them and talk about what life was like when they were in school.
And then we all get to celebrate in the spring when the fourth-year medical students find out where they’re going to match for residency.”

Bryson and Ware said the interviews were a great way to keep up with current trends in medical schools even long after being students themselves. “We always say that we don’t think we – or most people in our class – would get in today,” said Ware, who recalls that tuition was about $750 per year when he attended.

Today’s admission committee most likely wouldn’t look favorably on a candidate like Bryson, who walked away from undergraduate studies to begin medical school. Bryson was finally awarded an honorary bachelor’s degree from Hampden-Sydney College in 2013.

Did you know?

This story first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

Both classmates credit their education on the MCV Campus for allowing them to have fulfilling careers.
“The world changes, and medicine is different than when I began, but I would do it again,” said Ware.
Whitehurst-Cook is grateful that Ware, Bryson and other retired alumni choose to help the school this way. “They’ve been awesome and their input is invaluable,” she said.

It’s an experience that Ware and Bryson highly recommend.

“I felt very strongly about this opportunity to give back to the school,” said Bryson.

Ware sees it the same way. “This medical school allowed us to do lots of things in life because of what we gained here.”

By Lisa Crutchfield


What’s In Your Toolbox?

Resiliency is an important resource of today’s physician

Patients aren’t the only ones with emotions running high in medical settings. Physicians, too, get flustered and frustrated.

12th and Marshall_F15 resiliency


“The intensity of what happens in the hospital is breathtaking and often frightening,” said Tamara A. Orr, Ph.D., R.N., L.C.P., a clinical health psychologist in the Department of Internal Medicine.

“There’s barely any respite between patients, and the exposure to other people’s problems and suffering can take its toll over time.”

Little wonder there’s been an increase in physician stress over the past few decades. In addition to the medical crises they often confront, doctors are now forced to navigate a dramatically changing health care field and ever-shifting regulations and pay structures. Frustration and burnout can replace the excitement they once felt practicing medicine.

And for new physicians and residents, the intensity of what they’re seeing every day, the uncertainty and demands of the job can be overwhelming.

Suicides by two interns in New York drew national attention last fall. But even before that, two suicide attempts in one month at VCU several years ago steeled the medical center’s commitment to helping physicians deal with emotions in a constructive, positive way.

“We’ve always been very open to encouraging our students and residents that you can’t keep on shoving your feelings away,” said Mary Alice O’Donnell, Ph.D., associate dean of VCU’s office of Graduate Medical Education. “You’ve got to deal with what you’re experiencing. We knew we had to introduce the topic and talk about it.”

VCU’s School of Medicine lets interns know that it’s OK to ask for help when the stress gets too great. And they’re teaching ways to deal with stressful situations. Organizers hope that others in the medical community will embrace these approaches as well.

7 Core Resiliency Skills
Emotion Regulation
Maintaining control over emotions, attention and behavior
Impulse Control
Taking time to weigh consequences of choices before acting
Realistically believing things will change for the better, having hope for the future and believing you can control the direction of your life
Causal Analysis
Accurately identifying the causes of problems
Reading another’s cues to their psychological and emotional states
Sensing that you are effective in the world
Reaching out
Going beyond your comfort zone and trying something new; reaching out to others when you need assistance

Early Training

From the first day of residency, resiliency is emphasized. It begins with a program called Walk the Walk, designed to ensure young physicians know how to find resources to manage stress – and assure them that there’s no stigma in asking for help through HelpLink EAP, the VCU Health System’s Employee Assistance Program.

“We teach them all this wonderful science and these wonderful techniques,” said O’Donnell. “But who helps their heads? If you’re going to be lucky enough to have this incredible profession, you’re held to a higher standard. And so you’ve got to take care of yourself.”

The consequences of not dealing with physician stress are sobering. Physicians are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as non-physicians (female physicians three times more likely). About 400 physicians (and about 180 medical students) commit suicide every year and those at the beginning of their training are more vulnerable. In fact, 9.4 percent of fourth-year medical students and interns reported having suicidal thoughts during the previous two weeks, according to a study in the AAMC’s Academic Medicine journal.

John F. Duval, M.B.A., vice president for clinical services and chief executive officer of VCU Hospitals, sees this as an essential mission. “Given our responsibility to be effective educators and stewards for our educational mission, and given the significant workforce shortages we see as a nation, we can ill afford to lose as many as 400 physicians to suicide, let alone the numbers lost to substance abuse and other maladaptive problems.

“We want to equip our learners to be resilient and positive in the face of the significant stressors they will confront during their education – and equally important, as they continue on in their practice lives.” Duval serves as chair of the board of directors of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which is exploring solutions to the problem at a national level. The suicides in New York had a galvanizing impact, he noted, stressing the importance of framing the discussion and finding solutions.

It can take a while for new physicians to wrap their brains around what they’re experiencing every day. Even seasoned doctors can be jolted by events that unfold in the medical setting. Psychological and pastoral teams are quick to respond to traumatic events that happen in the hospital, but that’s not always enough.

“You never know how it’s going to hit you,” said Margaret Rittenhouse, L.C.S.W., clinical director for VCU Health System’s HelpLink EAP. And to cope, physicians need a variety of tools. “But unfortunately, they don’t necessarily know which ones aren’t in their toolbox yet.”

Resiliency, she says, is the key. Physicians and residents need the ability to manage feelings in a constructive way and to move past the problem. Rittenhouse notes that many physicians with lower resiliency skills are inclined to turn to measures such as self-medicating, emotional retreat or anger. But she wants them to know that there are better ways to cope. She encourages physicians at all stages of their careers to know what helps them become resilient.

It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. Coping tools might include things like exercise, sleep, meditation and healthy eating. But long-term emotional stability, says Rittenhouse, begins with looking inward, assessing your strengths and opportunities for growth and finding ways to build resiliency.

A National Trend
Joseph P. Sherman, M’85, H’88, agrees. A Seattle-based physician who has practiced in developing countries, he recently returned to the MCV Campus to speak about the importance of remembering why you chose to become a physician and of rediscovering the joy of caring for patients.

Sherman says he found himself disillusioned with medicine for a time. Then his passion for caregiving was re-ignited when he found a way to practice medicine that brought fulfillment, something he calls “soul to role.”

“We have to define our authentic self, to match ourselves inside to what we see on the outside. It’s important to be self-reflective, to go back to who you really are and to bring that to the workplace. Remember why you practice medicine.”

Now Sherman consults with physicians to improve morale and fight burnout by facilitating reflection groups and retreats on spirituality and authenticity in today’s health-care environment.


What’s in your toolbox?

Build Your Toolbox
Reflection is an important part of what many residents are learning now. It’s a practice that they can continue throughout their careers. Some keep journals. Others are making short digital films about experiences that touch them.

Others join groups, such as a book club started by Wilhelm A. Zuelzer, H’81, professor of orthopaedic surgery.

“We want to focus on the humanity of our profession; to look at how to relate to other human beings and remind us that we are one of them,” he said. The group, which meets every other month, selects books such as Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone that explore issues that relate to medicine but have a much broader meaning. “We are transporting ourselves out of our silos and looking at the big picture of topics which we often do not consciously address,” he said.

“One thing that struck me as I got older was how to continue my engagement in my profession. I don’t want to lose the joy of medicine and learning, and the key is to enjoy interactions with other humans.
One way is to share stories about us by good writers.”

What is a Balint Group?

Whereas physicians are usually trained to seek the right answer to medical problems, in a Balint group, the focus is on enhancing the clinician’s ability to connect with and care for the patient. A Balint group session begins with a member’s presenting a case for the group to discuss. The group learns about the patient through the presenter’s story. During the facilitated discussion, the group members uncover different and new perceptions about the patient’s and physician’s feelings and their experiences with each other.

–The American Balint Society

The book club requires energy and commitment, Zuelzer said, but has been a wonderful way to spark creativity. Gatherings such as a Balint Group offer physicians an opportunity to meet and discuss what they’re experiencing. “It’s an amazing opportunity to sit down and say, ‘I want to be a better provider,’” said O’Donnell. The VCU Medical Center will pilot a Balint Group this year.

Staying connected is an important resiliency tool, notes Rittenhouse. Sharing experiences with colleagues is one thing, but she also encourages physicians to know when to call a professional such as a counselor or therapist. The Walk the Walk orientation gives young physicians the contacts they may need. “Having this knowledge and these connections is important. When things start happening, they can fast track to connect and have less fallout from events.”

Physicians, like the rest of the population, are susceptible to depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders. These have long been seen as a sign of weakness, however they are very treatable.
The earlier these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the higher the likelihood the treatment is brief and less impactful on careers and life in general, said Rittenhouse.

“People think it’s not going to happen to them, but then when it does, we hope they’ll know where to turn for help.”

The Walk the Walk program for interns includes sessions where older residents share stories of how they coped with incidents such as witnessing traumatic deaths, needle sticks, bad grades and personal problems.

“I think transparency is curative in so many respects,” says Duval. “Opening the dialogue for thoughtful discussion across our provider community is helping.” A lot of the resiliency training might sound touchy-feely for older generations of physicians, admits O’Donnell. But, she notes, today’s physicians – and physicians-in-training – often are faced with more intense situations than in the past. And thinking that today’s residents have it easy with the work-week cap isn’t an accurate representation of their work, says O’Donnell.

Did you know?

This story first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

“We joke that they’re only allowed to work 80 hours per week instead of being in-house back in the day. But I can assure you that nobody’s having gurney races in the middle of the night like they used to.” Those moments of levity have been reduced as residents are having to work in a more concentrated situation.

“Working in the hospital is so much more intense now,” said O’Donnell. “A few decades ago, someone might stay a week for something like a normal childbirth. Now hospital stays are shorter and the patients are much sicker.

“That intensity affects our physicians, and because of it, we have to build tools to make people more resilient.”

Rittenhouse agrees. “We need to address what’s affecting them and get them back on their feet.” Rittenhouse counsels residents and physicians that helping yourself first – much like putting on your airplane oxygen mask before helping others – is vital, especially for medical professionals. “You count as much as your patients do. You must take care of yourself.”

By Lisa Crutchfield


Grape & Grain

For a trio of alumni, a passion for the magic that happens when yeast and fermentation meet grain and grape has helped shape their lives.

The way Matthew Saady sees it, beer is science you can drink. And as a co-owner of Barrel of Monks Brewing in Boca Raton, Fla., Saady, M’94, H’04, has found a way to balance his busy practice in breast-imaging with a lifelong love of the laboratory. For Jacquelyn (Jacque) Hogge, H’94, also a radiologist specializing in breast imaging, a “part-time” venture into winemaking became a success beyond anything she anticipated. And for ophthalmologist Marvin Frank, M’65, and his wife Marsha, curiosity and a sense of adventure led to an early discovery and lifelong love of California wines. For all these alumni of the School of Medicine, a passion for the magic that happens when yeast and fermentation meet grain and grape has helped expand their experience and shape their lives in parallel with their medical careers.

Marvin Frank, M’65 (center), and his wife Marsha (left) with Ann Colgin, a vintner who founded Colgin Cellars in Napa Valley. For years, the Franks would schedule their California trips to coincide with the harvest season, when the smell of the grape must was in the air.

Marvin Frank, M’65 (center), and his wife Marsha (left) with Ann Colgin, a vintner who founded Colgin Cellars in Napa Valley. For years, the Franks would schedule their California trips to coincide with the harvest season, when the smell of the grape must was in the air.

In Vino, Adventure
For the Franks, a first trip to northern California in the mid-1970s introduced the couple to a wine-growing region then largely undiscovered by the rest of the world. In places like Napa and Sonoma that today are bywords for luxe wine-country living, they found instead rolling farmland, fresh food, free-flowing wines and, everywhere, a resolutely casual atmosphere.
“Everything was informal,” says Marvin. “Napa city was nothing more than a few rustic homes. You could walk into a restaurant without a reservation, walk into the storeroom where they kept the wines, you picked the wine you wanted and it was yours.”
It was the perfect time and place, say the Franks, to nurture a growing interest in wine.
“There were fledgling operations, people literally growing wines in their back yards,” says Marsha. Winemakers “were always walking around with their samples, and they would sit down with you and let you try the wine.”
They were eager to share knowledge, too, says Marvin. “They always showed you their process of collecting, harvesting, how to handle the pressing, how they left the wine berries sitting and everything that occurred after that.”
“Every time we returned to the wine country, we learned that much more,” adds Marsha.
They would schedule their trips to coincide with the harvest season, when the smell of the grape must was in the air. The most dedicated winegrowers plucked every cluster by hand, and “you could hear the trucks rolling by 24 hours a day,” as the grapes were brought in.
Between visits, Marvin continued to build his knowledge through publications like Wine Spectator. The Franks got on winery mailing lists, and they established relationships with wineries and wines that would go on to develop coveted “cult” status – Harlan, Abreu, Colgin, Turley, and now-famed Screaming Eagle, which practically defined the concept of “cult wine.”Many of these wines were otherwise difficult to come by on the East Coast where the Franks lived. “If you came to our house, you were lucky enough to get great wine,” says Marsha.Today, the Franks, enjoying retirement in Florida, maintain their interest in wine, but have pared their collection down mostly to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the wineries of Walter Hansell and Peter Michael. For others who may be just discovering an interest in wine, however, they recommend following the same path they did: read, visit, taste, explore and seize every opportunity to learn.

“Educate your palate,” advises Marvin. “Wherever you can, go on the tours. Taste. And listen.”

"It’s a festival atmosphere almost everyday,” at Cooper Vinyeards. That has helped Jacquelyn (Jacque) Hogge, H’94, balance the gravity of her work in breast imaging, where patients’ lives are at stake."

“It’s a festival atmosphere almost everyday,” at Cooper Vinyeards. That has helped Jacquelyn (Jacque) Hogge, H’94, balance the gravity of her work in breast imaging, where patients’ lives are at stake.”

A Harvest of Success
Jacque Hogge, too, learned everything she could about wine, even when it meant getting elbow-deep in the dirt.
In 1999, in partnership with Jeff Cooper, H’87, and with help from a few friends, she planted the first vines for what would become Cooper Vineyards in Louisa, Virginia. At the time, Virginia was encouraging the development of small wineries that – so the pitch went – two people working together could easily manage on the weekends while maintaining their primary careers. A visit to the Napa vineyard of a California stockbroker who ran his winery on the side helped convince the future business partners.
“We decided that if he could do it, we could do it,” says Jacque.And over the next 16 years, they did. Even as both Jacque and Jeff, an ophthalmologist, maintained busy medical careers, Cooper Vineyards grew from those first vines to an award-winning winery with a devoted customer base — and into considerably more than a weekend hobby.They knew almost nothing when they started. The pair took “a lot of courses,” says Jacque. She even completed the Introductory Sommelier course. “You have to drink a lot to pass that exam,” she says. “You sipped wine all day.”After their vines began producing, in 2002 they brought in a professional winemaker, and, soon enough, Jacque and Jeff were promoting their wines at events all over the state. “There was a point when we had 52 events a year,” says Jacque.

They also offered tastings straight out of their winery building. “We were there pouring every weekend, and we got a lot of customers out of the personal touch,” says Jacque. And their wines – which today range from cabernet and chardonnay to decadent dessert wines – began garnering awards.

In 2011, Jacque and Jeff realized their goal of opening their own custom-designed tasting room, an environmentally friendly building with soaring glass walls overlooking the vineyard grounds.

“Since then, the business has taken off,” says Jacque. “It’s packed every weekend.”

With that success, though, came the realization that “we couldn’t manage it on the side and keep our real jobs,” says Jacque. This summer, a new owner stepped in, offering Jacque the luxury of time off “after working every single day for 16 years.”

What she has loved about her years with Cooper Vineyards is all the people she has met, particularly the long-term customers and the fellow winemakers.

And the winery, where “it’s a festival atmosphere every day,” has helped balance the gravity of her work
in breast imaging, where patients’ lives sometimes hang in the balance.

She’s deeply satisfied, too, with all that Cooper Vineyards has become. “We wanted to grow the business and to produce good wine that people enjoy,” she says. “We really met our goals.”

Radiologist Matthew Saady, M’94, H’04, moonlights as a sort of laboratory scientist. He’s a co-owner at Barrel of Monks Brewing, which is producing 15 variations of Belgian-style beer in its first year of operation.

Radiologist Matthew Saady, M’94, H’04, moonlights as a sort of laboratory scientist. He’s a co-owner at Barrel of Monks Brewing, which is producing 15 variations of Belgian-style beer in its first year of operation.

Brewing Up Balance

A light-hearted spirit informs Matthew Saady’s Barrel of Monks Brewing, too, where the motto is “serious beers for those who don’t take themselves too seriously.”
“We are incredibly serious about what we do here,” says Matthew Saady, “and we are pretty geeky about it.” But, he adds, “It is supposed to be fun. We are making something that we like and that people like to drink.”
Like Jacque Hogge, Matthew — whose brewing partners include a fellow radiologist — appreciates the contrast that atmosphere provides to medical practice. “We have other jobs that in some cases are life and death,” he says. But at the brewery, “If worst comes to worst, we do a bad job, we make a bad beer, we just dump it down the drain. But no one gets hurt.”Matthew, who anticipated becoming a research scientist before eventually deciding on medicine, has been interested in beer-making as science since he and a fellow chemistry major did some basement brewing during their undergraduate days at the University of Virginia. After joining Boca Radiology Group, Matthew found himself once again homebrewing, this time on the back patio of radiology partner and future Barrel of Monks co-owner Bill McFee, M.D.Their focus was Belgian-style beer, and even in that informal setting, “We were very particular about the chemistry. I brought that expertise to the table, cell culture and yeast growth and so forth — yeast is of primary importance particularly in Belgian beer.”

Their enthusiasm soon outgrew Bill’s patio; this past March, Barrel of Monks held its grand opening, with a custom-designed brew house, sophisticated lab equipment and processes, a beautiful tasting room and an anticipated first-year’s production of as much as 35,000 gallons and 15 variations of Belgian-style beer.

Did you know?

This story first appeared in the fall 2015 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

“Both Bill and I have a tendency to overdo it,” Matthew admits. “This is full-in.”

At the brewery, Matthew continues to play the role of the laboratory scientist, working particularly with the yeast cultures that are essential to the flavor profiles of the different beers. And his Monks work, far from wearing him out with its demands, has brought a satisfying balance to his days. “It’s probably a bit more consuming than we intended,” he admits. “Sometimes, yes, I find myself wondering, ‘What have I gotten into?’”

Still, he says, it’s satisfying to have a creative outlet beyond his medical practice. “I didn’t have to be a one-trick pony,” he says. “I am proud to make these beers.”

By Caroline Kettlewell


How Well Do You Know Him?

Walter Lawrence: What You Don’t Know

Walter Lawrence, Jr., M.D., has achieved almost legendary status since he stepped onto the MCV Campus in 1966. Though he’s officially retired, he’s never left, still serving as a sounding board for physicians and administrators, and volunteering on the School of Medicine’s admissions committee.

Walter Lawrence, M.D.

This story was published in the fall issue of the medical school’s 12th & Marshall magazine

Lawrence had an illustrious medical career: performing some of the nation’s first kidney transplants; receiving the Sloan Award from Alfred P. Sloan himself; establishing the first Division of Surgical Oncology in the U.S. He’s a sought-after leader, having served as national president of the American Cancer Society and the Society of Surgical Oncology.

But he’s loyal to his first love: when tapped to be the founding director of VCU’s Massey Cancer Center, a position he held for 14 years, he insisted that he had to continue to perform surgery in addition to his administrative duties.

He’s known as a gracious and generous colleague, who’s quick to credit his fellow practitioners for picking up the slack when he was required to travel extensively. At age 90, he’s still working part-time and teaching in the medical school and at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.

His passions extend far beyond his teaching, the operating room and research lab. An early – and effective – crusader against tobacco use, he’s also spoken out against firearms and torture.

Did you know?

This story first appeared in the fall 2015 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

But his true passion has always been family. He remains devoted to Susie, his wife of 68 years whom he met as a college freshman, and to his four children and eight grandchildren.

By Lisa Crutchfield


M3 Yeri Park and faculty member Mike Czekajlo honored by Medical Society of Virginia


Class of 2017’s Yeri Park.

The Class of 2017’s Yeri Park and Michael Czekajlo, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, were honored by the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation. The pair were presented with Salute to Service Awards at the MSV’s annual meeting in Chantilly on Oct. 24.

Park received the service by a medical student award for her impact on medically underserved communities. She served as the pharmacy chair for the 2014 Honduras Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort (HOMBRE) trip to the Dominican Republic that provided preventive care for over 1,000 patients. In addition, Park is co-founder of the Farmworker Health Outreach project on Virginia’s eastern shore that’s focused on the needs of migrant workers, and she also volunteers with the Mattaponi Healing Eagle Clinic, Crossover Healthcare Ministry and the Center for High Blood Pressure.

Park was elected to the post of president of the Class of 2017, and she served as co-president of the Student Family Medicine Association and on the leadership board of the Women in Medicine Student Organization. She is enrolled in the fmSTAT program that nurtures students pursuing a career in family medicine. In a video interview with the MSV, she describes her path into medicine.


Michael Czekajlo, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology

Czekajlo was presented with the service to the international community award. It acknowledges his long-term service and commitment that includes establishing the CPR for Schools program in Poland, which has now trained 1 million school children in the mechanics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He also introduced innovative technology at an interdisciplinary simulation center in Poland that trains about 5,000 each year, teaching Polish health professions students the key aspects of treating heart disease and training American military and first responders on critical care practice.

A Fulbright scholar and director of the simulation center at the VA Hunter Holmes McGuire Medical Center, Czekajlo has encouraged the growth of simulation in Poland and helped the Polish Minister of Health secure a 60-million euro grant from the European Union to improve and enhance medical simulation in the country. Czekajlo was born to Polish émigrés and his connection to Poland is chronicled in a video produced by the MSV.

The MSV Foundation’s Salute to Service Awards are given annually to Virginia physicians and medical students for their selfless services to others, impact to the health of the population served and commitment to health care excellence.


Swim, Study, Bike, Study, Run: Fourth-year student Samone Franzese balances medical school and triathlon


For fourth-year student Samone Franzese, unwinding means intense training sessions two times a day to prepare for her next triathlon.

Medical students face long days of clinical rotations, long nights of studying and intense pressure to succeed. As a result, students seek activities outside of school that help them relax and decompress. For many students this means spending time with their families, reading a good book or volunteering in the community.

For fourth-year student Samone Franzese, however, unwinding means intense training sessions two times a day to prepare for her next triathlon — not most people’s idea of relaxing after a long day at work.

On a typical day Franzese starts off by heading to the pool to swim for an hour, then comes to campus for eight to ten hours, and then heads out for another hour or two of training at the track or on her bike.

This routine changes depending on her school schedule — a surgery rotation that required 70- to 80-hour work weeks limited her training to key track and bike workouts, and required more time management. She intentionally scheduled her pediatrics rotation during the summer to try to avoid getting sick.

This intense regimen has paid off — after strong performances in amateur races this summer Franzese will race in the elite field for the first time this fall.


After strong performances in amateur races this summer, fourth-year student Samone Franzese will race in the elite field for the first time this fall

A long-time runner, she was introduced to triathlon while recovering from an injury during her first year of medical school. “I was talking to a trainer who was helping me get back to running, and she suggested I join the triathlon team because there would be more variety in my training and a group to work with. That sounded great to me, so I joined and just fell in love with triathlon. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

For Franzese, however, staying physically fit is more than just a pastime — it’s part of her job. A second lieutenant in the Army, she is attending medical school through a military scholarship that has given her the opportunity to go on rotations at military bases during summers and will require her to complete service time after she graduates.

Even among her peers in the armed forces Franzese’s ability in the triathlon is remarkable. She was selected to join the United States Military Endurance Sports Elite Triathlon team in November 2014, and went on  to win the Armed Forces Championship this June. “Being selected for the team vindicated a lot of the hard work I put in,” says Franzese.

Learn More

To learn more about how Samone balances medical school and triathlon, visit her blog at samonefranzese.com

Despite her success, new challenges lie ahead as she begins to enter elite races. Triathletes qualify to enter elite races only after proving themselves in amateur races, and the large difference in competitors’ abilities means new elite racers like Franzese, who are used to dominating their competition, may find themselves at the back of the pack.

Throughout all of her training Franzese has been surprised by the amount of support she has gotten from the medical school. “My classmates are always interested to hear about my races, and I think most people understand that you need to have a life outside of campus. I love getting away from academics for at least an hour a day to just be and think about whatever I want. Triathlon has become my therapy during medical school.”

By Jack Carmichael

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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