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School of Medicine discoveries

November 2015 Archives

23
2015

Inaugural Gordon Archer Research Day celebrates a long, successful career on the MCV Campus

For nearly 40 years Gordon Archer, M.D., has been an important part of the MCV Campus. Throughout his career he served the VCU School of Medicine in many ways: conducting groundbreaking research, mentoring medical and Ph.D. students and coordinating research opportunities throughout the school.

Gordon Archer, M.D.

To mark Archer’s retirement in August and the long legacy he built, the inaugural Gordon Archer Research Day in Infectious Disease, Microbiology and Immunology was presented by the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Internal Medicine. The event’s topics echoed the fields to which Archer devoted himself over the course of his research career by featuring presentations on a wide-range of issues, such as difficult-to-treat infections like Clostridium difficile and Staphylococcus aureus.

Archer is perhaps best known for investigating antibiotic resistant superbugs, which are linked to 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. His work began in the 1970s, when artificial devices, such as heart valves and joint replacements, were becoming infected at high rates. Archer and his team were able to identify the bacteria responsible for many of these infections, and the regimens he helped develop have become the standard treatment in the field. His work on understanding the genetic adaptations that gave rise to antibiotic resistant bacteria has had important implications for the development of new therapies.

Archer has spent nearly all of his adult life in Virginia, where he received his undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University and his M.D. from the University of Virginia. After training at the University of Michigan, he came to the MCV Campus in 1975 and never left.

During his time in the School of Medicine he served as chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease, director of the MD-PhD program and the first-ever senior associate dean for research and research training as well as in a variety of teaching roles. Archer’s work has been published widely, and he has had a consistent record of research funding from the NIH and other organizations.

The importance of Archer’s research and his commitment to the School of Medicine was on full display during his eponymous research day. The prominence given to student presentations throughout the day honored Archer’s commitment to coordinating research opportunities for students and mentoring them in their work.

The inaugural Gordon Archer Research Day in Infectious Disease, Microbiology and Immunology spotlighted the fields to which Archer devoted himself over the course of his research career. Photo courtesy of Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., M.P.H.

“It was truly an honor to have a research day in my name and to hear research presented not only by faculty but also by trainees,” Archer said. “The quality and variety of science presented was fantastic and is a testament to the research environment in the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.”

The research showcase was organized by chair of infectious diseases Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., M.P.H., chair of rheumatology, allergy and immunology Lawrence Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., and chair of microbiology and immunology Dennis Ohman, Ph.D.

By Jack Carmichael

20
2015

Alumna Emily Edelman honored by National Society for Genetics Counselors

Over the past eight years, Emily Edelman, MS’06, has devoted time, energy and expertise in her volunteer work with the National Society for Genetics Counselors. Her service was recognized with the NSGC’s 2015 Outstanding Volunteer Award at its annual education conference in Pittsburgh on Oct. 22.

Edelman has served the society on five task forces, chaired the personalized medicine special interest group and led the abstract review committee. But she may be most passionate about her work with the NSGC Education Committee that is responsible for the society’s annual education conference, webinar and online course planning and execution.

Genetic counselor Emily Edelman, MS’06

Genetic counselor Emily Edelman, MS’06

“Genetic information is increasingly relevant to patients and clinicians in many different medical specialties,” Edelman said. “As the number of clinically applicable genetic and genomic tests increases across health care, education is more important than ever. Patients and consumers need to be able to make informed decisions about genetic information and managing providers need to know when and how to implement genetics into their practice. Genetic counselors can help achieve these goals by keeping abreast of discoveries in the field and translating emerging tests and applications to patient care.”

According to Sara Hammer Riordan who nominated her for the award, Edelman has extensive experience with developing educational programs for health care providers both inside and outside of the genetic counseling field has been valuable to the NSGC.

Edelman works in the genomic education program at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. As the associate director of clinical and continuing education, she develops educational content for diverse health professional audiences.

In her nomination, Riordan also credits Edelman with working to move the genetic counseling profession forward.

“Her innovative work in developing genetic educational programs for a diverse spectrum of health care providers has paved the way for other genetic counselors to enter into this nontraditional career path,” said Riordan, who is clinical program manager with the IMPACT cancer care program at Thermo Fisher Scientific and a director-at-large with NSGC. “Her multiple invited presentations at national conferences, meetings and seminars clearly demonstrate that she is seen as a leader in our field.”

Edelman is a diplomate of the American Board of Genetic Counseling. She earned a master’s degree in genetic counseling from the VCU School of Medicine in 2006. The medical school’s M.S. program in Genetic Counseling is the only one in Virginia. It was established in 1990 and has more than 90 graduates.

19
2015

Safety Net Collaborative a win-win for VCU and Richmond

When three safety net primary care clinics in Richmond found they could not fully meet the mental health needs of their patients, they knew they had to find a solution to provide these critical services to the city’s most vulnerable populations.

Rachel Waller, M’99
Rachel Waller, M’99

With over half of all patients receiving substandard or no mental health care, the clinics needed to provide thousands of behavioral care sessions to their patients. But where to find a group psychologists willing to contribute hundreds of hours of work at little or no cost?

Bruce Rybarczyk, Ph.D., a professor in VCU’s Department of Psychology, had the perfect answer: his doctoral trainees. As a result, since 2008 trainees have delivered over 10,000 pro bono sessions at the Ambulatory Care Center on the MCV Campus, the Daily Planet for the Homeless and the Fan Free Clinic. A fourth clinic, VCU’s Hayes E. Willis Health Center, was added in August.

The Safety Net Primary Care Psychology Collaborative has proved fruitful for everyone involved. The clinics are able to better cover the mental health needs of their patients, while the doctoral students get valuable experience working with a wide-range of patients. Most importantly, the medically underserved in the Richmond community get access to the care they need.

Rachel Waller, M’99, has seen the benefits of the collaborative firsthand through her work on the internal medicine service at the Ambulatory Care Center.

“Integrating mental and physical health care is important because you cannot have good control of physical health outcomes when mental health issues such as anxiety and depression go untreated. In our patient population, with limited care access and transportation issues, having psychology resources available during the primary care visit is vital.”

“The ‘warm handoff,’ in which a primary care provider introduces the clinical psychology services team to the patient can really improve willingness to seek care, particularly since there remains an unfortunate stigma for many in acknowledging that they are experiencing mental health issues.”

Integrating mental and physical health care services at the clinics has been an effective method for improving patient outcomes. Behavioral and physical health problems are often interconnected; treating one side of a patient’s problems but not the other often means more care, and more costs, down the road. Study findings show patients receiving this type of integrated healthcare had fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Psychology professor Bruce Rybarcyz and vice provost for community engagement Catherine Howard celebrated the success of the Safety Net Collaborative this spring’s Currents of Change Award Ceremony. Photo credit: Steven Casanova.
Psychology professor Bruce Rybarczyk and vice provost for community engagement Catherine Howard celebrated the success of the Safety Net Collaborative this spring’s Currents of Change Award Ceremony. Also pictured are Kathy Yost Benham, director of Client Support and Mental Health Services at the Fan Free Clinic, and Paul Perrin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, who supervises the program at the Daily Planet. Photo credit: Steven Casanova.

These results are evident on the MCV Campus. Waller, who works as an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, says the clinic has seen “decreased admission rates for medical illness for our patients who utilize clinical psychology students compared to controls.”

The success of the program has not gone unnoticed. This year the collaborative won VCU’s Currents of Change Award, which recognizes mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and the Richmond community.

This experience in collaborative, team-based care is invaluable for both medical and psychology trainees. Since the collaboration began, 80 doctoral students have worked at the clinics, six of whom have gone on to work in integrated care positions as a result of their experience at VCU.

Medical residents also benefit from the help offered by their colleagues in the psychology department, as many report greater work satisfaction and significant benefits for their patients since the collaboration started.

Waller says that outpatient care is moving from a model that emphasizes productivity to one that focuses on medical outcomes. Cohesive, interdisciplinary teams like the collaborative will be better equipped to meet the demands of the newly emerging outpatient medical system.

The collaborative has been funded for three years by the HRSA Graduate Psychology Education program, and this past summer additional support was received from the Virginia Health Care Foundation and Richmond Memorial Health Foundation.

By Jack Carmichael

18
2015

The Job Hunt: Networking Can Be the Secret to Success for Bioscientists

Melissa Powell’s last job interview was in 2009 during her undergrad years – for a restaurant gig. But when she graduates next year with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, she feels empowered to land a great job in research or academics, thanks to a thorough education and a chance to hone her networking skills.

Melissa Powell (far right) picked up some new networking tips for interacting with potential employers at a recent workshop for graduate students.

Powell and several dozen other graduate students in VCU’s School of Medicine attended Networking 101. The recent event offered tips to meet and mingle with potential employers – and then a chance to practice what they’d learned with members of the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO), a statewide non-profit trade organization representing the life sciences industry.

The event was coordinated by the Graduate Student Programming Board on the MCV Campus in conjunction with Career Services at VCU, said Katybeth Lee, associate director, Health Sciences Career & Professional Development.

“Last year, it became clear that students and post-docs are seeking opportunities to connect with professionals working in the bioscience field. These professionals are looking to connect with the talent we have here at VCU, strengthening the bioscience workforce pipeline in Virginia,” said Lee. “This event was intended to meet both these objectives, capitalizing on VCU’s strong partnership with VABIO, our state bioscience association conveniently located on the MCV Campus.”

Many graduate students feel better equipped for the lab than getting to know potential employers in social situations.

Career Services at VCU’s Katybeth Lee led the networking session, telling students “You are scientists. Consider networking as an alternate form of data collection.”

Sri Lakshmi Chalasani, a Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology and toxicology, noted, “We’re spending up to 14 hours a day on our work said. Sometimes we don’t know what’s happening outside.”

At the networking session, Lee encouraged attendees to use those skills they’ve developed through years of study and labwork. “You are scientists,” she told the group. “Consider networking as an alternate form of data collection.”

She encouraged students to be prepared with engaging conversation starters (“What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened today?”), a knowledge of reception etiquette (“If you’re drinking, hold the drink in your left hand so your right hand isn’t cold and clammy when you shake hands”) and a plan to break into (or out of) conversations with others (“make eye contact with someone already in the group”).

And when it comes to conversation, “The key to networking is finding common ground,” Lee told students.

Graduate students put into practice what they’d learned with members of the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO), a statewide non-profit trade organization representing the life sciences industry.

Networking 101 (also known by the less scholarly name “Biotech and Beer”) is part of VCU’s program to ramp up services to graduate students in health sciences, said Lee. Other components include Ram Road Trips to tour potential employment sites and training in business etiquette.

“There’s a growing sensitivity that our graduates, both at the master’s and doctorate level, will not all end up in academia. It’s simply a matter of numbers,” said Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., the medical school’s associate dean for graduate education. “However, the skill sets that these people are developing are very marketable in a wide variety of areas. Our students have a thirst for any kind of information about any alternatives that are out there.”

Allen Owens, a fifth-year pharmacology and toxicology candidate who plans to graduate next year, has been active in programs for career development. “Being a part of these programs has helped me solidify career goals,” said Owens, who’s already gaining experience in an internship at the VCU Innovation Gateway.

After the 30-minute Networking 101 crash course, students were released into a reception attended by dozens of VABIO industry representatives. They shook hands. They chatted. They collected contact info and made plans to stay in touch. VABIO organizations were pleased, said Chlebowski, and hope to keep communications channels open.

“Tonight is not a one-and-done,” Lee reminded students. “You’re here for the long haul.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

Ram Road Trip
See a video recap of a recent Ram Road Trip, part of VCU Career Services’ program to empower health science graduates to find great jobs.
Ram Road Trip