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February 2016 Archives


“My country needs me” – Trio of Fulbright students working to improve medicine back home

Soon after realizing her dream of becoming an assistant professor at King Edward Medical University in Pakistan, Javeria Aijaz, MBBS, noticed a startling deficiency at the medical institution that’s renowned in her native country.

“Despite being a top-ranked university, there was hardly any research work being done,” she said. “There is such a great need.”

She knew earning a Ph.D. in human and molecular genetics would put her one step closer to helping her country research and fight disease. With limited educational opportunities in this field available in Pakistan, she turned to the United States.

Aijaz applied for a Fulbright scholarship, which enables graduate students, young professionals and artists from abroad to study and conduct research in the United States. When she received word last year that she was accepted into the program, she was overwhelmed.

“I’m so thankful every day that I’m in this position to help my country,” she said.

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide. Approximately 4,000 foreign students receive Fulbright scholarships each year. Once students are accepted, the merit-based program helps match them with universities that best meet their needs.

For Aijaz, that meant the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. She arrived on the MCV Campus in the fall and will remain in Richmond for the next four to five years while completing her Ph.D.

“I’ll then return home,” she said. “My country needs me.”

Aijaz is not alone in her quest. Two other Fulbright scholars are also on campus. Gladys Langi, from Indonesia, and Viviana Rodriguez, from Colombia, also are on a mission to improve medicine in their home countries. All three are enrolled in degree programs within the School of Medicine.

“To have three Fulbright scholars at the same time is pretty exciting,” said Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate education in the medical school. “It’s definitely a unique set of circumstances we have not seen before.”

A handful of Fulbrighters have been enrolled at the VCU School of Medicine in the past, but in Chlebowski’s 38 years on campus, he’s never seen three in the same year.

“We’ve had more exposure in the international arena,” he said. “As that footprint has grown, awareness and appreciation of VCU as a potential destination has grown. Remember that for these students, English is not their first language. Everything they do is even more of a challenge. They are managing it very well. These students are amazing.”

Meet these Fulbright students.

Javeria Aijaz
from Pakistan,
pursuing a PhD in
the Department of
Human and Molecular
Gladys Langi
from Indonesia,
pursuing a master’s
degree in the
Department of Human
and Molecular Genetics
Viviana Rodriguez
Viviana Rodriguez
from Colombia,
pursuing a PhD
degree in the
Department of

Javeria Aijaz

Growing up in Pakistan, Aijaz thought she would study engineering. But her father encouraged her to take the medical route. She earned her medical degree from Punjab University in 2002, then completed a fellowship in hematology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

She was named assistant professor at King Edward Medical University in 2009. She joined the GIZ Health Sector Support Program’s Safe Blood Transfusion Project two years later. Since its inception, SBTP has delivered a series of improvements that have significantly contributed to blood safety standards.

Javeria Aijaz, from Pakistan; pursuing a PhD in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics

“I learned that in a resource-strained country like Pakistan, safe blood transfusions would not be possible without eliminating preventable, transfusion-dependent genetic diseases,” she said. “The experience strengthened my desire to promote research in genetics as a public health measure.”

With her three children growing older, Aijaz decided the time was right to apply for the Fulbright program and pursue her Ph.D. Her husband and children remain in Pakistan but are applying for visas so they can join her here.

“I knew now was the time to make the move, otherwise it would be too late,” said Aijaz, 36. “I miss my family terribly, but there is a lot of pressure here at school to take my mind off that.”

Some of the challenges facing Aijaz are sophisticated labs and technology.

“Javeria had all this clinical knowledge when she came, but had not worked in a lab,” said Joyce Lloyd, Ph.D., vice chair of education for the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. “She was not fazed at all about that. She’s always craving more information and has really shined.”

Gladys Langi 

After earning her bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, Langi dreamed of a career in human genetics.

“Then I thought, do I really want to do this?” she said. “I decided to work first before returning to school.”

Gladys Langi, from Indonesia; pursuing a master’s degree in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics

She joined Mochtar Riady Institute for Nanotechnology as a research assistant in the Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms laboratory. For two years, she searched for genetic variants in transforming growth factor beta receptor genes and their association with liver disease progression. With her interest in genetics growing deeper, she knew more education was a necessity.

She’s on the MCV Campus pursuing her master’s in human and molecular genetics. She hopes to one day earn a Ph.D. in the same field.

“She has such a work ethic,” Lloyd said. “She’s a very high achiever academically. She has clear goals and is committed to them.”

Langi plans to return to Mochtar Riady as a principal investigator, focusing on complex diseases such as substance abuse and cancer.

“I want to be a scientist studying the genetic profile of Indonesian people,” Langi said. “We have limited knowledge of that.”

While Langi, 27, misses her family, Skype and social media has helped keep her in touch. She’s also making new friends here. She’s joined study groups, and the school’s international office matched her with a volunteer who is making the transition to a new culture a smoother one.

“I was worried at first because this is my first time living abroad away from my family,” she said. “I find Richmond is such a great place full of diversity and the people are very welcoming. I feel like I blend right in.”

Viviana Rodriguez

While working as a research assistant in a clinical trial, Rodriguez met a premature baby who changed her life.

The baby girl was struggling to survive, an image that has stayed with Rodriguez for years.

“I knew the thing that I was studying could help people like that little girl,” she said. “I knew I had to finish what I started.”

She earned a bachelor’s in statistics from Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogota in 2006, then a master’s in clinical epidemiology in 2012. She now has her sights set on a Ph.D. in biostatistics.

Viviana Rodriguez, from Colombia, pursuing a PhD in the Department of Biostatistics

“In spite of the image of biostatisticians as people handling exclusively computers and incomprehensible data, their work plays an essential role in the improvement of our health services,” said Rodriguez, 32. “I want to devote my life to health research.”

With her husband also in Richmond, Rodriguez is settling in nicely to a new routine.

“She is doing well in everything,” said Roy Sabo, Ph.D., program director for the Department of Biostatistics. “She is extremely motivated, very mature and incredibly strong. If all Fulbright students are like her, we need to start hunting them down.”

Before coming to Richmond, Rodriguez worked as an assistant professor in the Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department of the School of Medicine at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota. After completing her Ph.D., she will return as a researcher and professor.

“I know I could make more money outside of healthcare, but here, I can really help people,” she said. “That is what I want to do.”

Most of the analysis used in health research in Colombia ignores the clinical conditions and variables of the environment, Rodriguez said.

“Through research, we can do a better analysis of which treatments are most beneficial,” she said. “Thanks to the Fulbright program, I will be able to help my country. It’s a dream come true.”

By Janet Showalter


M3 Yeri Park one of five students chosen for national family medicine network

The Class of 2017’s Yeri Park enjoyed her trips to the pediatrician when she was a little girl in Korea.

But after her family moved to the United States when she was in the fourth grade, they didn’t have health insurance. She watched her mother suffer with migraines and wondered why she didn’t go to the doctor.

“A doctor is someone who’ll make you feel better, no matter what, if you’re sick,” she thought. “As I got older I started realizing it wasn’t just the financial barriers, it was the cultural barrier of not being able to speak English to her physician.”

It cemented her ambition to become a doctor who could change the culture and be able to understand her patients.

As an FMIG regional coordinator, M3 Yeri Park provides a role model for fellow students at a time when demand for family physicians is growing.

Now a third-year student in VCU’s School of Medicine, Park has been named a regional coordinator for the American Academy of Family Physicians’ National Family Medicine Interest Group Network. As one of five student coordinators, she will serve as a consultant and resource for student interest groups at medical schools in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington D.C.

“Family Medicine Interest Groups are one of the best ways that medical students learn about the breadth, depth and rewards of family medicine,” said Wanda Filer, M.D., president of the AAFP. “These regional coordinators are key to introducing students not only to family physicians, but also to the opportunities out there for both service and leadership in their communities and their profession.”

As an FMIG regional coordinator, Park provides a role model for fellow students at a time when demand for family physicians is growing.

Park has been an active leader on the MCV Campus as well as in VCU’s Student Family Medicine Association, which received the AAFP Program of Excellence Award. She is a member of fmSTAT – the medical school’s Family Medicine Scholar Training and Admission Track program that’s designed to nurture and develop students interested in careers in family medicine with training in topics such as health policy, community engagement and patient centered medical homes.

In October 2015, the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation honored Park for her work with medically underserved communities with their Salute to Service Award by a Medical Student.

“I find it rewarding being able to serve in the low income communities because everybody is very thankful for the work that we’re doing, and it’s definitely a population that’s high in need,” Park said in an MSV video interview. “Volunteering is something that always brings you back to why you decided to become a doctor.”

Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 120,900 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care. The AAFP established the National FMIG Network to strengthen the on-campus organizations that focus on promoting family medicine as a career. Composed of campus faculty and student FMIG leaders, appointed regional coordinators and an elected national coordinator, the network fosters communication among FMIGs across the country.

“Family medicine is so diverse,” Park said. “I love being able to get to know my patients and being able to coordinate for them to receive the best care, from babies, adults to the elderly. I believe this is one of the most exciting times to be part of family medicine.”

By Erin Lucero


What Does a Surgeon Look Like?

Take off the mask and you’ll see what a surgeon looks like. A surgeon may look like Paula Ferrada, M.D.

Ferrada is associate professor of surgery and director of the medical school’s Surgical Critical Care Fellowship Program. The Colombia-born, Harvard-educated trauma surgeon has been a national leader in the “I Look Like a Surgeon” social media campaign that sprung up last summer, following in the wake of a similar “I Look Like an Engineer” phenomenon. Through tweets, Facebook, blogs and other channels, they’re working to shatter stereotypes and show that physicians, especially surgeons, don’t conform to a prescribed appearance.

Taken after a grand rounds conference, the photo of Paula Ferrada, M.D., with general surgery residents and faculty was tagged #IlookLikeASurgeon to show surgeons don’t conform to a prescribed appearance.

A former surgical resident in North Carolina, Heather Logghe, M.D., is credited as the founder of the movement, launching the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon. Within two days, it had gone viral, with thousands of tweets and surgeons posting photos of themselves in action.

American College of Surgeons President Andy Warshaw, M.D., weighed in, tweeting, “We all look alike in the O.R.; It’s quality, not gender, that counts.” The Association of Women Surgeons promoted the initiative on its website. By the end of October, #ILookLikeASurgeon had more than a hundred million impressions (the number of times content is displayed on various social media platforms).

“The campaign touched something dear and important to a lot of surgeons,” said Ferrada. “And then it became not just about the gender gap but about all diversity.”

#ILookLikeASurgeon helped bolster efforts to change perceptions and offered a lead-in to important conversations, she said.

“In a world where females compose 50 percent of medical school students, why are we not recruiting those females into surgery?” Ferrada wonders. “Why are the conversations about work/life balance exclusively for women?”

Paula Ferrada, M.D., spoke at the Latino Medical Student Association’s southeast regional conference on the value of advocating for what you believe in.

Though Ferrada says she didn’t necessarily notice a glass ceiling in medical school or residency, as she was working her way toward faculty leadership positions she recognized that the rules are often different for women. “You realize that you have to work harder. You have to ‘correct’ for being a woman. You can’t be too loud, or too quiet, too aggressive or not aggressive enough.

“But we should just say, “I’m going to be who I’m going to be. You’ll have to judge me by my results.’”

And while society as a whole needs to be more accepting, Ferrada feels VCU does a good job of championing diversity and has offered opportunities for leadership. “If it weren’t a diverse place, I wouldn’t have lasted here,” she said. She calls her department “a melting pot of cultures, races, ethnicities and beliefs, all working for the same goal.”

Paula Ferrada, M.D., with Heather Logghe, M.D., who got the ball rolling on the #IlookLikeaSurgeon movement, and Patricia Turner, head of membership services at the American College of Surgeons.

For women especially, Ferrada believes VCU’s MCV Campus excels, offering open conversations about diversity, opportunities for advancement, perks like a lactation room and day care center – and each year welcomes a good number of pregnant residents who are supported as they blend work and family, which, Ferrada notes, are not mutually exclusive.

She and her husband Rahul Anand, M.D., an associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine, have built distinguished careers and still had time for their six-year-old son. “Everybody has some degree of mommy guilt,” she says. “But if you’re fulfilled and happy with yourself, you’ll be able to make everybody around you happy.”

She counsels women who are hesitant to pursue medical careers, “Think about what you want to do, what gets in between you and your goal, and most of the time you will see yourself.”

And in the meantime, she plans to continue to forge ahead with #ILookLikeASurgeon and will keep on tweeting. “Society is changing, and I want to be part of the change.”

The eye of an eagle, the heart of a lion, and the hand of a woman.”

Attributes of the Ideal Surgeon, 15th Century England

By Lisa Crutchfield


M1 Alex Simmonds learns “trauma surgery is where I belong in the world”

The delta trauma alert on a Friday night called about 40 people to the trauma bay. One of them was the Class of 2019’s Alex Simmonds.

He’d spent the evening shadowing a third-year student on a trauma shift.

“My M3 instructed me to don the full range of personal protective equipment: gloves, gown, face shield and mask as practice for the future,” Simmonds wrote in a first-person account posted to his medical class’ website. “As just an M1 shadow, I wasn’t expected to actually participate in the case, just watch.”

Simmonds had worked as an EMT before coming to the VCU School of Medicine, but he’d never been witness to a bedside thoracotomy.

Before he left for medical school last fall, a favorite ER physician told Alex Simmonds ‘Someday, someone is going to throw you a pass. Make sure you’re ready to catch it.’

“This is a procedure done to open up the chest, often so that compressions can be done directly on the patient’s heart, which is much more effective than regular CPR.”

To his surprise, he went from an observer to being recruited to perform cardiac massage.

Prepped with instruction from the attending surgeon, Simmonds inserted his hands into the patient’s opened chest cavity. He later wrote how “Lots of things go through your mind while you’re pumping someone else’s heart for them. ‘Am I doing this right?’, ‘I’m actually holding a person’s heart,’ and ‘I wonder if we can actually save this person,’ just to name a few.”

Susan R. DiGiovanni, M’84, H’89, interim senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs, says Simmond’s experience is a testament of the type of things that can happen to a student on VCU’s MCV Campus. “You are involved in patient care.”

At the beginning of the shift, Simmonds says, he was “someone who was enthusiastic about science and healthcare.” That Friday evening, he learned he loves decision-making under pressure, being part of a team effort and high intensity, make-or-break situations.

“I learned that trauma surgery is where I belong in the world.”

A classmate who enjoyed reading his account “Does Everyone Here Realize that I’m an M1?” encouraged him to share it with Whitecoated, a website for medical students and residents where writers describe their experiences.

Simmonds had gotten a taste of trauma care during his undergraduate studies at Greenville College in Illinois when he earned his EMT-B license. Despite the pressure of working weekends and being on call most nights, “it was the best thing I did to prepare for medical school. We were a hospital-based service, so I was able to pick up patients in the field and then bring them back to the hospital and continue to assist with their care.

“I remember right before I left for medical school a particular ER doc I really look up to told me ‘Someday, someone is going to throw you a pass. Make sure you’re ready to catch it.’ That was certainly going through my mind when I was called up to the bedside. ‘This is the day Dr. Bond warned you about’ was what I kept thinking.”

By Erin Lucero


Third-year surgery resident Krista Terracina pens first-place essay

She no longer stuffs her pockets full of supplies and reference materials like she did when she was an intern. “Yet I find that what I carry now is much heavier than it was then,” writes Krista Terracina, M.D., a third-year general surgery resident at VCU Health. “I no longer carry any books or pocket cards; instead, I carry the lessons I have learned.”

Krista Terracina, M.D.

In a first-person essay, The Things I Carry, Terracina recounts those lessons – encapsulated in life-changing experiences that taught her about diligence, about relationship between surgeons and patients and about how appearances can be deceiving.

Hers was chosen as the winner of an annual essay contest organized by the Resident and Associate Society of the American College of Surgeons (RAS-ACS) Communications Committee. The committee had invited residents to describe what they learned outside of the lectures, textbooks, ORs and patient wards that typify residency training.

“Dr. Terracina’s piece exemplifies heartfelt experiences that will forever change her career path as a surgeon,” wrote Raphael C. Sun, M.D., a general surgery resident at Washington University, St. Louis who announced Terracina’s first-place honor. “I anticipate that as you take the time to read her essay, you will empathize and gain further insight into what is not formally taught in surgical training.”

Terracina earned her medical degree at Louisiana State University. She will receive a $500 prize, and her essay will be published in the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons.

By Erin Lucero


Trio of residents crowned state-wide Jeopardy champions at emergency medicine conference

Answer: This virus, originally isolated in 1947 from a rhesus monkey in Uganda, is a flavavirus transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and causes a mild, self-limiting illness that is sometimes is mistaken for Dengue Fever.

Question: What is Zika virus?

Identifying the headline-making virus helped a trio of VCU residents secure the win at the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians’ annual CME conference in early February.

Loyd,Josh Moss,Mike Irby,Kyle from VCU EM FB page

Second-year resident Josh Loyd, M’14, along with chief residents Mike Moss, M.D., and Kyle Irby, M’13, took home the VACEP Jeopardy championship trophy for the second year in a row.

Chief residents Kyle Irby, M.D., and Mike Moss, M.D., along with second-year resident Josh Loyd, M.D., made up the Department of Emergency Medicine’s victorious team. The annual Jeopardy-style competition pitted the residents from VCU’s MCV Campus against physicians in training from the state’s four other emergency medicine residency programs: Eastern Virginia Medical School, the University of Virginia, the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Virginia Tech Carilion.

With Michelle Troendle, M.D., F’14, playing Alex Trebek’s role as host, the competition tested residents’ knowledge in a variety of categories like ultrasound, GI and eponyms. Troendle is assistant program director for VCU’s emergency medicine residency program.

Director of the residency program Joel Moll, M.D., FACEP, says, while there’s no specific way to prep for the competition, the questions cover topics residents need to know for both the practice of emergency medicine and to pass their boards.

“We sent all of our second-year residents to the conference, so they were a great source of encouragement,” says Moll, who organized a session during the weekend for residents from all five of the state’s programs. He covered the topic of career options, assistant program director Peter Moffett, M.D., spoke on test taking skills, and a presentation on the future of observation medicine was led by Pawan Suri, M.D., who is director for the emergency medicine-internal medicine program.

This is the second year in a row that VCU’s residents have won the competition. Irby and Loyd are graduates of VCU’s medical school and Moss earned his degree at Ohio State University. In addition to having their names inscribed on the foot-and-a-half high trophy that now sits in the VCU emergency medicine offices, the three competitors each received a $100 gift certificate.

By Erin Lucero

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Updated: 04/29/2016