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May 2016 Archives

20
2016

WIS: nurturing a love of science

While learning skills to advance their own careers, graduate student organization Women in Science (WIS) at VCU is paying it forward. Its members are guiding the next generation of students toward vocations in healthcare professions, biomedical research, engineering and other sciences.

For the ninth year, the group hosted its Girl Scout Medical Sciences Career Day in April, offering middle school girls the opportunity for hands-on learning and mentoring by graduate students who were in their shoes just a few years before.

Girl Scouts prepare to dissect the brain of a mouse and identify different regions of the brain using color-coded maps. Photography by Elizabeth Do.
Girl Scouts prepare to dissect the brain of a mouse and identify different regions of the brain using color-coded maps. Photography by Elizabeth Do.

The day’s organizers say the reward of seeing young students exploring science was almost rivaled by the announcement that WIS won VCU’s Community Service Project Leadership and Service Award for the career day project. This is the second time WIS received the award; the first was in 2013.

The ambitious project brings about 100 Girl Scouts and 40 adult chaperones to the MCV Campus for a day of science modules created to introduce the visitors to various aspects of scientific career options. “We do clinical lab sciences, pathology, forensic science, human genetics, pharmacy, nursing, engineering … and more,” said Elizabeth Do, MPH’12, a Ph.D. student in psychiatric and behavioral genetics and the outgoing president of WIS. “From the feedback we got, the girls especially like the hands-on activities.”

One favorite was learning to extract DNA from a strawberry. Rita Shiang, Ph.D., associate professor of human and molecular genetics, organized the activity and got to see students marvel at the white cloud of DNA rising from the liquid extracted from a crushed berry in the bottom of the test tube. “It is a really neat thing,” said Shiang who is a faculty advisor for WIS.

The day’s activities made a big impression. “It’s a hands-on experience that girls my age wouldn’t normally have. I loved being in a lab using test tubes,” said Hannah, a middle-school Girl Scout from Spotsylvania who participated in the career day activities.

School of Pharmacy student Brittany Speed instructs one of the Girl Scouts on how to prepare an ibuprofen gel.  Photography by Rita Shiang, Ph.D.
School of Pharmacy student Brittany Speed instructs one of the Girl Scouts on how to prepare an ibuprofen gel. Photography by Rita Shiang, Ph.D.

Jamie Sturgill, Cert’05, PhD’12 (MICR), introduced the idea of the career event when she was a member of the newly formed WIS in 2006. “As a Girl Scout myself, I can remember doing activities, hands on things at a program at Marshall University in West Virginia. I started to reach out to Girl Scouts here and started laying groundwork.” Sturgill is now an assistant professor and director of Biobehavioral Laboratory Services in VCU’s School of Nursing.

In addition to helping the next generation of scientists find their calling, WIS also helps support education and promote the career development of its members both at the university and in the sciences.

It was formed as an offshoot of VCU’s long-running Women in Science, Dentistry and Medicine Faculty Organization (WISDM), said Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., the medical school’s associate dean for Graduate Education and a faculty sponsor of WIS. “We basically just asked students, ‘do you want to have an organization like this,’ and people stepped up to the plate.”

“It’s important,” said Sturgill, “because it’s easy to feel like you’re in a silo when you spend most of your time in a lab. The genesis of WIS was finding a way to foster career development and networking and all of these important things that are not necessarily learned on the bench.”

During a pathology rotation, Girl Scouts (at right) learned to use a microscope to visually observe differences between healthy and unhealthy human cells while others (at left) looked at organs from patients with different conditions. Photography by Ayana Scott-Elliston.
During a pathology rotation, Girl Scouts (at right) learned to use a microscope to visually observe differences between healthy and unhealthy human cells while others (at left) looked at organs from patients with different conditions. Photography by Ayana Scott-Elliston.

The focus of WIS, however, is not all on its members; there’s a robust service aspect, that includes supporting Toys for Tots, Cinderella Dreams and the local food bank, as well as the Girl Scouts, noted Chlebowski.

The chance to mentor young students one-on-one is a big draw. Anuya Paranjape, MS’12 (MICR), who plans to finish her Ph.D. later this year in microbiology and immunology and microbiology, serves currently as one of WIS’ vice president of Community Outreach. She said she was impressed when she first attended the Girl Scout career day and saw its effect on students.

“I would have loved to do something like this when I was younger.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

13
2016

16 Things the Class of 2016 learned in medical school

At the medical school’s convocation ceremony, Psychiatry’s Chris Kogut, M’04, reminded the graduates of the path they’d taken.

Organic chemistry, MCATs, essay-writing, interview suit-buying. PCM. POGIL. Study, study, study. Step 1. Step 2. Step 2 CS.

So we wondered, what did they pick up along the way?

Here are 16 things the class of 2016 learned in medical school:

  1. How to go on little sleep and keep a big smile on your face.
  2. Don’t think you are above anyone or anything. Your willingness to help others in any task will go a long way.
  3. During 1st and 2nd year, there were days when my friend and I would mutually agree that we had made a poor life choice with med school. Then 3rd year came… and I took care of my first pediatric patient… and all of that changed. I now have no regrets at all.
  4. Where belly buttons come from.
  5. You will have even less time later; make time for the things you love now.
  6. Above everything else: Airway. It’s more important than either of the more often cited “breakfast” or “family.” We may give you breakfast at the hospital. Under very special circumstances, we may give you a new family. But if you come to the hospital without an airway, we’ll definitely give you one.
  7. Medicine is a team sport.
  8. Always wear layers! You never know what the temperature will be in the hospital, the VA, Egyptian Building or McGlothlin MEC.
  9. It’s okay to lean on your family and friends when times get rough. Whether you are stressed from an exam or dealing with a difficult case in the hospital, reaching out to them can help you through challenging times.
  10. Kids are more easily controlled while they’re still in the belly.
  11. You can always find coffee in the hospital, even in the middle of the night. If you want good coffee, that’s a different question.
  12. It’s hard not to let the people you work with in a given rotation color your view of a specialty, for better or worse. I don’t know that it’s possible to prevent it, but always be aware of it.
  13. Lung function is like a rubber band. If you can picture that, it’s easy to remember that compliance (which means easy to distend) is the opposite of elastance. Fibrosis is like a thick rubber band with its increased elastic fibers, so compliance is low. Emphysema is like a thin rubber band with its decreased elastic fibers, so compliance is high.
  14. Sitting outside in the Sanger courtyard eating lunch on a pretty day is as good as it gets.
  15. Work hard and be willing to accept every opportunity that comes your way. If someone is willing to write you a letter of recommendation, include you on a research project or invite you to a meeting … always take that opportunity. You can never predict the future and every opportunity will open a new door for your career.
  16. I would do it all over again.

16 Things the Class of 2016 learned in medical school

05
2016

All time high for Medical Student Research Day

Medical Student Research Day

The Class of 2018’s Stephanie DeMasi took first place at Medical Student Research Day. The judges reported that the quality and quantity of her research was exceptional given the limited time period in which the research was conducted, and particularly so given that this was her initial experience with a bona fide research project.

The 2016 Medical Student Research Day featured poster presentations from both the basic and clinical sciences, with students tackling topics as diverse as dengue and chikungunya viruses, surviving melanoma and hand hygiene in the operating room. There were also several research projects that examined medical education topics like encouraging compassion and learning to place intravenous catheters.

With 49 medical students participating, Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate education, noted it was the largest number of presenters in the event’s three-year history.

“Having M.D. students gain some type of research experience during their training has been a point of emphasis by the medical school’s dean, Dr. Jerry Strauss, and also by the LCME, the accrediting body for the M.D. program,” said Chlebowski.

Student interest in research has been steadily growing over the past eight years, and the introduction of the M.D. program’s new curriculum has provided more opportunities for students to build research experience over the course of their training.

Dean of Medicine Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., was on hand to review the research and speak with the presenters.

“It was an impressive show of talent! The research projects were diverse, and the students who walked me through their posters were extremely knowledgeable,” said Strauss. “This was a truly exceptional year in terms of the number of participants, and the quality of the work presented. I am particularly grateful to the research mentors who invested significant time and effort in making these research experiences productive and rewarding.”

The posters presented at Medical Student Research Day are eligible for prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250. A panel of judges reviewed the presentations’ originality, understanding, clarity and discussion.

Stephanie DeMasi with Jack Haar, professor emeritus of anatomy and neurobiology, who established the James D. Popp Summer Research Fellowship that made DeMasi’s research possible.

Stephanie DeMasi with Jack Haar, professor emeritus of anatomy and neurobiology, who established the James D. Popp Summer Research Fellowship that made DeMasi’s research possible.

This year’s winning entry was the Class of 2018’s Stephanie DeMasi, New Platinum Agents, Triplatin and Triplatin NC, Suppress Advanced Breast and Pancreatic Cancer. With financial support from the James D. Popp Summer Research Fellowship, she conducted the research under the guidance of Kazuaki Takabe, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of surgery.

“The judges felt that the quality and quantity of the research achieved by the winner was exceptional given the limited time period in which the research was conducted,” Chlebowski said. Their interactions with DeMasi during her presentation provided convincing evidence of her immersion and understanding of the complex nature of the study..

“This was compounded by the report that this was her initial experience with a bona fide research project.”

The judges also awarded:
– Second place to the Class of 2017’s Mashya Abbassi and Reza Nabavizadeh, co-presenters and classmates, and
– In a tie for third place: the Class of 2018’s Christopher Bednarz and the Class of 2018’s Imran Khatri.

Many of the research findings described in the poster presentations were products of the Medicine Student Summer Research Fellowship Program. The student-initiated eight-week projects take place between the students’ first and second years of medical school.

“Students submit a proposed project and have to identify a faculty mentor on their own,” explained Chlebowski. If the project is approved, students receive a $2,500 stipend to support their research.

By Erin Lucero

04
2016

Class of 98’s Kenneth Redcross’ new take on the old fashioned house call

Though he keeps his black medical bag handy and makes frequent house calls, Kenneth Redcross, M’98, is anything but old fashioned.

The board-certified internal medicine physician found his calling as a provider of concierge medicine in the New York City area, meeting patients where they are and giving them time, access and convenience – a modern take on traditional medicine.

In concierge medicine, he’s found the kind of career fulfillment he believes all physicians should have. But the career that works for him isn’t right for everyone, he notes. “You’ve got to believe in yourself and know who you are. I had to figure out what was going to work with my spirit.”

It’s a message he shared recently with potential students at a recent Second Look program, which gives applicants who are members of underrepresented minorities a chance to explore the School of Medicine’s programs in more depth.

Dr Kenneth Redcross
Kenneth Redcross, M’98, returned to the MCV Campus to speak at the medical school’s Second Look program for applicants from underrepresented minorities in medicine. While here, he also toured campus with the Class of 2019’s Ifechukwude Ikem and Diana Otoya.

Each year, a weekend of activities is organized by the School of Medicine’s Office of Student Outreach and the MCV Campus’ chapters of the Student National Medical Association and Latino Medical Student Association. The weekend offers opportunities to interact with faculty and students in a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual formal tours and interviews.

Redcross appreciates that VCU’s School of Medicine seeks to attract students from a wide variety of backgrounds and gives them plenty of experiential learning. He expects that will be great preparation for future physicians to find their own calling, whether it’s a traditional practice or something else.

His presentation was designed to encourage them to dream big.

“It takes a little bit of time to figure out who we are as physicians,” Redcross said, who also earned a bachelor’s in biology from VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences in 1994.

“That’s an important thing that has been lost for a lot of people. I think a lot of physicians feel like their destiny has already been decided. But I am one of these spiritual beings who believe that we all have a different song to sing. We come together and sing our songs together and we make beautiful harmony.”

“For me, my passion has always been about the patient experience and I’ve been blessed enough to find a forum that allows me to focus on the patient experience.”

During medical school, Redcross took advantage of the National Health Service Corps’ program that offers either loan repayment or scholarships to medical students in return for an equal number of years’ service in underserved communities. After residency, as part of his NHSC service, he worked with patients who may not have otherwise found health care and later started a retail health clinic. But something was missing.

“It took me some years to realize that in a typical model of medicine, I couldn’t be happy,” he said. “I didn’t feel I could give patients what they deserve, but I didn’t know a way out. Then I started to realize and understand that I could create a different level of health care by being one-on-one with the patient in their environment, where they’re comfortable. I realized how much happier I was. I realized this was the model for me.”

For current medical students – or those soon-to-be – he recognizes that he can’t tell them one way to approach their careers. But he did share some thoughts on finding what works.

He commends the new medical curriculum’s emphasis on collaboration, which, he believes, will ensure better patient care and help develop networking skills. Those skills, which he developed on his own, have helped him land patients for his concierge practice and spokesperson jobs and stints as a media consultant.

“You have to network, learn its importance. The world is a lot smaller than you think. ”
The Second Look program is part of the encouragement and support the medical school offers its diverse student population, something Redcross didn’t necessarily have when he was on campus in the 1990s.

“It’s extremely important to have physicians from diverse backgrounds. Many, many patients want to see a doctor who looks like them. Half of being a good physician is being able to be a good listener, to come from different backgrounds and understand your patients.

“You’ll be really surprised what happens when you really listen. If you listen, you can find a lot of answers.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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Updated: 04/29/2016