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June 2016 Archives


“Nothing is more addicting than the thrill of discovery” Study abroad invigorates professor, students

Premed student Rosellen Provost

Premed student Rosellen Provost traveled to Italy with four fellow honors students for a three-week course that’s convinced her to pursue a career in medicine.

The little boy looked apprehensive as the male nurse approached to tend to his broken arm.

“You aren’t going to cry in front of all these girls are you?” he asked, smiling reassuringly. With a renewed sense of bravery, the child replied with an emphatic, “No!”

Standing nearby in the Italian emergency room, Rosellen Provost and her premed classmates smiled, too, as they watched a new friendship unfold before them.

“I always thought I might want to go into medicine, but after this experience, I have no doubt,” she said. “This is fueling me.”

Rosellen, a sophomore, was one of five undergraduate students from VCU’s Honors College to travel to Italy for three weeks this summer to explore the importance of research and learn what medical science looks like outside the United States. The trip was led by Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D. H’07, who holds the James C. Roberts, Esquire Professor in Cardiology in the VCU School of Medicine and serves as associate chair for research in the Department of Internal Medicine.

“It was fantastic,” Abbate said. “The kids had the joy of discovering, researching and caring for patients.”

The trip was part of Abbate’s brainchild: Discover Medicine in Italy, which included two three-credit courses, Introduction to Translational Research and Introduction to Medical Semiotics. Abbate, a native of Italy and a UCBM graduate, taught both courses. His wife, Vera Abbate, Ph.D., instructor in the School of World Studies, served as course director, and Salvatore Carbone, instructor of medicine, assisted Abbate with the program and classes.

The students were paired with five Italian medical students and shadowed physicians. They took day trips to hospitals in Rome and observed molecular biology experiments.

Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D. H’07

A native of Fondi, Italy, Cardiology’s Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., returned this summer to lead Discover Medicine in Italy. The course invigorated Abbate along with the Italian and VCU students he was teaching.

They also spent time in the lab and had to come up with their own concepts for future research projects. Rosellen’s project focused on a clinical trial for a vaccine that stops heroine from being synthesized and going to the brain, thus making a drug user immune to a physical high. Others explored new devices and dementia treatments.

Abbate was impressed with all the students’ work, and said, “their excitement for discovery was contagious.”

Even Abbate got recharged. His own love for research got its start when he was a medical student in Italy. As the years passed and administrative duties grew, he could feel the burn out coming. He wasn’t sure he wanted to encourage young students into the field. Then he read the book, “The Vanishing Physician Scientist,” and found a new perspective.

“As busy as we can be, I think sometimes we forget how beautiful research work is,” Abbate said. “This trip gave me time to reflect and to really appreciate what we do. Spending time with the students and sharing with them my passion, seeing their eyes light up, reinvigorated me. Nothing is more addicting than the thrill of discovery.”

Abbate got the idea to organize the study abroad opportunity after the University of Rome invited him on campus as a visiting professor last year. He said he would only accept if he could get something out of it that would be of value to VCU students.

He contacted the Honors College because he wanted to reach out to premed students. Those interested attended an orientation, filled out an application and secured their passports. The college pitched in with the finances, offering each student $2,500 toward the cost of the trip.

“To get a global perspective on healthcare is an enriching experience,” said Jacqueline Smith-Mason, Ph.D., associate dean of the Honors College. “Study abroad can be life-changing.”

During their time in Italy, students got a taste of what universal health care is like. They saw how medicine – from procedures to patient interaction – differ abroad. They also visited Fondi, where Abbate grew up, Pompeii and Sperlonga.

“What a beautiful country,” Rosellen said. “But what I loved most was the theme of service there. They live to serve other people. That’s exactly what I want to do.”

By Janet Showalter


Walk the Walk 2016

GME Match Map 2016From all over the country: 140 new interns begin training at VCU Health this summer, hailing from 25 different states and 53 different medical schools.

Each summer, academic medical centers around the country welcome a new class of interns into their teaching hospitals. These recent M.D. graduates are embarking on three to seven years of additional training in the specialty of their choice.

From Boston to Tucson to Seattle, 140 new interns have arrived at VCU Health from 25 states.

“We’re really proud of the caliber of this year’s recruits,” said Mary-Alice O’Donnell, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate medical education. “I’ve heard from many program directors who are enthusiastic about the interdisciplinary team spirit and patient focus this group will bring.”

Of the 140 interns, 43 completed their medical degrees at the VCU School of Medicine. But the remaining 97 interns hail from 53 different medical schools. They bring with them certain core competencies along with experiences and expectations that are based on what they’ve learned at more than four dozen medical centers.

GME Match Map 2016“Nationwide, communication failures are the leading cause of medical errors,” Ryan Vega, M.D., H’14, told the interns.

To be sure that they are on the same page in terms of what’s expected at VCU Health, the GME office organizes a three-day orientation called Walk the Walk. It differs from orientation programs at other medical centers where newly arrived interns are often trained in specialty specific programs. Instead, for seven years, O’Donnell has trained new arrivals in interdisciplinary teams.

Highlighting Handoffs
A session this year emphasized how to transfer care and responsibility of a patient to the next shift of caregivers, a process known as the handoff. The session was led by Ryan Vega, M.D., H’14, who completed residency training in internal medicine at VCU in 2014 and serving as the first chief resident for quality and safety at the McGuire VA Medical Center in 2014-15.

“Nationwide, communication failures are the leading cause of medical errors,” Vega told the interns.

Walk the Walk 2016This summer, 140 new interns participated in interdisciplinary orientation program so that everyone is on the same page. One of this year’s sessions tackled a leading cause of medical errors in hospitals across the country: handoffs.

To address the issue, VCU Health has adopted the I-PASS system developed by Boston Children’s Hospital. It’s a guideline for structured communication that uses a mnemonic to help health care providers move through the handoff process. (See chart below.) A 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported the system can greatly increase patient safety without significantly burdening existing clinical workflows.

Vega estimates that VCU Health has applied the system more broadly at an institutional level than any other medical center in the country. Seven departments have completed a yearlong training, it’s built into patients’ electronic medical records and this is the second class of interns to train in the process.

“If we’re going to becoming the safest hospital in the nation,” Ryan emphasized, “structured communication is a route to eliminating medical errors.”

I Illness Severity Stable, “Watcher,” Unstable
P Patient Summary Summary statement; events leading up to admission; hospital course; ongoing assessment; plan
A Action List To do list; timeline and ownership
S Situation Awareness & Contingency Planning Know what’s going on; plan for what might happen
S Synthesis by Receiver Receiver summarizes what was heard; asks questions; restates key action/to do items

© 2016 I-PASS Study Group/Children’s Hospital Boston
All Rights Reserved. For Permissions contact ipass.study@childrens.harvard.edu

By Erin Lucero


How to get a head start and a leg up

Pre-Matriculation Program

Four medical students, including Chris Filosa, are teaching assistants in the Pre-Matriculation Program. They’re giving participants a head start with coursework, tips and techniques for succeeding in medical school.

Wei-Li Suen has a master’s degree in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In four more years, he intends to have his M.D. from VCU – a goal that came into focus more clearly as he worked his way through the Pre-Matriculation Program this June. “It was great practice to balance the course work with the piano performances I had in June,” he says.

Assistant Dean for Admissions Donna Jackson, Ed.D., nods her head in agreement. “This program is ideal for those students who need a head start for any number of reasons,” she explains, “often because they were liberal arts – not science – majors in college.”

Work/life balance. And so this year, 20 students chose to give up a month of their summer to plunge into the coursework that awaits all their first-year classmates who’ll matriculate in August. “It helped that these classes don’t factor into our medical school record,” confides Suen. It also helped that they were led by four inspiring teaching assistants. Medical students Chris Filosa, Jessica Li, Iffie Ikem and Jon Williams – all entering their second year on the MCV Campus — were pre-matric students themselves at this time last year, so they personally understand the challenges and rewards of the program.

“We want to make it a realistic experience for these students,” says Filosa. “In just one month, they get a good idea of what to expect. It’s tough, but they bond, and if you have a core group of friends, it becomes easier. We teach them not to sweat the small stuff.”

Pre-Matriculation Program

Rows of students line up to thump the classroom walls. They’re practicing a technique called percussion – using sounds to assess underlying structures. The studs behind the wall are a temporary stand in for students who’ll one day tap a patient’s back to listen and assess whether the lung is filled with air or fluid.

Find the studs. Despite all the technological advances in medicine, the hands-on physical remains important. Students are taught a technique called percussion – using sounds to assess underlying structures. Air, solids and fluid all have distinct noises, so when physicians tap a patient’s back to assess lung health, they can tell, for instance, if the lung is filled with air or fluid. That’s why rows of students line up to thump the classroom walls in order to locate the wooden studs underneath. It’s good practice — tapping the stud produces a different sound from tapping an empty wall.

One for all, all for one. After a month, the class has bonded, just as Filosa predicted. “Every small victory is a victory for all of us,” Ikem emphasizes. “Keep in touch with each other on the Facebook page. Say hi if you see us. We’re here for you. We’re paying it forward — that’s why we signed up for this.”

Five years in, the program is a success. “I do monitor these students,” Jackson says. “They tend to do better in med school. Many become student leaders. And they’re all better prepared for the daily rigor and the school/life balance. That’s good experience for them, and reflects back well on the school.”

By Susie Burtch

Name Pre-Matriculation Program
Purpose Exposure to the curriculum before starting med school
Founded 2011
Length Four weeks in June
Students 25 maximum
Courses Anatomy; Biochemistry; Physiology; Practice of Clinical Medicine (PCM)
Finances Housing, parking and gym access paid; stipend for food and incidentals

Kelley Dodson named first female president of the Virginia Society of Otolaryngology

I think my presidency definitely reflects the change in traditionally male dominated surgical specialties to now being more representative and inclusive of women as a whole.

“I think my presidency definitely reflects the change in traditionally male dominated surgical specialties to now being more representative and inclusive of women as a whole.”

Housestaff alumna and School of Medicine faculty member Kelley M. Dodson, M.D., was installed as president of the Virginia Society of Otolaryngology on June 4. She is the first female president in the society’s nearly 100-year history.

It’s a milestone that Dodson says has special meaning for her.

“I think my presidency definitely reflects the change in traditionally male dominated surgical specialties to now being more representative and inclusive of women as a whole.”

Dodson has been involved with the society for a half dozen years. She served as president-elect last year and before that as vice president.

Through her service, she says, “I have gained significant insight especially into legislative issues facing the commonwealth of Virginia, as we have been very active in the legislative process on issues affecting our specialty.”

Kelley M. Dodson, M.D.

Kelley Dodson, M.D.

The Virginia Society of Otolaryngology was chartered in 1920. It provides continuing medical education for its members and addresses political and regulatory challenges affecting practice issues. Each spring, the society holds an annual meeting, which was held this year in McLean, Va.

Dodson has a clinical interest in pediatric otolaryngology as well as in congenital and genetic hearing loss. On the research front, she is interested in language and speech outcomes in children with hearing loss and has been involved with genetic studies of tinnitus and different forms of hearing loss. She also studies pediatric chronic rhinosinusitis and the mask microbiome in cystic fibrosis.

After completing her residency in the Department of Otolaryngology on VCU’s MCV Campus, Dodson joined the medical school’s faculty in 2005. She is now director of the department’s residency program.

By Erin Lucero
Event photography by Susan McConnell, Virginia Society of Otolaryngology


Father Figure: Neurosurgery alumni pay homage to Harry Young

Harold F. Young, M.D.

This year, the usually low-key Resident Research Day Conference in Neurosurgery turned into a three day celebration of Harry Young, M.D. It drew more than 200 people, some of whom traveled across country to honor him.

Mike Chen, M.D., H’06, PhD’07 (ANAT), can’t recall a time when he worked harder or with more intensity than as a neurosurgery resident under Harold F. Young, M.D.

“The training was brutal,” he said. “As a resident at that time, you could work 120 hours a week. But there was no resentment. Dr. Young was preparing you to be the best under the most adverse circumstances. He was the most influential teacher of my life.”

Chen, who completed his residency in 2007 and now serves as associate professor at City of Hope in California, returned to Richmond in June. He traveled more than 2,000 miles to honor Young during the Resident Research Day Conference.

“I wasn’t going to miss it,” Chen said. “I owe him my career. He has the deepest passion for the profession, especially teaching it. He treated everyone with respect. He treated everyone like family.”

Usually a small, one-day event in which residents present their papers, organizers expanded it into three days this year to honor Young, who last year stepped down after 30 years as chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery. He remains on faculty as professor of neurosurgery.

“It can be hard to motivate people to come back for an event, but we had an amazing response,” said R. Scott Graham, M’92, H’98, director of the residency program. He has worked with Young since 1992. “He’s a father figure to so many of us. He instilled that sense of responsibility in everything you do.”

Harold F. Young, M.D.

Last year, Young stepped down after 30 years as chairman of the department. He remains on faculty as professor of neurosurgery.

About 225 people traveled from near and far to pay homage to their mentor. In year’s past, the conference has drawn about 50.

The alumni were eager to share stories and make a special presentation in Young’s honor. On day three of the conference, Young gave his presentation on preparing trainees for independent practice.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever see his like again,” said John Ward, M.D., neurosurgery professor. “He was able to create a bond with patients that was enviable.”

Ward was one of Young’s first residents, arriving on campus in 1970.

“He was always there to help, and over the years, that held,” he said. “He trained residents to be excellent clinicians, and he demanded that we treat everyone with dignity.”

After completing his residency in 1977, Ward worked alongside Young until 1990, then opened a private practice in South Carolina. He returned two years later.

“I looked at other hospitals, but felt this was the place to be,” he said. “Harry was here.”

By Janet Showalter

Harold F. Young, M.D., who began his career at VCU in 1972 and served as department chairman from 1985-2015, is famous for his Youngisms:

  • “Treat patients, not images.”
  • “Don’t cut the steak and butter to live a few more days.”
  • “I never go on vacation because people get sick on vacation.”
  • “Any organ you can transplant is basically worthless.”
  • “It is just a patch job. We can’t give you a new spine.”

School of Medicine’s oldest known alumnus, James Spencer Dryden, dies at 106

Born in January 1910 in Poquoson, Virginia, to Alice Lee Hunt and James Oscar Dryden, James Spencer Dryden, M’33, H’40, died at age 106 on June 14, 2016, at his home in Punta Gorda, Florida. He is believed to have been the School of Medicine’s oldest graduate at the time of his death.

In a 50-year career in ophthalmology in Washington, D.C., Dryden was physician and friend to some of the nation’s most prominent politicians. He served as president of the American Association of Ophthalmology in 1970 and also of the MCV Alumni Association in 1958.

James Spencer Dryden, M'33, H’40James Spencer Dryden, M’33, H’40, at his 103rd birthday party

Following an expedited honors pre-med program at William and Mary College, Dryden entered the Medical College of Virginia in 1929, the onset of the Great Depression. Four years later, at age 23, he graduated and began an internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Norfolk, later serving as a medical officer in the Civilian Conservation Corps, stationed in Baltimore, Maryland. He returned to MCV and completed an ophthalmology residency in 1940, becoming a diplomate of the American Board of Ophthalmology in 1942.

With the advent of World War II, Dryden served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, stationed at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. Gen. Marietta foresaw that Walter Reed would see many casualties from the western theatre of the war and ordered Dryden to set up a surgery at Soldier’s Home (now the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home) to handle the surgeries of retired military officers who would otherwise be treated at Walter Reed. Designated acting commander and then chief medical officer of Soldiers’ Home, Dryden would go on to be awarded the American Theater Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal and World War II Victory Medal.

At the end of the war he was honorably discharged with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and opened an ophthalmology practice in Washington, D.C. In 1945 he purchased the ophthalmology practice of Edward L. Morrison, who had been in private practice with William H. Wilmer, founder of Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Institute of Ophthalmology. Among the artifacts of the Morrison practice were Wilmer’s in-office surgery chair and Wilmer’s ophthalmological “trial case,” which Dryden later donated to the Wilmer Institute’ museum. Dryden estimated that by the time of his own 1991 retirement Wilmer’s surgery chair had been in continuous use for over 100 years.

In Washington, D.C. he served as chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at both Doctors Hospital and Washington Hospital Center. He developed an advanced method of reattaching a dislocated lens and published it in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, “Sclerocorneal Transfixation Method: For the Removal of Posteriorly Dislocated Lenses” in October 1961.

With his proximity to the nation’s capital, many prominent politicians and other dignitaries became his patients and friends. His daughter, Kay Dryden, recalls that J. Edgar Hoover “sent dad a case of whisky every Christmas, and dad and mom always watched the presidential inauguration parades from Hoover’s Pennsylvania Avenue office.”

As president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, Dryden appeared on numerous occasions before the U.S. Congressional District of Columbia Oversight Committee. He also served as president of the Washington Ophthalmological Society, in addition to his service to the American Association of Ophthalmology and the MCV Alumni Association.

J. Spencer Dryden M'33
J. Spencer Dryden M’33 (right) with his son-in-law and two youngest grandchildren. This photo was taken in 2002 on St. Andrews South Golf Course, in Punta Gorda, Fla., where Dryden had shot a 77 — 13 strokes under his age two years earlier.

His interests outside of medicine included developing and managing Colonial Simmental Farms in Westmoreland County, Virginia. For 30 years, Dryden and his wife raised Swiss Simmental cattle on land originally owned by George Washington’s great-grandfather. His daughter Kay told the Newport News, Virginia’s Daily Press newspaper, “These very large cattle would follow him around like puppies because he always kept apples in his pockets.”

Dryden was an accomplished self-taught golfer. At age 79 he broke his age by one stroke at the Bethesda Country Club and was written up in Golf Digest. At age 88 he shot an 85 at the San Francisco Olympic Club, and at age 90 he shot thirteen strokes under his age at St. Andrews South Golf Club in Florida for a score of 77, a feat noted in the local newspapers.

In retirement he enjoyed writing articles, letters to the editor, poems, songs and political satire, which have been variously published, recorded and performed publicly. Dryden was intellectually sharp and physically fit throughout his life. At his 106th birthday he entertained guests by reciting a favorite childhood poem from memory, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”

Dryden and his wife, Tricola Inez Mitchell, were married 66 years until her death in 2000. He is survived by three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by family and friends who cherished his towering intellect, wisdom, humor, kindness and love. He was a fine gentleman and his generosity of spirit touched all who knew him.

Dryden’s cremated remains will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

For more information on Dr. Dryden’s life:
James Spencer Dryden, ophthalmologist, Washington Post
Noted eye doctor from Poquoson dies, Daily Press
Ophthalmologist, ex-Westmoreland farm owner dies at 106, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

Our thanks to Kay Dryden for contributing to this report.

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Updated: 04/29/2016