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School of Medicine discoveries

November 2016 Archives

15
2016

Richmond Academy of Medicine supports new medical student scholarship

VCU School of Medicine scholarships are often created by alumni, faculty or even community members. But in 2015, for the first time, a new medical student scholarship was established by a community-based physicians’ organization, the Richmond Academy of Medicine.

Scholarship recipient Jessica Li (center) with former School of Medicine Dean Jerry Strauss III, and RAM President Harry D. Bear, M’75, PhD’78

Scholarship recipient Jessica Li (center) with former School of Medicine Dean Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., and RAM President Harry D. Bear, M’75, PhD’78, professor of surgery and chair of the Division of Surgical Oncology.
Photography: Skip Rowland

With a gift of $100,000, the academy endowed a scholarship that aims to benefit a top student with financial need who exemplifies the desire, attributes and skills necessary to become a physician leader. The inaugural recipient is Jessica Li, a second-year student who already demonstrates those qualities.

She volunteers with the geriatrics and palliative care student groups and traveled to the Dominican Republic last spring on a relief trip that provided medical and surgical eye care in the underserved community of Santiago. Li put her Spanish skills to use taking vital signs and helping translate for patients before and after their surgeries in days that often lasted more than 12 hours.

The scholarship is renewable; academy leaders are looking forward to getting to know Li as she completes her four-year medical degree. Li will also receive free membership to the academy, which enables her to attend its regular meetings.

This story was first published in Vol. 9 of Impact, the magazine for donors and friends of Virginia Commonwealth University.

14
2016

The Class of 72’s David Lorber: Just say ‘yes’ – to a nontraditional career path

David Lorber, M’72

“Most physicians practice medicine,” says David Lorber, M’72. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.”

David Lorber, M’72, rarely says no – it’s a trait that has worked out well for him. It’s led him into a career he never planned, but one which has been extremely rewarding, he says.

Lorber visited the MCV Campus this month to share stories with medical students about his nontraditional career that jumped from academia to a busy practice to industry … and almost to the South Pole. “Most physicians practice medicine,” he notes, “but it doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.”

After completing a fellowship at the University of Arizona, he first assumed he’d have a future in academia. But that wasn’t as fulfilling as he hoped, so he ended up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, becoming the state’s fourth pulmonary critical care physician. Despite a grueling schedule, Lorber kept doing more. “I volunteered for everything I could,” he recalls. “Whatever we needed, I always raised my hand.

“My objective was to learn everything I could about the business of health care and to be able to provide value.”

On the side, he started a consulting firm, worked in an emergency and urgent care department and began exploring options for a post-clinical career. Though medicine was rewarding, he says, after two decades, he was burned out on 100-hour work weeks and started looking for something else.

He didn’t have to look long, as all the extra knowledge he’d gleaned paid off in an understanding of all facets of the health care industry.

David Lorber, M’72

Lorber returned to the MCV Campus in November to talk with students about alternative careers in medicine.

A friend at Blue Cross/Blue Shield pointed him towards a job there; he ended up as medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, working in utilization management, disease management, provider relations, oversight of pharmacy and credentialing. He also served as medical director for the Indian Health Service Contract Health Services, managed by BCBS. After that, he joined the small company, PCS Health Systems, which eventually transformed into CVS Caremark, where Lorber became a vice president. When he left that job, he was snapped up by Walgreens. “I felt like you can impact the way health care is delivered in the U.S. more in industry than from the clinical side.”

Lorber is rarely content with just one job, and though he calls himself retired, he still works as consultant, entrepreneur, marketer and clinician. One of his side jobs he still loves is working as a consulting physician for National Geographic’s Lindblad Expeditions adventure cruise line.

As the company has grown, he’s become, in effect, the company’s chief medical officer, overseeing about 50 physicians who travel on Lindblad’s ships to remote corners of the earth.

“It can be gut-wrenching when you have something that in an emergency department would be a no-brainer and easy to do, but can become a catastrophe because of where you are,” he says. On a cruise to Antarctica, he once had to treat a patient with a bowel obstruction when the nearest hospital was days away. In Norway, he jumped in to treat a woman with an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy; the nearest airstrip was on a small island 10 hours away. The patient survived, was treated on the mainland and returned to the ship several days later.

With Lindblad, Lorber has traveled to about 40 countries on all seven continents, allowing him to indulge his passion for photography (check out some of his travel photos below that appeared in the latest issue of the school’s 12th & Marshall magazine).

Lorber continues his routine of learning new skills and keeping an eye out for his next adventure. “You can’t have a five-year plan,” he muses. “You’ve got to be open to new things.”

Still, he says, his career hasn’t been totally random. It’s been about being prepared to be in the right place at the right time. “I really do believe you make your own luck.”

His advice for medical students?

“It’s about relationship building. While you’re in practice, get on committees, get involved politically and get involved any way you can. You’ve got to develop people skills, public speaking skills and the ability to negotiate.

“And learn everything you can. You never know when it’ll come in handy or may spark your interest.”

Always open to opportunities, David Lorber, M’72, said ‘yes’ to National Geographic’s Lindblad Expeditions adventure cruise line. As a result, he’s traveled to about 40 countries on all seven continents. It’s allowed him to indulge his passion for photography, like this shot that was taken in Montenegro. Click the images below for expanded views.

By Lisa Crutchfield

12
2016

M4 Andrew Percy honored with scholarship carrying name of surgeon Jim Brooks

The Class of 2017's Andrew Percy (left) met Stephen Yang, M'84, H'94

The Class of 2017’s Andrew Percy (left) met Stephen Yang, M’84, H’94, at the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association annual meeting in November. Yang helped establish the James W. Brooks Medical Student Scholarship in memory of his mentor, and Percy is the latest recipient.

Ask Andrew Percy, M’17, the key to a successful future and he will sum it up in one word.

Mentorship.

“No matter what field you go into, it helps to have someone guiding you,” he said. “Mentors have always been a special part of my life.”

That bond continues today. Percy was one of two students in the country to receive the James W. Brooks Medical Student Scholarship, which enabled him to attend the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association (STSA) annual meeting in Naples, Florida, Nov. 9-12.

“I was very humbled to be associated with an award in Dr. Brooks’ memory,” Percy said. “He was an important mentor to a lot of people. That’s the spirit of this scholarship. It inspires me to become a better clinician, researcher and person.”

Jim Brooks, M’46, H’55, joined the MCV Campus in 1957 as a thoracic and vascular surgeon and trained hundreds of residents and students. Even after retiring from the operating room, he continued to go into work each day to teach and serve on the admissions committee, communicating his love for the school to all the applicants he met. Appointed emeritus professor of surgery in 2000, he was active on campus until his death in 2008. He was the 23rd president of the STSA.

Jim Brooks, M'46, H'55

Longtime faculty member Jim Brooks, M’46, H’55. Courtesy of Tompkins-McCaw Library’s Special Collections and Archives

“Dr. Brooks had this aura about him,” said Stephen Yang, M’84, H’94, who trained under Brooks and now holds the Arthur B. and Patricia B. Modell Endowed Chair of Thoracic Surgery at Johns Hopkins. “You just loved the man. One of the things that impressed me the most was how much time he spent with his patients. He touched so many lives.”

To honor his memory, Yang helped establish the STSA fund in 2010 that supports the Brooks Scholarship.

“How do you repay the past?” Yang asked. “You want to honor those who trained you, who mentored you.”

Even though Percy never met Brooks, stories about the surgeon still abound on the MCV Campus. Percy has heard enough of them to know he would have loved him, too.

“It sounds like he was a remarkable individual,” Percy said. “He had a great sense of humor.”

Brooks is warmly remembered for not only his compassion, but his quirks. He wore his scrub pants backwards; his glasses hung near the end of his nose; a white towel was draped around his neck; and a bar of Dove soap was always at the scrub sink.

The stories also emphasize how Brooks valued mentorship.
“That’s so important,” Percy said. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors.”

Percy’s parents and later his high school cross country coach provided guidance early on. While studying biology and philosophy at Bates College in Maine, Percy spent his summers doing research for the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale. The two have published several papers together since then, and they are currently working on a research project focused on redefining the size cutoff in which surgery is warranted for aortic aneurysms. Percy is also writing a book chapter on the medical management of aortic aneurysms.

After graduating in 2008, Percy worked in research for four years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School and earned a master’s in medical sciences from Boston University. He has also conducted research in oncology and urology.

“I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in very interesting research projects across different disciplines because of mentors I had who gave me generous opportunities that they were under no obligation to give,” Percy said.

He found that same spirit at the STSA meeting, where he got to know some of the country’s leading cardiac surgeons, including Joseph Coselli, M.D., chief of adult cardiac surgery at the Texas Heart Institute, and Andrea J. Carpenter, M.D., Ph.D., president of the STSA and director of cardiac surgery at the UT School of Medicine in San Antonio.

“They were all so generous with their time,” Percy said. “I want to emulate that and become a mentor to others. I want to make a positive impact. One way to do that is by reflecting on all the help that you received along the way and then paying it forward throughout your career. ”

Do you want to help pay it forward? Learn more about our 1838 Scholarship Campaign aimed at increasing the number and size of available scholarships for the School of Medicine.

By Janet Showalter

11
2016

Face time: The Class of 99’s Eduardo Rodriguez returns to campus to discuss his pioneering transplant surgery

In 2005, surgeons in France completed the world’s first partial face transplant on a woman who lost her lips, cheeks, chin and most of her nose after she was mauled by her dog.

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

In August 2015, the Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M.D., D.D.S., the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, led a team of more than 100 physicians, nurses, technical and support staff to complete the most extensive face transplant to date, and the first in New York State. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Eleven years and many lessons later, face transplantation has moved from possibility to reality, with surgeons refining techniques and transforming the lives of patients once considered beyond hope.

Leading the way is Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M’99, considered one of the world’s leading surgeons in the field.

He returned to VCU’s MCV Campus this summer as the speaker of the annual S. Dawson Theogaraj Lecture. Rodriguez is the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at New York University’s School of Medicine.

In August 2015, Rodriguez led a team at the NYU Langone Medical Center that completed the most extensive face transplant ever.

Patrick Hardison, a 41-year old fireman from Mississippi who had received horrific facial injuries received the face of cyclist David Rodebaugh. The operation received extensive media coverage and cemented Rodriguez’s reputation as a pioneer in the field.

He credits his time in VCU’s School of Medicine for a solid foundation in medicine. Rodriguez earned a D.D.S. degree from New York University in 1992, then completed his residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“There are oral surgery programs that have affiliations with a medical degree, and I had colleagues who recommended that this was something I should do. I applied to all the medical schools in the country that had a relationship with an oral surgery program.” He ended up at VCU, condensing his medical degree into two years. After that, he trained in the plastic surgery program at Johns Hopkins Hospital/University of Maryland Medical Center and completed a fellowship in Taiwan.

“I thought VCU was the best education I ever received,” he said in a telephone interview from New York. “Those were the most enriching educational years of my life. I became a very good student. Living in Richmond, a smaller town, allowed me to focus on education and gave me a very strong foundation to be successful.”

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

Eduardo D. Rodriguez, pictured with his face transplant patient Patrick Hardison at NYU Langone on Nov. 12, 2015. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Rodriguez first became interested in the possibility of face transplants after hearing a lecture at Johns Hopkins about face transplants in rats. “My mentor at Johns Hopkins, the chief of plastic surgery, told me this is what I should be doing. I had no idea what that really meant, but I was fascinated by it.”

In March, 2012, Rodriguez led a team in what was one of the most extensive facial transplants ever, from hairline to the neck of a Virginia man who had suffered a gunshot wound. The 36-hour operation involved more than 100 health care providers along with meticulous planning and execution.

Rodriguez notes that such transplants include health and mental risks that must be weighed against the benefits. Recipients deal with the psychological battles of living with someone else’s face, as well as life-long reliance and side-effects of immunosuppressant medicines. As with other transplants, the body can reject a new face.

In such a developing field, he notes, there’s not yet a blueprint for success.

“Physicians and patients are on this journey together,” he says. “Once you’re successful and you see the patient doing well and you reflect on what we’ve achieved, and reflect on change in this individual’s life, you can’t help but be amazed by the complexity of the process.”

The Department of Defense and several research institutions, including NYU, have dedicated funding and resources to refining the procedure.

Rodriguez knows that the next decade will include improvements in transplantation and perhaps even some breakthroughs that seemed unimaginable in recent years.

“First, we have to keep working on trying to reduce the toxic effects of the [anti-rejection] medicines,” he says. He believes biomedical engineers will one day be able to create tissues specifically for patients needing transplants.

“It’s not just how many more transplants I can do, it’s how can we continue to improve the quality of face reconstruction and bring in different elements of science to provide these types of procedures safely, as well as improving the quality of these patients’ lives and shape a better future for these individuals.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

11
2016

Patient education wins big at first VCU HealthHacks event

M4 Sina Mostaghimi and Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor

Fourth-year medical student Sina Mostaghimi teamed up with Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor to create VCU’s first medical hackathon. It gave students 24 hours to work in interdisciplinary teams to find solutions to unmet medical needs.

As a biomedical engineering undergraduate at Georgia Tech, Sina Mostaghimi thrived on solving problems.

Today, the fourth-year VCU School of Medicine student from McLean, Virginia, is still solving problems in hopes of helping others thrive.

“My favorite thing at Georgia Tech was senior design,” he says. But, “During my senior design project, it took weeks for me to get feedback from the physicians I was working with.”

There had to be a better way, Mostaghimi thought.

At a dinner party last year, he met senior biomedical engineering student and Honors College member Simone Gregor and shared his idea.

“When Simone told me about hackathons, we decided a venue like that would be perfect for students from various disciplines to come together to help solve unmet medical needs,” he says. “I wanted to create a student environment to foster opportunities for innovation, to provide time for project development and to offer immediate feedback.

For the uninitiated, a “hackathon” is a marathon-like experience bringing computer programmers together to solve problems by creating software projects. In VCU’s case, Mostaghimi and Gregor envisioned an event to include not only computer science and biomedical engineering students from the VCU School of Engineering, but also pre-med and medical students.

HealthHacks 2016

HealthHacks drew more than 140 students who tackled problems pertaining to product design, hospital throughput and patient experience.</p

“It’s the weirdest team concept, but you get diverse ideas this way,” he says.

Mostaghimi and Gregor assembled a team of volunteers, attracted sponsors and created VCU HealthHacks, which took place over the first weekend in October. More than 140 students from VCU, Canada and even a high school in Richmond collaborated on three areas of focus: product design and improvement, hospital throughput and patient experience. The School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine provided problems for students to solve as well as sending residents and faculty members who served as team mentors.

To close the event, teams had three minutes to present their projects to 10 judges who decided first, second and third place winners.

“It was quite an afternoon. We all sat in the front row of a lecture hall and listened to 30 teams describe their work,” said Nathan J. Lewis, M.D., clerkship director and assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. “It was tough. There were so many great groups and ideas.”

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy. This image shows the heart and an abdominal aortic aneurysm in red, located between the kidneys, shown in yellow. Click the image to go to a page where you can view the image in 3D.

The winning team used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images for use in a virtual reality headset to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy.

“As medical students, we learn from two-dimensional CT scans all the time,” says team member Anish Desai, a second-year medical student from Richmond, Virginia. “It’s incredibly confusing, difficult and non-intuitive.”

Desai and classmate Vivek Pandrangi, from Los Angeles, are both interested in virtual reality and its application to the patient experience.

“We’d been talking about our shared interest in surgery and finding a better way to educate patients during pre-op,” Pandrangi says.

Via the HealthHacks experience, the team was paired with mentor Daniel Newton, M’12, a fifth-year surgery resident who was impressed with the students’ abilities to take a totally rough idea and turn it into a solution.

Vivek Pandrangi and Anish Desai

HealthHacks’ winning team Vivek Pandrangi (left) and Anish Desai.

“The ability to show a patient his or her anatomy in an understandable way was solved by their technology,” Newton says. “It’s definitely a big step. Anytime patients have a full understanding of their disease or problem and the way it’s going to be fixed, it helps take the fear out of the unknown.”

Judge Nathan Lewis, who is also Mostaghimi’s faculty advisor, sees a future in the winning team’s work. He also hopes there’s a future for VCU HealthHacks.

“If you can take the complex language of medicine and translate it into something tangible, it breaks down a lot of barriers,” he says. “I’m not sure who’s going to take over the HealthHacks reins, but the event illustrates the amount of collaboration between the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Emergency Medicine at VCU Health. We’d all love to continue.”

A student team of volunteers made VCU’s first HealthHacks a reality:

  • Sina Mostaghimi
  • Simone Gregor
  • Mashya Abbassi
  • Michael Pasyk
  • Brandon Kates
  • Stephen Holtz

By Nan Johnson