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April 28, 2017

AOA alumnus inductee recalls twists that put him on MD-PhD path

Gerald "Jerry" Feldman, PhD'82, M'84

Gerald “Jerry” Feldman, PhD’82, M’84, is the 2017 sole alumni inductee into the prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society’s Brown Sequard chapter.
Photography: Skip Rowland

For Gerald “Jerry” Feldman, PhD’82, M’84, the road to becoming a physician-scientist wasn’t a straight and narrow path but one filled with twists and turns he never could have predicted.

The immediate past president of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, he returned to campus to share his story during Alpha Omega Alpha’s annual banquet and induction ceremony. The event, held in conjunction with Honors Day, welcomes new members into the prestigious AOA Medical Honor Society.

The Brown Sequard chapter of AOA inducts students from the top 16 percent of the School of Medicine’s third- and fourth-year classes. In addition, the elite society accepts nominations for deserving faculty, residents and alumni.

This year’s sole alumni inductee into the society, Feldman serves as professor of molecular medicine and genetics, pediatrics and pathology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, where he also is director of clinical genetic services.

Feldman’s journey as a physician-scientist began as an undergraduate at Indiana University in the 1970s when he took a course in genetics. “It changed my future,” he says of the first twist of his career.

With his interest in genetics piqued, Feldman began working toward a Ph.D. under the tutelage of Walter Nance, M.D., Ph.D., at Indiana’s School of Medicine. Then Nance was recruited as the first chair of the Department of Human Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University (now the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics).

“I made the move to follow him out to MCV,” Feldman says. “That was twist number two. It was a life-changer for me. It was a growing department that became one of the best and trained top scientists that remain my best friends today.”

The young department hired Barry Wolf, M.D., Ph.D., who would serve as Feldman’s mentor, faculty adviser and chair of his thesis committee. Together, their research would lead to establishing screenings to test for biotinidase deficiency in newborns in all 50 states.

It was Wolf who encouraged Feldman to pursue his medical degree – twist number three.

“It’s hard to know how to describe what those years at MCV meant,” Feldman says of his time in medical school. “Great teaching, a great environment for learning and a great opportunity to discover.”

The medical school’s recent innovations in education impressed Feldman during his return visit to campus, particularly the state-of-the-art McGlothlin Medical Education Center — home to the medical school’s transformed curriculum and simulation center — and the Children’s Pavilion, part of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

“It’s amazing to see all the changes,” he says.

A 2017 President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching winner at Wayne State, Feldman appreciates the value of experiential learning that can be translated to the clinical setting. “Professor Feldman’s efforts can be measured not only in his superlative teaching evaluations but in the success of his former students as they enter the field of molecular genetics,” the university wrote of his receipt of the award.

He also remembers where his journey began and those who helped him get there. In what Feldman calls his career’s fourth twist, he helped recruit Wolf to the Detroit area, where they continue to practice and research side-by-side.

None of it, he adds, would have been possible without Richmond’s unexpected opportunities.

“Thank you MCV for providing me with the twists of a lifetime,” he says.

By Polly Roberts

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