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January 2018 Archives


Alumna and faculty member Betsy Ripley named fellow in Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine

Betsy Ripley, M'86, H'92, interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the medical school, has been named a 2017-18 fellow in the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine.

Betsy Ripley, M’86, H’92, interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the medical school, has been named a 2017-18 fellow in the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine.

The keys to becoming a successful leader, says Betsy Ripley, M’86, H’92, MS’04 (BIOS), begin with being open to the opportunities that come your way while taking time to do your current job well.

“By being a leader and doing your job well on a daily basis, you’re not just shooting for the next job. You’re contributing along the way,” Ripley says. “Be active and participate. People will remember that and you’ll be asked to do the next thing. It all builds on itself.”

Saying “yes” has led Ripley down a path to her current role as interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs for the VCU School of Medicine and, more recently, as a 2017-18 fellow with the prestigious Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine. ELAM is a year-long part-time fellowship for women faculty in schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and public health.

A core program of the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, ELAM is dedicated to developing the professional and personal skills required to lead and manage in today’s complex health environment, with special attention to the unique challenges facing women in leadership positions.

“Applicants have to be incredibly accomplished to earn their position and Dr. Ripley was accepted the first time she applied,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., who also serves as Ripley’s ELAM sponsor. “This national recognition comes as no surprise to those of us who see Betsy’s outstanding work with faculty on a daily basis. I couldn’t be more proud to see her represent our medical school as part of ELAM.”

More than 1,000 ELAM alumnae hold leadership positions in institutions around the world. The VCU School of Medicine has sponsored 12 previous ELAM fellows.

“At VCU, we have a lot of good strong women leaders — Marsha Rappley, Deborah Davis, Deborah Zimmermann, Melinda Hancock, to name a few,” Ripley says. “Phenomenal women who speak to how open VCU is to developing and growing our women.”

As part of ELAM, fellows participate in three week-long on-site training sessions in September, January and April, in addition to working on assignments and reading throughout the year, participating in the leadership online curriculum and communicating regularly with ELAM colleagues.

Each fellow works on an Institutional Action Project that aligns with her experiences and meets an organizational goal or need at her home university. Ripley chose a cause near and dear to her heart: education and training for faculty members.

“In medical school, we don’t go to class to become a faculty member,” she says. “You come up through the ranks and — poof! — you’re a faculty member.”

In an effort to ensure that faculty development opportunities at the medical school better meet faculty’s needs, Ripley is cataloging each development opportunity offered through the school, assigning it to a particular competency (general knowledge, leadership, scholarship or teaching and service) and determining where more resources are needed.

“We offer a lot of development opportunities but what do our faculty truly need to grow and become successful?” Ripley asks. “Along the way, what they need to know may change. What resources are needed for that growth?”

Ripley will present her project at ELAM’s on-site meeting in April not only to this year’s 54-member ELAM class, but to a host of deans, including Buckley, who will attend the final session. Networking and mentoring opportunities among national leaders is a key component of ELAM’s ultimate goal to expand the national pool of qualified women candidates for leadership in academic medicine, dentistry and public health.

She attributes her leadership success to a multitude of mentors at the medical school: Domenic Sica, M.D., Berry Fowler, M.D., John Nestler, M.D., and Dick Wenzel, M.D., all in the Department of Internal Medicine, as well as retired senior associate dean of faculty affairs P.J. Coney, M.D., and, now, Dean of Medicine Buckley.

“I’m blessed to be at an institution that’s recognized the leadership skills within me,” says Ripley, who earned her medical degree at VCU and remained on the MCV Campus to complete residency training. “I’m lucky many people have helped me when I needed it and encouraged me along the way.”

Ripley remembers a “say yes” moment when early in her career, she applied for a National Institutes of Health K Award at the encouragement of Wenzel and Fowler. She received the award and it led her to sit on a panel of VCU’s Institutional Review Board, of which she later became senior chair. It sparked an interest in research ethics that led to a master’s degree from the Department of Biostatistics, an AMA ethics fellowship, and the role as clinical research compliance officer for the university.

Ultimately, her clinical and research experience, combined with her dual role as a mother to three sons, led her to faculty affairs, first in the Department of Internal Medicine and later in the School of Medicine.

“I can speak to the variety of challenges faculty members might face, both in the workplace and at home,” Ripley says.

Sometimes, it only takes that one voice telling — and showing — others it’s possible that can make all the difference. It was in her medical school interview on the MCV Campus with a female faculty member when Ripley heard the words that molded how she approached medicine, a career and family.

“She said ‘you can do it all — if you want to,'” Ripley says. “I had that one woman who told me I could.”

Now she serves as that one voice of encouragement for faculty members across the School of Medicine, taking her place as a role model and mentor for countless others.

By Polly Roberts


Marathon running helps M3 Sarah Elise Streit balance life, medical school

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, will run her sixth Walt Disney World Marathon this January.

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, says being a medical student is a lot like running a marathon. She should know. She’ll run her sixth Walt Disney World Marathon this January. It will be her 11th full marathon since 2012.

Called a loser by her classmates throughout middle and high school, Sarah Elise Streit was haunted by low self-esteem for much of her childhood.

She took control of her future when she discovered the therapeutic powers of running.

“I always felt like the ugly duckling,” she says. “I was full of self-doubt. I wanted to improve myself. Running gave me the confidence – the push – I needed to do that.”

Streit, who is completing her third year of medical school at the School of Medicine’s Inova Fairfax Campus, will run in her sixth Walt Disney World Marathon this January. It will mark the 11th time she’s competed in a full marathon since 2012. She has also run in about 30 half-marathons.

“I don’t know how some of our students balance being a student, taking care of themselves, let alone run a marathon,” says Chris Woleben, M’97, H’01, associate dean for student affairs. “Sarah has true tenacity. I think running provides her a sense of accomplishment that motivates her to tackle any challenge thrown her way in medical school.”

And in life. Growing up in San Francisco, Streit had a rocky relationship with her parents and faced issues with her weight. As high school ended, she needed reconstructive surgery on her jaw because of poor alignment issues that braces could not fix. She lost weight during her recovery, then gained too much back once the healing was complete. She felt depressed about herself as she headed to the University of Oregon.

“I felt terrible,” she says. “One day, I went to the gym with friends and just started running around the track.”

She was instantly hooked. The extra weight dropped off and her confidence grew. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in biology, and a year later ran in her first race – a half-marathon in Eugene, Oregon.

“Everyone who participated got a medal,” Streit says. “That had a profound effect on me. I cried. No one had ever given me a medal before.”

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, at Walt Disney World in 2014 for her third Disney Marathon.

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, at Walt Disney World in 2014 for her third Disney Marathon. She credits the therapeutic powers of running as helping her take control of her future and giving her the confidence to tackle medical school.

She slowly built up her endurance, and in 2012 ran in her first full marathon. She chose the Walt Disney World Marathon because she often traveled there as a child.

“My childhood wasn’t easy, but Disney was my favorite place to go,” she says. “It was therapeutic.”

A few months later, Streit reconnected with her father, who offered to help pay for medical school if she would commit to going.

“2012 was a turning point,” she says. “Medical school was something I always dreamed about, but never thought I was good enough.”

Streit now plans to specialize in emergency/internal medicine. She was drawn to that area during her second year while shadowing physicians in VCU Health’s Clinical Decision Unit, where patients who go through the emergency room are kept for 24 hours of observation.

“I was meeting people who came in on probably the worst day of their lives,” she says. “I loved talking with them and calming their fears. I loved being faced with a different challenge every day.”

In many ways, Streit says, being a medical student is a lot like running a marathon.

“With medicine, I had self-doubt,” she says. “Could I do it? Could I even get into medical school? It’s the same with a marathon. Can I complete the race? It takes so much training and discipline. I tell people, it doesn’t matter what your past was like. If you can dream it, you can do it. If you put in the hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

By Janet Showalter

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