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June 2018 Archives

08
2018

Nathan Lewis, M’09: Quietly shaping tomorrow’s emergency physicians

Assistant professor and clerkship director Nathan Lewis, M’09, H’12

Assistant professor and clerkship director Nathan Lewis, M’09, H’12

As clerkship director at VCU’s Department of Emergency Medicine, Nathan Lewis, M’09, H’12, works to foster an atmosphere where everyone — including Lewis — can be themselves. That is easier said than done, as many medical students do not naturally feel comfortable acknowledging they do not have every answer.

At the same time, that acknowledgment can be a critical first step toward asking questions and learning. With his signature humility, Lewis says the ability to put students at ease is his key gift as an educator.

“Myself along with other folks are trying to promote an environment where it’s a safe place for students to really challenge themselves,” Lewis says. “This gives them more experience and more confidence in what they are doing.”

If you ask why he is such a key part of introducing students to the specialty, he will tell you it is actually a group effort. Talk to his colleagues, though, and you find people who are eager to shine a light on Lewis’ singular talent for guiding medical students through the complex world of emergency medicine.

That talent is what earned Lewis — an assistant professor and director of the department’s clerkship for fourth-year medical students — recognition as Clerkship Director of the Year from the Clerkship Directors in Emergency Medicine, an academy of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.

“It’s quite an honor for something you see as your day-to-day job,” Lewis says. “I have terrific peers who supported me for the nomination. We wouldn’t be able to do the things we do without great support from the administration and the department. We put a focus on learning.”

Medical education is undoubtedly a team sport, but it’s one in which Lewis plays a valuable role, as colleagues are quick to point out.

“Nathan is incredibly dedicated,” says Joel Moll, M.D., an associate professor and director of the department’s residency program. “He’s meticulous and he’s a good advocate for education. He goes above and beyond but he’s kind of quiet about it.”

Proof of his success may be partially reflected in the growing number of VCU medical students who are going on to pursue residencies in emergency medicine. Emergency medicine is one of the most popular specialties at the School of Medicine and the nation as a whole. In the past five years since Lewis became clerkship director, emergency medicine has hovered in or around the top five most popular specialties. In 2018, 21 VCU medical students matched into emergency medicine residencies, making it the third-most popular specialty choice at the School of Medicine.

Even when other responsibilities hold the potential to shift his focus away from education, Lewis’ peers said he simply does not allow it to happen.

“We had someone leave for another job, and Dr. Lewis was running the coordination side as well as the education side, but the students never noticed,” Moll says. “He made sure things got done and he was willing to take on a lot. He’s going to do what is necessary to make a good experience for students.”

Lewis’ contributions to emergency medicine and medical education reach beyond the clerkship he directs. He also co-hosts EM Stud, a podcast for medical students around the country considering careers in emergency medicine.

“The podcast reaches a lot of students and it has a lot of visibility,” Moll says.

First and foremost, though, Lewis remains dedicated to the clerkship he directs — and the colleagues who help him make it happen. And if he ever needs someone to help him brag, well, they have his back for that too.

“He takes a personal approach to it and students really come to trust him,” Moll says. “He has helped countless students learn more about medicine. He’s an unsung hero, and now he’s getting recognition.”

By Scott Harris

08
2018

Recognizing graduate student achievement

At the medical school’s graduate student recognition ceremony earlier this spring, more than five dozen SOM-level awards and 18 departmental-level awards were presented.

At the medical school’s graduate student recognition ceremony earlier this spring, more than five dozen SOM-level awards and 18 departmental-level awards were presented.

On May 11, the Sanger Hall theater was full of graduating students, awardees, mentors, family and friends celebrating the scientific achievements of more than 50 graduate students.

“We’re proud of our students and always enjoy highlighting their accomplishments,” says Michael Grotewiel, Ph.D., the medical school’s interim associate dean for graduate education. “But this year was exceptional because we got to announce that seven students were nominated for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – and two have been selected to attend!”

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is an annual gathering of Nobel Laureates and outstanding young scientists. This summer, M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn and Katie Schwienteck, a Ph.D. candidate in Pharmacology and Toxicology, will attend along with 600 other students, doctoral candidates and post-docs from 84 countries. They will have the chance to interact with 43 Nobel Laureates – more than ever before.

At the medical school’s graduate student recognition ceremony, more than five dozen SOM-level awards and 18 departmental-level awards were presented.

More than two dozen graduate programs in the School of Medicine enrolled about 450 trainees in the 2017-18 academic year. Following the recognition ceremony, 166 students concluded their training with 38 earning doctoral degrees, 54 earning master’s and 74 earning a pre-med graduate health sciences certificate.

The honorees include:

Charles C. Clayton Award established in 1978 to reward outstanding rising second-year graduate students in the biomedical sciences in honor of Dr. Charles Clayton, who served as Professor of Biochemistry and Assistant Dean of the School of Basic Sciences and Graduate Studies. With his own research focused on the area of lipid biochemistry, Dr. Clayton was instrumental in developing the first doctoral programs at MCV. During World War II, the graduate programs had been suspended to devote the entire effort of the faculty to training health profession practitioners in a variety of accelerated programs. After the war he carried extensive teaching responsibilities in all of MCV’s health professions programs.
• Javeria Aijaz, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Rose Bono, Master of Public Health program
• Nicholas Clayton, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program
• Sarah Dempsey, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Ellyn Dunbar, Human and Molecular Genetics master’s program
• Emily Godbout, Master of Public Health program
• Briana James, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program
• Ajinkya Kawale, Molecular Biology and Genetics Ph.D. program
• Eric Kwong, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Pavel Lizhnyak, Neuroscience Ph.D. program
• Elizabeth Lowery, Epidemiology Ph.D. program
• Jean Moon, Pharmacology and Toxicology master’s program
• Christine Orndahl, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Rebecca Procopio, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Sonja Volker, Biostatistics master’s program
• Lauryn Walker, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Jodi Winship, Social and Behavioral Science Ph.D. program

Dissertation Assistantship Award Nomination
• Brian Di Pace, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Steven Masiano, Social and Behavioral Science Ph.D. program
• Sylvia Rozario, Master of Public Health program

Forbes Day memorializes the pioneering effort of biochemist Dr. John Forbes, who was a pioneer of the Ph.D. training program. Along with Charles Clayton, Ph.D., and Daniel Watts, Ph.D., Forbes founded and grew advanced degree education at MCV, which at one time was among the top 10 producers of Ph.D. graduates in medical centers nationally.
• Outstanding Presentation, Dana Lapato, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Outstanding Presentation, Kristen Lee, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Outstanding Presentation, Julie Meade, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Javeria Aijaz, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Ashley Bennett, Physiology and Biophysics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Ria Fyffe-Freil, Molecular Biology and Genetics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Mazen Gouda, Anatomy and Neurobiology master’s program
• Presenter, Rebecca Schmitt, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Lauryn Walker, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program

Marion Waller Scholar Nomination
• Jun He, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Carrie Miller, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Esraa Mohamed, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program
• Heather Saunders, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Lindsey Sawyer, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Theresa Wiziarde, Master of Public Health program

Daniel T. Watts Research Day is dedicated to the memory of Daniel T. Watts, a trailblazer in the world of basic health sciences and a nationally recognized pharmacologist who served as the dean of the VCU School of Basic Health Sciences and Graduate Studies and is credited with establishing the foundation of the research enterprise in basic health sciences at VCU.
• Outstanding Presentation, Sylvia Rozario, Master of Public Health program

Lindau Nobel Symposium
• Attendee, Chelsea Cockburn, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Attendee, Kathryn Schwienteck, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Ria Fyffe-Freil, Molecular Biology and Genetics Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Erin Garcia, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Eric Kwong, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Luke Legakis, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Rebecca Mahon, Medical Physics Ph.D. program

Phi Kappa Phi Academic Achievement Award
• Javeria Aijaz, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Shannon Baker, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Aaron Barbour, Neuroscience Ph.D. program
• Courtney Blondino, Epidemiology Ph.D. program
• Brian Di Pace, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Allison DeLaney, Master of Public Health program
• Natalie Dykzeul, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Om Evani, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program
• Erin Garcia, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Camille Hochheimer, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Hannah Ming, Master of Public Health program
• Kaitlyn Riley, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Viviana Rodriguez, Biostatistics master’s program
• Vishaka Santhosh, Physiology and Biophysics Ph.D. program
• Lindsey Sawyer, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Amelia Thomas, Master of Public Health program
• Lauryn Walker, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Siqiu Wang, Medical Physics master’s program
• Tierah West, Master of Public Health program
• Jodi Winship, Social and Behavioral Science Ph.D. program

Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society Nomination
• Varsha Ananthapadmanabhan, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Erin Donahue, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• John Stansfield, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Kate Stromberg, Biostatistics Ph.D. program

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Herbert John Evans Jr. Award
• Melissa Maczis, Ph.D. program

Human and Molecular Genetics’ Lang Kucera Award
• Kaitlyn Riley, Genetic Counseling master’s program

Human and Molecular Genetics’ Roscoe D. Hughes Award
• Navaneetha Bharathan, Ph.D. program

Human and Molecular Genetics’ Roscoe D. Hughes Fellowship
• Dana Lapato, Ph.D. program

Microbiology and Immunology’s Mary P. Coleman Award given in memory of the mother of Dr. Philip Coleman, a professor emeritus in the department, to a graduate student who has demonstrated extraordinary achievement in graduate studies and in research.
• Naren Kumar, Ph.D. program

Physiology and Biophysics’ Certificate of Recognition awarded to select students who display good character and a strong work ethic.
• Brian Ruiz, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program
• Justin Saunders, Physiology and Biophysics M.D.-Ph.D. program
• Jong Shin, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program

Physiology and Biophysics’ James Poland Award given in honor of Dr. James Poland who desired to establish a mechanism to recognize the accomplishments of master’s students.
• Om Evani, master’s program

Physiology and Biophysics’ Robert W. Ramsey Award given in honor and memory of Dr. Robert W. Ramsey, a distinguished muscle physiologist and the department’s first chair, presented to the most outstanding doctoral student in physiology.
• Ashley Bennett, Ph.D. program
• Teja Devarokonda, Ph.D. program

Master of Public Health’s Christopher “Kim” Buttery Award given in honor of the many contributions made by the Division of Epidemiology clinical professor who has been a tireless servant and promoter of public health to a graduating public health graduate student demonstrating excellence in chronic disease epidemiology and bridging research and public health practice.
• Joshua Montgomery, M.P.H. program

Biostatistics’ Student Research Symposium Presentation Award
• 1st Place, Kingston Kang, Ph.D. program
• 2nd Place, Camille Hochheimer, Ph.D. program
• 3rd Place, Brian Di Pace, Ph.D. program

Biopharmaceutical Applied Statistics Scholarship
• Alicia Johns, Biostatistics Ph.D. program

Phi Kappa Phi Love of Learning Award
• Brian Di Pace, Biostatistics Ph.D. program

Mid-Atlantic Chapter American Association of Physicists in Medicine
• Medical Physics Slam Competition – 1st Place Mark Ostyn, Medical Physics Ph.D. program
• Young Investigator’s Symposium – 2nd Place, Mark Ostyn, Medical Physics Ph.D. program

By Erin Lucero

08
2018

Advocating for children: alumnus Wil J. Blechman honored at Alpha Omega Alpha honor society induction

Wil Blechman, M’57, H’58

Wil Blechman, M’57, H’58

Wil Blechman, M’57, H’58, wants to talk about babies.

In fact, advocating for the world’s youngest citizens — those under the age of 5 — has been his consuming focus since retiring from his medical practice in 1994. And on April 27, he was honored for this work as the 2018 alumni inductee — and keynote speaker — at the School of Medicine’s Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society annual banquet and induction ceremony.

During his more-than-30-year career as a rheumatologist mostly focused on older adults, Blechman acknowledges, the developmental needs of young children were far from his professional concern.

In 1990, however, he assumed the role of president for Kiwanis International and in that position helped the organization select the focus for a new charitable initiative. Consultation with a wide range of experts led Blechman and the Kiwanis to understand the vital importance of the early-childhood years for brain development and lifelong health, well-being and success — and thus was born what would become Kiwanis International’s now-longstanding worldwide service program: Young Children Priority One. It was also the start of Blechman’s “second career,” as he sometimes refers to it, as an advocate on behalf of young children. Since that time, he has played an active role in a number of charitable and public organizations concerned with the well-being of young children.

At the AOA banquet, Blechman, sporting his signature bow tie, spoke to the gathering about the essential role that environment plays in early childhood. During this period, he explained, the brain undergoes tremendous growth, building neural connections at an astonishing rate. But in this time the brain is also uniquely affected — for good or for ill — by environment and experience. “There is tremendous input from the environment in the first few years of life,” he says.

Significantly, chronic stress caused by adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, family instability and exposure to violence or substance-use disorders can cause lasting harm to developing brains. That carries consequences for learning and behavior as well as mental and physical health that can reach across the lifespan. Children living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to being exposed to such adverse childhood experiences.

“There are communities in which you go 20 blocks and there is 10 years’ difference in life expectancy because of the difference of income in those 20 blocks,” Blechman says.

However, early intervention can make a difference — and the earlier, the better. “‘Zero to three’ is where it starts,” says Blechman, referencing the national nonprofit organization that operates under that name.

During this period of rapid brain development, providing resources — such as high-quality early childhood education or parenting support programs — that foster healthy development can help offset the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences. Yet, pointing out that “in too many cases, we wait too long,” he called upon his audience to make this cause their own. “Let the legacy of this group be of activism for early childhood,” he concluded, “and we will all be better off for it.”

Blechman’s call to action was appropriately in the spirit of the occasion of the Alpha Omega Alpha induction ceremony. Founded in 1902, AOA is the only medical school honor society worldwide and seeks to recognize and perpetuate excellence in the medical profession. Membership in the society “confers recognition for a physician’s dedication to the profession and art of healing” that Blechman’s work has personified.

In addition to Blechman, 14 members of the medical school’s Class of 2018 and 19 members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into the School of Medicine’s Brown Sequard chapter of AOA, along with faculty members Gautham Kalahasty, M.D., and Vikram Brar, M’03, H’07, as well as housestaff Chris Young, M’16, Avinash Pillutla, M’15, and Hiba Alam, M.D.

By Caroline Kettlewell

08
2018

More than a game: baseball tour connects father-son alumni, raises money for charity

Neil Rosenberg, M'78, and Ron Rosenberg, M'18, at a Chicago White Sox game

Neil Rosenberg, M’78, and Ron Rosenberg, M’18, at a Chicago White Sox game in April 2018.

Ron Rosenberg, M’18, always knew he wanted to see a game in every Major League Baseball stadium. The lifelong baseball fan even found the perfect time to do it, plotting out a cross-country trip to 30 parks in 60 days between medical school and residency.

Along the way, the Chicago native discovered something special about his tour of America’s pastime. Turns out, it was about much more than baseball.

It was about helping others by raising money for Sportable, a Richmond, Virginia, nonprofit where Rosenberg volunteered during medical school. Sportable provides adaptive sports and recreation opportunities for athletes with physical and visual disabilities.

It was about family. Rosenberg’s love of all sports comes from his father and fellow alumnus Neil Rosenberg, M’78. In particular, his love of baseball — Chicago White Sox baseball — comes from his dad. It was their trip to Game 2 of the 2005 World Series and the game-winning, walk-off home run by White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik that sealed the younger Rosenberg’s White Sox fandom for life.

Lastly, the trip was about hospitality. Friends and family opened their homes to Rosenberg as he spent two months traveling across the country. Medical school friends joined him for the game in Baltimore. Fans from coast to coast welcomed him to their stadiums as he experienced the unique flavor (and flavors) each park had to offer.

At Marlins Park, Rosenberg’s first stop on the tour, Miami Marlins left-fielder Derek Dietrich even tossed him a ball in the stands between innings.

“That was the first MLB ball I’ve gotten in my life,” Rosenberg says. “He had no idea about my tour. It was totally random.”

If you’re a believer in baseball superstitions, this was a pretty good sign the tour was going to go well.

“The tour was a blast for so many reasons,” Rosenberg says.

He has raised nearly $3,000 for Sportable on his fundraising website … and counting. “It’s made the tour even more fun to combine it with raising money and awareness for Sportable,” Rosenberg says. “I wanted to support a local organization that could feel the impact.”

"The blue seat marks where Paul Konerko landed his unforgettable grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, a game my pops took me to that is still the greatest sporting event I've ever attended," Ron Rosenberg says.

“The blue seat marks where Paul Konerko landed his unforgettable grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, a game my pops took me to that is still the greatest sporting event I’ve ever attended,” Ron Rosenberg says.

Rosenberg will begin his residency in family medicine later this month at Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago. His father, a pulmonologist with Chicago’s Chest Medicine Consultants, points to his son’s Sportable fundraising as an indicator of what attracted him to the medical field.

“I think one of the reasons Ron went into medicine, and is going into family practice, is that he sees you can combine different interests in your career to use them in a positive way,” Neil Rosenberg says. “The idea he could take a passion and combine it with something that benefits the community, and brings awareness and financial support, is a good lesson to learn.”

Neil Rosenberg understands the value of exposure to new people and places. During the summer between his first and second year on the MCV Campus, he and classmate Charles Wilson, M’78, lived in Israel for one month, where Rosenberg worked in a kibbutz, or farm, traveled to Italy and Greece, and met his future wife.

“I always told the kids about the trip, how it’s where I met their mother, how it changed my life,” Rosenberg says. “It made me a better doctor and gave me a little perspective. It was my first time out of the country.” Rosenberg and his wife, Tamar, have four sons, including Ron.

“The most fun of being a parent is seeing your children develop differently and go through their life choices,” Rosenberg says. “You watch them grow, change, mature, make mistakes, change again. That’s the beauty of parenthood. You see everything.”

On April 21, Rosenberg joined his son on his tour for the White Sox game. The team lost 10-1 to the defending champion Houston Astros. But that was OK — it was about more than baseball.

“The only pictures that matter from my stop at the White Sox game are the ones with my dad, who took me to my first baseball game and tossed a ball with me as a kid,” Ron Rosenberg says.

He credits his father for helping him find his path, both in sports and medicine. “He helped me get to where I am today. I’m very thankful to have him.”

By Polly Roberts

05
2018

Dean Buckley advocates for expanded patient and physician access to investigational drugs and inclusion in clinical research

As chair of Clinical Research Pathways’ board of directors, Peter F. Buckley, M.D., plays a leading role in the public charity’s mission to help desperately ill patients get expanded access to experimental treatments and increase minority participation in clinical trials.

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.

“Our focus is on improving lives by opening access and advancing treatments,” says Buckley, who is dean of the VCU School of Medicine. He has served on the board of the organization since 2015.

Clinical Research Pathways helps physicians and institutional review boards streamline the Food and Drug Administration’s expanded access process to make it easier for desperately ill patients to try experimental medicines. The 501(c)(3) organization also works with government officials and drug development companies to make information about expanded access readily available to patients and their physicians.

The issue of access is receiving heightened attention with Congress’ recent passage of “right to try” legislation that has spurred debates over the best approach to providing terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs. Buckley and Clinical Research Pathways advocate for keeping the Food and Drug Administration as part of the process with the safeguards provided through its Expanded Access program.

“There is a great need to facilitate opportunities and access to novel treatments for patients with life-threatening health conditions,” says Buckley. “Clinical Research Pathways is strategically positioned to advocate for enhanced access.”

Clinical Research Pathways also seeks to increase opportunities for people to benefit from clinical research regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, age or gender. With its partners in healthcare, academia, government and industry, Clinical Research Pathways strives to increase diversity by reducing barriers to research participation and engagement.

Formerly known as WCG Foundation, the organization was established in 1968 when it pioneered independent ethical review via the creation of the Western Institutional Review Board, the nation’s first IRB.

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