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School of Medicine discoveries

July 2018 Archives

10
2018

Student researches fallout in small towns after a family doctor leaves

Through his research, the Class of 2021's Paulius Mui hopes to capture what happens to patients when a rural physician leaves the community and use their perspective to inform policy and recruit physicians to low-population areas.

Through his research, the Class of 2021’s Paulius Mui hopes to capture what happens to patients when a rural physician leaves the community and use their perspective to inform policy and recruit physicians to low-population areas.

If you’re from a small town, you may have a family doctor who has been present at the most important moments of your life: birth, serious illness, a child’s broken arm, a parent’s death. So, what happens to patients when that doctor retires or moves?

That’s what the Class of 2021’s Paulius Mui is trying to uncover. Entering his second year as an fmSTAT student at the VCU School of Medicine this fall, Mui has spent considerable time driving to small localities in southwestern and eastern Virginia that have lost their primary care physicians, interviewing residents about the personal impact of these losses. Earlier studies have examined the doctors’ side of the issue, but Mui says there has been very little research into patients’ viewpoints.

“Some people are losing their best friend in that regard,” Mui says. “A rural physician really ties a community together.” His idea is to capture people’s perspectives and use them to inform policy decisions to attract and retain primary care physicians to low-population, sometimes isolated, places.

Mui’s project is funded by a microresearch grant from the Collaborative for Rural Primary care, Research, Education and Practice (Rural PREP), and he hopes to expand the interviews beyond Virginia with the help of other medical students he’s working to recruit across the country.

Born in Russia and raised in Vilnius, Lithuania, Mui moved to the Chicago suburbs with his mother when he was 14, and attended college at Boston University — so he’s never lived in a small town himself. Mui calls family medicine “the coolest specialty there is. You get to know a little bit about everything. It allows you to take care of anyone who walks in your door.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2013, Mui worked in administrative positions at the National Brain Tumor Society and the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care. The fmSTAT program is the main reason he decided to apply to VCU for medical school, Mui says.

In 2012, the School of Medicine started the Family Medicine Scholars Training and Admission Tract — or fmSTAT — as a dual-admission program for students certain of their goal to become family physicians. In an effort to attract and retain students, the fmSTAT Scholarship Fund aims to build an endowment to provide future fmScholars the equivalent of one year’s tuition.

Mui is already a standout fmScholar, regularly making suggestions to improve the medical school’s programs for students, says Judy Gary, M.Ed., assistant director of the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health’s medical education programs.

Mui’s line of study could have national implications, says Department Chair Anton Kuzel, M.D., M.H.P.E. Family medicine was VCU’s most popular specialty among 2018 medical school graduates, but that isn’t necessarily the case across the country.

Virginia prioritizes VCU’s, University of Virginia’s and Eastern Virginia Medical School’s family medicine programs in its state budget. Some other states do likewise, but there is concern that without more widespread attention to medical school admissions policies and addressing student debt for those who want to do primary care, there will not be enough family physicians and other primary care clinicians to care for an aging U.S. population. This will be particularly true in rural areas like the ones where Mui is conducting interviews.

VCU’s fmSTAT program and International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship, which trains doctors for underserved areas in urban, rural and international locations, are somewhat unusual in the field, Kuzel says, and draw students like Mui who “by and large see medicine as a calling.”

Kuzel calls Mui’s project “by far the most ambitious” student study in his experience. Making connections with community leaders first is important in gaining other residents’ trust, which can be a lengthy process, Kuzel adds.

In June, Mui presented his early findings to a group of leaders from the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health and Rural PREP, who were very encouraging and offered to advise him in the future.

“It was really an incredible opportunity for me to get guidance in very targeted ways to make this project more successful,” Mui says, and he feels he’s already succeeded in his personal objective to “put myself out there and leave my comfort zone.”

Despite Mui’s strong interest in local care, Kuzel predicts his student will one day go on to make a national impact: “His gaze is much bigger than that.”

By Kate Andrews

10
2018

Associate Dean Sally Santen to lead evaluation of AMA initiative to improve medical education

Sally Santen, M.D., Ph.D.

Sally Santen, M.D., Ph.D.

Sally Santen, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for assessment, evaluation and scholarship, will lead the evaluation of the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium initiative through a contract with the American Medical Association. While at the University of Michigan Medical School, she was the co-principal investigator on a $1.1 million grant to transform the medical student curriculum starting for five years. As the grant evaluator, Santen will work with the AMA team to determine outcomes and publish the findings.

The Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium schools are working together to develop common solutions to transform medical education in key areas such as health system science, coaching and competency based education.

10
2018

M4 Mark Feger: Prospective orthopaedist aims to get lives back on track

M4 Mark Feger, receipient of the National Athletic Trainers Association's Perrin Doctoral Dissertation Award

The Class of 2019’s Mark Feger received the National Athletic Trainers Association’s Perrin Doctoral Dissertation Award.

Orthopaedists are among the busiest of all surgeons.

A 2018 report from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality revealed that six of the top 20 most common operating room procedures are musculoskeletal. Orthopaedic procedures comprise 17 percent of all surgeries — more than any other category.

Given the volume involved, as well as an overarching focus on the structure and movement of the body, it is easy to understand orthopaedists’ affinity for the more mechanical aspects of their work.

At VCU School of Medicine, one prospective orthopaedic surgeon is making a concerted effort to look beyond those mechanics. Through his research and his projects away from the laboratory, the Class of 2019’s Mark Feger, Ph.D., aspires to serve the full human being, not just the parts made of muscle, cartilage and bone.

“Orthopaedic surgeons help people do the things they love,” Feger says. “That means going for a walk or a run, spending time with their families, or going back to their job. We help people maintain their function and do the things they enjoy doing.”

Feger also doesn’t seem to have a problem with big workloads. He has built a solid reputation for research and scholarship, and has the accolades to prove it. As he works toward an M.D. degree to add to his Ph.D., Feger recently accepted the National Athletic Trainers Association’s Perrin Doctoral Dissertation Award, which recognizes outstanding doctoral student research in athletic training and health care.

Feger’s dissertation research at the University of Virginia centered on the ankle, specifically its increased vulnerability to repetitive sprain after it sustains an initial sprain. Feger improved function in study participants with novel rehabilitation strategies and a new device to help improve gait.

“We studied self-reported outcomes, muscle size and function, and gait and jump-landing mechanics before and after rehabilitation,” Feger explained. “We looked at what we could do from a rehab standpoint to target their specific impairments and we implemented a four-week comprehensive rehabilitation and gait training program to improve self-reported function and functional capacity.”

On VCU’s MCV Campus, Feger has distinguished himself with the Edith E. and Hugo R. Seibel Award for Excellence in Gross Anatomy — something that’s particularly meaningful to prospective orthopaedists, given their wide-angle focus on the body.

“I have a background in sports medicine and athletic training, and have taken cadaver labs before,” Feger says. “I think the only way to really learn and understand orthopaedic anatomy and function is to use your hands. It helps you visualize and appreciate important anatomic relationships.”

The award carries the names of Hugo Seibel, Ph.D., and his wife. Seibel retired in 2004 as the associate dean of student activities and professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology after 35 years on the MCV Campus.

Research is just one part of Feger’s resume. He has also made a commitment to people.

“He has a quiet confidence and humble air that is one of the hallmarks of a leader,” said Associate Professor Gregory Golladay, M.D., who holds the Allison D. and J. Abbott Byrd III Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery and is one of Feger’s mentors. “His preparation for clinical encounters and OR procedures is thorough and flawless. He is naturally inquisitive, thoughtful and attentive. He accepts feedback and has diligent self-study. He is caring and makes easy rapport with patients.”

As part of his regular activities, Feger spends time with children who have serious illnesses, such as cancer, through VCU’s SMILE Program (Students Making it a Little Easier).

“Medical students pair up with kids undergoing various treatments at VCU,” Feger says. “Pediatric patients don’t necessarily look forward to coming to the hospital, but if they get to play games, talk, and do science projects with us, it might help take their mind off the treatments they are here to receive.”

Alongside his accomplishments, what sets Feger apart is the humanity he sees beyond the flesh and bone.

“I know what I want to do in the future, and that’s take care of patients,” Feger says. “It means a lot to me to get someone moving again, and get them back to living their life.”

By Scott Harris

10
2018

Girl Scout Science Fun Day: ‘They can do anything they set their mind to’

Young girls take a closer look at different organs in formaldehyde as part of Women in Science's Girl Scout Science Fun Day.

Young girls take a closer look at different organs in formaldehyde as part of Women in Science’s Girl Scout Science Fun Day. The event aims to expose participants to the world of science and possible careers in the field.

Girls of all ages embraced their scientific potential as graduate student organization Women in Science hosted its 12th annual Girl Scout Science Fun Day in April. Approximately 115 girls in the Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth region came to the MCV Campus to participate in a day filled with live demonstrations and hands-on experiments.

“This event allows girls to get a chance to see what’s out there in the world of science and what careers are available,” says Tanya Puccio, WIS president who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Oral Health Research. “WIS wants them to know that they can do anything they set their mind to.”

The Girl Scouts, ages 8 to 14, broke into small groups and rotated through 10 different stations, exposing them to knowledge in pathology and neurosciences, clinical lab, biomedical engineering, dentistry, nursing and forensic sciences.

Girls could be heard talking to each other as they walked between the different events, loudly proclaiming, “I want to be a gynecologist” or “I can’t decide between engineering or chemistry.”

WIS’s mission is to support and promote women students and trainee development in their career fields and to build a community where women can develop their leadership skills, visibility and academic success.

Female volunteers from the Department of Pathology and NeuroNerds, a student organization for scientists interested in neurology, led three of the day’s stations: Intro to Pathology, How the Brain Works and Becoming a Neurologist — A Medical SuperSleuth. Girls built brain caps and pipe cleaner dendrite models, and saw different organs kept in formaldehyde to learn about tumors and diseases, and how pathology works to find their cures.

“It’s so important for young girls to gain a stronger foundation in the sciences because science is so intrinsic to our lives,” says Megan Sayyad, NeuroNerds president and a student in the School of Medicine’s neuroscience doctoral program.

After the station rotations and lunch, the Girl Scouts watched WIS skits detailing the lives of historical women scientists, titled “Women in Science: Portraits of Courage” and performed by Chantal Ing and Stephanie Gianturco, current doctoral students in the Department of Pharmacy.

With the continuing growth of the program, several of the volunteers hope to take part in the event next year and show the next generation the benefits of STEM studies and encourage them to follow science-related careers.

“It’s empowering to talk to the girls and give them information we didn’t have as kids. It’s fun to share these stories,” says Sarah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Pathology and program volunteer. “I hope that we can spark any interest they have in science and they can see us as women in these roles and know they can do it, too.”

By Catalina Currier

02
2018

Make It Real Campaign for VCU surpasses $600 million … and School of Medicine leads the way

Virginia Commonwealth University has raised $613.5 million toward its $750 million goal in the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, the university announced June 1.

Fiscal year 2018 marks the best fundraising year of the campaign so far, with $105.6 million raised to date. The university’s fiscal year ended June 30.

“I could not be more grateful for the generous support of our alumni and friends who helped us reach this milestone,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “They are leading the way in defining the future of medicine on the MCV Campus. Gifts to the School of Medicine are vital to sustaining our core values of cultivating a life-changing learning experience for students and trainees, exceptional care for the sick, and a curiosity for medical research and discovery.”

The campaign, which began with a quiet phase in July 2012 and launched publicly in September 2016, is the largest fundraising effort in the university’s history. It counts all funds raised through June 30, 2020.

“The School of Medicine has hit our fundraising goal for this fiscal year — putting us at nearly 75 percent of the school’s $300 million campaign goal and paving the way for a strong finish in 2020,” says Thomas Maness, M.P.A., associate dean for development and alumni affairs in the medical school. “It simply wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated alumni and friends who are committed to advancing the school they hold dear.”

The 1838 Campaign is the cornerstone of the medical school’s fundraising efforts that aims to build the school’s scholarship endowment into a resource on par with its peer schools. An expanded endowment will provide a competitive edge for recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt that is too often an inescapable part of choosing a career in medicine.

Thanks to the support of alumni and friends, 21 new medical student scholarships already have been established during the 1838 Campaign. An additional nine will be awarded this fall, and 16 more are currently in the works. Another 46 existing scholarship funds have increased in size with the addition of new gifts.

“My scholarship alleviates some of the financial burden, but most importantly, it allows me to continue to follow my dream, choosing my career specialty based on the relationships I can create and the difference I can make, rather than based off the student debt I will accrue,” says the Class of 2019’s Jessica Mace, 1838 Fund scholarship recipient.

Of the $105.6 million the university raised this fiscal year, $38.9 million came from alumni — including 1,789 first-time alumni donors — an increase of 80.4 percent in the committed revenue raised during the same time last year.

“The legacy of these alumni extends beyond their careers and patients,” Maness says, “and empowers the next generation of physicians who will embody the values and traditions of the MCV Campus.”

02
2018

Biostatistics alumna turns award into chance to honor mentor

Stacey S. Cofield, PhD'03 (BIOS), used her own teaching award to establish a scholarship to honor her mentor

Stacey S. Cofield, PhD’03 (BIOS), used her own teaching award to establish a scholarship to honor her mentor, associate professor Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS).

“Stop. Think. Tell the story.”

Stacey S. Cofield, PhD’03 (BIOS), proudly displays these words in her office at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. An associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics, she draws inspiration every day from the advice given her by her mentor, Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS), more than 15 years ago.

“He was very clear in his approach in the classroom,” Cofield says. “He always believed in telling the story – in showing students why the data matters in the real world.”

Her students approve. Cofield was awarded the 2018 UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for the School of Public Health at UAB in April. The award recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

“One of the reasons that I have this honor is because of Dr. Best,” Cofield says. “He taught me so much. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

To honor the influence he had on her life, Cofield is using her teaching award as an opportunity to establish a scholarship in Best’s name. The Dr. Al M. Best Biostatistics Teaching Award will support a biostatistics student interested in teaching. The annual award will provide about $1,500 toward books, tuition and travel for conferences. Some of those funds were raised when Cofield auctioned off the parking spot she won as part of the President’s award.

“On the face of it, it’s astonishing that a biostatistics professor would receive a teaching award because of the reputation biostatistics has as dry and boring,” says Best, VCU’s director of Faculty Research Development in the School of Dentistry and affiliate professor in the medical school’s Department of Biostatistics. “That Stacey would pull this off, however, is not. She connects with students in real ways.”

Cofield, who grew up in Minnesota, graduated from Washington and Lee in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences and mathematics. She enrolled in VCU’s certificate program in statistics, then moved into the master’s program. Before she completed it, she went all in by transferring into the doctorate program in biostatistics.

Associate professor Al M. Best, PhD'84 (BIOS)

Associate professor Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS)

“I liked him immediately,” she says. “Instead of just teaching statistics, which can be very unexciting, he applied it to everyday life. We were in the classroom solving problems.”

She served as Best’s teaching assistant for three years and watched in amazement as he helped shape students.

“I remember watching these students go from resenting the fact that they had to be there to engaging in the problem at hand,” Cofield says. “It changed my trajectory.”

Instead of pursuing a career as a research biostatistician in sports medicine as she had planned, she joined the UAB faculty. She also has been involved in numerous research projects, focusing on combination therapies for multiple sclerosis and clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis. She is currently involved in a study examining whether people taking certain medications are more prone to developing shingles after receiving the shingles vaccine.

“I absolutely love what I do,” Cofield says. “Whether it’s working in research or with my students, I enjoy helping people define what it is they need to know and using biostatistics to help them reach their goals.”

By Janet Showalter

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