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Through Your Eyes: A poem by Megan Shandelson Lemay, M’11


In the third grade, MEGAN SHANDELSON LEMAY, M’11, won her first writing contest, and she’s been hooked ever since. “Whenever I reflect about my experience with a patient, I always think of it as a story. I write a story in my head on the drive home from work and write it down later. It has helped me connect with patients to think of what their story has been, how it may conclude and what role I can play in their story.” Thoughshe usually writes prose, this poem is the result of a writing workshop at the end of her residency that prompted her with the word ‘redemption.’ She encourages her fellow alumni: “I have no formal training in writing. You don’t need to write well to reflect in pen and paper!”

Needle to Neck

I very nearly killed someone
the first time I put needle to neck.
The senior resident in my ear,
“We have to be quick. Go on, deeper.
Poke around. Get the flash.”
Twenty minutes later, the chest x-ray.
The pneumothorax.
The surgeon running in.
Swinging neck tie,
plunging tube into chest.
My mouth agape in the corner.
Five days later,
she’s awake.
I cry at her bedside, apologizing.
She asks me where her front tooth is.

This story first appeared in the spring 2017 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

I vow never to put needle to neck again.
Now they call me,
sometimes at 2 am.
“She can get the line. She’s really good.”
I tell all the interns
what I had to teach myself.
Needles can kill.
Measure twice.
Second guess.

A difficult line.
Fourth attempt.
I place it now quickly, safely.
The nurse claps.
Daughter thanks.
The patient and I both cry.
All teeth are intact.


Face Time: Alumnus returns to campus to discuss pioneering 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.

A dozen 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 pioneering surgeons in the field.

This story first appeared in the spring 2017 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.Eduardo Rodriguez, M'99

EDUARDO D. RODRIGUEZ, M’99, returned to the MCV Campus last summer as the speaker for the 2016 S. Dawson Theogaraj Lecture. At the annual event, he described his team’s work to complete the most extensive face transplant ever. 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. The surgery, which took place at the NYU Langone Medical Center in August 2015, received extensive media coverage and cemented Rodriguez’s reputation in the field.

Patrick Hardison, a 41-year old firefighter from Mississippi who had received horrific facial injuries, received the face of David Rodebaugh who had died in a cycling accident. The operation included a number of milestone procedures including transplanting the donor’s eyelids and muscles that control blinking – which had not been previously performed on a seeing patient. In addition, the ears and ear canals were transplanted along with bony structures, including portions of the chin, cheeks and the entire nose.

Rodriguez 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.”

Patrick's ProgressionRodriguez 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.”

Before joining NYU Langone in 2013, Rodriguez was on faculty at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. There he led a 2012 landmark surgery, the most extensive facial transplant at the time, of a Virginia man who had suffered a gunshot wound.


At the time of the death of S. Dawson Theogaraj, M.D., in 1984, a fund was established with gifts from a variety of sources to honor the life and work of the plastic surgeon who was known for his academic brilliance and dedication to teaching. The fund supports an annual lectureship program as well as an award to the plastic surgery resident who achieves the highest score on the plastic surgery in-service exams.

The lectureship is one of about two dozen in the medical school supported by endowed funds at the MCV Foundation. The funds carry the names of some of the school’s best-known faculty, alumni and friends including: renowned orthopaedic surgeon Richard Caspari, M.D., who advanced arthroscopic surgery and treated Mary Lou Retton six weeks before her gold-medal-winning Olympic performance; Clarence Holland, M’62, who served his community as a family physician for 42 years and as a Virginia state senator for more than a decade; and the pioneering medicinal chemist and faculty member Everette May, Ph.D., who synthesized an anti-malaria drug as well as a drug still used as an alternative to methadone treatment for opioid addiction.

The medical school’s lectureship endowments, totaling more than $2.7 million, enrich the MCV Campus’ learning environment for students, residents and faculty by bringing important topics and innovative thinkers to campus. In addition to Eduardo Rodriguez, M’99, serving as the Theogaraj Lecturer, recent years have seen highly regarded speakers from all over the country visit Richmond to share advances, technologies and perspectives that shape future approaches to patient care, scientific discovery and medical training.

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 lifelong 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 shaping a better future for these individuals.”

By Lisa Crutchfield


Vietnam, Revisited

For the New PBS Film Series THE VIETNAM WAR, a Doctor Tells His Story

On Nov. 30, 1967, HAL KUSHNER woke up to find himself hanging upside down by his seatbelt in a burning helicopter. The 27-year-old Army flight surgeon from the Class of 1966, not yet four months into his first tour of duty in Vietnam, had crashed into the south Vietnamese jungle. One crew member was dead. Another, badly injured, would soon die as well. A third, who went in hopes of finding friendly aid, would be shot and killed. When no help came, Kushner, alone and injured, the sole survivor, struck out into the jungle on foot. He had burns from the fire, a broken wrist and collarbone, lost and broken teeth, and wounds in his shoulder and neck from live rounds set off by the fire.

The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18-hour documentary, will air in September on PBS stations nationwide.
For her part, Novick says that working on the film “has been the most challenging and the most rewarding experience I have ever had.” She expresses deep gratitude for the people, like Kushner, who shared their stories in the making of the film. “To get to know people who have had these remarkable experiences and to trust us enough to personally tell their story – it changes the way you understand the world and what it is to be a human being.”

Within hours he would be captured by the Viet Cong, shot and wounded again in the shoulder when he couldn’t raise his injured arm to signal surrender. It was Dec. 2, 1967, and Kushner was a prisoner of war, the ordeal to come foretold in the words of an English-speaking enemy officer he would soon encounter, who promised him, “You will find that dying is very easy. Living – living is the difficult thing.”

For more than three years he was held under horrific conditions, starving and ill in jungle camps in South Vietnam, a doctor helpless to save the men around him who died of hunger and dysentery and malaria and abuse, for want of food, or basic medicine, or hope. “Each day was a struggle for survival,” he told fellow veterans at a reunion many years later. “We often wanted to die.”

Somehow, Kushner survived. Eventually he was marched more than 500 miles to North Vietnam. He arrived in Hanoi weighing 88 pounds, and finally ended up in the notorious Hanoi Hilton, before at last, in March of 1973, he would be released to come home, 1,931 days after his capture.

This story first appeared in the spring 2017 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.Hal Kushner, M'66

For many who served in Vietnam, leaving the place, the war and the suffering behind them proved impossible. Kushner, however, returned to his wife and two young children (his youngest born not long after Kushner’s capture), ready to move forward with his life and his career – a long and successful practice as an ophthalmologist in Daytona Beach, Florida. “My philosophy has always been to look forward, not backward, to consider the future rather than the past,” he told his fellow veterans at the reunion. The war did not haunt him.

But it has continued to haunt this country. The America Kushner came home to was not the one he’d left. It was a nation in tumult, fractured along countless fault lines by a war that even today, more than 40 years after its end, remains an unhealed wound and an unresolved trauma.

“It is one of the most painful, tragic, divisive, polarizing and misunderstood conflicts in U.S. history,” says documentary filmmaker Lynn Novick. “It reverberates in our lives, our politics and our culture to this day.”

It is because Vietnam is “unfinished business in American history,” says Novick, that she and fellow director Ken Burns began 10 years ago to conceive of the project that would become The Vietnam War, an exhaustive, 10-part, 18-hour film that will begin airing this September on PBS stations nationwide, and which, Novick says, is “the most ambitious and challenging project we have ever undertaken.”

The war, says Novick, is “deeply unsettled history,” and Novick and Burns “wanted to go back and take advantage of new scholarship, new perspectives from people who lived through it,” she says. “We wanted to represent many points of view.”

And so, over the course of six years of production on the film, more than 100 people were interviewed on camera, according to Novick – Americans and Vietnamese, veterans and anti-war protesters, survivors of those who died in the war, civilians whose lives were upended by it. And among them was retired Army colonel and former prisoner of war Dr. Hal Kushner. He might not necessarily have seemed the obvious choice at first; he had rarely spoken publicly about his experiences. Kushner says that it’s not that he has trouble talking about any of it, but that he has found that living by a philosophy of not looking backwards in anger or bitterness or regret was the positive path for his life. “It’s not who I am. I don’t define myself by that experience.”

However, he was friends with the veteran war correspondent Joe Galloway (co-author of the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young), who was a consultant for the film. In the winter of 2011, Galloway recommended Kushner to Novick and Burns – who of course were seeking to include the POW perspective.

Hal Kushner, M'66, and Lynn Novick

Novick and Kushner spoke first on the phone. “Within five or ten minutes,” Novick says, “I certainly felt that having him in the film would be enormously important.” She flew down to meet him in Daytona Beach, and after their conversation there, he agreed to take part.

“I think she probably auditioned me covertly without me knowing it,” he says, amused, but he liked her very much. For Novick’s part, she says that the occasion was a “mutual get-to-know-each-other.” She and Burns were looking for people who had “something to say,” a story that was compelling, an ability to connect with viewers, and Novick saw that in Kushner and his story.

“I asked him to share his story not just with us but with millions of people who were going to see the film,” Novick says. “Because he is not someone who gives speeches or is well known as a former POW, we felt extraordinarily fortunate that he was willing to tell the story in our film, and at much greater length and more depth.”

The actual filming took place in Kushner’s home in Maine in July 2011. He was intrigued by his behind-the-scenes look at the process, as a full production crew descended on his house. “They came in and took photos of everything, then they moved everything around, the tables and chairs and furniture, and they put screens on the windows to filter the light.” After a long day of filming – Kushner seated in a chair with the camera on him as Novick sat opposite him – and only a brief break for lunch (peanut butter sandwiches, Kushner recalls), the crew consulted the photos they’d taken in the morning “to put everything back the way it was.”

Kushner sums up the day concisely as a “far-reaching interview.”

Novick, however, says that for her and the crew it was far more. The word she chooses is “profound.” “The day that we spent with him doing that interview was one of the most remarkable days on this project and one of the most remarkable days in my 25 years of doing documentaries,” she says. “It was such an incredible privilege to be in the room; I will never forget it as long as I live.”

Without going into the details that she wants viewers to experience watching the film, Novick describes Kushner’s story as riveting – not only for what happened, but also for how he chooses to tell it. “He describes things with a methodical scientific observation of the world, and he also brings poetry and humanity and a sense of humor,” she says.

In November of 2015, Novick and Burns invited Kushner, along with a number of others involved in the film, to New York City for a long weekend of viewing the documentary – at that point in its final stages of editing – in its entirety. Hundreds of hours of footage and interviews had been shot, in Vietnam as well as in the U.S. The production team had assembled a database of more than 20,000 still images gleaned from around the world. “There was a lot of stuff in this film that you will find nowhere else,” Kushner says.

The schedule was very rigorous over that weekend, Kushner says, long days of watching segments of the film and then engaging in discussion with everyone assembled in the room – which included former anti-war peace activists, retired military leaders, family members of someone who had died in the war and others, with often diverging perspectives. The conversations, though respectful, at times grew heated, Kushner acknowledges.

To Novick and Burns, that was a good sign – an indication of the kinds of “courageous conversations” that they hope the film will provoke among viewers. In a film that sought to be comprehensive and fair in representing “a very complicated story from many angles,” says Novick, the expectation is that there will be moments of discomfort for everyone watching it. “There are very intense feelings about the war and what it means,” she says.

Kushner agrees. “The Vietnam wound is still open,” he says. “I would hope that the film would provoke a national conversation about Vietnam and really bring some closure to the whole history.”

By Caroline Kettlewell


Servant leadership promotes academic excellence

Dr. Peter Buckley’s Philosophy has Brought Him to the Medical School as Its New Dean

Peter F. Buckley, M.D., has arrived on the MCV Campus as the 24th dean of the VCU School of Medicine and executive vice president of medical affairs for VCU Health. A psychiatrist and expert in the neurobiology and treatment of schizophrenia, Buckley is a national leader in academic medicine and recognized internationally for his research. Most recently, he served for more than six years as dean of the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, where he had been recruited in 2000 to lead the psychiatry department. During his tenure as dean, the medical school expanded to become the ninth largest by class size, grew to encompass five regional campuses, built a new medical education home and acquired new endowed chairs and scholarships, including a $66 million gift to the medical school.

This story first appeared in the spring 2017 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

His previous academic appointments include serving on the faculty at Case Western Reserve University, where he rose through the ranks to become professor and vice chair of the psychiatry department. While in Ohio, he also served as medical director for Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare and its three state inpatient psychiatric facilities, leading it to become the best-rated psychiatric hospital in the state.

With 500 original articles, book chapters and abstracts to his credit, Buckley is senior author of a postgraduate textbook of psychiatry and also has authored or edited 16 books on schizophrenia and related topics. He serves as editor, associate editor or as a member of the editorial boards of more than a dozen psychiatric journals.

The MCV Campus and VCU are gems in the commonwealth of Virginia, so I’m very pleased to join you here. Of course I’ve known about the School of Medicine and its reputation for many years. And specifically, a few years back, I had the opportunity to learn about it in much more depth, and I was very impressed by the talented faculty here.

Moreover, when I was dean at the Medical College of Georgia, I was involved in planning for a new curriculum and new facility, and so our team naturally visited Richmond to take a look at the remarkable McGlothlin Medical Education Center. They returned to Augusta and reported that it more than lived up to its reputation as a pioneering learning environment, and we built our facility and curriculum based on what we learned.

I’m Irish by birth, and traveled to the U.S. with my wife, Leonie, in the early 1990s. We’re very proud to be American citizens. As part of that, we feel a great onus to give back, and, in this instance, to work as dean of this great medical school to help improve the health of the citizens of the commonwealth and beyond.

Q: You’d been at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia since 2000 and had served as dean there for the past six years . What led to your move?
We enjoyed our time in Augusta and were well involved in the community. But life’s a journey, and it was time for us to take the next stage of our journey together. We were really drawn to Richmond and to this community. We’re energized by the medical school’s great collaborative spirit as well as by the science, both the basic science and the clinical translation science.

The impact of any academic medical center should be best felt in its own community. There’s not a better medical school or a university than this one to display how a university can positively impact the health care of the people in the region and the overall population’s wellbeing.

These attributes as well as the vibrancy of Richmond and warm welcome of the community drew us to enthusiastically make our new home here.

Q: What is your vision for the School of Medicine?
This school is extremely well poised, in terms of both its research profile as well as the foundation of funding, to increase its rankings in federal funding. I will be working with my colleagues to try to broaden the research portfolio and broaden the focus on community-based research that’s meaningful, that’s impactful, within the local region.

Presently, I am meeting people from our institution and community as I gain an understanding of the institution, its culture and our environment. It’s really a labor of love at this stage, and enjoying the support and help of others as I focus in on the strategic growth and development opportunities here into the future.

Q: Your own specialty is psychiatry. What shape has that taken over your career?  

I have specifically focused on schizophrenia because I consider the condition itself very disabling, as well as very intriguing from a neuroscience point of view. I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to work with some great colleagues over the years as we looked to try to understand its basic science. Can we predict how people relapse and what factors affect it? We’ve been fortunate to do work on how medications can forestall relapse and try to predict which medicines work better as well as understanding their
side effects.

More recently we have been studying the neurobiology of schizophrenia. Presently, we make an artificial distinction based upon symptoms as to whether someone might have a mood problem or schizophrenia. Some of our more recent collaborative work has suggested that there may be an underlying substrate that delineates these conditions in a different manner. We are working on federally funded collaborative research with major centers across the country to tease out the neurobiological “signature” of psychosis.

Peter Buckley, MD, and family>Q: What do you want the alumni body to know about you?
Several things. Firstly, Leonie and I are very pleased to be here and we have great respect and appreciation for the traditions of medicine. The impact of this university, and specifically the medical school on the community stretches back to 1838. It’s an amazing history and it also influences us daily and into our future. I see an excellence today in both research as well as in clinical care that makes me excited about the school’s remarkable momentum.

Of course, there are challenges now that weren’t here in 1838. Obviously, the finances of running a medical school that’s interconnected with a health system is a very complex situation of its own. It’s further complicated as we move to more value-based care.

But an opportunity comes with that, too. One of the things this university and this medical school have done fantastically is to train doctors and health care providers as a group. The MCV Campus’ enviable collection of schools provides an environment to train health care teams in a collaborative group. That’s essential today, and our impressive new curriculum earned flying colors from last year’s accreditation visit. Quality is not a singular doctor, or a nurse or an allied health provider. It’s a team event. In medicine, we are moving ever increasingly towards more team-based learning and team-based practice of care. To that end, we were also recognized this year as recipient of the Baldwin Award from ACGME, acknowledging our excellence in training, quality and humanism.

We have a great medical school: a remarkable legacy and an impressive momentum and future direction. There is much to do and we will do it together as we advance our medical school’s 179-year legacy of being innovative at the forefront of research, education and excellence in clinical care.


Piece of the past

Dan Johnson, M’65, never expected to find anything of value as he cleaned out the attic of his Atlanta home.

Imagine his surprise when he came across a dusty box containing two surgical kits, one used for suturing and the other for dissection long before Johnson was born.

Dan Johnson, M’65's surgical kits

Dan Johnson, M’65, was surprised to find two surgical kits in his attic, including (top) a dissection kit used in cadaver labs before the turn of the century. Bottom: This leather-bound suturing kit from the late 1800s proclaimed a physician’s competence with its soft velvet lining and tortoise-shell handles. But since it could not stand up to sterilization, it fell out of use with the acceptance of germ theory.

“I thought it looked important, so I made some calls,” Johnson said.

He donated the items to the Tompkins-McCaw Library on the MCV Campus, and with help from Johnson, the staff uncovered as much as they could about the pieces.

“It is important to save these items because they help us document the changes in medicine that have taken place throughout our history,” said Andrew Bain, who manages the medical artifact collection at the library.

The suturing kit, manufactured between 1870 and 1881 in New York, offers a clear picture of a time before physicians saw patients in an office. Instead, they made house calls and used the knives, probes, tweezers and needles from their suturing kits to extract foreign objects from wounds and suture common cuts.

It was important for these physicians to convey a feeling of competence to patients, Bain said, so their instruments sported expensive tortoise-shell handles. The leather-bound kits were lined with soft velvet.

“While lovely, the tools were not very sanitary,” he said. “They couldn’t boil the instruments because the handles would crack.”

With the discovery of germ theory around the turn of the century, physicians opened offices where they could better control the environment, and the popularity of these kits faded.

The other kit Johnson discovered in his attic was typical of the kind used by medical students in cadaver labs in the late 1800s. Spotting the name of Glasgow Armstrong inscribed on the bottom of the wooden case, Bain investigated and learned Armstrong graduated in 1900 from New York University and later practiced in Staunton, Va.

“A lot of students threw their dissection kits away, so it’s wonderful to receive a donation like this one,” Bain said. “We are so grateful for every donation we receive.”

Of the 6,000 items in the library’s collection, more than half were donated by alumni, Bain said.

For Johnson, parting with the surgical kits was an easy call.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize how primitive medicine once was,” he said.

It is unclear how Johnson’s father-in-law, Walter Glenn Hardt, M’37, came to own both kits. He served in the Navy before opening a family practice in Bedford, Va. After his
passing in the 1970s, Johnson’s wife, Lucy Hardy, packed up her father’s belongings.

“For 30 years these boxes have been sitting here,” Johnson said. “When my wife passed away, I began cleaning things out. I never imagined I’d come across this, though. I guess
it just proves you never know what you might find in an old box in the attic.”

By Janet Showalter

This story first appeared in the fall 2016 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.


Family Medicine Physicians Needed, STAT!

The Class of 2018’s Mariko “Marley” Hanson has read the latest reports that detail a growing need for primary care physicians.

“I think more and more medical students are pursuing a specialty instead,” she said.

The Class of 2018’s Marley Hanson (right) was paired with Janet Eddy, M’87, H’90, through the medical school’s fmSTAT program. “When I started, I thought my mentor would just be an advisor,” Hanson said. “She has been that, but it’s been so much more. It’s grown into a wonderful friendship and partnership.”

“But I’m passionate about family medicine. It’s a great way to reach underserved populations.” According to the Annals of Family Medicine, the U.S. will need an additional 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025 to serve the aging population, as well as the added number of individuals who will have health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

But that goal may be difficult to reach, as the New York Times recently reported a decrease in the graduation rates of primary care doctors.

“A lot of students have come to the School of Medicine over the years thinking they would become family medicine doctors, but then they got lured away to a specialty,” said Carolyn Peel, M’92, H’95, assistant professor for VCU’s Department of Family Medicine and Population Health on the MCV Campus. “We’ve been thinking for years, what if we could identify students who had an interest in family medicine as part of the application process and nurture them all the way through?”

That idea came to fruition in 2010 with the development of the Family Medicine Scholars Training and Admission Tract, or fmSTAT. A dual admission program within the School of Medicine, fmSTAT is designed to develop, nurture and support medical students who are committed to the pursuit of a career in family medicine.

“This is one of the reasons I chose VCU,” Hanson said. “It made the school stand so far apart from others.”

The program got its start when Dean of Medicine
Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., asked faculty to consider a three-year accelerated program as a potential for increasing the number of students pursuing primary care. A team led by associate professor Steve Crossman, M’95, director of medical education for the VCU Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, gave the question careful consideration. In the end, they conceptualized fmSTAT instead.

“I think what our students really value with this program is that sense of community,” Peel said. “There’s this student camaraderie. The support is invaluable.”

The first class of five students entered fmSTAT in 2012 and will graduate next May, an important milestone for the program. This year’s incoming class of 10 marks the fourth set of students.

Carolyn Peel, M’92

“It has grown each year since we started,” Peel said. “We are proud of that fact.”

Students accepted into the program enjoy preferential placement with specially chosen family physician teachers and are assigned family physician mentors. They also attend semi-annual retreats and seminars and have the opportunity to shadow a family physician during the summer following their first year.

“These students are not just sitting in class next to another person,” said Judy Gary, M.Ed., fmSTAT’s educational director. “They are getting out there in the community and gaining valuable experience.” Hanson, for example, was paired with Janet Eddy, M’87, H’90, the medical director of the Bon Secours Richmond Health Care System’s Care-A-Van, a mobile clinic that provides medical care to the underserved. Both share a commitment to providing medical care to this vulnerable population.

“When I started, I thought my mentor would just be an advisor,” Hanson said. “She has been that, but it’s been so much more. It’s grown into a wonderful friendship and partnership.”

Hanson sees patients with Eddy and attends medical conferences with her. Since many of Eddy’s patients don’t speak English, Hanson is also learning Spanish.

“When they came to me and asked me to be a mentor, my initial reaction was no,” Eddy said. “I don’t really like having people in my clinic. It’s a tiny space, and most of my patients want to keep a low profile. But I also feel obligated to help. There are not enough of us around.”

They’ve known each other for a year now, but after just a few weeks, Eddy knew she made the right decision.

“It’s been so good,” she said. “Marley is learning first hand what’s good about this field, what’s great about family medicine.”

Family practitioners enjoy the unique privilege of following a patient through all stages of care and play a vital role in preventive care. They get to know not only the patient, but often the entire family. They are the initial point of contact and often have a long-term relationship with patients.

More family practitioners are needed to not only treat patients, but to help bring down the cost of medical care, Eddy said. When patients can’t get in to see a family doctor, they instead go to the emergency room or to a specialist, which is more expensive. “I just love the utility of family medicine,” Eddy said. “You can walk into any place and get done what needs to be done. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

But many medical students get wooed away from the field to more lucrative and glamorous specialties. “Medical students for the most part are in a hospital setting,” Peel said. “They don’t always see what care in the community is all about. It’s easy to lose sight of community-based care inside a hospital’s four walls.” But with fmSTAT, medical students are getting the opportunity to actively participate in family medicine their first year of school.

The fmSTAT program builds camaraderie among the students with workshops and semiannual retreats. Cross-class interaction gives students of all ages the chance to learn from each other and offer support.

“I never thought I would have this type of opportunity so soon,” Hanson said. “I’m out there [with Eddy] talking with patients and getting involved in their care. That sort of thing usually comes later. I like the idea that I’m doing this alongside other like-minded students, faculty and staff. We are like a big family.”

Cross-class communication and interaction is integral to fmSTAT, giving students of all ages the chance to learn from each other and offer support. Team-building activities have included a Top Chef-inspired competition and ropes courses.

That emphasis on camaraderie is paying off. Of the 20 students accepted into the program so far, only three have resigned, Gary said. And the program is gaining attention. U.S. News & World Report ranked VCU among the top 50 medical schools for primary care in its 2016 edition of “Best Graduate Schools.”
Hopes are running high for the future too, but Gary cautions it will take some time to determine if fmSTAT will add to the number of VCU students matching in family medicine residencies. Over the last several years, she said, about 10 percent of the School of Medicine’s class has matched in family medicine.

Did you know?

This story first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

“We are so excited about the possibilities for the future,” Gary said. “We are working on building an endowment so that we can create more scholarship opportunities. We are very hopeful that this program will make a difference.”

For Hanson, it already is.

“It’s been so rewarding to be a part of this program,” she said. “I had no idea family medicine was so diverse. I know I’m in this for the long haul because I can truly make a difference in the lives of others.”

By Janet Showalter