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Alumna Emily Edelman honored by National Society for Genetics Counselors

Over the past eight years, Emily Edelman, MS’06, has devoted time, energy and expertise in her volunteer work with the National Society for Genetics Counselors. Her service was recognized with the NSGC’s 2015 Outstanding Volunteer Award at its annual education conference in Pittsburgh on Oct. 22.

Edelman has served the society on five task forces, chaired the personalized medicine special interest group and led the abstract review committee. But she may be most passionate about her work with the NSGC Education Committee that is responsible for the society’s annual education conference, webinar and online course planning and execution.

Genetic counselor Emily Edelman, MS’06

Genetic counselor Emily Edelman, MS’06

“Genetic information is increasingly relevant to patients and clinicians in many different medical specialties,” Edelman said. “As the number of clinically applicable genetic and genomic tests increases across health care, education is more important than ever. Patients and consumers need to be able to make informed decisions about genetic information and managing providers need to know when and how to implement genetics into their practice. Genetic counselors can help achieve these goals by keeping abreast of discoveries in the field and translating emerging tests and applications to patient care.”

According to Sara Hammer Riordan who nominated her for the award, Edelman has extensive experience with developing educational programs for health care providers both inside and outside of the genetic counseling field has been valuable to the NSGC.

Edelman works in the genomic education program at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. As the associate director of clinical and continuing education, she develops educational content for diverse health professional audiences.

In her nomination, Riordan also credits Edelman with working to move the genetic counseling profession forward.

“Her innovative work in developing genetic educational programs for a diverse spectrum of health care providers has paved the way for other genetic counselors to enter into this nontraditional career path,” said Riordan, who is clinical program manager with the IMPACT cancer care program at Thermo Fisher Scientific and a director-at-large with NSGC. “Her multiple invited presentations at national conferences, meetings and seminars clearly demonstrate that she is seen as a leader in our field.”

Edelman is a diplomate of the American Board of Genetic Counseling. She earned a master’s degree in genetic counseling from the VCU School of Medicine in 2006. The medical school’s M.S. program in Genetic Counseling is the only one in Virginia. It was established in 1990 and has more than 90 graduates.


Safety Net Collaborative a win-win for VCU and Richmond

When three safety net primary care clinics in Richmond found they could not fully meet the mental health needs of their patients, they knew they had to find a solution to provide these critical services to the city’s most vulnerable populations.

Rachel Waller, M’99

Rachel Waller, M’99

With over half of all patients receiving substandard or no mental health care, the clinics needed to provide thousands of behavioral care sessions to their patients. But where to find a group psychologists willing to contribute hundreds of hours of work at little or no cost?

Bruce Rybarczyk, Ph.D., a professor in VCU’s Department of Psychology, had the perfect answer: his doctoral trainees. As a result, since 2008 trainees have delivered over 8,500 pro bono sessions at the Ambulatory Care Center on the MCV Campus, the Daily Planet for the Homeless and the Fan Free Clinic.

The Safety Net Primary Care Psychology Collaborative has proved fruitful for everyone involved. The clinics are able to better cover the mental health needs of their patients, while the doctoral students get valuable experience working with a wide-range of patients. Most importantly, the medically underserved in the Richmond community get access to the care they need.

Rachel Waller, M’99, has seen the benefits of the collaborative firsthand through her work on the internal medicine service at the Ambulatory Care Center.

“Integrating mental and physical health care is important because you cannot have good control of physical health outcomes when mental health issues such as anxiety and depression go untreated. In our patient population, with limited care access and transportation issues, having psychology resources available during the primary care visit is vital.”

“The ‘warm handoff,’ in which a primary care provider introduces the clinical psychology services team to the patient can really improve willingness to seek care, particularly since there remains an unfortunate stigma for many in acknowledging that they are experiencing mental health issues.”

Integrating mental and physical health care services at the clinics has been an effective method for improving patient outcomes. Behavioral and physical health problems are often interconnected; treating one side of a patient’s problems but not the other often means more care, and more costs, down the road. Study findings show patients receiving this type of integrated healthcare had fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Psychology professor Bruce Rybarcyz and vice provost for community engagement Catherine Howard celebrated the success of the Safety Net Collaborative this spring’s Currents of Change Award Ceremony. Photo credit: Steven Casanova.

Psychology professor Bruce Rybarcyz and vice provost for community engagement Catherine Howard celebrated the success of the Safety Net Collaborative this spring’s Currents of Change Award Ceremony. Photo credit: Steven Casanova.

These results are evident on the MCV Campus. Waller, who works as an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, says the clinic has seen “decreased admission rates for medical illness for our patients who utilize clinical psychology students compared to controls.”

The success of the program has not gone unnoticed. This year the collaborative won VCU’s Currents of Change Award, which recognizes mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and the Richmond community.

This experience in collaborative, team-based care is invaluable for both medical and psychology trainees. Since the collaboration began, 65 doctoral students have worked at the clinics, six of whom have gone on to work in integrated care positions as a result of their experience at VCU.

Medical residents also benefit from the help offered by their colleagues in the psychology department, as many report greater work satisfaction and significant benefits for their patients since the collaboration started.

Waller says that outpatient care is moving from a model that emphasizes productivity to one that focuses on medical outcomes. Cohesive, interdisciplinary teams like the collaborative will be better equipped to meet the demands of the newly emerging outpatient medical system.


Pathology’s Kimberly Sanford receives national honor as 2015’s Distinguished Pathology Educator

“My first job in the laboratory was as a phlebotomist while attending college to become a medical laboratory scientist,” says Kimberly W. Sanford, M’01, H’06. “From that point on, I knew that I had found my home.”

Kimberly W. Sanford, M’01, H’06

Kimberly W. Sanford, M’01, H’06

After graduation, she worked in a variety of laboratories around the MCV Campus before deciding to enter medical school. Today, she is an assistant professor in the medical school’s Department of Pathology and has received the Outstanding Teacher Award in the pathology introduction course for medical students for four years running. Drawing on her wide-ranging experiences, she has authored text book chapters as well as peer reviewed publications and has developed educational content at national meetings for all laboratory professionals.

This fall, she received national accolades as the recipient of the 2015 ASCP H. P. Smith Award for Distinguished Pathology Educator. The award is one of the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s highest honors. Each year, the society recognizes individuals who have made outstanding, lifelong contributions to the society and who have had distinguished careers in pathology and laboratory medicine embracing education, research and administration.

Sanford is medical director of both transfusion medicine and the Stony Point Laboratory at VCU Health. She is a three-time VCU alumna, having earned a medical technology degree from the School of Allied Health in 1991, a medical degree from the School of Medicine in 2001 and continuing on VCU’s MCV Campus to complete her pathology residency in 2006.


Alumna, husband fund scholarship for medical students

Nader Silver, the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund Scholarship in the School of Medicine.

Rosemarie Greyson-Fleg, M’80, credits the VCU School of Medicine’s three-year program with jump-starting her career as a physician.

“It was great. I was an older student, and the possibility of doing a three-year program was very attractive to me,” said Greyson-Fleg, a diagnostic radiologist in Clarksville, Maryland. “Everything worked out really well. I was very grateful that I was given that chance at VCU.”

The three-year option is no longer offered, but the school’s accelerated degree program gave Greyson-Fleg the chance to rotate into internal medicine early, where she thrived. She ultimately made the decision to specialize in radiology, giving her more time with her family.

To express her gratitude, Greyson-Fleg and her husband, Jerry, established the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund in 2013 through generous gifts of stock. The scholarship is part of the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign to help reduce medical student debt.

“My husband and I have supported scholarships at other institutions,” Greyson-Fleg said. “Now it’s my turn to give back to VCU.”

The scholarship – awarded for the first time in April to Nader Silver, a student at the VCU School of Medicine Inova Campus – supports a fourth-year student pursuing a career in the primary care fields of family medicine or pediatrics. Silver, who will start residency training in family medicine this summer, met Greyson-Fleg shortly after receiving the award.

“We had a nice time sharing thoughts about primary care,” Silver said. “Her son is a family medicine physician in New Mexico, and we had many similar interests. I hope to connect with him at some point. I look forward to keeping her posted over the years. I’m very thankful.”

Greyson-Fleg is thankful, too – not only for the education that she received at VCU but also for the university’s careful stewardship of her gifts.

“I know the money is in a good place. The gifts are well-directed,” she said. “The school has done so much for us alumni. We were all given chances to start our careers. Giving back is important to all of us.”

As parents of a primary care physician, Greyson-Fleg and her husband know all too well how important it is help keep student debt load to a minimum.

“Our son, Anthony, is the reason we created the scholarship for those with a love of primary care and pediatrics,” she said. “Those in primary care don’t earn the same kind of money as other specialists. This scholarship is one way we can help.”

Only half of the university’s medical students receive scholarships. The 1838 Campaign helps increase the number and size of scholarships to give the school a competitive edge for recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt.

“I am proud of our school’s longstanding investment in students who are headed into primary care careers, especially in light of projections that continue to warn of a future shortage of primary care physicians,” said Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “I am grateful to Rosemarie and Jerry for establishing this scholarship that honors their son Anthony’s commitment to primary care. They understand the importance of providing financial aid to medical students, and their gift will help us attract students to this calling.”

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in Volume 3 of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.


How a career in emergency medicine introduced the Class of 2007’s Laura Diegelmann to helicopters and kangaroos

Laura Diegelmann sitting in a plane

Early in her career, emergency medicine physician Laura Diegelmann, M’07, spent a year in Australia with the Royal Flying Doctors.

Laura Diegelmann, M’07, was mesmerized by the stories her father used to share around the dinner table.

She was a teenager then, but remembers vividly the detailed accounts of life and death he gave while volunteering with the local rescue squad. She knew then that what she was hearing would shape the rest of her life.

“I think it was the excitement that drew me in,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

When she turned 16, Diegelmann signed up as a volunteer EMT with the rescue squad near her Richmond-area home. Her father, Robert Diegelmann, Ph.D. — a longtime faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology – was often the driver, and the two headed out on calls together.

“It was amazing,” she said. “That sealed the deal for me.”

Her experience as an EMT confirmed her desire to work in emergency medicine. After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from VCU in 2002, she worked for a year on the MCV Campus as a tech in the emergency room. She entered medical school the following year.

During her third year, she completed an internal medicine rotation in Alaska. While there, her supervising physician introduced her to the crew of Guardian Flight. Diegelmann flew a few times with them to remote areas of the state providing emergency care to those in need. The adventure exposed her to a whole new world.

Laura Diegelmann sitting in a plane

While in Cape Town, South Africa, to teach ultrasound to emergency medicine residents, Diegelmann also had the chance to share the technology with local school children.

“It combined all the ambulance stuff I love – and then you get to throw an airplane into the mix,” she said. “Who could ask for more?”

Diegelmann completed her emergency medicine residency at the University of Maryland, then packed her bags for Australia, where she spent a year with the Royal Flying Doctors.

“Living somewhere I’d never been before was exciting in itself,” she said. “But then I’m putting on a flight suit and rappelling out of helicopters to treat patients. Wow!”

Many of her missions involved transferring patients from small clinics in the Outback to larger hospitals. She also responded to traumas at farms or to other medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke. Many times, the places she flew to were so remote that she didn’t see a house for miles. She and her team often landed next to open fields.

“Sometimes we would have to circle around to scare the kangaroos from the airstrip,” she said.

While she loved the adventure, one year away from her parents and four siblings was enough. She returned to the states and completed a fellowship in emergency medicine ultrasound at the University of Maryland.

Laura Diegelmann with a leopard

In her travels overseas, Diegelmann has visited gorillas in Rwanda and this leopard in South Africa.>

In 2013, the travel bug hit again. This time, she ventured to Cape Town, South Africa, to teach emergency ultrasound at a local hospital. She also was involved with an ongoing study that continues to examine whether the early intervention of ultrasound in severely septic patients makes a difference in treatment plans.

“I really formed an attachment to South Africa,” Diegelmann said. “You really feel appreciated there. Patients there can travel all day just to see a doctor. They are there because they truly need help — they truly need you. It makes me realize why I became a doctor in the first place. To help people.”

After South Africa, Diegelmann headed to Rwanda and has been back a second time teaching emergency ultrasound at the main hospital there. She leaves at the end of August for Liberia, where she will spend a month teaching emergency ultrasound to the residents at JFK Hospital.

All the while she remains on faculty and as an emergency room physician at the University of Maryland.

“I really start to miss home when I am gone,” Diegelmann said. “Every time I go, I say this will be my last one. But it’s hard to walk away from. It’s so rewarding. I’m not only expanding my own knowledge and experience, but I know I’m making a difference. I think that’s why most of us go into medicine in the first place. We want to do our part.”

By Janet Showalter


Class of 1979’s Rebecca Bigoney returns to campus to talk medical ethics with incoming first-year students

Rebecca Bigoney, M79

Rebecca Bigoney, M’79

When students first arrive at medical school, they expect to dive right into the hard science that will form the basis of their medical knowledge. This year, Rebecca Bigoney, M’79, got the chance to show incoming first-year students another side of medicine that is equally important, yet often overlooked by students early in their medical education. This fall she returned to the MCV Campus to talk about medical ethics and the puzzling dilemmas the members of the Class of 2019 will assuredly encounter at some point in their careers.

Bigoney has confronted a wide variety situations involving medical ethics over the course of her career, which includes 18 years in private practice and a term as vice president of medical affairs at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va., where she now works as chief medical officer.

She shared some of her experiences with students as a guest speaker for the “Patient, Physician, and Society” curriculum. Her talk illustrated the complex situations that doctors can encounter at what Bigoney called “the intersection of ethics, liability, policy and reality.”

She told the stories of a patient who declined kidney surgery because a travelling preacher told her she had been cured, factory workers exposed to dangerous heavy metals with no protections from their company and a wife who tried to interfere with her husband’s treatment because of the race of his doctor.

These types of situations, Bigoney explained, require doctors to weigh medical, ethical and procedural decisions to arrive at acceptable, though often imperfect, conclusions.

For many of the assembled students these were new situations and questions they hadn’t previously considered. Students asked frequent questions throughout Bigoney’s presentation, wanting to clarify the decisions she’d made to resolve certain situations. At a student’s prompting, she walked the class through her logic in a hypothetical mass casualty situation — which patients would receive priority, how limited hospital resources might be divided up and how legal liability factors into such decisions.

Bigoney made sure to remind the students that “the ethical problems you face most likely will not be catastrophic or dramatic like the ones I’ve described, but you’ll encounter ethical challenges every day.”

Mark Ryan, M’00, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, was also on hand to help facilitate the presentation. He praised Bigoney for showing students that “being a good doctor is more than knowing biochemistry or physiology — it is about learning to work with people, and the often complicated and difficult situations in which they find themselves.”

Even after the presentation was over, students lined up to ask her questions one-on-one. Although they may be years from having their own patients and making ethical decisions on their own, the Class of 2019 showed Bigoney that they intend to fully explore these complex questions so that they too can make the right ethical decisions when the time comes.

By Jack Carmichael