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05
2017

Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson selected for Hall of Heroes

An admissions office routinely recruits and processes applications with an eye toward building a strong class. But a pair in VCU’s School of Medicine have been lauded for going above and beyond, supporting students before, during and after medical school.

The Student National Medical Association has honored Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, and Donna Jackson, Ed.D.,

The Student National Medical Association has honored Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, and Donna Jackson, Ed.D., for their work to increase the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians.

Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, senior associate dean of admissions, and Donna Jackson, Ed.D., assistant dean of admissions and director of Student Outreach Programs, were tapped for induction into the Hall of Heroes of the Student National Medical Association.

The Hall of Heroes distinction is SNMA’s most prestigious recognition, honoring administrators, physicians and others who champion the cause for a diverse physician workforce. SNMA says its mission is to support current and future underrepresented minority medical students, address the needs of underserved communities and increase the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians.

Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson, nominated by current and former students, were unanimously elected about a year ago, but won’t be formally inducted until this year’s SNMA conference, April 12-16, in Atlanta. Both said they were surprised to find they’d been selected – and it took some time before they realized that the other also had been. That the nomination came from students was especially meaningful. “You never know how you touch someone,” Jackson says.

The two have worked together for more than a decade, and share a common philosophy and priorities.

“Our goal is always to have a diverse class,” says Whitehurst-Cook, who also serves as associate professor of family medicine and population health. “It’s not just about minority status, but bringing together a new class each year of individuals who’ve done awesome things in their lives. They will be sharing their upbringing, their culture and their varied experiences.”

Ultimately, she says, that leads to a richer experience for students and better medical care for patients, as physicians-to-be learn to relate to diverse populations.

But diversity alone doesn’t ensure success, so inclusion is equally important. With so many different backgrounds converging in a high-stress environment, it’s important to offer support and encouragement, Whitehurst-Cook says. “We’ve worked hard to enhance our diversity here and to support students once they get here. You can recruit a medical student, but you want all of them to be happy and to thrive. “

On the MCV Campus, offerings for minority students include the SNMA and the Latino Medical Student Association. The two student organizations team up to present the “Second-Look” program that gives accepted students and potential recruits opportunities to interact with faculty and students in a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual formal tours and interviews. At VCU, underrepresented minority students are defined as African-American, Latino, Native Americans, Alaskans and Pacific Islanders.

What’s needed to enroll more diverse students, though, is an increase in scholarship money, and Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson are hoping that in the near future, they’ll be able to offer assistance to more students.

Plenty of potential students are on the admissions radar while they’re still in high school or undergraduate programs. Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson help those students – and often their parents – find a path to success in medical school, whether that’s at VCU or elsewhere.

When they’re building a class for the medical school, Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson agree that students should show a commitment to nonclinical community service by helping people. “In addition to a passion for medicine, we want them to show compassion,” Whitehurst-Cook says. “In other words, we want them to be smart – and nice.”

The admissions office has an open-door policy, so students, potential students and graduates who need a place to unwind can find a friendly ear, advice and occasionally some free pizza.

“I think it’s important that we try to make all of our students feel like they’re part of a family. We really do care about what they’re going through,” Jackson says. The feeling is mutual, she said, as a large contingent of SNMA members attended her son’s Eagle Scout ceremony.

“I think they feel like we are more than student and administrator.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

05
2017

Microbiology alumna seeks Zika answers

The Zika virus topped the list of Google’s trending health-related questions in the U.S. in 2016, according to CNN. People wanted to know “What are the symptoms of Zika?” and “How long does Zika last?”

Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10, studies if Zika can be transmitted through air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

As warm weather nears, questions remain about the Zika virus. Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10, takes on the epidemic the best way she knows how — in the research lab, where she’s studying if Zika can be transmitted through air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Jean Kim, PhD’10 (MICR), had questions about Zika, too. She went to the research lab for answers.

Now the principal investigator on a Zika project for RTI International, where she works as a research microbiologist, Kim is asking “Can Zika be transmitted through the air via coughing or sneezing?”

The Zika virus is known to be transmitted via an Aedes aegypti mosquito that bites an infected person and then transfers the virus to another person via its salivary glands. A pregnant woman also can pass the virus to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect where babies are born with abnormally small heads due to underlying brain damage. Sexual intercourse also has been identified as a route for transmitting the virus.

“Yet little research has been done on the possibility that the Zika virus could be spread through other secondary routes including aerosol transmission,” says Kim, whose research typically centers on indoor air quality, including the impact of black mold on human health. “We wanted to be proactive about providing solutions to the Zika situation. How could we address this public health issue?”

After presenting a concept to the company CEO in spring 2016, Kim and her colleagues immediately began their research: studying if Zika can survive in human respiratory, oral and salivary environments, whether the cells from the oral and respiratory tract allow for propagation and how long the virus can persist in saliva.

Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10

Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10

By January 2017, Kim finished her initial research and submitted results to a research journal. While she can’t disclose outcomes until after publication, she emphasized the importance of wanting to complete the research in a quick timeframe.

“Zika isn’t going away,” Kim says. “We’ve just been in a lull because of the winter season and not seeing any mosquitoes. Even babies who might not display microcephaly are still experiencing other effects. We still have a lot to learn about the pathology of the virus and the impact it has on infants.”

Research teams in labs all over the country are investigating different aspects of the Zika virus. Kim and her colleagues also are interested in investigating if a heel prick can detect Zika in infants at birth to determine whether they may have been exposed in utero.

Her natural curiosity for what causes disease is what ultimately led her to study microbiology and immunology. “I’m extremely interested in how something so small can be so successful at survival. How can it cause disease and withstand all of the challenges that it faces when inside a host?”

A multiple degree alumna from VCU, Kim also received her master’s in biology from the College of Humanities & Sciences. She points to a bacterial pathogenesis course team-taught by Cynthia Cornelissen, Ph.D., and Richard Marconi, Ph.D., both professors in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, that led her to pursue her doctorate.

“There is no more gratifying feeling than to know you may have played a part in stimulating a student to pursue an occupation that I consider to be among the most rewarding,” Marconi says. “The ability to pursue your own ideas and do something new every single day is remarkable.”

Kim now enjoys motivating today’s students, recently welcoming a group of VCU basic science students to Research Triangle Park to discuss non-academic career opportunities for Ph.D. candidates.

“In academics, you ask very deep and probing questions, and become an expert in one area,” she says. “Here at RTI, I take a much broader view. Research is not as probing, but it’s far-reaching. One of the things I enjoy is taking basic science research and seeing how it can be applied and used elsewhere … thinking outside the box.”

Or in the case of Zika research, thinking outside the Google search box.

By Polly Roberts

31
2017

The Class of 06’s Adrian Holloway: A Passion for Global Medicine

Adrian Holloway, M'06

As part of his work as program director of the University of Maryland’s first-of-its-kind Global Health Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship, Adrian J. Holloway, M’06, will assist in coordinating the efforts to develop the first pediatric intensive care unit in Malawi.
Photography: Skip Rowland

Adrian J. Holloway, M’06, has traveled the world – to some of the most dangerous countries, by State Department reckoning – as an educator and cardiac intensivist. He’s treated children fleeing ISIS in northern Iraq, malaria victims in Malawi and earthquake survivors in Haiti.

What’s he learned?

“No matter where you go, mothers are the same. They know when their child is sick, and they know when their child is healthy.”

Holloway, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, plans to make sure more of them stay healthy. It’s part of his work as program director of the Global Health Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship, the first of its kind, and it’s given him the chance to assist in coordinating the efforts to develop the first pediatric intensive care unit in Malawi.

Mothers often do know best, he says. In one memorable case in Iraq, a mother insisted that her child was not progressing properly after a surgery to fix a heart defect. Though physicians believed he was recovering, the mother persisted until a cardiac fluid pocket was discovered. When properly draining, the patient recovered quickly.

“There is such a sense of joy when a patient is healing,” Holloway says.

Though he didn’t participate in mission trips abroad as a VCU student, Holloway was pulled into global medicine by a friend soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. There, he discovered a calling, treating the world’s neediest patients in often-primitive facilities.

“I have fallen in love with the idea of high-tech advanced care in places that many feel aren’t ready for it,” he says. “I really think those are the places where we need technology and telemedicine the most.

“There is a prevailing thought that the only way to impact health care in emerging economies is to provide only basic, primary-care driven assistance. Because many countries are beginning to excel at initiatives aimed at reducing infant mortality, improving maternal-fetal health and improving access to vaccines, our new avenues have to be focused on what happens to these children once they survive infancy. This is not limited to just cardiac care, but to interventions and treatments involving cancer, trauma and burn as well as sepsis.”

Holloway shared his experiences with current and prospective medical students at a recent Second Look program on the MCV Campus. The program gives applicants who are members of underrepresented minorities a chance to explore the School of Medicine’s programs in more depth.

Each year, a weekend of activities is organized by the School of Medicine’s Office of Student Outreach along with the MCV Campus’ chapters of the Student National Medical Association and Latino Medical Student Association. The weekend offers opportunities to interact with faculty and students in a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual formal tours and interviews. Holloway was president of SNMA during his time at VCU.

During his talk, he encouraged students to remember the importance of giving back to communities – and to paying it forward for other physicians-to-be.

“I’m here because of the work of someone else,” he said, noting that he did his residency in a Florida hospital where his grandmother had been a nurse many years before. “Medicine is a legacy.”

Holloway is proud to be able to save children who only a few years ago might not have survived – and looks forward to helping them lead healthy lives. He’s had mothers comment that they’re surprised their child is “so pink” after cardiac treatments that make them better. “Color change in a child can bring so much hope,” he says. “This is a child that’s going to be able to go to school, or play soccer and have all the childhood experiences.”

Finding a passion, as he has for global health, will make today’s students better physicians. “They’re going to make someone’s life better. And they’ll do it over and over and over again.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

16
2017

For physiology alumnus Stephen Rapundalo, science and politics go hand-in-hand

Growing up in Canada, Stephen Rapundalo, PhD’83 (PHIS), says he was raised to give back to the community. It’s a value he brought with him to the MCV Campus, where he served as student government president, carried forward as a city council member in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and continues today as president and CEO of MichBio, an organization driving industry growth and advocacy for the biosciences.

Stephen Rapundalo, PhD’83 (PHIS), brought a scientist’s perspective to the Ann Arbor City Council, where he served from 2005-11.

Stephen Rapundalo, PhD’83 (PHIS), brought a scientist’s perspective to the Ann Arbor City Council, where he served from 2005-11. “I look at things that are problems seeking solutions. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right.”

In politics, Rapundalo says, he likes bringing a scientist’s analytical viewpoint to the table. “I look at things that are problems seeking solutions. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right. Your focus is just to get things done. Science certainly shaped my approach to bringing real analytical assessment and solution development.”

Case in point: while serving on Ann Arbor’s city council from 2005-11, he instituted a peer review system for citizens applying for grants through the human and social services committee, and required standardized materials from all applicants — techniques he learned from years of applying for National Institutes of Health grants and serving on study sections.

“The city benefitted from much better returns on grant success and people who utilized the programs, along with better accountability,” he says of the system, which is still in place today.

Rapundalo’s first foray into politics came as president of the MCV Campus Student Government Association. He worked closely with then-VCU President Edmund F. Ackell, M.D., D.M.D., and was instrumental in lobbying for a student representative on the board of visitors.

“That was my legacy,” Rapundalo says. “I still have the VCU newspaper article from it filed at home.”

At MichBio, he alternates much of his time between the Michigan Capitol in Lansing and Washington, D.C., lobbying legislators for support of Michigan’s bio-industry.

“Michigan is home to the first two pharmaceutical companies in the country and world-renowned research centers,” Rapundalo says. “We get more federal R&D funding than the Research Triangle in North Carolina. We need an industry like ours to offer career opportunities to keep STEM talent in our state and develop a sustainable biosciences workforce for the future.”

As president and CEO of MichBio, Rapundalo lobbies legislators.

As president and CEO of MichBio, Rapundalo lobbies legislators in Lansing and Washington, D.C., for support of Michigan’s bio-industry.

Prior to joining MichBio in April 2006, he spent almost 20 years as a senior research scientist, project manager and group leader with Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research and then Pfizer Inc., primarily in the area of cardiovascular drug discovery. He says he owes much of his success to his time on the MCV Campus.

“I was able to work with some true pioneers in the field whom I revered,” says Rapundalo, mentioning his co-advisors Joseph J. Feher, Ph.D., professor emeritus, and F. Norman Briggs, Ph.D., former chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

“Had it not been for the foundation that I got in learning at MCV, the rest of my career just wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have located where I did, worked with who I did and succeeded in the roles that I fulfilled. It all traces back to MCV.”

It’s also where he met his wife, Anne Stiles Rapundalo, an alumna of the School of Allied Health’s medical technology program. He fondly remembers their days living in Bear and Cabannis Halls, crab-picking mixers at friends’ homes, dates in Shockoe Slip and concerts at the Mosque. The couple has four adult daughters.

Rapundalo, who became a U.S. citizen in 2000, enjoys trips to Virginia to visit family, occasionally stopping in Richmond to speak to current graduate students and young department members.

“He embodies the active citizenship that Thomas Jefferson envisioned for our country,” says former advisor Feher. “He enjoys policy making and the role of government in setting science policy. Our university should be proud of him.”

By Polly Roberts

09
2017

M4 Yeri Park presents on I2CRP success at national conference

The Class of 2017’s Yeri Park presents at the 2017 Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Conference on Medical Student Education.

The Class of 2017’s Yeri Park presents at the 2017 Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Conference on Medical Student Education, where she showed that I2CRP graduates are more likely to match to primary care specialties than their classmates.

By 2030, the U.S. could see a shortfall of as many as 43,100 primary care physicians, according to the latest research from the Association of American Medical Colleges. That’s not even taking into account the doctors who are already needed to treat patients in medically underserved areas. Meeting their needs would require additional doctors, bringing the shortfall closer to 100,000 physicians — with nearly three-quarters of those doctors needed in urban areas.

The VCU School of Medicine is doing its part to answer the call through the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship, a four-year program for students who declare an interest in and commitment to working with medically underserved populations in urban, rural or international settings.

New findings show I2CRP graduates are more likely to match to primary care specialties than their classmates — 79 percent compared to 44 percent. That’s according to research by the Class of 2017’s Yeri Park, who presented her findings at the 2017 Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Conference on Medical Student Education in Anaheim, California, in February. She was one of 20 students across the country chosen for a national scholarship award to attend the conference.

“From the time the program’s first participants graduated in 2000 to 2016, about 37 percent of I2CRP graduates entered family medicine compared to 10 percent for graduates across the medical school,” Park says. “In other primary care fields, 14 percent of I2CRP graduates went into pediatrics compared to 10 percent of all graduates and 4 percent compared to 2 percent for med/peds.”

For internal medicine, the program’s graduates are on par with the rest of the medical school with 18 percent of I2CRP graduates entering the field compared to 21 percent for graduates across the school.

The results pleased Mark Ryan, M’00, H’03, I2CRP medical director and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, who says the driving goal of the I2CRP program is to increase the number of students selecting primary care careers with a focus on underserved communities or underserved fields.

“We were really excited,” he says. “Yeri put in a great deal of resource-intensive work and to know that the program does seem to have a meaningful, valuable outcome is really rewarding.”

The research also showed that of the I2CRP graduates who have completed residency training, 30 percent are working in medically underserved areas and 23 percent are working in health professional shortage areas.

“That means one in four of our students who graduated in the program’s first 12 years is currently working in a medically underserved setting,” Ryan says. “We think that’s a robust number.” If medical schools nationwide put up similar numbers, he points out, a workforce shortage in underserved areas likely wouldn’t exist.

As I2CRP enters its 20th year, program director Mary Lee Magee says next steps include working to understand physicians’ long-term investment in primary care. “We know our graduates are out there carrying forward their vision to make a difference,” she says. “We’d like to know more about what makes it possible to sustain this important and challenging work for the long run.”

The Class of 2017's Yeri Park, Nancy Pandhi, M’01, and Bethany Howlett, M’12

Park connects with I2CRP graduates Nancy Pandhi, M’01, and Bethany Howlett, M’12, at the STFM national conference.

Park connected with two I2CRP graduates at the STFM national conference: Bethany Howlett, M’12, and Nancy Pandhi, M’01. “They reminisced about their time in the I2CRP program and how it was helpful for them to spend time with like-minded peers throughout the tough journey of medical school,” Park says.

Both alumni enjoy family medicine careers in Madison, Wisconsin. Howlett practices family medicine at UnityPoint Health – Meriter, while Pandhi works as a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. She researches ambulatory care redesign for vulnerable populations in addition to practicing at the William T. Evjue Clinic of Access Community Health Centers.

Park is eager to follow in their footsteps. Enrolled in fmSTAT, the medical school’s four-year program designed to nurture and sustain students committed to careers in family medicine, Park recently learned she will complete family medicine residency training at Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in Massachusetts.

An aspiring doctor since she was a young girl, Park says the conference motivated her to encourage the next generation of family medicine physicians. “As someone who has highly benefited from the support and guidance from my faculty mentors, I’m looking forward to sharing my love for family medicine with future students.”

By Polly Roberts

[SIDEBAR] – Fighting the physician shortage
The dream of a career in medicine often comes with a heavy burden of debt that may influence future physicians who choose a specialty because of its earning potential and not because it’s a field they are passionate about.

Ryan says this is a defining factor for the shortage of primary care physicians. “Primary care doctors are paid 60 to 70 percent of an average specialist’s salary. Every year that salary separation grows, our family medicine matches slow; when it narrows, family medicine matches rise. It’s a near two-decade long trend.”

In the Class of 2016, only 47 students graduated debt-free. The rest carried an average debt of more than $180,000. Scholarships can help ease the burden for students such as Park, a recipient of multiple scholarships during her medical school career. Even so, the partial scholarships did not fully fund her tuition and fees.

“Financial hardship was always on my mind at the beginning of each school year,” Park says. “Knowing that I wanted to pursue primary care, this was a constant conversation between myself and my colleagues — whether I would still be happy with my choice still being in debt many years post-residency.”

The medical school launched the 1838 Campaign with the goal of providing meaningful scholarship support for students with financial need. The $25-million campaign will build the medical school’s scholarship endowment into a resource on par with peer schools.

Full and half-tuition scholarships are most urgently needed. They are one of the medical school’s best resources for recruiting and rewarding top students. Learn more >> [BUTTON]

09
2017

M4 John Weeks returns to Eastern Shore to treat underserved population

For the Class of 2017’s John Weeks, practicing medicine means more than providing care to patients in an exam room. It’s a commitment to caring for an entire community and the challenges it may face.

That’s why after earning his undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary and spending three years as an outreach worker on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, he enrolled in the VCU School of Medicine where he also was accepted into the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program on the MCV Campus. I2CRP is a four-year program for students who declare an interest in and commitment to working with medically underserved populations in urban, rural or international settings.

“The I2CRP program is one of the big things that drew me to VCU,” says Weeks. “There’s an overall sense that you can really make an impact — improving people’s lives and improving the community they live in. It’s not just serving one patient, treating them, and moving on to the next, but going beyond and helping a whole community.”

International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program ‘Open your eyes and look around you’
In addition to working for the Eastern Shore Rural Health System prior to medical school, he returned during his third-year family medicine clerkship and fourth-year community immersion elective. There Weeks experienced firsthand the challenges of providing effective medical care to an underserved population that included the indigent, elderly and Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers.

For starters, some of the biggest hurdles he saw had very little to do with the medical issues that originally brought patients to the clinic. High blood pressure, diabetes and work-related injuries are further complicated by high levels of poverty, housing and food insecurity, lack of transportation, exposure to pesticides and chemicals, legal problems with immigration status or navigating Medicare.

“People think that to truly find the underserved, you have to go international,” Weeks said. “But that’s just not the case. All you have to do is open your eyes and look around you. The biggest similarity of all underserved populations, regardless of location, is access.”

Serving the Eastern Shore population has particular meaning for Weeks, who grew up in Northern Virginia and appreciated the small, intimate community he met on the shore.

“It was constantly amazing to me how much the people knew each other,” he says. “The outreach worker I partnered with knew not only everyone’s family ties, but where they lived, what they needed and, most importantly, what resources they might be willing to accept to help them through difficult times.”

Weeks received the medical school’s Scott Scholarship, awarded by the Marguerite L. Hopkins Trust and James Perkins Memorial Trust to a deserving medical student from Virginia with preference given to a student with ties to the Eastern Shore.

Marguerite Hopkins grew up on the Eastern Shore and stipulated that some of the funds in her trust should be used to create an annual scholarship named for her cousin, Ralph M. Scott, M’50. Scholarships continue to be a high-priority need for the medical school and donors may outline criteria to select student recipients, including supporting students from a particular geographic region.

‘I want to go someplace and make people healthier’
Approximately 24 students are admitted to I2CRP from each medical school class, said Mark Ryan, M’00, H’03, I2CRP medical director and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health. “Our students are amazing. They have diverse experiences and diverse backgrounds but a similar sense of ‘I want to go someplace and make people healthier where otherwise they would have struggled.’”

Since its first graduating class in 2000, 37 percent of I2CRP graduates have gone on to practice in family medicine with nearly a third of those practicing in rural areas. All told, 85 percent of graduates enter careers in the National Health Service Corps priority fields of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, combined internal medicine-pediatrics, OB-GYN, psychiatry and general surgery.

I2CRP director Mary Lee Magee attributes much of the program’s success to its curriculum that spans all four years of medical school, starting with electives in the spring semester of M1 and ending with a month-long community immersion during M4. Along the way, students share their experiences with their peers and faculty members.

“Our retention rate is very strong,” she says. “The program offers meaningful opportunities for critical thinking, reflection, mentorship and community building that are essential to support careers in underserved communities.”

That support is designed to go beyond graduation, Ryan says, when the challenges of caring for the underserved can become trying.

“Patients can’t fill prescriptions, can’t get to appointments, don’t have the same language as their physicians,” he says. “There will be times when it feels very hard to sustain and it’s important to have a support system to lean on. Hopefully through I2CRP, John and others will develop a network of peers, physicians and faculty who they can ask for advice and connect with when that time comes.”

It’s advice Weeks takes to heart as he applies for a family medicine residency with the ultimate goal of working “where people need me.”

“Find the little victories,” he says. “Some patients have a million obstacles lying in their path but if you can remove one or some of those obstacles, it’s huge. Every piece of the puzzle matters and once you start putting it together and help people get healthy, you realize everything you do, no matter how big or small, can be really rewarding.”

By Polly Roberts