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Alumnus and faculty member Mark Hom teams up with cycling legend to spotlight the science of fitness

Mark Hom, H’92

His interest in physical fitness led Mark Hom, H’92, to write a book that focuses on the crucial role mitochondria play in exercise, disease prevention and nutrition. Here he’s pictured breaking away on a Richmond Area Bicycling Association club ride. Photo by Allan Cooper

As he approached his 50th birthday, Mark Hom, H’92, made a pact with his wife that they would try to stay in great shape as they got older. They both took up cycling and, after struggling to pedal only a few miles when they first began, they now log thousands of miles on their bikes each year. His interest in physical fitness, and in cycling specifically, led him to write a book on the subject. “The Science of Fitness: Power, Performance and Endurance” focuses on the crucial role mitochondria play in exercise, disease prevention and nutrition.

In a recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch by Louis Llovio, Hom described how mitochondria – the power plants of our cells – convert food and body fat into the energy we need to exercise. Mitochondria multiply in response to intense exercise and diminish from lack of activity. Because their role in fitness and health is so central, it’s important to take care of your mitochondria to ensure top physical performance and to prevent the diseases of the modern age such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

“My analogy is that since mitochondria are inside your body and inside your cells, it is up to you to be a good shepherd to your mitochondrial flock by feeding them, making them strong and protecting them.” That translates into supplying them with good nutrition and exercising with intensity, while avoiding toxins that might weaken them.

“The Science of Fitness: Power, Performance and Endurance” can be found online at Amazon.com. The book is also available in Richmond at Barnes and Noble’s Libbie and Short Pump locations.

When he began writing the book, Hom, an assistant professor of radiology at the School of Medicine, started thinking about examples to demonstrate the importance of mitochondria’s role in fitness. As a cyclist, his thoughts quickly turned to one of the sport’s legends: Greg LeMond. LeMond. The two-time World Champion and three-time Tour de France winner obviously had superior mitochondria to power those wins but also suffered a near-fatal hunting accident in 1987 that knocked him out of cycling at the peak of his career.

After he recovered from his wounds, LeMond rebuilt his fitness to win again, but later suffered from muscle weakness and a lack of endurance. A muscle biopsy revealed the hallmark ragged red fibers of mitochondrial myopathy.

Mark Hom, H’92

Mark Hom, H’92

Hom, familiar with LeMond’s story, says this diagnosis was a seminal event in mitochondrial disease awareness. The lead shotgun pellets from the accident leaked toxins into LeMond’s body, damaging his mitochondria and prolonging his recovery time. Diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy, LeMond was forced to retire from bike racing in 1994 when he still should have been in his prime years.

Because LeMond’s story presents such a poignant example of the connection between mitochondria and fitness, Hom decided on a whim to send an early draft of his book to the famous cyclist.

To his surprise, LeMond responded with a long email and agreed to co-author the book. LeMond, who always sought coaches knowledgeable in physiology, says that physical training needs a more scientific approach as described in this book, something that trendy fitness books tend to lack. He has also gained a deeper understanding of how mitochondria shaped the high and lows of his cycling career.

Hom hopes that his book can be a guide for others looking to get in shape and understand the science behind fitness.

“My book is meant to help anyone at any age or fitness level to be as energetic and healthy as possible. We have different chapters on exercise, nutrition, maintaining muscle mass, slowing the aging process, and staying mentally sharp. Getting older is difficult enough. You don’t want to get old and have diseases too, especially diseases that can be largely prevented with exercise. For younger readers it explains why exercise should begin at an early age, in this era of childhood obesity.”

For his part, Hom plans to continue tending his mitochondrial flock on long, intense bike rides with his wife.

By Jack Carmichael


Alumnus Patrick Stover, Ph.D. named president of the American Society for Nutrition

Patrick Stover

Patrick Stover, PhD’90 (BIOC)

The American Society for Nutrition has elected Patrick Stover, PhD’90 (BIOC), president of the national organization that seeks to bring to together top researchers, clinicians and industry leaders to advance the understanding and application of nutrition. He plans to use his term as president to increase engagement between the diverse institutions that study nutrition by promoting collaboration between chemists, physicians, economists, politicians and others who make up the field.

Stover, professor and director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, said in an article for ASN’s newsletter that he will rely on his experience engaging students and academic departments as he seeks to create greater cohesiveness across the diverse field of nutrition. “Individuals, especially academics, have lots of choices these days, and one of the questions is how do you create loyalty – that is, establish real, firm connections between your organization and your membership.”

He has identified five initiatives that he hopes will increase ASN’s value to its members and foster a sense of belonging in the organization. He hopes to strengthen ASN’s connections with academic departments, develop a system of graduate student organizations around the world, expand ASN’s global visibility and authority, assure that ASN programming meets the diverse needs of its members and develop a new strategic plan for the organization.

These goals make clear just how expansive the field of nutrition is, as well as how important ASN’s role is in promoting collaboration and communication among its members. “We need to reach out to all members of the society and think about how we’re going to position ourselves as the leading authority in nutrition and the go-to academic home for nutrition research,” Stover said.

He wants the organization to move away from expressing its own, sometimes divisive, opinions and ideas, as was the case in the past when nutritional information was often based on opinion rather than evidence-based science. Rather, he sees ASN’s role as a “trusted and neutral broker” that promotes the exchange of ideas between members.

“People who want blue bananas can argue for blue bananas and people who want yellow bananas can argue for yellow bananas. We just look at the merits of those arguments and identify what we need to move forward to solve those problems.”

By promoting inclusiveness and collaboration, Stover aims to make the organization a home for everyone during his time as ASN’s president and welcomes faculty, practitioners and students with an interest in nutrition to engage with the organization and attend its scientific meetings.

By Jack Carmichael


Resident and student take top honors in skills competition at vascular surgery conference

Dan NewtonIn addition to participating in the surgical skills competition, third-year general surgery resident Dan Newton, M’12, presented original research: Contemporary Outcomes of Isolated Iliac Artery Aneurysm Repair.

Dozens of medical students and surgical residents faced off in a skills competition at the 2015 Vascular Annual Meeting. Organized by the Society for Vascular Surgery, the meeting was held June 17-20 in Chicago.

The clinical skills competition drew 40 residents and 48 fourth-year medical students. Dan Newton, M’12, and student Grayson Pitcher had known about the opportunity beforehand, but had not known what it would entail.

While there was no way to specifically prepare, “the vascular surgery rotation at the VA Medical Center gave my technical skills a huge boost,” said Newton, a third-year general surgery resident. “Out there we primarily work with Dr. Michael Amendola, who has been an incredible teacher and mentor, and really sparked my interest in vascular surgery.”

“Our residents get extreme exposure,” noted Amendola, M’02, H’07, F’’09, pointing out that the McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center has the fifth busiest vascular surgery schedule in the nationwide VA system.

Newton was one of three residents to receive perfect scores on five timed stations that tested different skills like suturing, suture identification and knot tying without putting any stress on the item being tied.

Newton plans to apply for a vascular surgery fellowship this year. “The field has a great mix of big open cases and minimally invasive endovascular procedures,” he said. “It is also based heavily in physics and geometry, so it just sort of clicks for me.”

Grayson Pitcher during the skills competitionRising fourth-year student Grayson Pitcher during the skills competition at the 2015 Vascular Annual Meeting.

Rising fourth-year student Pitcher also was awarded a perfect score along with two other student participants. The fourth-year medical student competition’s tasks included a two-minute station at which they had to tie knots to the tab of a lightly weighted soda can without moving the can from a designated circle. Another event involved closing a 3 cm slit on a plastic tube.

Dr. Rahul Anand does a phenomenal job with the M3 surgical clerkship,” Pitcher said. “Because of him and the rest of the surgical faculty, I believe every third-year student at VCU has an advanced set of surgical skills and knowledge after their clerkship.”

For Pitcher, though, the event was less about the competition and more about the ability to network with vascular surgeons who were assigned to judge each station. He met faculty from across the country and was able to learn more about vascular surgery programs at a number of medical schools. That knowledge will be useful when he applies to vascular surgery residencies this fall.

Pitcher grew up with a balance of art, music and sports in his life. As a result, “I love anything creative, and it reflects in my personality in that I am very patient and obsessive compulsive about projects and detail. I always thought surgery would be a great fit. I loved how intricate and meticulous the vascular procedures were.”

He, too, credits the mentorship of assistant professor Amendola for his success. “My experience inside and outside the operating room with him has been an instrumental reason for choosing vascular surgery.”

Amendola, in turn, points to his experiences when he was a trainee with Richmond vascular surgeon Ronald K. Davis, M’63, H’69, and his MCV-trained practice partners. Amendola emulates the examples they set and prioritizes his role as a mentor, knowing it’s one of the most influential factors when students choose a specialty.

“The real reward in academic medicine is influencing the surgeons of tomorrow,” he said. “Dan and Grayson are going to be fantastic vascular surgeons.”


Dozen with ties to medical school played roles at ACP’s Internal Medicine 2015 meeting

The American College of Physicians is the second-largest physician group in the United States. Its annual meeting, also its centennial celebration, was held April 30 – May 2, 2015, in Boston, Mass. From behind the scenes to center stage, a dozen with ties to the medical school played roles at the meeting.


John F. Fisher, M’69, H’77

John F. Fisher, M’69, H’77, received the Jane F. Desforges Distinguished Teacher Award at the American College of Physicians’ national meeting in Boston, Mass., on April 30, 2015.

A professor emeritus of Georgia Regents University, Fisher’s academic career spans 38 years. The ACP honor is that latest of nearly five dozen teaching awards, including the Clinical Teacher Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the ACP Georgia Chapter’s J. Willis Hurst Teaching Award and two dozen Educator of the Year awards from Georgia Regents University.

During residency training at VCU, he was given the William Harrison Higgins Award. As an infectious disease fellow, he received the Best Fellow Award two years in succession. Following his training, Fisher joined the faculty of the Medical College of Georgia (now Georgia Regents University), where he was professor of medicine and program director for the Infectious Disease Fellowship. He also served as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga.

Fisher has served on the education committees for both the IDSA and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. He has 101 publications including 57 articles in refereed journals and 44 book chapters. At the ACP annual meeting, he was advanced from Fellow of the American College of Physicians to Master of the American College of Physicians.


Richard “Dick” P. Wenzel, M.D.

Richard “Dick” P. Wenzel, M.D., was the Massachusetts Chapter Lecturer at the ACP meeting. An emeritus professor and former chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine, Wenzel has been long been involved with the ACP and has frequently presented at the annual meeting, keeping physicians up to date with the latest information on topics in internal medicine and infectious disease. His topic at Internal Medicine 2015 was evidence-based physical diagnosis.

In 1988, the Massachusetts Chapter Award Lectureship was established to honor a distinguished Massachusetts internist and to honor an outstanding member of the annual meeting faculty. Today, the recipient of the award is selected by the chair of the Internal Medicine Scientific Program Planning Committee.

Robert Centor

Robert M. Centor, M’75

Robert M. Centor, M’75, concluded his one-year term as chair of the ACP Board of Regents at the annual meeting. The Board of Regents is the main policy-making body of the College.

A member of ACP since 1978, Centor was named a Fellow of ACP in 1985 and became a Master of ACP on October 1, 2014. He has served on the Board of Regents since 2008 and also on many of ACP’s committees, including the Membership Committee, Finance Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and the Health and Public Policy Committee, which he chaired from 2009-2011. Centor was awarded the Laureate Award for outstanding service to medicine and ACP from the Alabama Chapter of ACP in 2009.

He is currently professor of medicine and regional dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Huntsville Regional Medical Campus. He was on the internal medicine faculty on VCU’s Medical College of Virginia Campus until 1993.


Lisa L. Ellis, M’01, H’04

Lisa L. Ellis, M’01, H’04, chaired the Scientific Program Committee that created a mix of small group sessions, classic lectures and hands-on activities for the annual meeting. Faculty presented new findings in internal medicine and its subspecialties, presented new approaches in practice management and discussed issues related to health care policy as well as lead sessions to hone leadership and teaching skills.

“When I attend each year, I bring back new ideas for managing patients as well as techniques for enhancing my own leadership style,” says Ellis who as the ACP Governor for Virginia represents the state on the ACP’s national Board of Governors. In that role, she helps implement national projects and initiatives at the chapter level and represents member concerns at the national level. Ellis also is on the Board of Governors’ executive committee, which advises the Board of Regents.

Ellis currently is the chief medical officer for the Medical College of Virginia Physicians at VCU and has an appointment as an associate professor in internal medicine and OB-GYN.

A student and young alumnus have taken leadership roles in the organization:


Ali M. Khan, M’09

Ali M. Khan, M’09, is chair of the ACP’s National Council of Resident/Fellow Members that represents the interests of over 22,000 residents and fellows-in-training. He’s been on the 11-member council since his intern year at Yale and has helped lead ACP’s High Value Care initiative that educates and engages physicians as well as resident and fellow members in how to practice in a value-sensitive, thoughtful manner for resource stewardship and patient engagement.

At the ACP’s annual meeting, he co-hosted the council’s marquee event, a TED talk-style national forum for promising innovations and bright ideas for teaching high-value care. Moderated by author Sandeep Jauhar, M.D., and the New York Times’ Lisa Sanders, M.D., the event showcased winners from the second annual Teaching Value and Choosing Wisely Challenge sponsored by the ABIM Foundation and the national non-profit Costs of Care.

“We’ve read articles, attended lectures and held forums making the case for value-based care delivery,” Khan says. “Now, however, those words are being bolstered by action – on the ground, at institutions all across the country, led by talented health professionals with the creativity and drive to effect the collective change we seek. Award Winning Innovations isn’t about making the theoretical case for value – it’s about sharing the best work being done nationally to make that case a reality.”


MD-PhD student Chelsea Cockburn

MD-PhD student Chelsea Cockburn began her four-year term as a representative on the National Council of Student Members in April 2015. Council members organize programming for medical students at the national ACP conference every year, and Cockburn attended the annual meeting in Boston where she was looking forward to meeting the rest of the council members as well as internal medicine physicians.

As a member of the student council, Cockburn is assigned a region of medical schools in the U.S. and will help advise the internal medicine interest groups at those schools to strengthen activities at the chapter level. She’s also been selected to represent the council on the ACP Education and Publication Committee that provides scientific and professional information to physicians, trainees and patients.


ACP attendees with ties to the medical school reunited during the Internal Medicine 2015 meeting. Each year, the Department of Internal Medicine hosts a reception. This year it was held at Boston’s Atlantic Beer Garden overlooking the harbor.

A number of faculty from the Department of Internal Medicine presented at Internal Medicine 2015:

  • Stephanie A. Call, M.D., MSPH, professor in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care.
  • Alan W. Dow III, M.D., associate professor in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care.
  • Mary H. Hackney, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology.
  • Puneet Puri, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gastroenterology.
  • George W. Vetrovec, M.D., professor in the Division of Cardiology.

Others were honored at the meeting:

  • Wendy Klein, M.D., associate professor emerita, was awarded the designation of ACP master and was recognized as the Virginia ACP chapter’s 2015 Laureate winner. Klein was co-founder of the VCU Institute for Women’s Health and was the department’s first program director for an innovative residency in Women’s Health.
  • Curtis N. Sessler M.D., the Orhan Muren Distinguished Professor of Medicine, and professor in the Division of Pulmonary Disease, was named an ACP fellow.
  • John R. Strunk, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of General Medicine, was named an ACP fellow.
  • Darren Witte, M.D., in General Medicine and Pediatrics, was named an ACP fellow.

Class of 1980’s Elliot Sternberg inducted into AOA

Elliot SternbergElliot Sternberg, M’80

Elliot Sternberg, M’80, a physician executive who has succeeded in a wide variety of roles, was recently inducted into the Brown Sequard chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha in honor of his accomplishments and dedication to delivering high-quality care to patients.

Sternberg returned to the MCV Campus to participate in the AOA dinner, an annual event that welcomes new members into the prestigious AOA Medical Honor Society. Every year the Brown Sequard chapter of AOA inducts students selected from the top 16 percent of the School of Medicine’s third- and fourth-year classes. The elite society also accepts nominations for deserving faculty, residents and alumni.

As this year’s sole alumni inductee into the society, Sternberg was asked to pass along some of the knowledge he has gained after years working across the continuum of care. In a talk titled “The Joy of Medicine,” he described for the assembled AOA members how physicians can sometimes lose sight of what their true goals are. Sternberg warned that if physicians fail to focus on the meaningfulness of their work, they may stop enjoying their jobs.

“I often hear doctors talking about how the joy of medicine is gone, because of bureaucracy, paperwork, the evils of insurance companies, the stupidity of health systems and declining compensation. But what I think is – these doctors don’t know how to deal with change.”

Sternberg had a remedy on hand for combatting this type of physician burnout. He recalled a mnemonic device that helped him throughout his career: the five “I’s”, which stands for involvement, information, investment, incentives and innovation. By remembering these five principles, Sternberg said, he has remained engaged and happy with his work.

“The beauty of medicine is its flexibility,” he said, “It keeps changing, it’s never boring. There are always new diseases, new presentations of diseases and new treatment options.”

He recommended that physicians pursue ongoing medical education and embrace the challenges of performance benchmarking such as physician report cards. He also urged his audience to seek new innovations that can improve their work and invest themselves in the success of their organizations. By exploring new ways to improve yourself as a student of medicine, a caregiver and a person, he said, one can recapture the joy of medicine.

At the center of all these strategies, Sternberg explained, is the idea that doctors choose their profession because they want to help people. While the five I’s can help deal with the routine challenges of the job, ultimately physicians must remember that the true joy of their work comes from improving the health and quality of life of the patients they serve.

“The essence of medicine, and the joy of medicine,” Sternberg said, “is to know that you made a connection with patients and their families, your colleagues and the community. At the end of the day you can judge your career successful if you made meaningful impacts on these groups.”

By Jack Carmichael


MD-PhD student and young alumnus take leadership roles in country’s second-largest physician group

Ali M. Khan

Ali M. Khan, M’09

The Class of 2009’s Ali M. Khan and current M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn have recently taken on leadership roles with the American College of Physicians, the second-largest physician group in the U.S.

Ali M. Khan, M’09, is chair of the American College of Physicians’ National Council of Resident/Fellow Members. He has served on the national council that represents the interests of over 22,000 residents and fellows-in-training since his intern year at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In his senior year of residency, Khan was elected by the 11-member council to serve as its chair-elect who represents the voices and interests of the resident and fellow members on the ACP’s Board of Governors. Now he has transitioned into the chair’s seat and serves on the Board of Regents, the ACP’s highest governing body.

“Since graduating, the bulk of my health policy and advocacy work has lived in the ACP,” says Khan who has also served on the ACP’s public policy and medical practice committees.

“Over the past five years, my work has focused primarily in two arenas: furthering the college’s role as a hub of leadership training and development for trainees and, accordingly, focusing our role as a council in catalyzing the value proposition and engagement opportunities for trainees.”

He’s helped lead ACP’s High Value Care initiative that educates and engages physicians as well as residents and fellows in how to practice in a value-sensitive, thoughtful manner for resource stewardship and patient engagement. At the ACP’s upcoming annual meeting, he’ll co-host the council’s marquee event, a TED talk-style national forum for promising innovations and bright ideas for teaching high-value care.

When he’s not serving at the ACP, Khan is a clinical innovator and director of physician engagement at Boston-based Iora Health. He practices general internal medicine at Iora’s super-utilizer clinic serving medically complex casino workers in Las Vegas and also serves on Yale’s clinical faculty.

M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn

M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn

In April, M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn began a four-year term on the ACP’s National Council of Student Members, a 13-member group that advises the Board of Regents and Board of Governors on promoting internal medicine as a career and increasing the value of ACP membership to medical students.

She’ll be assigned a region of medical schools in the U.S. and will help advise the internal medicine interest groups at those schools to strengthen activities at the chapter level. She’s also been selected to represent the council on the ACP Education and Publication Committee that provides scientific and professional information to physicians, trainees and patients.

Council members organize programming for medical students at the national ACP conference every year, and Cockburn will attend the annual meeting in Boston later this month. “I’m really excited to get to meet the rest of the council members as well as network with Internal medicine physicians,” she says.

Originally from Harrisonburg, Va., Cockburn entered the M.D.-Ph.D. program in 2013 and in March 2015 began her graduate training in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. She’s been an admissions tour guide and was a trip leader for HOMBRE, the annual student-led medical relief trip to Honduras. With a strong interest in global health, Cockburn plans on doing a fellowship in infectious disease after a residency in internal medicine.

The ACP is a national organization of internists and is the country’s second-largest medical-physician organization, behind only the American Medical Association. Its membership of 141,000 includes internists and internal medicine subspecialists as well as medical students, residents and fellows. An influential voice in American health care, it’s celebrating 100 years since its founding in 1915.