Jump to content
School of Medicine Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine discoveries


Alumni achievements and news archives


Video produced by senior neurology residents vies for Neuro Film Festival honors

Two senior neurology residents, Alicia Zukas, M.D., and Ken Ono, D.O., have produced a video that’s drawing attention in the American Brain Foundation’s film competition.

Their five-minute video, “Back to Life,” brings awareness to the phenomenon of strokes in young adults through the story of 33-year-old Delanie Stephenson. It is currently one of the top 4 vote getters from among more than 50 competition entries.

Go online before March 27 to select your favorite. You will have to register in order to view the videos and cast your vote.

The “fan favorite” winner will be announced at the Neuro Film Festival at the American Academy of Neurology Meeting in Philadelphia in late April.

One in six people is affected by brain disease. The American Brain Foundation aims to reduce the prevalence of brain disease by supporting research into prevention, treatment and cures. The Neuro Film Festival helps raise awareness about the need for more research. This year’s entries feature a diversity of brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, autism and Parkinson’s disease.

Zukas earned her medical degree from VCU in 2010, and Ono is a graduate of the NY College of Osteopathic Medicine.


M.D. students tutor elementary children in Fulton Hill after-school program, alumnus lends support


About 10 medical students volunteer with an after-school tutoring program for K-12 students from the Fulton Hill neighborhood.

Last year, the Class of 2016’s Arhanti Sadanand was faced with a choice. Part of her responsibilities as a first-year medical student included participating in LINC, or Learners Involved in the Needs of Communities. She knew she wanted working with children to be part of her community service.

She chose to volunteer with the Fulton Outreach Program, where she could tutor school-aged children in the Fulton Hill neighborhood after school. When her first-year LINC commitment came to an end, Arhanti decided to continue volunteering.

“I wanted to remain in touch with the Richmond community,” said Arhanti, who acknowledges it can sometimes be hard to get out from under the books. “I view Fulton as a really great study break. For a couple hours, I can clear my mind of studying and just focus on helping a kid learn about fractions. It’s refreshing.”

Three other M2s were able to commit for a second year, and they’ve joined forces with about half a dozen M1s. Working together, the students are able to supply tutors for two hours a day, four days a week.

Of the 100 school-aged children in the Fulton community, as many as half are regularly involved in the after-school sessions. While most are elementary school aged, students from kindergarten through high school can come for homework help in reading and math. After a first hour of hitting the books, the second is devoted to games and activities.

“Tutoring has made a huge impact on me,” Arhanti said. “I feel that I have made lasting connections with the kids when I hear that they ask about me over the school vacations, and I consider myself lucky that some of them have accepted me as a regular part of their lives.”

Working alongside the medical students are Fulton residents Chavioleytte Crenshaw and Theresa Burrell who are committed to helping care for and mentor the children in the neighborhood. A program coordinator from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority also assists in running the program.


The first hour of the after school program is devoted to studies and the second is spent in games and activities.

“I think there are often misconceptions about the Fulton neighborhood and generalizations about the kinds of people who live in the projects,” Arhanti said. “After spending time with the kids and exploring the history of the community, I’ve learned a lot about what binds the community together. There are a few amazing women who have invested much of their own time and resources to keep these kinds of enrichment programs alive. Initially, I was surprised by how hard they have pushed to help their own children succeed, and now I am simply in awe of how deeply they care for the entire neighborhood.”

Giving medical students the opportunity to better understand the Richmond community is one of LINC’s goals. The nationally recognized service learning experience serves as a critical link between the school and the community and allows students to experience first-hand the environments in which their patients spend their lives.

“I know that many of us wish we could do more for our community,” Arhanti said. “Realistically, two hours of my time each week isn’t enough to solve big problems, but I find that simply showing up every week, especially for a child who doesn’t necessarily have a stable role model, is undervalued. I’m happy to be part of a medical school community in which others feel the same way.”

The Class of 2004’s Danny Avula, M.D., M.P.H., helped get the project off the ground. He worked with Joan Seldon, family and community services manager with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, to get access to an empty public housing unit in Fulton Avenue to give the tutoring program a home.

Avula, who is the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District, continues to support the program. He stays on the lookout for community partnerships and funding opportunities. He and Seldon teamed up again and were able to secure a small stipend for the program’s coordinator from the Office of Attorney General.

“We think the Fulton initiative is a beautiful example of how committed community residents, paired with dedicated MCV students are making a meaningful difference in the lives of kids in the Fulton neighborhood,” said Andrew Thompson, special projects coordinator with the Richmond City Health District. “And all with essentially zero funding.”

Danny T.K. Avula, M.D., M.P.H., is the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District
You can read about the highs and lows Avula experiences as the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District in a guest column published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last summer: Healthy family model can make the difference.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Thompson, who also helped in compiling this story.


VMI alumni join forces for VCU medical students


Third-year medical student Quinn C. Wicks was one of the first students to benefit from the School of Medicine/VMI partnership.

The Virginia Military Institute experience is one that stays with alumni for a lifetime.

“It’s a tight community,” said Warren W. Koontz Jr., M.D., professor emeritus in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Division of Urology and a 1953 VMI alumnus.

That tight community extends beyond VMI’s Lexington, Va., home.

For VMI students hoping to study medicine that spirit of community has helped pave the way for an experience on the MCV Campus.

In 2008, Koontz and fellow VMI alumnus David S. Wilkinson, M.D., Ph.D., professor and former chair in the VCU Department of Pathology, worked to include VMI in the School of Medicine’s Preferred Applicant Track, which allows students enrolled at select undergraduate colleges and universities to apply to medical school at the end of their sophomore year. If accepted, those students are guaranteed admission, provided they stay on track for grade and service requirements. As many as 15 VCU undergraduates are accepted annually into the program including up to two students from VMI.

Once the preferred track was in place, Koontz made a lead gift in 2009 to establish the VMI Scholarship Fund, gaining support from other VMI alumni, including Bruce C. Gottwald Sr., a member of the VMI Board of Visitors and a longtime supporter of the MCV Foundation and VCU’s School of Engineering.

“VMI is a shared experience,” Gottwald said. “It’s four years of close association with your fellow cadets. That builds a certain amount of pride that stays with you. You work your way to graduation by a good bit of extra hard work and responsibility. That’s got to be a plus for medical students.”

Quinn C. Wicks, a third-year medical student, was one of the first VMI undergraduates admitted to the School of Medicine via the Preferred Applicant Track. He also is one of the first recipients of the VMI Scholarship.

“I’m very fortunate for the blessings that I’ve received from Dr. Koontz and Mr. Gottwald,” Wicks said.

Gottwald’s generosity has touched Wicks’ life more than once. At VMI, he was awarded the F.D. Gottwald Scholarship, established by Gottwald and his brother, Floyd, in honor of their late father.

Fundraising for the VMI Scholarship at VCU, which is awarded based on need or merit, now stands at more than $200,000, said Wilkinson, whose long-term goal is for the scholarship to cover full tuition for every VMI student admitted to the School of Medicine.

“Scholarships are vital in making medical education affordable,” said Jerome Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “Our Preferred Applicant Track with VMI has brought us some outstanding and disciplined medical students. But these VMI alumni have taken it a step further. I admire the remarkable loyalty they have shown to their alma mater and to their fellow graduates by creating a scholarship that gives a helping hand to VMI cadets who dream of studying at our School of Medicine.”

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the 2014 winter issue of the Power of Personal Philanthropy.


Alumna Esther Johnston honored with AAFP Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education


Alumna Esther Johnston receiving the AAFP’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education

The American Academy of Family Physicians has honored the Class of 2011’s Esther Johnston with its Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education. Of the 3,200 eligible family medicine residents, only a dozen are selected for this esteemed designation. They received their awards at the AAFP Scientific Assembly in San Diego in September.

The AAFP award recognizes outstanding family medicine residents for their leadership, civic involvement, exemplary patient care and aptitude for and interest in family medicine. Johnston is now a third-year family medicine resident in Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona.

In announcing her selection, the AAFP highlighted Johnston’s interest in global and public health. The announcement praised her effort to raise funds for the first phase of a deworming and nutrition project in the Kibera slum just outside of Nairobi, Kenya.

Johnston first traveled to Kenya from the MCV Campus on a trip funded by a CDC-Hubert Global Health Fellowship. She was awarded the fellowship while a fourth-year medical student in support of her work on community-oriented measles outbreak response activities in the African state.

She says it was during her undergraduate studies that she first fell in love with global health, working across the border at the Flying Samaritans Chapultapec Clinic in Mexico throughout her four years of college. She broadened that interest in medical school, taking a one-year leave of absence to complete an M.P.H. in international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a focus on humanitarian assistance and refugee health.

The University of Arizona’s family medicine residency, she says, is giving her the procedural and diagnostic skills to practice in underserved areas within the U.S. and around the world. “Our in-patient service offers tremendous opportunities to practice under-served medicine: we treat the homeless, the incarcerated and patients suffering from rhabdomyolysis and intestinal illnesses who are brought to us in the custody of Border Patrol after the long foot crossing over the border from Mexico.”

After she completes residency, Johnston plans to seek a position that will allow her to balance her passion for clinical medicine with a commitment to public health and medical education. She is considering full-scope family medicine faculty positions in the U.S. and abroad.


Chris Woleben’s toolkit for mastering the Match is distributed nationwide

Christopher Woleben, M.D.

Christopher Woleben, M.D.

A graduate of the medical school’s Class of 1997, Christopher Woleben, M.D., is now associate dean for student affairs at his alma mater. In that capacity, he’s been the architect of a four-year advising program that helps medical students select their paths in medicine and develop career planning skills.

Called Careers in Medicine at VCU, the program is now in its sixth year. Its success can be measured, to a certain degree, by the success rate our fourth-year students have had in matching to one of their preferred residency sites in the specialty of their choice.

But even well laid plans have to be responsive to changing conditions.

The Class of 2013 faced a challenging year. Nationally, the number of individuals applying for residency programs increased from 16,526 to 17,487, while the number of training spots remained steady. To complicate matters, the National Resident Matching Program had tweaked the process used to help place unmatched students to unfilled programs. Known as the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, and in just its second year of use, administrators and students were wary of its impact.

To reduce the risk of students going unmatched, Woleben developed a method for tracking the residency match process of his fourth-year medical students. With it, he was able to closely monitor their progress and identify at-risk students so he could intervene.

As students submit their initial application and begin interviewing at residency sites around the country, Woleben periodically surveys them with questions about the number of programs they applied to, the interviews they’ve secured and concerns they may have.

“If you’re able to identify students who may be at risk for going unmatched earlier in the application process, they can apply to additional residency programs or different specialties to increase their chances of matching,” Woleben points out.

Student participation is voluntary, but Woleben says that participation grows as students see the potential of increasing their opportunity to match. “In our first year of using the toolkit, the response rate was 45%, but it’s since grown to 90‐98%.”

This past year, close to 500 U.S. senior medical students failed to match. Despite this, 94% of our students matched into a residency program, compared to the national average of 93.7. For those students who were unmatched, half received a program offer within the first two rounds of SOAP.

This fall, the Association of American Medical Colleges approached Woleben with the request that he share his process with medical schools around the U.S. Complete with survey questions, an advisor checklist and tips, the M4 Match Survey Toolkit was distributed to the AAMC’s Group on Student Affairs in September.

According to Anita M. Navarro, M.Ed., a research analyst with the AAMC’s Careers in Medicine program, they’ve been getting good feedback on the toolkit. In November, Woleben had another chance to present his toolkit, this time at the 2013 AAMC Annual Meeting in Philadelphia as part of a panel discussion on counseling students at risk for going unmatched.

“Advising a student at risk of going unmatched is a challenge,” Woleben said. “You must be prepared to have a difficult conversation that balances a realistic assessment of their probability of matching with their desire to pursue their specialty of choice.”


Alumni honored at Medical Society of Virginia annual meeting

Sterling RansoneSterling N. Ransone Jr., M.D., FAAFP

The contributions of a quartet of medical alumni were celebrated at the Medical Society of Virginia’s annual meeting at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs on Oct. 26.

The Class of 1992’s Sterling N. Ransone Jr., M.D., FAAFP, was inaugurated as the new president of the MSV. Rannsone, who specializes in family medicine at Riverside Fishing Bay Family Practice in Deltaville, has also served in the MSV as chairman of its political action committee.

Sue CantrellE. Sue Cantrell, M.D.

The Class of 1980s’ E. Sue Cantrell, M.D., was honored by the MSV Foundation with its annual Salute to Service award for service to the uninsured and underserved. She has led a series of public health initiatives to increase access to basic health care and has used telemedicine technology to support diagnostic and screening programs including acting as the primary medical contact and coordinator of the Remote Area Medical Clinic.

Cantrell has served as the dean of the Appalachian College of Pharmacy and currently helps lead various regional health initiatives including One Care of Southwest Virginia, Healthy Appalachia Institute, Southwest Virginia Health Authority and the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority. She is director of the Lenowisco Health District for the Virginia Department of Health and works part-time with Frontier Health, Inc. delivering addiction medicine services to residents of Wise, Scott and Lee Counties and the City of Norton, Virginia.

Augustine LewisAugustine “Gus” Warner Lewis III, M.D.

A second Salute to Service award winner was the Class of 1969’s Augustine “Gus” Warner Lewis III, M.D., who was honored for his long-term commitment to caring for patients in medically underserved communities and for training and mentoring medical students who wish to do the same. After assuming his father’s medical practice in Aylett in 1974, Lewis was the lynchpin for access to care for residents of the region, not only through his own medical practice but also through his service as medical director for three area Emergency Medical Services squads.

Lewis focuses considerable time and energy training new family physicians both through his work as a part-time faculty member at the Bon Secours St. Francis Family Medicine Residency Program and the VCU School of Medicine. He also serves as a mentor for VCU medical students with a particular interest in working in medically underserved communities.

Steven CrossmanSteven Crossman, M.D.

The Class of 1995’s Steven Crossman, M.D., a faculty member for the medical school’s Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, received a Salute to Service award for his commitment to global health service and to educating physicians for service in international, inner city and rural communities.

Crossman has been instrumental in expanding VCU’s International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship and has developed a Global Health elective that provides medical and pharmacy students with the knowledge and skills they need to travel overseas on medical service teams. He also is chief operating officer for VCU-Thundermist Pinares Project, which has established a year-round medical presence in Pinares, Honduras including a clinic with nursing staffing and regular U.S.-based medical service brigades.