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Mentors pay it forward

The Department of Internal Medicine celebrates the awarding of the inaugural Thames-Kontos Mentoring Award.

The Department of Internal Medicine celebrates the awarding of the inaugural Thames-Kontos Mentoring Award. L-R: Marc Thames, M’70; inaugural recipient Antonio Abbate, M.D., H’07; Hermes Kontos, M.D., H’62, PhD’67; and Todd Gehr, F’87, interim internal medicine chair.

“It was critical to my career development.” That’s how Marc D. Thames, M’70, describes the mentorship of Hermes A. Kontos, M.D., H’62, PhD’67 (PHIS), and its impact on his life and career. Thames calls his medical school years a magical time and says, “Dr. Kontos was the most impactful part of the magic. I always felt like I could talk to him about anything.”

Thames began working in Kontos’ cardiac research lab after completing his first year of medical school and the two quickly established a bond that continues today.

“I realized right away how lucky I was to have Hermes Kontos as a mentor. He never said ‘I don’t have the time.’ He shared my excitement for the science that served as the basis for the work we did together, and was always available to come to the lab when help was needed with the technical aspects of the experiments we performed.”

Kontos was just beginning his 41-year tenure on the MCV Campus when he and Thames first started to work together. He would go on to become medical school dean and later vice president for health sciences and CEO of VCU Health System. He always saw mentoring as part of his role.

“To establish a younger generation of academic physicians, you have to get them interested in science early on,” Kontos says. “Be there for them when they come to you with a problem or need career advice. It doesn’t take much time to suggest what you think is best for them.”

But it can be the critical difference in the career development of a young physician. What Thames received from Kontos inspired him in his own work with students, residents and fellows throughout his career at Temple University, Case Western Reserve University, VCU (based at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center) and University of Iowa. Today his academic career and mentoring continue at Emory University in the School of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology.

“It became very clear to me that mentoring is such a critical part of career development for young people,” Thames says. “I’ve worked to pay it forward by being a good listener and trying to help young people to pursue a direction that excites them and makes them want to work hard.”

In honor of mentoring relationships and their power to change lives, and as a way for him to express his gratitude to the institution that was so critical to his own career development, Thames made a generous gift to the School of Medicine to establish the Thames-Kontos Mentoring Award. Housed in the Department of Internal Medicine, the award celebrates faculty who have had a significant impact on the lives of medical students, residents, fellows and junior faculty through exceptional mentorship or professional guidance. It also serves as annual recognition of the mentoring relationship between Thames and Kontos.

“Without his mentorship, my career would have taken a completely different path. He opened my mind to the possibilities of what could be done, and got me excited about an area that ultimately became the focus of my research career,” says Thames, referring to his research on the autonomic nervous system and how it regulates the heart and circulation.

Who was your mentor?
Do you have a memory of a favorite mentor from your time on the MCV Campus? Email us at MedAlum@vcu.edu and share your story.

Housestaff alumnus Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., the James C. Roberts, Esq. Professor in Cardiology, received the inaugural Thames-Kontos Mentoring Award on Feb. 8, 2019.

Kenneth A. Ellenbogen, M.D., Martha M. and Harold W. Kimmerling Professor of Cardiology, wrote one of Abbate’s multiple nomination letters. In his letter, Ellenbogen cited the outstanding guidance of his own mentor — Marc Thames.

In the 1980s, Kontos had recruited Thames back to Richmond, Virginia, to serve as professor of medicine and chief of the cardiology section at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Then Thames recruited Ellenbogen from Duke University to lead the development of cardiac electrophysiology at the VA.

Now chair of VCU Health’s cardiology division, Ellenbogen wrote, “Dr. Thames created an enthusiasm for research and work that was contagious and an environment that was always inspiring and exciting … I have never been more stimulated to ask questions in my life. Marc taught me that the questions were what was important and the techniques and technology were just tools. He taught and inspired so many young cardiologists, many of whom went on to very successful careers in academic medicine.”

Ellenbogen says Abbate has created the same type of palpable enthusiasm and excitement among today’s junior faculty. “He is a gifted and highly productive clinician scientists who gives selflessly of his time and effort to support trainees and faculty in cardiology. It’s very fitting that he is the first recipient of this special award.”

Thanks to the Thames-Kontos Mentoring Award, the cycle of mentorship will be celebrated for many years to come.

By Polly Roberts


VCU trauma director Aboutanos leads planning for statewide trauma system

Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam recently reappointed VCU Trauma Center Medical Director Michel Aboutanos, M.D., H'00, M.P.H., to the state's EMS Advisory Board. Here, Aboutanos is pictured at the Shining Knight Gala, an annual event honoring first-responders, nurses, doctors and others who save trauma patients' lives.

Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam recently reappointed VCU Trauma Center Medical Director Michel Aboutanos, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., to the state’s EMS Advisory Board. Here, Aboutanos is pictured at the Shining Knight Gala, an annual event honoring first-responders, nurses, doctors and others who save trauma patients’ lives.

When coordinated trauma care succeeds, it’s like a symphony, says VCU Trauma Center Medical Director Michel Aboutanos, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S.

It takes every member of the care team coming together — perfecting their skills and hitting their notes — to save lives.

“We need everyone working together for that patient who’s facing impossible injuries to survive,” says Aboutanos, a 2000 housestaff alumnus.

A symphony also needs the right conductor. And what Aboutanos has helped create at VCU, he’s been asked to expand to a statewide level.

Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam recently tapped Aboutanos for a second three-year term on the state’s EMS Advisory Board, where he will continue to lead the Trauma System Oversight and Management Committee. The reappointment gives him the chance to oversee implementation of the plan for a statewide trauma system that the committee developed during his first term.

“Our ultimate purpose is to make sure the injured patient receives appropriate care across the commonwealth,” says Aboutanos, who notes that currently protocols for treating injured patients may differ across the state’s five Level 1 trauma centers. “Second, we have not collectively looked at our top trauma problems and how we’re going to tackle them under one coordinated effort.”

A Level 1 trauma center designation recognizes hospitals across the nation that deliver the highest quality care within and beyond hospital walls through teaching and research, as well as injury and violence prevention programs.

“VCU Medical Center was the first trauma center designated in Virginia,” Aboutanos says. “We have 30 years of experience so it’s extremely important that we continue to show that commitment and leadership to the commonwealth.”

Gary Brown, director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Medical Services, says that’s one of the many reasons Aboutanos is most qualified to chair the committee.

“Dr. Aboutanos was the only clear, objective and logical pathway to navigate the commonwealth’s complex facets and components of trauma care and mold it into an integrated vision and trauma system plan for all Virginians,” says Brown, whose office manages the EMS Advisory Board.

Brown saw the success of VCU’s trauma center when Aboutanos invited him to the Shining Knight Gala. The annual VCU Health event honors all members of the trauma team from emergency medicine first-responders to doctors, nurses and others who save trauma patients’ lives and put them on the road to recovery. The event raises funds for VCU Trauma Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program.

“Trauma care must be structured around the patient’s needs and delivering optimal outcomes along a continuum of care,” Brown says “The Shining Knight Gala represented and demonstrated every aspect and component that defines a comprehensive, coordinated, efficient and effective Level 1 trauma care program.”

Similarly, as chair of the EMS Advisory Board’s Trauma System Oversight and Management Committee, Aboutanos created a task force comprised of all the players and stakeholders who influence a patient’s care from before the point of injury to pre-hospital and hospital care to rehabilitation and reentry into the community.

About the Fletcher Ammons Professorship in Surgery

Endowed professorships and chairs represent the highest academic honor a university can bestow on a faculty member. They aim to help universities recruit and retain the brightest teachers, researchers and clinicians, enriching the academic and clinical environment for students and patients alike.

An endowed professorship or chair also serves as a lasting tribute to the donor who established it. Mary H. Ammons, wife of Col. Fletcher E. Ammons, M’26, established the professorship in surgery that bears his name after her husband’s death in 1978.

Col. Ammons served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, retiring in 1946 with the rank of Colonel. His last duty station was as hospital commander at Langley Air Force Base.

The task force’s seven sub-groups met more than 100 times over three years, first reviewing recommendations from the American College of Surgeons and then determining how to incorporate those recommendations into a statewide trauma system plan.

“We always say it’s not the plan that matters, it’s the planning that matters more,” Aboutanos says. “People who haven’t worked together collectively are now at the same table and learning from one another.”

For Aboutanos, giving the appropriate time and effort to the committee would not be possible without the support of VCU leadership and his Fletcher Emory Ammons Professorship in Surgery.

“This professorship financially supports and protects time on my schedule,” he says. “With it, I can provide this level of service to the commonwealth. It’s what an institution of our caliber should be doing, and I am incredibly thankful that I hold an endowed position. I wish I could have every member of my division in endowed positions so that we could do the work we have to do.”

In October 2018, Gov. Northam approved the proposed trauma system plan. Now the task force will reconvene to begin implementation — including seeking funding from the General Assembly for a sustainable trauma fund that would support the Virginia trauma system plan, including a robust data system to gather trauma data across the state, identify the top causes of mortality and tackle those issues.

Then, the symphony can begin.

By Polly Roberts


Passion pays off: Sanyal to receive premier award in field of liver disease

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases will honor Arun Sanyal, M.D., with the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award.

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases will honor Arun Sanyal, M.D., who holds the Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology Research, with the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award, recognized as the premier award in the field of liver disease.

In November 2018, Arun Sanyal, M.D., will accept the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. The award signifies 30 years of research including 17 continuous years of National Institutes of Health funding, the development of therapeutics reducing liver disease across the globe, and countless international leadership roles and awards.

“This is the premier award in the field of liver disease and Dr. Sanyal is most deserving,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “His work is the definition of translational medicine. Through his extraordinary commitment to research, teaching and patient care, and to always finding a better way, he has improved the standard of care for liver disease around the world.”

A housestaff alumnus who’s now a professor in the VCU Department of Internal Medicine and education core director in the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research, Sanyal embodies a passion for liver disease that has taken him to the top of his field. It’s a much different place than he envisioned in 1987, when he came to the MCV Campus as a gastroenterology fellow.

“I had no interest in liver disease and I was actually terrified by it because all the patients were dying when I was in training,” Sanyal says.

Then-chair of VCU’s Division of Gastroenterology Z. Reno Vlahcevic, M.D., who had recruited Sanyal, wasted no time in calling the young trainee into his office. “He knew it troubled me tremendously that what was being taught as the best care possible still resulted in the majority of people dying,” Sanyal says. “I thought that was completely unacceptable. He believed that would prove a strong motivator, so he told me, ‘I think you should do liver disease.’

“And off I went.”

Finding a better way
Today, Sanyal holds the Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology Research that honors his mentor who died in 2000. “At a personal level, it’s extremely poignant and meaningful. I hope I can do him proud.”

Practically, the professorship gives Sanyal the freedom to get early-stage, unfunded projects off the ground with the goal of doing what Vlahcevic knew he wanted — and needed — to do: find a better way to treat liver disease.

“We have developed new paradigms for drug development that are now being used across all the field of liver disease. None of that would have been possible without having an endowed professorship that protects your time for that kind of research,” Sanyal says. “It allows more time for educating young physicians and for developing new ideas and concepts that have a footprint beyond the university to a national and even international level.”

Sanyal has had a hand in three high-profile advances that have improved liver disease treatment since his training days. First, along with a former radiology colleague, he helped establish the foundation for a procedure known as TIPS that places a stent in the abdomen and has helped lower the mortality rate associated with internal bleeding in cirrhosis patients from 30 percent to 15 percent.

Second, he discovered a link between nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance that translated to new treatment and practice guidelines. Finally, Sanyal is in the midst of a study to reverse kidney shutdown in cirrhosis patients that could reduce mortality for this otherwise fatal condition without liver transplantation.

Over the next five years, Sanyal will lead a $14 million national project to find an alternative to using biopsies to test for fatty liver disease. Today, many patients will refuse the invasive procedure, allowing an undiagnosed disease to fester until the only remaining treatment option is a liver transplant.

“By developing simple, non-invasive tools that every physician can use at the bedside, we hope that we will be able to expand access to care for the millions of people who have this condition so we can identify those who need more aggressive attention,” Sanyal says.

“A living textbook”
Sanyal credits his family, teachers, colleagues and patients who have helped him advance the liver disease field.

“Patients are my best teachers,” Sanyal says. “You don’t need a podcast. Every time I walk into a clinic, I’m reading a living textbook.”

It’s a textbook he says he continues to learn from every day.

“The work,” he says, “is never finished.”

By Polly Roberts


History in the Making

VCU’s Past & Future Meet in Anesthesiology Chair John Butterworth, M’79

Anesthesiology Chair John F. Butterworth IV, M'79.

Anesthesiology Chair John F. Butterworth IV, M’79. Photography by Kevin Schindler

Across American history, many great journeys and success stories have unremarkable beginnings – you might say they started on the ground floor. For John F. Butterworth IV, M’79, there’s a twist to that concept.

Butterworth has a deep personal history with the School of Medicine, which is  celebrating its 180th anniversary this year. It goes beyond his past as a student or his resent as chair of the Department of Anesthesiology that’s now marking the 50th year  since its founding.

His father, John Butterworth III, M’52, H’57, studied and trained on the MCV Campus. Four of Butterworth’s cousins also graduated from the medical school, and additional family members graduated from other VCU health professions programs over the years. “I have a lot of family members who came here, and we all have a real connection to this place,” Butterworth says.

But there is still more to the story. Well before he ever set foot in the anatomy lab, one of his early childhood memories took shape in a more modest part of the MCV Campus, when his father was a resident in orthopaedic surgery. “I can remember as a little kid, when my father was a house officer, eating dinner with him in the basement of what was then known as Hunton Hall at the corner of 12th and Marshall streets,” Butterworth says. “My mother tells me that the three of us could eat at a discount on Sundays. The medical center has been a part of my life – almost since the time I was born – and ever since.”

It was on that foundation that Butterworth, 64, began to build his own personal journey. Decades later, he is still building that legacy, helping to usher his department into the next generation of health and medicine. In particular, as anesthesiology chair, he’s serving as a pioneer in the increasingly complex world of pain management.

“He’s always thinking of different ways to do it,” says Wilhelm Zuelzer, M.D., H’81, professor and vice chair in the VCU Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and chief of Perisurgical Services operations for VCU Health. “He’s always engaging with patients, colleagues and team members to find a better way. He’s an outstanding clinician, he’s broadly experienced and he’s nationally recognized.”

Butterworth weighed a few different career possibilities before choosing VCU. Ultimately, his family tradition and the early experiences he had on the MCV Campus pointed him toward the School of Medicine.

John Butterworth III, M’52, H’57, holding John F. Butterworth IV, M’79 in 1955.

John Butterworth III, M’52, H’57, holding John F. Butterworth IV, M’79, in 1955.

“I changed my direction from basic science research to medicine because of good advice from a mentor and my particular skill set,” Butterworth says. “Another reason I chose to come here was the tradition, because my father came here, along with some of my other family members.”

A Richmond native, Butterworth is a student of history when it comes to VCU, its MCV Campus, the Department of Anesthesiology and the city that surrounds them all. He’ll tell you, for example, about surgeon Charles Bell Gibson, M.D., a faculty member on the MCV Campus, who in 1848 became the first physician to use anesthesia in Virginia.
More recently, as Butterworth worked his way through medical school, major changes unfolded around him. Those changes, he says, are reflected in the faces of the school and city he sees today.

“The population of Richmond and the School of Medicine is now more diverse by whatever measurement a person might wish to use compared to the era when I was a student,” Butterworth says. “There have been huge changes in Richmond. So much has changed for the better.”

Butterworth looks fondly on his time in the basement cafeteria and later in the hospital setting, when it gave him the chance to observe his father in a professional setting. There, Butterworth learned more about his father – and what it takes to be a good doctor.

“He could be gracious to almost anyone,” Butterworth recalls. “When he would walk through the hospital, he knew everyone’s name, from the nurses to the people who swept the floor. He wasn’t glad-handing; he was just nice to them. As a student I worked at one of the community hospitals where he did surgery. People liked to work with him. He was calm and reasonable. He just enjoyed medicine and orthopaedic surgery so much. It was very nice to watch a parent in the hospital that way. It had a real impact on me.”

After leaving the MCV Campus, Butterworth completed residency training at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He then spent time on the medical school faculty of Wake Forest University and as chair of the Department of Anesthesia at Indiana University before returning to the MCV Campus in 2011.

John F. Butterworth IV on graduation day in 1979, 27 years after his father earned his medical degree.

John F. Butterworth IV on graduation day in 1979, 27 years after his father earned his medical degree.

“It felt right to return to VCU,” Butterworth says. “I have all this history here, and Richmond will always be home.”

Just as it has shaped many other facets of modern life, technology has made its own imprint on medical education and medicine itself. As a physician and faculty member, Butterworth sees how technology affects all aspects of learning and clinical care.

The very nature of learning is fundamentally different since Butterworth earned his M.D. degree. Increasingly, coursework is moving away from a traditional format in which students absorb (but do not necessarily retain) large amounts of information in preparation for testing. Constant evolution in biomedical and clinical knowledge, combined with the proverbial informational fire hose that is the Internet, means more students are acquiring not just knowledge itself but the skills to continue as learners throughout the course of their careers. As for the system in which they will one day practice, students also are gaining more exposure to the technologies, such as electronic health records, that they will use on a daily basis.

“Just during the time I’ve been here, systems have evolved,” Butterworth says. “There is a difference in how people look up medical information, and how they use patient data within the electronic health record. Members of the anesthesiology department such as Dr. Paul Murphy and Dr. Pranav Shah assemble clinical data from our anesthesia records to help us improve quality.”

Social media is another pervasive technological force, and it’s another trend Butterworth says he embraces. Managing a medical school department’s Facebook page is a task some chairmen might feel comfortable leaving to others. Butterworth, however, jumps right in with enthusiasm over its reach and ability to connect colleagues and alumni with the department and one another.

“We use our departmental social media accounts to keep people up to date on what’s going on in the department,” Butterworth says. “It works much better than a web page, because people don’t check web pages every day, but we are used to checking social media. It’s a scrapbook of what everyone has been up to. We want keeping up with departmental news to become a part of someone’s regular routine.”

That willingness to engage with change is evident on a much larger scale in Butterworth’s work to improve the quality of patient care. With medical centers expanding emphasis on care outcomes and cost controls, quality and safety measures are more important all the time. Anesthesiology can play a key role in these kinds of efforts. A growing national focus on pain management across the care continuum is leading physician leaders to design new approaches that improve patient health and well-being and reduce the need for opioid drugs. “We are lucky to have Dr. Marc Huntoon to lead our pain programs,” Butterworth says.

“These days, you have to be a relentless improvement machine, and Dr. Butterworth is a great contributor to that,” orthopaedic surgery’s Zuelzer says. “He’s always looking for ways to promote quality, efficiency and accountability.”

Overall anesthesiology services on the MCV Campus have, by Butterworth’s estimation, expanded by about 5 percent each year since his arrival. The department also has gained national prominence under Butterworth, who is a member of the International Anesthesia Research Society board of trustees’ executive committee.

From lunches shared in Hunton Hall to days spent fishing on a lake, John F. Butterworth IV, M’79, absorbed lessons from his father and fellow alumnus. “He could be gracious to almost anyone.”

From lunches shared in Hunton Hall to days spent fishing on a lake, John F. Butterworth IV, M’79, absorbed lessons from his father and fellow alumnus. “He could be gracious to almost anyone.”

There are certain areas of clinical care in which VCU is leading the country. One of these is Enhanced Recovery After Surgery, an umbrella term for a bundle of strategies designed to promote earlier and better recovery after an operation. Michael Scott, M.B., Ch.B., in the Department of Anesthesiology leads those efforts at VCU.

Under optimal conditions, ERAS is a patient-centered approach that improves patient satisfaction, decreases length of stay and even reduces the use of pain medication (including opioids) after discharge.

“Our department has unusual strength in other areas, aside from ERAS, including regional anesthesia, cardiac anesthesia and interventional pain management,” Butterworth says. “The department is still evolving, but we’re in a pretty good place. Our graduates have a right to feel a certain sense of pride. We’re on the map now.”

In large part, the School of Medicine has one of its own, and the multigenerational history that inspired it, to thank for that.

By Scott Harris


Endowed professorships, chairs propel medical school forward

2018 Investiture Dinner

Endowed professorships and chairs represent the highest academic honor a university can bestow on a faculty member. They aim to help universities recruit and retain the brightest teachers, research-ers and clinicians, enriching the academic and clinical environment for students and patients alike.

In September 2018, the VCU School of Medicine honored 34 faculty members who have recently been awarded endowed professorship and chair positions. They, along with other faculty across the university, were formally invested and presented with medallions during an Investiture Dinner.

“It’s truly an honor to see this remarkable group of colleagues recognized for their work to advance our missions of education, patient care and discovery,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., who presided over the ceremony along with School of Business Dean Ed Grier.

“We wouldn’t be able to provide such outstanding recognition of our faculty’s work without the support of our donors,” Buckley says. “An endowed professorship or chair serves as a lasting tribute to the donor who established it, and their generosity will be felt on the MCV Campus — and in the lives of students and patients — for many years to come.”

The School of Medicine celebrated a milestone year for philanthropy during fiscal year 2018, benefiting from more than $42 million in philanthropic giving that put the medical school 80 percent of the way toward its goal in its ongoing $300 million fundraising campaign.

“A successful campaign translates to great things for the students, faculty and programs in our school,” Buckley says. “It is vital to sustaining our core values of cultivating a life-changing learning experience for students and trainees, exceptional care for the sick, and a curiosity for medical research and discovery.”

2018 Investiture Dinner

Congratulations to the newest incumbents of the following endowed professorships and chairs:

    • Hamid I. Akbarali, Harvey B. and Gladys V. Haag Professorship
    • Douglas W. Arthur, Florence and Hyman Meyers Endowed Chair in Radiation Oncology
    • Charles E. Bagwell, Arnold M. Salzberg Professorship in Pediatric Surgery
    • Gonzalo M. Bearman, Richard P. Wenzel, M.D., M.Sc. Professorship of Internal Medicine
    • Vikram S. Brar, Riffenburgh Professorship Endowment
    • Francesco S. Celi, William G. Blackard Chair in Endocrinology
    • Daniel H. Coelho, G. Douglas Hayden Professorship in Otology
    • Alan W. Dow, Seymour and Ruth Perlin Professorship in Health Administration and Internal Medicine
    • Kenneth A. Ellenbogen, Martha M. and Harold W. Kimmerling, MD Chair in Cardiology at MCV/VCU
    • Michael J. Feldman, James C. Roberts, Esq. Professorship in Cardiology at MCV-VCU
    • Zachary M. Gertz, Hermes A. Kontos, MD Professorship in Cardiology at MCV-VCU
    • Gregory J. Golladay, Allison D. and J. Abbott Byrd, III Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery
    • Daniel C. Grinnan, Dianne Harris Wright Professorship in Pulmonology
    • Amy D. Harper, Shirley Van Epps Waple Professorship
    • Robin, Gene N. Peterson, M.D. Professorship in Safety, Quality and Service


  • W. Gregory Hundley George W. Vetrovec Chair
  • Vigneshwar Kasirajan, Stuart McGuire Chair of Surgery Fund
  • Stephen L. Kates, John A. Cardea M.D. Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery
  • John F. Kuemmerle, Caravati Chair in Gastroenterology Fund
  • Victoria G. Kuester, Beverley Boyden Clary Chair in Pediatric Orthopaedics
  • James L. Levenson, Rhona L. Arenstein Professorship in Psychiatry
  • Marlon F. Levy, David Hume Endowed Chair
  • Mark M. Levy, H. M. Lee Professorship in Transplant Surgery
  • John McCarty, G. Watson James Professorship
  • Frederick G. Moeller, C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research: Addiction Science
  • Lawrence D. Morton, John M. Pellock Professorship in Child Neurology
  • Guilherme M. Rocha Campos, Paul J. Nutter, MD Professorship in General Surgery
  • Fadi N. Salloum, Natalie N. and John R. Congdon Sr. Endowed Chair in the VCU Pauley Heart Center
  • Arun J. Sanyal, Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology
  • Keyar Shah, David E. Tolman, MD Professorship in Heart Failure
  • A. Gordon Smith, C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research: Neurology
  • Wally R. Smith, Florence Neal Cooper Smith Professorship in Sickle Cell Disease Research
  • Daniel G. Tang, Richard R. Lower, MD Professorship in Cardiovascular Surgery
  • Steven H. Woolf, C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research: Population Health and Health Equity

Medical School lands pair of AMA grants to study student experience

A pair of $30,000 grants from the American Medical Association will support research into students’ experiences.

“The two grants are great opportunities for VCU to partner with the AMA and other institutions to improve medical education,” says Sally Santen, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for assessment, evaluation and scholarship. “One project will incorporate coaching and individualized learning plans to improve wellness for students entering surgery and other specialties, and the second will explore inclusion and engagement in medical students.”

Stephanie R. Goldberg, M.D.

Stephanie R. Goldberg, M.D.

The first project will explore the role of wellness coaching for fourth-year students who are applying to surgery residencies.  A collaborative effort among four medical schools, the study is led by VCU’s Stephanie R. Goldberg, M’03, H’10, an associate professor in the Department of Surgery, and includes VCU, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Connecticut and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Physician wellness and resiliency is necessary to alleviate burnout and promote career satisfaction,” Goldberg says. “Surgeons have some of the highest burnout rates among physicians, and so this pilot project will focus on fourth-year medical students who are preparing to transition into surgery residencies. If we can show its usefulness, the program will be application to all medical students regardless of specialty.”

The project will pair students with faculty coaches in monthly sessions that guide students in areas like self-directed learning, professionalism and maintaining physical and emotional health. Each student will create a personalized plan that identifies areas for growth that could include understanding communication styles and goal setting as well as recognizing warning signs for burnout and what to do when it occurs.

In a second project, Donna Jackson, Ed.D., will collaborate with the University of Connecticut and the University of California Davis to study student diversity and engagement.

Donna Jackson, Ed.D.

Donna Jackson, Ed.D.

Jackson notes that a diverse and culturally humble health care workforce is a critical component in addressing the persistent disparities in health and health care in the U.S. While pipeline and pathway programs in and to medical school are essential, this project aims to address retention, wellness and the social determinants of the medical schools’ learning environment, an equally important goal.

“Medical school may be a journey through comfortable, familiar, friendly territory; or the journey of a stranger in a strange, confusing and sometimes hostile land,” Jackson says. “Unfortunately, students may experience alienation, isolation, microagressions, and the goal of this effort will be to validate and implement a survey that is a useful tool to provide a 360-degree perspective on students’ experience in specific courses and clerkships. Its results will help us identify spaces where students question their sense of belongingness so that we can work toward making those places more inclusive.”

The three public medical schools will collaborate on creating a holistic tool to that surveys students’ experience of inclusion/engagement at multiple times throughout the academic year. They also will evaluate the relationship between student inclusion/engagement and academic performance. The researchers believe the assessment tool could be used to prompt interventions to improve student experience and achievement and result in further workforce diversification and inclusion to better address healthcare disparities. Toward that end, the lessons learned will be shared with other medical schools across the country.

The studies are supported through the AMA’s 2018 Accelerating Change in Medical Education Innovation Grants Program that aims to develop common solutions to transform medical education in key areas like coaching medical students and student well-being.

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Updated: 04/29/2016