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09
2017

The Class of 2017’s Ashley Williams is first SAEP grad to earn M.D.

The Class of 2017’s Ashley Williams got her start on the MCV Campus in the Summer Academic Enrichment Program.

The Class of 2017’s Ashley Williams got her start on the MCV Campus in the Summer Academic Enrichment Program. Now she’s headed to Emory University for a pediatrics residency and ultimately plans to practice with underserved populations.

Ashley Williams had a pretty good idea she’d be successful in her studies at VCU’s School of Medicine. She had a sneak peek a year before she actually started.

Williams was part of VCU’s inaugural Summer Academic Enrichment Program in 2012. On May 12, she’ll become the first SAEP grad to go on to complete the M.D. program on the MCV Campus. SAEP provides students with an academically rigorous experience to simulate the first year of health professional school. Students choose a concentration from among four disciplines: dentistry, medicine, pharmacy and physical therapy.

“Not only are you exposed to different subjects and the rigors of long days and long nights, you get to know some of the faculty,” Williams says. “That gives you a leg up when you’re applying to medical schools, and you’re more confident when you get there.”

Williams received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University and a master’s in medical science from Hampton University before entering medical school.

The SAEP program, which provides housing and a stipend to participants, includes core classes, discipline-specific instruction, test-taking workshops, mock interviews and coaching.

The program is designed to see if students can manage an intense health sciences program and to demonstrate the kind of interdisciplinary teamwork that today’s professionals must possess, says Donna Jackson, M.Ed, Ed.D, the medical school’s assistant dean of admissions and director of Student Outreach Programs.

In addition, Jackson says, “We’ve added a community service component so that students understand that part of the privilege of being a health care professional is giving back.” Participants, for example, volunteer at health screenings at nearby St. Paul’s Church.

Williams has spoken on behalf of the SAEP program as well as at events hosted by the Student National Medical Association.

During her four years in medical school, Williams has spoken on behalf of the SAEP program as well as at events hosted by the Student National Medical Association.

SAEP also has benefits for students-to-be. For Williams, it allowed her to experience the kind of support she’d receive as a student on the MCV Campus, which sealed the deal for her. In addition to an open-door policy in the Admissions and Administration offices, she found a mentor in Stephanie Crewe, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of pediatrics. Williams also was encouraged during her four years of study by students in the Student National Medical Association and International/Inner City Rural Preceptorship Program, which allowed her to attend to underserved populations, something she plans to do when she finishes her residency in pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta.

Overall, about 67 percent of SAEP graduates eligible to matriculate to health professional programs had done so by the start of this past school year.

Her success at VCU, Williams says, might not have been possible without financial support she received in the form of several partial scholarships. “Not having to worry about finances allows you to focus on your schoolwork,” she says. “It was especially helpful when I had to travel to residency interviews.”

The medical school hopes to be able to offer more of those scholarships through the $25-million 1838 Campaign (named for the year in which the school was founded), which will build the school’s endowment. A goal of the campaign is to give a competitive edge for recruiting and rewarding top students, and reducing student debt.

By Lisa Crutchfield

26
2017

Honors Day celebrates student achievement and scholarship

During the busy days and years of medical school, Honors Day takes time to shine a light on some of the school’s brightest students and the scholarships that benefit them.

“In the life of a medical school, the opportunity to honor aspiring physicians is a fantastic experience,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D.

The annual spring event traditionally recognizes those students whose outstanding performance has marked them with the distinction of having earned the highest grade in a course or clerkship or as the top student in their class.

Before Honors Day, Class of 1996 alumna Diane DeVita (far right) and her sister, Lynette Freeman (third from right), along with DeVita’s husband, John (far left), and their children, met Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley (top right) and the inaugural Freeman-Gayles Memorial Scholarship recipient, the Class of 2017’s Sarah Berg (center).

Before Honors Day, Class of 1996 alumna Diane DeVita (far right) and her sister, Lynette Freeman (third from right), along with DeVita’s husband, John (far left), and their children, met Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley (top right) and the inaugural Freeman-Gayles Memorial Scholarship recipient, the Class of 2017’s Sarah Berg (center). Photography: Skip Rowland

The day also serves as the chance to celebrate the dozens of privately endowed scholarships that have been established to benefit medical students. At the 2017 ceremony, the school awarded the Freeman-Gayles Memorial Scholarship for the first time.

Endowed by Class of 1996 alumna Diane DeVita and her sister, Lynette Freeman, the scholarship serves as a tribute to their parents, who died while DeVita was in her second year of medical school on the MCV Campus. While some schools may have required her to take a semester off, VCU allowed her to study from home and take her exams when she returned. It’s in this spirit of compassion that she and her sister hope to ease the financial burden for future students.

DeVita and Freeman, along with DeVita’s husband, John, and their children, attended Honors Day, after first enjoying lunch where they met scholarship’s inaugural recipient, Sarah Berg, who will graduate in May and train in emergency medicine at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in Missouri.

Honors Day also recognizes students who receive specialty awards, such as the four graduating students who produced this year’s top I2CRP capstone scholarly projects. The International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship is a four-year program for students who declare an interest in and commitment to working with medical underserved populations in urban, rural or international settings.

Among this year’s recipients are Jacqueline Britz, for the project “Strengthening Early Childhood Programming in Underserved Communities in Virginia,” and Yael Tarshish for “Mental Health of Latina Mothers at Hayes E. Willis Health Center.” Both students have benefited from multiple scholarships, including the Aesculapian Scholarship, made possible through donations to the school’s Annual Fund.

The Class of 2019’s Alvin Cho took home first place at the 2017 Medical Student Research Poster Session

The Class of 2019’s Alvin Cho took home first place at the 2017 Medical Student Research Poster Session for his poster “Effect of Gut Microbiome on Morphine Tolerance.”

In addition, Honors Day celebrated the 2017 Medical Student Research Poster Session, held in mid-April with 43 posters on display. The posters described research conducted by students covering a broad spectrum of topics in the basic and clinical sciences.

First place went to the Class of 2019’s Alvin Cho, whose poster “Effect of Gut Microbiome on Morphine Tolerance” highlighted his research over the winter with his mentor Hamid I. Akbarali, Ph.D., professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Other Honors Days awards spotlighted the newest inductees into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society and the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award winner, the Class of 2017’s Braveen Ragunanthan.

Student Clinician Ceremony
The 2017 event ended with the Student Clinician Ceremony, an annual event previously held in the summer. Sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, the ceremony is designed to provide guidance, information and support to rising third-year medical students as they prepare to begin their clinical rotations.

The transition from classrooms, simulations and research “to being front and center and seeing patients every day” brings on a new sense of responsibility, said Adam Bullock, M.D., FAAP, as he addressed the Class of 2019. The assistant professor is a pediatric emergency medicine physician with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and the 2017 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Faculty Award recipient.

He encouraged students to listen to each patient’s individual story. “One of the most important questions you can ask is ‘What brings you in tonight? What are you afraid of?’”

Bullock elicited a laugh from the crowd when he joked about the grind of the medical profession and that “there is no ESPN ‘SportsCenter’ Top 10 best intubations of the day.” Instead, he told the students to ask themselves each day, “Did I help someone? Are they feeling better?” and therein will lie their motivation.

Part of the Student Clinician Ceremony also recognized outstanding residents through the Gold Foundation’s Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award. Current fourth-year students chose five residents who were particularly strong role models for compassionate, relationship-centered care during the students’ third-year rotations.

Craig Kelman, M.D.
Department of Neurosurgery
2011 graduate of VCU School of Medicine
Advice: “Try to see patients in their own world. You are in a unique position to talk with them more than the residents. Get to know them.”

Tu Nguyen, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine
2014 VCU School of Medicine
Advice: “Nurture your relationships with your family and friends, and find meaning in the relationships you cultivate with patients.”

Valerie Plant, M.D.
Department of Surgery
2012 graduate of VCU School of Medicine
Advice: “Be honest and choose a specialty you will love and enjoy. It will help with the tough times.”

Roxanne Sholevar, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry
Graduate of Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Krista Terracina, M.D.
Department of Surgery
2011 graduate of Louisiana State University School of Medicine
Advice: “One night a week, spend 30 minutes with a patient, just talking. And remember the grandmother test – if it doesn’t meet the standard of care you would want for your grandmother (or daughter or other family member), it’s not right.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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
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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

15
2016

Richmond Academy of Medicine supports new medical student scholarship

VCU School of Medicine scholarships are often created by alumni, faculty or even community members. But in 2015, for the first time, a new medical student scholarship was established by a community-based physicians’ organization, the Richmond Academy of Medicine.

Scholarship recipient Jessica Li (center) with former School of Medicine Dean Jerry Strauss III, and RAM President Harry D. Bear, M’75, PhD’78

Scholarship recipient Jessica Li (center) with former School of Medicine Dean Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., and RAM President Harry D. Bear, M’75, PhD’78, professor of surgery and chair of the Division of Surgical Oncology.
Photography: Skip Rowland

With a gift of $100,000, the academy endowed a scholarship that aims to benefit a top student with financial need who exemplifies the desire, attributes and skills necessary to become a physician leader. The inaugural recipient is Jessica Li, a second-year student who already demonstrates those qualities.

She volunteers with the geriatrics and palliative care student groups and traveled to the Dominican Republic last spring on a relief trip that provided medical and surgical eye care in the underserved community of Santiago. Li put her Spanish skills to use taking vital signs and helping translate for patients before and after their surgeries in days that often lasted more than 12 hours.

The scholarship is renewable; academy leaders are looking forward to getting to know Li as she completes her four-year medical degree. Li will also receive free membership to the academy, which enables her to attend its regular meetings.

This story was first published in Vol. 9 of Impact, the magazine for donors and friends of Virginia Commonwealth University.

11
2016

Face time: The Class of 99’s Eduardo Rodriguez returns to campus to discuss his pioneering transplant surgery

In 2005, surgeons in France completed the world’s first partial face transplant on a woman who lost her lips, cheeks, chin and most of her nose after she was mauled by her dog.

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

In August 2015, the Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M.D., D.D.S., the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, led a team of more than 100 physicians, nurses, technical and support staff to complete the most extensive face transplant to date, and the first in New York State. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Eleven years and many lessons later, face transplantation has moved from possibility to reality, with surgeons refining techniques and transforming the lives of patients once considered beyond hope.

Leading the way is Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M’99, considered one of the world’s leading surgeons in the field.

He returned to VCU’s MCV Campus this summer as the speaker of the annual S. Dawson Theogaraj Lecture. Rodriguez is the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at New York University’s School of Medicine.

In August 2015, Rodriguez led a team at the NYU Langone Medical Center that completed the most extensive face transplant ever.

Patrick Hardison, a 41-year old fireman from Mississippi who had received horrific facial injuries received the face of cyclist David Rodebaugh. The operation received extensive media coverage and cemented Rodriguez’s reputation as a pioneer in the field.

He credits his time in VCU’s School of Medicine for a solid foundation in medicine. Rodriguez earned a D.D.S. degree from New York University in 1992, then completed his residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“There are oral surgery programs that have affiliations with a medical degree, and I had colleagues who recommended that this was something I should do. I applied to all the medical schools in the country that had a relationship with an oral surgery program.” He ended up at VCU, condensing his medical degree into two years. After that, he trained in the plastic surgery program at Johns Hopkins Hospital/University of Maryland Medical Center and completed a fellowship in Taiwan.

“I thought VCU was the best education I ever received,” he said in a telephone interview from New York. “Those were the most enriching educational years of my life. I became a very good student. Living in Richmond, a smaller town, allowed me to focus on education and gave me a very strong foundation to be successful.”

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

Eduardo D. Rodriguez, pictured with his face transplant patient Patrick Hardison at NYU Langone on Nov. 12, 2015. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Rodriguez first became interested in the possibility of face transplants after hearing a lecture at Johns Hopkins about face transplants in rats. “My mentor at Johns Hopkins, the chief of plastic surgery, told me this is what I should be doing. I had no idea what that really meant, but I was fascinated by it.”

In March, 2012, Rodriguez led a team in what was one of the most extensive facial transplants ever, from hairline to the neck of a Virginia man who had suffered a gunshot wound. The 36-hour operation involved more than 100 health care providers along with meticulous planning and execution.

Rodriguez notes that such transplants include health and mental risks that must be weighed against the benefits. Recipients deal with the psychological battles of living with someone else’s face, as well as life-long reliance and side-effects of immunosuppressant medicines. As with other transplants, the body can reject a new face.

In such a developing field, he notes, there’s not yet a blueprint for success.

“Physicians and patients are on this journey together,” he says. “Once you’re successful and you see the patient doing well and you reflect on what we’ve achieved, and reflect on change in this individual’s life, you can’t help but be amazed by the complexity of the process.”

The Department of Defense and several research institutions, including NYU, have dedicated funding and resources to refining the procedure.

Rodriguez knows that the next decade will include improvements in transplantation and perhaps even some breakthroughs that seemed unimaginable in recent years.

“First, we have to keep working on trying to reduce the toxic effects of the [anti-rejection] medicines,” he says. He believes biomedical engineers will one day be able to create tissues specifically for patients needing transplants.

“It’s not just how many more transplants I can do, it’s how can we continue to improve the quality of face reconstruction and bring in different elements of science to provide these types of procedures safely, as well as improving the quality of these patients’ lives and shape a better future for these individuals.”

By Lisa Crutchfield