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Alumna, husband fund scholarship for medical students

Nader Silver, the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund Scholarship in the School of Medicine.

Rosemarie Greyson-Fleg, M’80, credits the VCU School of Medicine’s three-year program with jump-starting her career as a physician.

“It was great. I was an older student, and the possibility of doing a three-year program was very attractive to me,” said Greyson-Fleg, a diagnostic radiologist in Clarksville, Maryland. “Everything worked out really well. I was very grateful that I was given that chance at VCU.”

The three-year option is no longer offered, but the school’s accelerated degree program gave Greyson-Fleg the chance to rotate into internal medicine early, where she thrived. She ultimately made the decision to specialize in radiology, giving her more time with her family.

To express her gratitude, Greyson-Fleg and her husband, Jerry, established the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund in 2013 through generous gifts of stock. The scholarship is part of the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign to help reduce medical student debt.

“My husband and I have supported scholarships at other institutions,” Greyson-Fleg said. “Now it’s my turn to give back to VCU.”

The scholarship – awarded for the first time in April to Nader Silver, a student at the VCU School of Medicine Inova Campus – supports a fourth-year student pursuing a career in the primary care fields of family medicine or pediatrics. Silver, who will start residency training in family medicine this summer, met Greyson-Fleg shortly after receiving the award.

“We had a nice time sharing thoughts about primary care,” Silver said. “Her son is a family medicine physician in New Mexico, and we had many similar interests. I hope to connect with him at some point. I look forward to keeping her posted over the years. I’m very thankful.”

Greyson-Fleg is thankful, too – not only for the education that she received at VCU but also for the university’s careful stewardship of her gifts.

“I know the money is in a good place. The gifts are well-directed,” she said. “The school has done so much for us alumni. We were all given chances to start our careers. Giving back is important to all of us.”

As parents of a primary care physician, Greyson-Fleg and her husband know all too well how important it is help keep student debt load to a minimum.

“Our son, Anthony, is the reason we created the scholarship for those with a love of primary care and pediatrics,” she said. “Those in primary care don’t earn the same kind of money as other specialists. This scholarship is one way we can help.”

Only half of the university’s medical students receive scholarships. The 1838 Campaign helps increase the number and size of scholarships to give the school a competitive edge for recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt.

“I am proud of our school’s longstanding investment in students who are headed into primary care careers, especially in light of projections that continue to warn of a future shortage of primary care physicians,” said Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “I am grateful to Rosemarie and Jerry for establishing this scholarship that honors their son Anthony’s commitment to primary care. They understand the importance of providing financial aid to medical students, and their gift will help us attract students to this calling.”

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in Volume 3 of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.


Class of 1975’s Bob Centor warns of wrong diagnoses and dangerously good limeade

Scientists from the symposium

Bob Centor, M’75, H’78 (center) was welcomed back to campus by Ed and Rose Marie Shaia. Ed Shaia and his brother Richard established the Harry and Zackia Shaia Lecture in 1965 in honor of their parents who owned the popular Skull and Bones restaurant that served the MCV Campus for so many years. In the 1940s, the couple turned it over to their sons.

For more than two decades, Bob Centor, M’75, H’78, says, the name Shaia meant one thing: “The best limeades in town.” It was his regular order when he’d stop in at the Shaia family’s popular Skull and Bones restaurant on the MCV Campus, first as a medical student and later as a faculty member.

Now dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, Centor was back in town to speak as the guest lecturer at the annual Shaia Lectureship, the latest chapter in his long connection with the Shaia family.

“It was my favorite lunch spot for 22 years,” Centor said of the well-known eatery that closed in the mid-1990s after 74 years of feeding hungry medical students and doctors. After so many years of patronage, he joked, “In my own way I helped contribute to this lectureship.”

Centor took time at the beginning of his lecture to recognize some other notables who contributed to his time on campus, although their help focused more on the academic than the gastronomic. He said that Al Zfass, M’57, Reno Vlahcevic, M.D., Harold “Hal” Fallon, M.D. and Orhan Muren, M.D., were important mentors during his time here and helped shape the course of his career. Centor is a past president of the Society for Medical Decision Making, and currently serves on the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians.

The Shaia family has supported schools on the MCV Campus through the establishment of a number funds. The annual Harry and Zackia Lecture alternates between the Department of Internal Medicine and the School of Dentistry. In addition, medical students benefit from the Harry and Zackia Shaia Scholarship, the Thomas and Mary Shaia Family Scholarship and the Fred and Rose Shaia Scholarship.

Centor’s presentation, titled “Learning How to Think Like a Physician,” focused on the sometimes problematic ways doctors assimilate and analyze information to make diagnoses. He told the audience of students, faculty and residents about some common mistakes physicians run into when they encounter a patient whose symptoms and test results are difficult to explain.

Centor warned against manipulating diagnoses by choosing to ignore facts that conflict with your understanding of what’s wrong with a patient. Physicians, he cautioned, who often work long hours and see dozens of patients, can sometimes fail to take the time to gather enough information about each individual patient to make sure their diagnoses is correct.

Centor presented anecdotes of patients he has seen throughout his career, and asked the audience to guess their diagnosis. He went on to reveal how an undiscovered or unlooked-for piece of information altered the diagnosis drastically.

By Jack Carmichael


Annual brunch gives donors, students a chance to celebrate $1.8 million in scholarships

Ben Lindsey

The Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey was chosen to speak on behalf of his fellow students at the MCV Foundation’s annual scholarship brunch. He told the assembled donors, “Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.”

See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

Students, alumni, faculty and friends from the MCV Campus recently gathered at the MCV Foundation Scholarship Brunch to celebrate the outstanding financial support given to students across the campus each year.

The event provides an opportunity for students and donors to get to know each other, as scholarship recipients thank donors for their generosity and donors have the pleasure of hearing what a difference their gifts have made. This year’s brunch included 127 donors and 142 students from across the MCV Campus, all of whom had a connection to the over $1.8 million paid out in scholarships and awards this year.

This past year’s numbers are impressive: 325 endowed scholarships, 431 students who receive financial aid and three dozen new scholarships established. But the brunch offers a chance to look beyond the numbers to the real reason for the donors’ generosity: the students. This year’s event featured a speech by fourth-year medical student Ben Lindsey, who holds the Kinloch Nelson Scholarship.

Ben told the audience that his scholarship gave him a sense of tradition, power and confidence that he will continue to carry even after he leaves the MCV Campus. His scholarship is named after Kinloch Nelson, M.D., the beloved Dean of Medicine who is credited with starting the school’s Department of Family Practice and for whom the Nelson Clinic is named.

Ben described looking around the campus and seeing signs of Dr. Nelson’s legacy everywhere, including within himself.

Kinloch Nelson, M’98 and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98

Kinloch Nelson, M’98, and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98, attended the scholarship brunch to meet the Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey who holds a scholarship that memorializes the former Dean of Medicine Kinloch Nelson, M.D. The Class of 1998’s Nelson is a descendant of Dean Nelson.

See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

“It is both incredibly humbling and motivating to realize that I maintain the support of this legacy through the Kinloch Nelson scholarship,” he said. “Through legacies like the Nelsons’, the scholarships we receive are far more valuable than their intrinsic monetary worth.”

Ben also took the opportunity to talk about the strength of the MCV Campus’ alumni network. Before coming to the School of Medicine, Ben worked as a medical scribe in Charlottesville, Va. He noted that “Many of the residents with whom I worked during that job had attended medical school at MCV. They tended to be the most competent residents and they raved about the clinical experience they had received while attending MCV for medical school. Thus, it was my interaction with these MCV alumni and my desire for an unparalleled clinical experience that convinced me to aim for MCV.”

The School of Medicine’s alumni have continued to impress him as he looks beyond graduation this spring. Ben just finished interviewing for residency positions, a process that took him to hospitals and academic medical centers across the country. He was happy to find that everywhere he interviewed there were connections to the MCV Campus and alumni were excited to meet him and help out however they could.

These stories about the impact of scholarships and the importance of active alumni are what make the brunch such a success. Students like Ben show donors the real results of their generosity and how scholarships mean much more than financial aid. The brunch is also meaningful for students, as they get to better understand the legacies that the scholarships represent. As Ben said at the close of his speech to the assembled donors, “You have indescribably enhanced our time as students here at MCV. Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.”

By Jack Carmichael


“An underdog disease finds a champion”

Robert B. Scott, M.D., the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, Florence Neal Cooper-Smith, Wally R. Smith, M.D., and John E. Nestler, M.D., at the May 2014 reception celebrating the appointment of Smith as the inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Robert B. Scott, M.D., the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, Florence Neal Cooper-Smith, Wally R. Smith, M.D., and John E. Nestler, M.D., at the May 2014 reception celebrating the appointment of Smith as the inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Florence Neal Cooper-Smith (MS’85) became aware of sickle cell disease in 1942, 34 years after the first known case presented itself in the United States.

Her lifelong dedication to the disease began during a routine childhood trip to the family doctor. During her visits, she often waited in the doctor’s office rather than in the waiting room. Once, she found a book to read and stumbled on a few new words: hematology and sickle cell anemia.

“It hit me. Sickle cell was a disease in colored people, that was the terminology back then,” she remembered. “You were born with it, there was no cure and you died early. That stuck with me.

“When I asked my doctor about it, he explained that the disease affects the shape of red blood cells and you’re born with the anemia, but he didn’t know much more than that. I kept asking people about it. It never left me.”

Advancements have been made in the study and treatment of the disease in the century since it was first identified, but people of many races are still born with it, still die early from it and no cure exists.

Cooper-Smith hopes all of that will change in her lifetime. It’s hard to doubt her when she emphatically proclaims that she’ll raise a million dollars for research before she dies.

She has $725,000 to go.

Her grass-roots efforts — gaining support from churches, fraternal and civic groups, family and friends, for example — raised enough money to endow last May a professorship in the VCU School of Medicine. Thought to be the first of its kind in the country and named in her honor, the milestone professorship supports aggressive research projects designed to discover lifesaving treatments and perhaps a cure.

Recently, a group of her friends organized the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Sickle Cell Research Committee to increase awareness about the disease and to raise money for research.

Cooper-Smith’s devotion to finding a cure includes years of community-based education and legislative work in Virginia as well as national networking through the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1969, she led a Richmond-area survey to gauge awareness of the disease. Only 3 in 10 people had heard of it. Two decades later, she pushed a bill through the Virginia legislature mandating statewide newborn screening for the disease.

“We call Florence the ‘mother of sickle cell in Virginia,’ and it’s definitely a term of endearment,” said Wally R. Smith, M.D., professor and vice chair for research in the VCU Division of General Internal Medicine at the School of Medicine and inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Trained as a medical technician, Cooper-Smith began her career at the Medical College of Virginia in burn research alongside E.I. Evans, M.D., in the early 1950s. Later, she met hematology professor Robert B. Scott, M.D., and the two collaborated to create the Virginia Sickle Cell Anemia Awareness Program, now housed at the Virginia Department of Health.

Even with a national reputation for her efforts, Cooper-Smith remains humble and hopeful.

“It overwhelmed me to hear that the professorship was going to carry my name,” she said. “I didn’t do anything other than move something along. I just want to keep the research going. We’ve got to find better treatment, management and care for the 100,000 people affected in the U.S.”

“In a way, we’re continuing Florence’s original community work through one of our current projects,” Smith said. “We find and bring into care patients with sickle cell disease who have not been seeking care. It’s as if we hand these patients a life raft.”

The life raft is hydroxyurea, an underutilized, under-prescribed anti-sickling medication approved for use in the late 1990s.

When explaining why the drug isn’t more widely used, Smith said, “It’s the curse of sickle cell. There are not enough doctors taking care of adults with the disease. Patients don’t trust the medical establishment and they feel rejected.”

It’s an uphill climb, but thanks to the funding the Cooper-Smith Professorship provides, he said, he and his VCU colleagues can continue that climb.

To learn more about the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship, contact Brian Thomas, interim president of the MCV Foundation, at 804-828-0067 or bsthomas@vcu.edu.

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.


Family celebrates a 101st birthday with gift

Eleanor Johnson Tabb and her sister Clelia

Eleanor Johnson Tabb (right) and other family members established the Clelia M. Johnson Endowed Scholarship in the School of Medicine as a display of gratitude to her sister, Clelia (left), who sent her to business school.

Clelia Johnson, now 101, remembers clearly coming to work at the Medical College of Virginia soon after high school.

She had “the audacity,” she said, to ask the president of the college at the time, William Sanger, Ph.D., to speak at her medical secretary graduation. That contact led to her first job and then to a more than 60-year career working in medical pathology.

She remembers the very first day of work, being assigned to assist with an autopsy in the dirt-floored morgue of the Egyptian Building. She continued working for Paul Kimmelstiel, M.D., for most of her career.

In the early days, Johnson was willing to work for no salary at all, but soon she was earning $75 a month. She gave her mother and her church each $25. With the remaining $25, she saved enough to install electricity in the Goochland County, Virginia, home where she was born (and still lives), as well as send her sister, Eleanor Johnson Tabb, to Smithdeal Massey Business College.

Over time, Johnson built a reputation in the pathology lab, where she deftly prepared tissue samples for microscopic inspection. She became so good at it that she trained others in the procedure. She said she would enjoy “seeing the technology of how it’s done now” and hopes to take a tour of the laboratory soon.

Johnson firmly believes that MCV changed her life, and she wants to help others pursue their medical careers. So when her family searched for a creative and meaningful way to mark her 101st birthday recently, they thought of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

With a family commitment of $50,000, including an inaugural gift of $10,000 from Tabb, her loved ones established the Clelia M. Johnson Endowed Scholarship. Once the fund hits its $50,000 goal, an annual award will be made to a deserving VCU medical student to reduce debt burden.

“Clelia sacrificed a lot for me, and I wanted to do something to honor her now,” Tabb said.

Through their gift, the family is participating in the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign, which aims to increase the number and size of scholarships to give the school a competitive edge in recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt that has become an inescapable part of choosing a career in medicine.

Clelia Johnson’s name will be displayed on the donor wall in the school’s McGlothlin Medical Education Center.

Clelia Johnson as she glides over the hills and valleys of Virginia.

See video of Clelia Johnson as she glides over the hills and valleys of Virginia.

“Even at 101, Clelia still has the same zest for adventure she has always had,” says her cousin, Ben Johnson, an avid glider pilot who introduced her to his passion. She has traveled the world and now has three glider flights under her belt since she turned 95.

She describes it this way: “It’s just like roaming around in heaven!”

To learn more about the 1838 Campaign in the School of Medicine, contact Tom Holland, associate dean for development, at 804-828-4800 or tehollan@vcu.edu.

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.


Ray family reconnects with medical school

Ed Ray, M.D.

Ed Ray, M.D., founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease

When Alpha A. “Berry” Fowler, M.D., arrived on the MCV Campus in the mid-70s, Ed Ray, M.D., was just stepping down from his more than 20-year tenure as the founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease. Ray, a specialist in tuberculosis, stayed on faculty and became a mentor to the younger Fowler, who had just earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia and had come up to Richmond for internal medicine residency training.

Today, Fowler sits in the Pulmonary Disease Division’s chairman seat that Ray once held. “He was the first pulmonologist here and was a legend,” says Fowler. “He was an inspiration and one of the reasons I chose pulmonary medicine as a specialty.”

Ray was one of MCV’s first bronchoscopists. He was known across Virginia for his use of the Jackson rigid bronchoscope to examine patients’ airways for foreign objects, bleeding or inflammation. Over the years, Ray assembled an unusual collection of objects retrieved from patients’ airways, including a peach pit and a compass, coins from the late 1940s, buttons and even a belt buckle.

The use of the rigid bronchoscope which Ray pioneered at MCV fell out of favor for the most part in the 1960s when the flexible fiberoptic bronchoscope was introduced into clinical medicine.

“What is old is new again,” says Fowler. “Dr. Ed Ray was one of the first physicians in Virginia to use the rigid endoscope. However, today, decades later, the rigid bronchoscope is being used once again. Pulmonologists at MCV employ rigid bronchoscopy, performing at least two or three procedures each week.” Importantly, if Ray were practicing today, he’d be referred to as an interventional pulmonologist, based upon the tools he used and the techniques he pioneered at MCV.

Class of 1976's Gaylord Ray and Wes Shepherd, M.D., H'03

During a tour of the MCV Campus, the Class of 1976’s Gaylord Ray and Wes Shepherd, M.D., H’03, director of interventional pulmonology, look through the collection of objects Ray’s father had retrieved from patients’ airways during his tenure as the founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease.

Ray’s contributions were recently remembered when his son, Gaylord Ray, of the School of Medicine’s Class of 1976, returned to the MCV Campus. He met with Fowler and other Pulmonary Division faculty when he toured the division facilities, the operating room, the Medical Respiratory Intensive Care Unit and the simulation center where medical students and pulmonary trainees gain procedural experience. He says he was impressed with what he saw of the strides the division has made under Fowler’s direction. “The department is in good hands, and my father would be quite proud to see the training, but, in particular, the quality of the division.”

He learned from the director of interventional pulmonology, Ray “Wes” Shepherd, M.D., H’03, that the division’s interventional pulmonology program marked a milestone when it accepted its first fellow in July 2011. There are only 12 interventional pulmonology fellowship programs in the United States, each taking just one fellow per year. And, just this past year, the Interventional Pulmonology Service reached another milestone, performing over 1,000 interventional procedures.

Over lunch, Gaylord Ray shared stories about his father with division faculty members and with his son Chris, who was also on hand. Chris followed in his family’s footsteps onto the MCV Campus and is now president of the medical school’s Class of 2015. “It was important to me to have my son Chris attend the lunch. I see many of my father’s qualities coming out in him, particularly the compassion and thoughtfulness.”

Ed Ray, M.D.

Gaylord W. Ray, M’76, H’79, with his son Christopher C. Ray, president of the medical school’s Class of 2015. They are holding the 1897 diploma awarded to Gaylord’s grandfather, A. Chambers Ray, by the University College of Medicine, a predecessor to MCV. Gaylord Ray’s late father, Ed Ray, is also connected to the medical school: he completed his housestaff training in 1944 and went on to be named the founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease.

Now retired from his practice as an emergency medicine physician, Gaylord Ray has chosen to honor his father’s contributions by establishing an endowed fund that will benefit the Interventional Pulmonology Service. Fowler hopes former trainees of Ed Ray may increase the fund through their own gifts honoring the influence he had on their careers.

“The Interventional Pulmonology Service greatly appreciates Dr. Ray’s desire to honor the legacy of his father,” said Shepherd. “I hope that the attributes that Dr. Ray admired in his father live on today in our interventional pulmonology program.”

Shepherd also appreciated hearing Ray’s stories from the 1950s and 60s. “I have already told several of my rigid bronchoscopy partners about Dr. Gaylord Ray’s childhood experience assisting our first pulmonary chair!”