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Class of 67’s John Bagley recalls an unexpected connection to transplant pioneer H.M. Lee

As he flipped through a recent issue of VCU’s Impact, his eye fell on an article about transplant pioneer H. M. Lee, M.D., and the endowed lectureship that has been established in his name.

The sight reminded John Bagley, Jr., M’67, H’73, of one of his own favorite stories.

The Class of 67’s John Bagley, Jr. (on right), was drafted into the U.S. Army Medical Corps after completing his intern year. Sent 7,000 miles from his native Richmond to Korea, he had an unexpected encounter that reminded him of home.

After earning his medical degree in 1967, the Richmond native served his internship at Norfolk General Hospital. During that time, he was drafted into the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

“It was the height of the Vietnam War, but my orders were for Korea,” says Bagley. “I was stationed at Camp Red Cloud along with three or four other doctors.”

Camp Red Cloud was about an hour north of Seoul, just outside of the village of Uijeongbu.

“If you have ever seen photos of slums in places like Bangladesh, you can imagine what Uijeongbu looked like in those days. Mud streets with ramshackle buildings on either side.”

After he’d been there several months, a recommendation came down for the Army doctors to meet the local Korean doctor, whose responsibilities included the gynecological care of the thousands of prostitutes who lived in Uijeongbu.

“So off we go to town to meet the local doctor, an elderly fellow named Dr. Lee,” describes Bagley. “We are ushered into this dark, cramped office on the main street of town. It reminded me of Doc Adam’s office in Gunsmoke. There were anatomical charts on the wall in Korean and jars filled with Ginseng roots. So we’re sitting there waiting for the doctor and I notice this 8×10 photo on the desk of a young Korean boy in a cap and gown. I think to myself, ‘That guy looks familiar.’”

John Bagley, Jr., M’67, H’73

The Korean doctor spoke no English, and the Army doctors spoke no Korean. “We are chatting through an interpreter and during a lull in the conversation, I say, ‘Dr. Lee, I was noticing the photo on your desk. Who is that young man?’

“He replied, ‘That is my son.’”

“What does your son do?”

“He is a doctor in the United States.”

“Where in the United States?”

“In Virginia.”

“When I recovered from my shock, I smiled and said ‘Dr. Lee, your son was one of my professors in medical school.’

“Naturally, he was as shocked as I was. I travel 7,000 miles from home to meet one of my professors’ father. That’s what I call my favorite ‘it’s a small world’ story.”

After that encounter, Bagley and the elder Lee got together several times over the next year. Lee even took the Army doctors to some of his favorite restaurants in Seoul.

In 1969, having listened in on the radio to the first moon landing (they had no television at the Army camp), Bagley returned to the states. He went on to complete OB-GYN training on the MCV Campus and set up practice in Richmond. After a 39-year career and an estimated 3,000 labor and deliveries, he is now retired and living in Providence Forge, Va.


From medieval literature to medical school: Cambridge grad sets his sights on helping others

Gabrovsky,Alexander  Hiking in the Scottish Highlands

The Class of 2019’s Alexander Gabrovsky unusual path to medical school included publishing a 312-page book about the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

As an elementary school student living in the picturesque village of Murs, France, Alexander Gabrovsky’s fascination with the medieval world took hold.

“The family we rented our house from lived in a hilltop chateau from the 12th century,” he said. “I used to spend time there and was mesmerized by the architecture and the family’s stories of their medieval ancestors.”

So much so that he has spent much of his life studying that time period. The Class of 2019’s Gabrovsky not only holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in medieval literature from the University of Cambridge in England, but he has written a book about Geoffrey Chaucer, who is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages.

Published in September, “Chaucer the Alchemist: Physics, Mutability and the Medieval Imagination” investigates Chaucer’s fascination with the philosophical and scientific thinking surrounding change in the natural world. Gabrovsky argues an integrated knowledge of alchemy and physics is crucial to our understanding of the physical and psychological transformations that are central to Chaucer’s poetry. The 312-page tome expands on Gabrovsky’s Ph.D. dissertation.

“It was a lot of work, but I also had a lot of fun,” said Gabrovsky, who traveled to Italy to trace Chaucer’s footsteps and spent time in Scotland and Cambridge studying medieval manuscripts and deciphering cryptic verses on alchemy. “It’s surreal. It’s a strange feeling walking into the library here and seeing my book on the shelves.”

Some of Gabrovsky’s classmates who were on hand for his recent book signing on campus have the same reaction. But making the transition from medieval literature to medicine makes perfect sense, he said.

“I have a long list of reasons for going into medicine,” Gabrovsky said. “I enjoy the multi-disciplinary aspect of it and the problem solving. But it also comes down to helping the sick and vulnerable.”

Gabrovsky, 31, grew up Portland, Maine, then lived in southern France for a year while in elementary school. He graduated from high school in Los Angeles and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA in 2006. He took two semesters in Beijing, then completed a post- baccalaureate program at Johns Hopkins before completing his master’s and doctorate at Cambridge.

Now he’s pursing a degree that’s been a dream of his all along.

Gabrovsky,Alexander  Restoring a medieval skeleton in Pisa Italy

Alexander Gabrovsky restoring a medieval skeleton in Pisa, Italy.

“I must really like wearing a backpack,” joked Gabrovsky, who taught medieval literature at Cambridge for a semester. “I love learning. With medicine, you take classes in all different aspects of science – there’s a broad spectrum of learning, but you have to integrate that knowledge to understand the rich complexity of the entire human body.”

This past summer, Gabrovsky spent time in Italy, where he worked in a lab reconstructing the skeleton of a 14th century Tuscan peasant, who he thinks sustained a war injury to his femur. He analyzed bones from gravesites and studied ancient diseases.

Next summer, he will work alongside a pathologist from the MCV Campus as they analyze and study South American mummies from pre-Columbian civilizations, such as the Incan empire. He recently arranged a postdoctoral position in the UK, hoping to take a research year between his second and third year of medical school to examine the influence ancient and medieval parasites may have had on human evolution.

“Alexander may not be your typical medical student, but that’s what makes VCU so great,” said Susan DiGiovanni, M’84, H’89, interim senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs. “Students like him add interest and depth to any conversation. They add such diversity to the class.”

Gabrovsky, who is not only fluent in both French and Mandarin Chinese but also reads several medieval languages, is not yet sure of his specialty, but is confident it will take shape over the next few years.

“I am sure that VCU is the perfect place for that to happen,” he said. “We have a well-known paleopathology lab here, as well as a Paleopathology Club, which is really unique for a medical school. And VCU has such a great culture. Everyone is so warm and welcoming. I really get the feeling we are all here to learn and help each other become the best in our field.”

By Janet Showalter


Safety Net Collaborative a win-win for VCU and Richmond

When three safety net primary care clinics in Richmond found they could not fully meet the mental health needs of their patients, they knew they had to find a solution to provide these critical services to the city’s most vulnerable populations.

Rachel Waller, M’99
Rachel Waller, M’99

With over half of all patients receiving substandard or no mental health care, the clinics needed to provide thousands of behavioral care sessions to their patients. But where to find a group psychologists willing to contribute hundreds of hours of work at little or no cost?

Bruce Rybarczyk, Ph.D., a professor in VCU’s Department of Psychology, had the perfect answer: his doctoral trainees. As a result, since 2008 trainees have delivered over 10,000 pro bono sessions at the Ambulatory Care Center on the MCV Campus, the Daily Planet for the Homeless and the Fan Free Clinic. A fourth clinic, VCU’s Hayes E. Willis Health Center, was added in August.

The Safety Net Primary Care Psychology Collaborative has proved fruitful for everyone involved. The clinics are able to better cover the mental health needs of their patients, while the doctoral students get valuable experience working with a wide-range of patients. Most importantly, the medically underserved in the Richmond community get access to the care they need.

Rachel Waller, M’99, has seen the benefits of the collaborative firsthand through her work on the internal medicine service at the Ambulatory Care Center.

“Integrating mental and physical health care is important because you cannot have good control of physical health outcomes when mental health issues such as anxiety and depression go untreated. In our patient population, with limited care access and transportation issues, having psychology resources available during the primary care visit is vital.”

“The ‘warm handoff,’ in which a primary care provider introduces the clinical psychology services team to the patient can really improve willingness to seek care, particularly since there remains an unfortunate stigma for many in acknowledging that they are experiencing mental health issues.”

Integrating mental and physical health care services at the clinics has been an effective method for improving patient outcomes. Behavioral and physical health problems are often interconnected; treating one side of a patient’s problems but not the other often means more care, and more costs, down the road. Study findings show patients receiving this type of integrated healthcare had fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Psychology professor Bruce Rybarcyz and vice provost for community engagement Catherine Howard celebrated the success of the Safety Net Collaborative this spring’s Currents of Change Award Ceremony. Photo credit: Steven Casanova.
Psychology professor Bruce Rybarczyk and vice provost for community engagement Catherine Howard celebrated the success of the Safety Net Collaborative this spring’s Currents of Change Award Ceremony. Also pictured are Kathy Yost Benham, director of Client Support and Mental Health Services at the Fan Free Clinic, and Paul Perrin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, who supervises the program at the Daily Planet. Photo credit: Steven Casanova.

These results are evident on the MCV Campus. Waller, who works as an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, says the clinic has seen “decreased admission rates for medical illness for our patients who utilize clinical psychology students compared to controls.”

The success of the program has not gone unnoticed. This year the collaborative won VCU’s Currents of Change Award, which recognizes mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and the Richmond community.

This experience in collaborative, team-based care is invaluable for both medical and psychology trainees. Since the collaboration began, 80 doctoral students have worked at the clinics, six of whom have gone on to work in integrated care positions as a result of their experience at VCU.

Medical residents also benefit from the help offered by their colleagues in the psychology department, as many report greater work satisfaction and significant benefits for their patients since the collaboration started.

Waller says that outpatient care is moving from a model that emphasizes productivity to one that focuses on medical outcomes. Cohesive, interdisciplinary teams like the collaborative will be better equipped to meet the demands of the newly emerging outpatient medical system.

The collaborative has been funded for three years by the HRSA Graduate Psychology Education program, and this past summer additional support was received from the Virginia Health Care Foundation and Richmond Memorial Health Foundation.

By Jack Carmichael


The Job Hunt: Networking Can Be the Secret to Success for Bioscientists

Melissa Powell’s last job interview was in 2009 during her undergrad years – for a restaurant gig. But when she graduates next year with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, she feels empowered to land a great job in research or academics, thanks to a thorough education and a chance to hone her networking skills.

Melissa Powell (far right) picked up some new networking tips for interacting with potential employers at a recent workshop for graduate students.

Powell and several dozen other graduate students in VCU’s School of Medicine attended Networking 101. The recent event offered tips to meet and mingle with potential employers – and then a chance to practice what they’d learned with members of the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO), a statewide non-profit trade organization representing the life sciences industry.

The event was coordinated by the Graduate Student Programming Board on the MCV Campus in conjunction with Career Services at VCU, said Katybeth Lee, associate director, Health Sciences Career & Professional Development.

“Last year, it became clear that students and post-docs are seeking opportunities to connect with professionals working in the bioscience field. These professionals are looking to connect with the talent we have here at VCU, strengthening the bioscience workforce pipeline in Virginia,” said Lee. “This event was intended to meet both these objectives, capitalizing on VCU’s strong partnership with VABIO, our state bioscience association conveniently located on the MCV Campus.”

Many graduate students feel better equipped for the lab than getting to know potential employers in social situations.

Career Services at VCU’s Katybeth Lee led the networking session, telling students “You are scientists. Consider networking as an alternate form of data collection.”

Sri Lakshmi Chalasani, a Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology and toxicology, noted, “We’re spending up to 14 hours a day on our work said. Sometimes we don’t know what’s happening outside.”

At the networking session, Lee encouraged attendees to use those skills they’ve developed through years of study and labwork. “You are scientists,” she told the group. “Consider networking as an alternate form of data collection.”

She encouraged students to be prepared with engaging conversation starters (“What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened today?”), a knowledge of reception etiquette (“If you’re drinking, hold the drink in your left hand so your right hand isn’t cold and clammy when you shake hands”) and a plan to break into (or out of) conversations with others (“make eye contact with someone already in the group”).

And when it comes to conversation, “The key to networking is finding common ground,” Lee told students.

Graduate students put into practice what they’d learned with members of the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO), a statewide non-profit trade organization representing the life sciences industry.

Networking 101 (also known by the less scholarly name “Biotech and Beer”) is part of VCU’s program to ramp up services to graduate students in health sciences, said Lee. Other components include Ram Road Trips to tour potential employment sites and training in business etiquette.

“There’s a growing sensitivity that our graduates, both at the master’s and doctorate level, will not all end up in academia. It’s simply a matter of numbers,” said Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., the medical school’s associate dean for graduate education. “However, the skill sets that these people are developing are very marketable in a wide variety of areas. Our students have a thirst for any kind of information about any alternatives that are out there.”

Allen Owens, a fifth-year pharmacology and toxicology candidate who plans to graduate next year, has been active in programs for career development. “Being a part of these programs has helped me solidify career goals,” said Owens, who’s already gaining experience in an internship at the VCU Innovation Gateway.

After the 30-minute Networking 101 crash course, students were released into a reception attended by dozens of VABIO industry representatives. They shook hands. They chatted. They collected contact info and made plans to stay in touch. VABIO organizations were pleased, said Chlebowski, and hope to keep communications channels open.

“Tonight is not a one-and-done,” Lee reminded students. “You’re here for the long haul.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

Ram Road Trip
See a video recap of a recent Ram Road Trip, part of VCU Career Services’ program to empower health science graduates to find great jobs.
Ram Road Trip


Medical student Brent Monseur finds connections to OB-GYN while studying with NASA

Monseur with two spacesuits at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where he completed a clerkship in aerospace medicine.
Monseur with two spacesuits at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where he completed a clerkship in aerospace medicine.

As fourth-year medical student Brent Monseur looks ahead to residency and a career in OB-GYN, he knows the challenges he will face. “As increasing numbers of women enter the workforce and delay childbearing, physicians face new challenges to empower and support their patients to adequately plan their families,” says Monseur.

This fall, Monseur has been discovering parallels between these challenges and those that exist for another group of patients: astronauts.

“The tactics used in OB-GYN of primary prevention, the development of innovative technologies and the use of alternative health care delivery strategies form the bedrock of aerospace medicine.”

In October, he participated in NASA’s Aerospace Medicine Clerkship, a program that allows fourth-year medical students to complete a research project on space medicine. “I worked at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where my workstation was adjacent to the former sleeping and rehabilitation quarters of the Mercury 7, the original class of American astronauts.”

Although he admits it’s not the most typical path, Monseur hopes to combine his interests in OB-GYN and aerospace medicine in his career. “I envision investigating issues of spaceflight contraception and delayed childbearing due to career goals and cosmic radiation, issues where aerospace medicine and gynecology intersect.

“Fertility preservation and management of recurrent miscarriage would also be very useful in treating the astronaut corps should I pursue a second residency in aerospace medicine to become a flight surgeon. The beauty of the field of aerospace medicine is that the option is always there whether I want to pursue it directly after I finish my OB-GYN training or after years in practice.”

Fourth-year medical student Brent Monseur in front of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the first vehicle designed for deep space exploration.

Combining the two fields is not totally unprecedented: while in Houston, Monseur got to meet Richard Jennings, M.D., who is the only physician double board certified in OB-GYN and aerospace medicine. He also connected with Richard Williams, M’79, NASA’s chief health and medical officer, who invited him to tour NASA’s headquarters in Washington D.C.

Whether or not Monseur chooses to pursue aerospace medicine at some point, his time at NASA gave him a good idea of what it would be like to be a full-fledged flight surgeon. He also began to consider how the field of aerospace medicine might change in the coming years. As we move into what Monseur calls “the era of interplanetary space expedition,” there may be a need for consultants based in Houston who can deliver care remotely to astronauts traveling throughout the solar system.

For now, however, Monseur’s focus remains on our planet, and more specifically on finishing up his last year of medical school. Because of the School of Medicine’s flexible fourth-year schedule, he will be spending most of the year away from the MCV Campus. He also remains a national board member of Medical Students for Choice, an organization dedicated to advocating for training for tomorrow’s abortion providers and pro-choice physicians.

By Jack Carmichael


Swim, Study, Bike, Study, Run: Fourth-year student Samone Franzese balances medical school and triathlon


For fourth-year student Samone Franzese, unwinding means intense training sessions two times a day to prepare for her next triathlon.

Medical students face long days of clinical rotations, long nights of studying and intense pressure to succeed. As a result, students seek activities outside of school that help them relax and decompress. For many students this means spending time with their families, reading a good book or volunteering in the community.

For fourth-year student Samone Franzese, however, unwinding means intense training sessions two times a day to prepare for her next triathlon — not most people’s idea of relaxing after a long day at work.

On a typical day Franzese starts off by heading to the pool to swim for an hour, then comes to campus for eight to ten hours, and then heads out for another hour or two of training at the track or on her bike.

This routine changes depending on her school schedule — a surgery rotation that required 70- to 80-hour work weeks limited her training to key track and bike workouts, and required more time management. She intentionally scheduled her pediatrics rotation during the summer to try to avoid getting sick.

This intense regimen has paid off — after strong performances in amateur races this summer Franzese will race in the elite field for the first time this fall.


After strong performances in amateur races this summer, fourth-year student Samone Franzese will race in the elite field for the first time this fall

A long-time runner, she was introduced to triathlon while recovering from an injury during her first year of medical school. “I was talking to a trainer who was helping me get back to running, and she suggested I join the triathlon team because there would be more variety in my training and a group to work with. That sounded great to me, so I joined and just fell in love with triathlon. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

For Franzese, however, staying physically fit is more than just a pastime — it’s part of her job. A second lieutenant in the Army, she is attending medical school through a military scholarship that has given her the opportunity to go on rotations at military bases during summers and will require her to complete service time after she graduates.

Even among her peers in the armed forces Franzese’s ability in the triathlon is remarkable. She was selected to join the United States Military Endurance Sports Elite Triathlon team in November 2014, and went on  to win the Armed Forces Championship this June. “Being selected for the team vindicated a lot of the hard work I put in,” says Franzese.

Learn More

To learn more about how Samone balances medical school and triathlon, visit her blog at samonefranzese.com

Despite her success, new challenges lie ahead as she begins to enter elite races. Triathletes qualify to enter elite races only after proving themselves in amateur races, and the large difference in competitors’ abilities means new elite racers like Franzese, who are used to dominating their competition, may find themselves at the back of the pack.

Throughout all of her training Franzese has been surprised by the amount of support she has gotten from the medical school. “My classmates are always interested to hear about my races, and I think most people understand that you need to have a life outside of campus. I love getting away from academics for at least an hour a day to just be and think about whatever I want. Triathlon has become my therapy during medical school.”

By Jack Carmichael