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13
2017

For the Class of 2020’s Jay Pham, persistence and resilience earn a second chance

The pride overflows from the Class of 2020’s Jay Pham as he talks about life on the MCV Campus as a first-year medical student.

“It’s been blissful to finally be here,” says Pham, his smile growing wider. “Pure happiness. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.”

At 34, he says he’s finally where he’s supposed to be.

The Class of 2020’s Jay Pham and family

The Class of 2020’s Jay Pham and his wife with four of their five children, ages 5, 10, 11 and 14. Not pictured: their newest addition, a 1-year-old boy.

Five years ago, Pham found himself in a much different spot. He was running his family’s business in Seattle, Washington, having dropped out of college years earlier when he became a young father. He was making ends meet for his family but longed for a sense of fulfillment.

“I saw my children, who were so young and just beginning their lives, as a biological miracle,” Pham says. “The process of life is fascinating. They came out pretty perfectly yet so many things could have gone wrong. I wanted to understand this amazingness.”

So in 2012 the then-father of three went back to the University of Washington, where he had been one political science class shy of graduating, to finish his bachelor’s degree and earn his prerequisites. “This time I knew I had it in me. It was four hours round trip to school. I studied on the bus. I studied while brushing my teeth. It’s amazing what time you can find,” he laughs.

Jay Pham (right) and his father in 2012 before Pham started his post-baccalaureate studies at VCU.

Jay Pham (right) and his father in 2012 before Pham started his post-baccalaureate studies at VCU. “He is truly the one man who understands me completely. Perhaps also my greatest supporter.”

A Vietnamese immigrant who moved to the U.S with his parents and three siblings at age 10, Pham’s parents had always dreamed of him becoming a doctor. “Most immigrant families feel the need to be successful. You have to finish school. Be somebody.”

For much of his life, Pham followed this track. A bright high school student, he took community college classes his junior and senior years, earning his associate’s degree at the same time he graduated from high school. But he resisted his parents’ push toward medical school and ultimately abandoned his undergraduate studies. Eventually he found himself far from the life he’d envisioned.

It wasn’t until someone told him, “You made a mistake, but I believe you can recover from it,” that Pham began to reflect on what he could give back to society. “When you don’t have anything, you appreciate your body and your health. In Vietnam, it was how you could get work in the fields. My family was poor — we were on welfare when we came to the United States — but we had our health.

“I want to be the ‘keeper of health’ for the underserved and the poor,” Pham says. “That’s what I was. Now I want to pay it forward to the next generation.”

But while his career path was now clear to Pham, he had more work to do before being accepted into medical school. On the advice of senior associate dean of admissions Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, he completed VCU’s post-baccalaureate graduate certificate program.

“When I was emailing medical schools, Dr. Whitehurst-Cook was the only one who emailed me back personally and said ‘here are some of the things you could do,’” Pham says. “Other schools sent an auto response but this school, this person, found time to respond. It’s like the kind of doctor I want to be. VCU felt like the right school.”

The Class of 58’s James Darden (left) mentors Jay Pham at CrossOver Clinic

The Class of 58’s James Darden (left) mentors Jay Pham at CrossOver Clinic, Virginia’s largest free clinic where Pham volunteered prior to medical school and continues to give his time.

After earning his certificate and a 4.0 GPA, Pham spent 2016 volunteering at CrossOver Ministry in Richmond under the mentorship of James Darden, M’58. Seeing the patients at CrossOver, Virginia’s largest free clinic serving more than 6,000 individuals, reinforced his desire to become a doctor and work with the underserved.

Whitehurst-Cook says Pham’s persistence and hard work showed he would be successful at VCU and as a physician.

“We saw a real passion in Jay for helping others,” she says. “He is a great role model. He’s learned a lot from his life’s journey and can share it with other students and help others develop cultural sensitivity, not just to his heritage, but to his path to medical school. Resilience is so important.”

Since arriving on campus, Pham’s path has been made a little easier as a recipient of the Lillian H. and Steward R. Moore Scholarship, which partially funds his tuition. “I’m very proud to be worthy of a scholarship and appreciate any amount that I don’t have to borrow. It’s tremendous.”

Providing meaningful scholarship support for students with financial need is the goal of the medical school’s 1838 Campaign. Full and half-tuition scholarships are most urgently needed. They are one of the medical school’s best resources for recruiting and rewarding deserving students like Pham.

The now married father of five is a leader in his class — other students affectionately call him “Pappy”— and in his family, where he and his children often study side-by-side. “It’s easy to tell them to study when they’re always seeing me study,” he laughs. “We are students together.”

It’s not the path to medical school Pham may have chosen, but he’s shared the ups and downs of his journey with his children, ages 1 to 14. He tells them while it’s OK to make mistakes, sometimes there is a better way.

“Do things right the first time,” he says. “Fixing it is hard.”

But as Pham eyes his second of year of medical school, he knows better than most that it’s possible.

By Polly Roberts

19
2017

Servant leadership promotes academic excellence

Dr. Peter Buckley’s Philosophy has Brought Him to the Medical School as Its New Dean

Peter F. Buckley, M.D., has arrived on the MCV Campus as the 24th dean of the VCU School of Medicine and executive vice president of medical affairs for VCU Health. A psychiatrist and expert in the neurobiology and treatment of schizophrenia, Buckley is a national leader in academic medicine and recognized internationally for his research. Most recently, he served for more than six years as dean of the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, where he had been recruited in 2000 to lead the psychiatry department. During his tenure as dean, the medical school expanded to become the ninth largest by class size, grew to encompass five regional campuses, built a new medical education home and acquired new endowed chairs and scholarships, including a $66 million gift to the medical school.

This story first appeared in the spring 2017 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. You can flip through the whole issue online.

His previous academic appointments include serving on the faculty at Case Western Reserve University, where he rose through the ranks to become professor and vice chair of the psychiatry department. While in Ohio, he also served as medical director for Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare and its three state inpatient psychiatric facilities, leading it to become the best-rated psychiatric hospital in the state.

With 500 original articles, book chapters and abstracts to his credit, Buckley is senior author of a postgraduate textbook of psychiatry and also has authored or edited 16 books on schizophrenia and related topics. He serves as editor, associate editor or as a member of the editorial boards of more than a dozen psychiatric journals.

DEAN PETER F. BUCKLEY, M.D. SAYS …
The MCV Campus and VCU are gems in the commonwealth of Virginia, so I’m very pleased to join you here. Of course I’ve known about the School of Medicine and its reputation for many years. And specifically, a few years back, I had the opportunity to learn about it in much more depth, and I was very impressed by the talented faculty here.

Moreover, when I was dean at the Medical College of Georgia, I was involved in planning for a new curriculum and new facility, and so our team naturally visited Richmond to take a look at the remarkable McGlothlin Medical Education Center. They returned to Augusta and reported that it more than lived up to its reputation as a pioneering learning environment, and we built our facility and curriculum based on what we learned.

I’m Irish by birth, and traveled to the U.S. with my wife, Leonie, in the early 1990s. We’re very proud to be American citizens. As part of that, we feel a great onus to give back, and, in this instance, to work as dean of this great medical school to help improve the health of the citizens of the commonwealth and beyond.

Q: You’d been at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia since 2000 and had served as dean there for the past six years . What led to your move?
We enjoyed our time in Augusta and were well involved in the community. But life’s a journey, and it was time for us to take the next stage of our journey together. We were really drawn to Richmond and to this community. We’re energized by the medical school’s great collaborative spirit as well as by the science, both the basic science and the clinical translation science.

The impact of any academic medical center should be best felt in its own community. There’s not a better medical school or a university than this one to display how a university can positively impact the health care of the people in the region and the overall population’s wellbeing.

These attributes as well as the vibrancy of Richmond and warm welcome of the community drew us to enthusiastically make our new home here.

Q: What is your vision for the School of Medicine?
This school is extremely well poised, in terms of both its research profile as well as the foundation of funding, to increase its rankings in federal funding. I will be working with my colleagues to try to broaden the research portfolio and broaden the focus on community-based research that’s meaningful, that’s impactful, within the local region.

Presently, I am meeting people from our institution and community as I gain an understanding of the institution, its culture and our environment. It’s really a labor of love at this stage, and enjoying the support and help of others as I focus in on the strategic growth and development opportunities here into the future.

Q: Your own specialty is psychiatry. What shape has that taken over your career?  

I have specifically focused on schizophrenia because I consider the condition itself very disabling, as well as very intriguing from a neuroscience point of view. I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to work with some great colleagues over the years as we looked to try to understand its basic science. Can we predict how people relapse and what factors affect it? We’ve been fortunate to do work on how medications can forestall relapse and try to predict which medicines work better as well as understanding their
side effects.

More recently we have been studying the neurobiology of schizophrenia. Presently, we make an artificial distinction based upon symptoms as to whether someone might have a mood problem or schizophrenia. Some of our more recent collaborative work has suggested that there may be an underlying substrate that delineates these conditions in a different manner. We are working on federally funded collaborative research with major centers across the country to tease out the neurobiological “signature” of psychosis.

Peter Buckley, MD, and family>Q: What do you want the alumni body to know about you?
Several things. Firstly, Leonie and I are very pleased to be here and we have great respect and appreciation for the traditions of medicine. The impact of this university, and specifically the medical school on the community stretches back to 1838. It’s an amazing history and it also influences us daily and into our future. I see an excellence today in both research as well as in clinical care that makes me excited about the school’s remarkable momentum.

Of course, there are challenges now that weren’t here in 1838. Obviously, the finances of running a medical school that’s interconnected with a health system is a very complex situation of its own. It’s further complicated as we move to more value-based care.

But an opportunity comes with that, too. One of the things this university and this medical school have done fantastically is to train doctors and health care providers as a group. The MCV Campus’ enviable collection of schools provides an environment to train health care teams in a collaborative group. That’s essential today, and our impressive new curriculum earned flying colors from last year’s accreditation visit. Quality is not a singular doctor, or a nurse or an allied health provider. It’s a team event. In medicine, we are moving ever increasingly towards more team-based learning and team-based practice of care. To that end, we were also recognized this year as recipient of the Baldwin Award from ACGME, acknowledging our excellence in training, quality and humanism.

We have a great medical school: a remarkable legacy and an impressive momentum and future direction. There is much to do and we will do it together as we advance our medical school’s 179-year legacy of being innovative at the forefront of research, education and excellence in clinical care.

12
2017

Biostatistics alumnus returns to campus, shares stories from the pharmaceutical industry

Biostat alumnus Tony SegretiWhat can you learn about a career in pharmaceuticals from America’s pastime?

Plenty, says Anthony Segreti, PhD ’77 (BIOS), a card-carrying member of the Society for American Baseball Research, the organization that has developed sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of baseball statistics. (Think about the 2011 Brad Pitt film, Moneyball, depicting a general manager who built a stellar team of undervalued players using sabermetrics.)

Baseball and pharma have some things in common, said Segreti. “Baseball teams draft and sign a lot of players to contracts and, of that number, only a few are going to make it to the major leagues. In the pharmaceutical industry, there are a lot of contenders but not a lot make it to the approval stage.

“You can have a lot of notoriety and expectations, but what really matters is how you perform on the field – or in the clinical trials. Everything is based on evidence, just like everything is based on how a player is able to succeed on the field.” And as in baseball, you can’t always win, he said. That’s part of the game.

Segreti joined the pharmaceutical industry in 1979 at Burroughs Wellcome Co., and remained there through mergers with Glaxo and SmithKline, until leaving in 2006 to work at two contract research organizations for a few years. He then joined biotechnology firm Targacept and remained there until his 2014 retirement.

To use another baseball analogy, Segreti made it to the show. At the Department of Biostatistics graduation ceremony on May 12, he shared stories of some big wins.

Those include being in the lineup in the development of some highly successful drugs, including Acyclovir, an antiviral drug that started a new era in herpes treatment; Zidovudine, for HIV treatment; and epoprostenol sodium, a game-changer for pulmonary arterial hypertension. “Drug development is a team sport,” he noted.

And that’s where his training on the MCV Campus especially came into play.

“I always felt that VCU was a real springboard to my career. There’s a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to interact with researchers and solve real world problems and learn a lot of the activities you don’t learn in a textbook. You learn to be an effective consultant, researcher and how to get along with those who don’t see the world the way that you do.”

Because recruiting new talent to the field is important, he remains active in the Biopharmaceutical Applied Statistics Symposium (BASS), a forum where researchers and scholars in academia, government agencies and industries to share knowledge and ideas. He’s chairing this year’s meeting and working to support the next generation of biostatisticians who attend.

In addition to sharing his time and expertise with the Biostatistics Department and its students, Segreti and his wife, Wendy, have made several generous donations to the university. “There’s nothing I’d rather spend money on – outside my family – than giving something back to the university that really helped my career.”

He fondly recalls his years on the MCV Campus and how the biostatistics graduate students would exercise together during lunch. For two years in a row they won the intramural basketball championship of their league. “The joke was that nobody under 6 feet would get a scholarship,” he said.

Like many players, Segreti eventually worked as a manager, leading between 15 and 40 statisticians. Those professionals, he said, tend to like to work independently, so he knew he needed a special strategy.

Naturally, he looked to sports for a management philosophy, taking a cue from a famed baseball manager. “Tommy Lasorda said, ‘Managing is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it; not hard enough and it flies away.’”

By Lisa Crutchfield

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

27
2017

Woodworking unlocks creativity, teaches patience for health behavior and policy student Tyler Braun

The Department of Health Behavior and Policy’s third-year Ph.D. candidate Tyler Braun’s research on Spillover Theory analyzes how Medicare policy indirectly influences private insurance markets and effects private insurance enrollees.

He makes a point of finding time away from his research to spend in his woodshop creating one-of-a-kind pieces of art. In his own words:

Tyler Braun, Department of Health Behavior and Policy Ph.D. candidate, uses his woodworking skills to create a dining room table.

Tyler Braun, Department of Health Behavior and Policy Ph.D. candidate, uses his woodworking skills to create a dining room table from the reclaimed wood of an old storage unit dating back to Church Hill’s 1800s.
Photo by Kevin Schindler

Woodworking is something that I grew up with. My grandfather is a world-renowned decoy carver and my dad is very handy with tools. So at an early age, due to my grandfather’s and dad’s love for woodworking, I was exposed to chisels, power tools and a knack for understanding woodworking and artistry.

As I progressed through my doctorate, I needed a stress reliever and decided that I would attempt to take up woodworking as a hobby much like my grandfather and dad had. One day I blew off the old sawdust on the woodworking tools my grandfather and dad gave me and I began carving. I started off making college sports logos and state flags as gifts for friends and family, and through word-of-mouth,my wood art has been in high demand ever since.

Finding leisure time while working on a Ph.D. can be difficult, especially with multiple deadlines, but I make an attempt every day to keep Ph.D. work in regular business hours so I can go home to my woodshop to relieve the stresses of school, reflect on life and let my imagination run wild to create pieces of one-of-a-kind wood art.

Woodworking is a hobby that has grown my imagination and taught me patience and to pay attention to detail — luckily these characteristics have also carried over into my dissertation and doctoral work, which are very important to succeed in a Ph.D. program.

My suggestion to graduate students is to find a hobby that makes you happy, grows your imagination, relieves stress and helps you to continuously grow as an individual and a scholar.

By Tyler Braun

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