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The Class of 2017’s Trina Chakrabortty uses yoga to promote a balanced life, connect with classmates

Trina yoga

Trina Chakrabortty demonstrates the “Tolasana” or scale pose.

After running her first marathon in 2008, Trina Chakrabortty decided the time was right to incorporate yoga into her daily exercise routine.

“My father encouraged it,” said Trina, who just completed her first year of medical school. “Something immediately clicked for me. I noticed I had more energy and my running got better.”

A few years later, she enrolled in a 200-hour teacher certification program so she could share her newfound love with others. Today, Trina teaches two to six classes a week on the MCV Campus at the Larrick Student Center, as well as several other locations around the city, including the Robinson Theater Community Arts Center in Church Hill.

Many of her students are classmates looking to escape the stresses and demands of medical school.

“Trina is fabulous,” said Kate Waybill, a member of the Class of 2016. “Medical school is all consuming, and Trina understands the stresses we go through. She is so good at helping us let go of everything around us. When I leave, I feel relaxed and rejuvenated.”

For Trina, the benefits have proven even more life-changing.

“Yoga keeps me sane,” she said. “It’s really all about balance, which is hard to keep in medical school. Yoga has helped me keep it all in perspective. There’s that mental clarity – the clearer and more focused you are, the better able you are to handle stress.”

At 29, Trina is not your traditional medical student. After graduating from the College of William & Mary in 2006 with a degree in neuroscience, she began to doubt her desire to become a doctor. Her father is a family physician, and Trina always thought that would be her path too.

Trina yoga

Trina Chakrabortty

“I had to take a detour first to get there,” she said with a laugh.

That change in direction took her west, where she earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California. She worked on campus in university admissions, where her work with prospective students and faculty in the School of Public Policy exposed her to the obstacles within healthcare and medicine. A short time later she traveled to India, her parents’ home country, and recommitted herself to medicine.

“That trip really opened my eyes,” she said. “There are a lot of parallels to the health care issues in this country – most notably the lack of access to health care in certain settings.”

Detour over. She started prepping for the MCAT, completed a one-year graduate-level certificate program and was accepted into the VCU School of Medicine. Since then, she’s been focusing not only on her studies, but also on her new duties as the Class of 2017’s wellness representative, chosen by her classmates to help them maintain a balanced life.

“Yoga is a great avenue to promote overall health and well-being with my classmates,” she said. “To help them is a real honor. Since I began teaching here, my classes have been packed. Some even ask if I can teach more often. To me, that is very humbling.”

Despite her busy schedule, Trina finds time to volunteer for Project Yoga Richmond. She also finds ample opportunity to promote health and wellness while assisting with planning the MCV Student Government Association Community Health Fair.

After graduating, Trina hopes to incorporate both yoga and medicine into her career.

“If I am going to tell patients to manage their lifestyle well, I need to do that myself,” she said. “To me, teaching people about good health at any level is what it is all about. Yoga has done a lot to enrich my life, so it only makes sense that I empower others to enrich their own.”

By Janet Showalter


Rising M2 Celeste Lipkes takes second prize in national poetry competition

Celeste Lipkes

Celeste Lipkes

Celeste Lipkes has been an avid poet for years, taking great pride in her creative writing. But she often wondered if readers would find her work worthwhile.

“You always wonder if people are going to want to read what you write,” said Celeste, a member of the medical school’s Class of 2017.

That doubt is fading fast. Her work, which embodies a wide variety of life experiences, has been featured in several publications, including the Bellevue Literary Review. She has won a number of writing competitions, and most recently her poem “Victor” took second-place honors in the William Carlos Williams Poetry competition. The work is a braided piece, weaving together multiple stories of sacrifice.

“We receive roughly 500 submissions each year, so Celeste’s second-place prize is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Richard Berlin, M.D., a psychiatrist, poet and judge for the WCW competition. “Victor is a very powerful poem.”

Celeste grew up outside Tampa. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2011 with a degree in creative writing and a concentration in pre-med. She earned a master’s in poetry from the University of Virginia before coming to medical school.

“I became really interested in the sciences in high school because I had a lot of experience as a patient,” said Celeste, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 15. “I knew I wanted to do both – become a doctor while pursuing my passion for writing.”

During her senior year of high school, Celeste was so sick that she missed more than 50 days during a single term. Poetry offered her a way to cope.

“Writing is very therapeutic for me,” she said. “It was a way for me to come to grips with what I was going through.”

Although she doesn’t have as much time to write today because of the demands of medical school, Celeste is completing her first poetry manuscript. And with support from a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, she is working this summer on a series of essays about medical education. She also finds time during the summer to volunteer with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and teach poetry classes at the high school and college level.

“I want to be taken seriously in both my passions,” she said. “Poetry and medicine are alike in many ways. They are both focused on the narratives of people. With both, you are paying deep attention to something with the belief that in that attention, you will find valuable information.”

For “Victor,” she drew from her experience working in the neuroscience lab at Johns Hopkins. There, she was responsible for some lab procedures and looking after the mice. Her poem delves into the sacrifice of lab animals for the sake of scientific discovery, as well as the sacrifice of soldiers in combat.

“I think at the core of who we are, we are always looking for meaning,” she said. “I think poetry is a way of not only making meaning out of a situation, but bringing beauty to it.”

As she pursues a medical career in chronic care, Celeste hopes her continued writing will inspire others to share their stories and life experiences.

“I think many doctors turn to writing because so much of what we do is veiled from the rest of the world,” she said. “But writing is a great way to share what we go through as caretakers.”

Celeste’s poem, “Victor,” along with the poems of the other award winners, is available in an online PDF.

By Janet Showalter


M3s learn the ropes for clinical years

M3s learn ropes

Rising third-year students participated in half a dozen workshops during orientation week. Perioperative education instructors taught them how to scrub, gown and glove to establish and maintain a sterile field in the operating room.

In the course of earning a four-year medical degree, transitioning from the preclinical to clinical years is an important milestone. This summer, 193 third-year students marked that transition in a week of orientation activities.

The Class of 2016 participated in nearly a half dozen workshops – 167 students on the MCV Campus’ Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety and 26 of their counterparts at the Inova Campus’ Claude Moore Health Education & Research Center. They practiced clinical skills like drawing blood, intramuscular injections and inserting catheters. They also learned how to scrub, gown and glove to establish and maintain a sterile field in the operating room.

“Preparation for a career in medicine demands the acquisition of a large fund of knowledge and a host of special skills,” said Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the medical school.

Strauss spoke at the school’s annual Student Clinician Ceremony. Sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, the event is designed to provide guidance, information and support to medical students as they move into the clinical years.

“In the coming year, medical students will be pressed to demonstrate high standards of skill and performance,” Strauss said. “The Student Clinician Ceremony reminds those students and our faculty of the challenges and imperatives to providing humanistic care to patients at the same time.”

M3s learn ropes

A career in medicine requires a host of special skills. During M3 Orientation Week, small teams of students practiced inserting catheters in one of nearly a half dozen simulation sessions.

At the ceremony, Chris Woleben, M.D., F.A.A.P., the medical school’s associate dean for student affairs, reminded the students of the days when they first entered medical school. At that time, they were told they would hold many peoples’ hearts in their hands as they’d been called to the service of healing.

“During this year you will see many faculty and residents treating very seriously ill and, at times, difficult patients,” Woleben said. “This year will be one filled with awe, inspiration and obstacles to fulfilling your calling.” He encouraged the students to nurture those things that inspire them, rise above obstacles and develop their identities as physicians.

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

Adrianne Colton, M.D.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
2012 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Sasa Espino, M.D.
Department of Surgery
2011 graduate of the VCU School of Medicine

Inna Garber, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry
2012 graduate of New York College of Osteopathic Medicine

David Jared Kobulnicky, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine
2013 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Brian Le, M.D.
Department of Plastic Surgery
2009 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Pete Meliagros, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine
2012 graduate of VCU School of Medicine


MPH student Elise Glaum hosts webinar for national public health association


MPH student Elise Glaum drew on her experience with the Shot@Life campaign to host a webinar for health care professionals interested in using social media to connect with their community.

This spring, masters of public health student Elise Glaum conducted a webinar in conjunction with the American Public Health Association’s Health Communication Working Group. Her webinar, “Incorporating Social Media into Your Professional Life,” highlighted tips for health care professionals interested in using social media to connect to a community and on promoting business goals to an online audience. She also discussed how to navigate the institutional barriers and challenges health practitioners sometimes face when using social media.

Elise’s advice and tips stem from her experience working at the United Nations Foundation. She served as the online communications associate dedicated to overseeing the social media strategy for the Shot@Life campaign that promotes child vaccinations worldwide. Her work with Shot@Life connected her to over 150,000 online campaign supporters and contributes to her breadth of knowledge.

One of Elise’s webinar tips to health care professionals was to establish a voice and to remain relevant and interesting on social media. Elise described how she posted photos and updated stories of campaign volunteers abroad to promote the Shot@Life campaign. By sharing unique stories, Elise was able to garner greater support and attention for the campaign and to connect in an interesting and unique way with her online community.

Elise’s webinar “Incorporating Social Media into Your Professional Life,” is available online.
To learn more about the Shot@Life campaign and how you can volunteer or contribute to the cause, visit www.shotatlife.org.

Elise, who will graduate from the MPH program in the spring of 2015, will intern this summer with the Richmond City Health District.

by Eleana M. Legree


Rising M3 Adrian Diaz elected president of the LMSA Southeast Region


Class of 2016’s Margarita Corredor and Adrian Diaz

The Class of 2016’s Adrian Diaz will begin a one-year term as president of the Southeast region of the Latino Medical Student Association in June.

VCU’s LMSA chapter was established this past year through the efforts of Diaz and his classmate Margarita Corredor. Earlier this year, they attended the LMSA Southeast Regional Conference hosted by UNC-Chapel Hill.

“For the first time in my life I stood in a room surrounded by physicians whose childhoods, backgrounds and motivations resembled my own,” Corredor said. “I met women like me who have accomplished the goals I have set for myself, and that tangible inspiration was indescribably powerful.”

She was so impressed with the conference that she successfully advocated for VCU’s LMSA chapter to host the regional conference in 2016.

The VCU chapter aims to foster relationships between Latino medical students and physician mentors and to advocate for a higher quality of care for Hispanic patients. During the spring semester, LMSA students taught a six-week medical Spanish elective course that enrolled more than 120 students, including all those planning to travel on HOMBRE service trips this summer. After completing the course, most students reported they felt comfortable taking a history and performing a full physical exam in Spanish.

As the incoming president, Adrian was invited by the National Hispanic Medical Association to participate in their 18th Annual Conference, “Affordable Care Act & Best Practices for Hispanics” this past March. The conference drew Hispanic physician leaders from around the nation who collaborated on identifying cultural competence, literacy and language service programs for medical education and health care delivery.


Student team one of 10 in country chosen to become hot spotters


VCU’s team of inter-professional students includes (from left to right): Emily Pratt, rising 3rd year masters student, School of Social Work; Andrea Ramos, rising 4th year student, School of Nursing; Tricia Olaes, rising 4th year medical student; Eveline Chu, rising 4th year medical student and Aziza Dang, rising 3rd year student, School of Pharmacy

In the United States, five percent of the population accounts for almost half of total health care expenses. That’s according to a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In the world of health policy and health reform, identifying those super-utilizing patients is sometimes called “hot spotting,” and it could be a key to controlling health care costs in the future.

A five-student inter-professional team from VCU is one of 10 chosen for a six-month learning collaborative to explore the root causes that lead to repeat visits to the hospital and drive up health care costs.

The team will be led by the Class of 2015’s Eveline Chu and Tricia Olaes. Both are medical students in the school’s International/Inner City/Rural (I2CRP) Preceptorship program who will use the experience as their capstone project.

The team’s faculty advisor is family medicine physician Katherine Neuhausen, M.D., M.P.H., who practices at VCU’s Hayes E. Willis Health Center, a primary care clinic serving primarily uninsured and Medicaid patients. The team will work with Neuhausen to select up to five clinic patients who are super-utilizers of hospital resources. They’ll look for patients with at least three inpatient admissions over the past 18 months who have uncontrolled chronic physical diseases, behavioral health conditions and social needs driving their high utilization.

To get started, the students will meet with patients in their homes to complete a needs assessment and action plan that will take into account such issues as the patients’ chronic medical diseases, health literacy, mental illness, substance abuse and social needs. They will also identify barriers to patients accessing healthcare and will accompany patients on doctors’ visits, even assisting with transportation or helping to obtain health insurance, as needed. If a patient is hospitalized, a team member will visit them in the hospital to determine if the action plan should be modified.

The students will draw on Neuhausen’s experience at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services where she conducted case studies of super-utilizers programs as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar. In addition to her position as assistant clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Neuhausen also serves as the director of delivery system transformation in the VCU Office of Innovation.

The students also will call on a policy advisory team of VCU faculty members for help in analyzing overarching patterns in patients’ experiences including the role of social determinants of health and identifying wider policy changes necessary to improve care for these patients. The inter-professional faculty team includes family medicine and internal medicine physicians, a medical anthropologist, a pharmacist, a clinical social worker and a gerontological nurse practitioner.

Over the course of the six-month program, the VCU students will participate in monthly case conferences and topical webinars with family physician and 2013 MacArthur Fellow Jeffrey Brenner, M.D. Brenner is the executive director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, which is organizing the project along with Primary Care Progress and the Association of American Medical Colleges. Each of the 10 student teams have been awarded a $700 grant to support patient needs such as bus passes, phone cards and canes. The students will also attend a hot spotter conference this winter hosted by Camden Coalition for students from all 10 sites to share their work.

The 10 academic health centers selected for the learning collaborative are:

  • Jefferson Medical College
  • Johns Hopkins SOM
  • LSU New Orleans SOM / Tulane SOM
  • Penn State COM
  • The Ohio State University COM
  • University of Rochester SOM & Dentistry
  • University of Washington SOM
  • UNC SOM/ Duke U SOM
  • Vanderbilt University SOM
  • Virginia Commonwealth University SOM