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Class of 2017’s Jackie Britz to serve as AMSA’s Environmental Health Coordinator

Jackie Britz

Jackie Britz

When one thinks of environmental issues, terms like climate change, deforestation or renewable energy often come to mind. But in the field of health care, challenges like water sanitation, housing and disaster preparedness are also included.

The Class of 2017’s Jackie Britz has been named to a national leadership role that will give her a forum for raising awareness of the damaging impact environmental issues can have on public health. She’ll use her position to encourage fellow medical students to advocate for the health of communities that have too few health care providers to serve their population’s needs.

For Britz, it all started with trips to medically underserved communities in places like South Africa, Peru, the United Kingdom and the United States. “In each context,” she says, “I have seen the devastating impact that conditions of poverty can have on health.”

These trips sparked her passion for public health, and she has followed this interest across the globe. She’s spent time in London, where she researched healthcare barriers experienced by vulnerable populations, and in Washington D.C., where she worked for a non-profit organization focused on public health policy. Now on the MCV Campus, she’s is taking on a new role as the American Medical Student Association’s Environmental Health Coordinator.

“I hope to increase awareness among medical students about the relationship between environmental factors and public health and inspire them to take action around these issues.” By engaging medical students she aims to create a vocal group that will get involved on the national and local levels, while also informing future doctors about issues they will encounter when they treat patients.

Britz and her colleagues at AMSA have several events planned that aim to increase student engagement. She is coordinating a webinar series and is also working on National Primary Care Week, the Public Health Scholars Program and increasing the AMSA’s involvement in policy discussions on climate change.

To accomplish her goals, Britz will rely on her past experiences in the public health field. While studying for a master’s degree in public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, she completed an award winning thesis project on England’s proposed policy of charging immigrants to access primary healthcare services. Britz also has past experience with AMSA, having served as co-president for the organization’s VCU chapter and as a member of the Advocacy Leadership Course.

Britz just returned from AMSA’s national leadership meeting, where she learned about the organization’s environmental health priorities for this year. Now she’s ready to tackle the challenge of engaging her classmates and medical students around the country in environmental public health issues.

“There are many ways medical students can get involved, such as planning local chapter events to educate other medical students about these issues, or engaging in advocacy efforts at the state or national level that help promote the health of overall communities.”

By Jack Carmichael


Third- year student Braveen Ragunanthan honored with national public health award

Braveen Ragunanthan with Cmdr. Ray Ford

Third- year student Braveen Ragunanthan with award presenter Cmdr. Ray Ford.

Braveen Ragunanthan has been interested in public health and social justice for as long as he can remember. After witnessing extreme poverty in Sri Lanka and India on family trips as a young boy, he began to think about the systems that created such hardship and, more importantly, ways to combat it. These experiences, he says, “ultimately showed me that working in public health closely aligned to my moral sense of purpose.”

In recognition of his dedication to serving the less fortunate, Ragunanthan was honored by the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee with its 2015 Excellence in Public Health Award. The national award recognizes medical students who demonstrate their commitment to improving public health. He received the award at the School of Medicine’s student Honors Day ceremony in May.

Since those childhood trips, Ragunanthan has traveled widely to learn more about what it takes to make a difference in communities around the world. As an undergraduate student at Duke, he spent summers in the Mississippi Delta, at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa and battling neglected tropical diseases in Ethiopia. He says that these trips instilled in him the belief that “all people of all backgrounds, regardless of their circumstances, deserve a chance to enjoy a healthy life.”

Since enrolling in the School of Medicine, he has interned with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and participated in the School of Medicine’s International/ Inner-City/ Rural Preceptorship (I2CRP). This four-year program focuses on equipping medical students with the knowledge, skills and values needed to provide compassionate care to underserved communities. He says that his time in the program has helped him develop the clinical skills that are crucial in this field.

For Ragunanthan, the award is further inspiration to keep working towards larger goals. “Eventually I plan to work as a primary care physician in a medically underserved community and health professional shortage area. I am interested in grassroots community organizing and the potential of working in the space of public health to positively impact communities. I hope to be a champion of preventive medicine and work on health heavily through initiatives that exist beyond the walls of the clinic.”

His next step is taking a year off from medical school to pursue a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. After completing the degree, he plans to return to the MCV Campus to finish his final year of the M.D. program and graduate with the Class of 2017.

By Jack Carmichael


Chief residents conference a mini-reunion for members of the Class of 2012

Lindsay Collins, Pete Meliagros, Andrew Miller, Rawan Faramand, Archana Ramireddy and Lara Hamadani

From left to right: Lindsay Collins, Pete Meliagros, Andrew Miller, Rawan Faramand, Archana Ramireddy and Lara Hamadani.

For seven members of the Class of 2012, their first School of Medicine reunion took place a long way from the MCV Campus. The first step was discovering that a surprising number of classmates had been chosen to serve as chief residents in internal medicine at their respective institutions. That opened the door for the seven to meet up in Houston at the 2015 Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine Chief Residents Meeting this spring.

The cohort was made up of: Mai Grant Magliocco, from the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco; Lindsay Collins, from the University of Washington; Pete Meliagros, from the VCU Medical Center; Andrew Miller, from NSLIJ/Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City; Rawan Faramand, from the University of Maryland Medical Center; Archana Ramireddy, from the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital; and Lara Hamadani, from UCLA-Olive View.

Such a large contingent from the school came as a shock. “No one there could believe that so many members of our class ended up as chiefs,” said Miller. “It was incredibly exciting to see so many of my friends at the conference.”

The spontaneous reunion gave the classmates a chance to look back on memories from medical school and look ahead to new experiences. Through the chief resident position, they hope to improve their teaching abilities, learn more about hospital administration and mentor other residents. Many see the position as a step towards landing a good fellowship or pursuing a career in academic medicine.

But Miller, for one, cites a different type of ambition. “My major career goals include accomplishing far more than two of my fellow classmates and closest friends: Max Sirkin and Maciek Sasinowski.”

The chief resident position is typically selected by the head of the program as well as other housestaff, and candidates are usually chosen because of their leadership qualities. Many of the alumni were quick to attribute their success to the education and training they received on the MCV Campus. Meliagros describes the School of Medicine as “a wonderful nurturing environment for intellectual curiosity and growth.” And Magliocco also credits the leadership opportunities provided by programs such as I2CRP for her success.

All agreed that despite being scattered around the country, they feel enormous pride in their school. For Ramireddy, the chance to catch up with her classmates left her wanting more.

“I loved our mini-reunion in Houston, but I can’t wait for our real reunion!”

By Jack Carmichael


MD-PhD student and young alumnus take leadership roles in country’s second-largest physician group

Ali M. Khan

Ali M. Khan, M’09

The Class of 2009’s Ali M. Khan and current M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn have recently taken on leadership roles with the American College of Physicians, the second-largest physician group in the U.S.

Ali M. Khan, M’09, is chair of the American College of Physicians’ National Council of Resident/Fellow Members. He has served on the national council that represents the interests of over 22,000 residents and fellows-in-training since his intern year at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In his senior year of residency, Khan was elected by the 11-member council to serve as its chair-elect who represents the voices and interests of the resident and fellow members on the ACP’s Board of Governors. Now he has transitioned into the chair’s seat and serves on the Board of Regents, the ACP’s highest governing body.

“Since graduating, the bulk of my health policy and advocacy work has lived in the ACP,” says Khan who has also served on the ACP’s public policy and medical practice committees.

“Over the past five years, my work has focused primarily in two arenas: furthering the college’s role as a hub of leadership training and development for trainees and, accordingly, focusing our role as a council in catalyzing the value proposition and engagement opportunities for trainees.”

He’s helped lead ACP’s High Value Care initiative that educates and engages physicians as well as residents and fellows in how to practice in a value-sensitive, thoughtful manner for resource stewardship and patient engagement. At the ACP’s upcoming annual meeting, he’ll co-host the council’s marquee event, a TED talk-style national forum for promising innovations and bright ideas for teaching high-value care.

When he’s not serving at the ACP, Khan is a clinical innovator and director of physician engagement at Boston-based Iora Health. He practices general internal medicine at Iora’s super-utilizer clinic serving medically complex casino workers in Las Vegas and also serves on Yale’s clinical faculty.

M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn

M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn

In April, M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn began a four-year term on the ACP’s National Council of Student Members, a 13-member group that advises the Board of Regents and Board of Governors on promoting internal medicine as a career and increasing the value of ACP membership to medical students.

She’ll be assigned a region of medical schools in the U.S. and will help advise the internal medicine interest groups at those schools to strengthen activities at the chapter level. She’s also been selected to represent the council on the ACP Education and Publication Committee that provides scientific and professional information to physicians, trainees and patients.

Council members organize programming for medical students at the national ACP conference every year, and Cockburn will attend the annual meeting in Boston later this month. “I’m really excited to get to meet the rest of the council members as well as network with Internal medicine physicians,” she says.

Originally from Harrisonburg, Va., Cockburn entered the M.D.-Ph.D. program in 2013 and in March 2015 began her graduate training in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. She’s been an admissions tour guide and was a trip leader for HOMBRE, the annual student-led medical relief trip to Honduras. With a strong interest in global health, Cockburn plans on doing a fellowship in infectious disease after a residency in internal medicine.

The ACP is a national organization of internists and is the country’s second-largest medical-physician organization, behind only the American Medical Association. Its membership of 141,000 includes internists and internal medicine subspecialists as well as medical students, residents and fellows. An influential voice in American health care, it’s celebrating 100 years since its founding in 1915.


Nationally known speakers, dozens of student presenters intersect at regional neurosciences meeting

Scientists from the symposium

The symposium featured four nationally known scientists: (left-right) Ben Arenkiel, Ph.D. (Baylor College of Medicine), Vincent Pieribone, Ph.D. (Yale University), David Lyon, Ph.D. (University of California Irvine) and Michael Krashes, Ph.D. (NIDDKD).

The Kontos Medical Sciences Building was busier than a cluster of excitatory neurons on March 20 when 150 neuroscientists convened for the annual symposium of the Central Virginia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience.

The symposium featured a quartet of nationally known speakers who travelled from UC Irvine, Yale, Baylor and the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to present the latest discoveries from their research labs. From their talks, the symposium’s topic was born: “Optogenetics, Chemogenetics and Circuit Mapping of Brain Function.”

Each speaker described some of the latest tools used by neuroscientists to uncover the connections and functions of the central nervous system. These tools ranged from using the unique properties of the rabies virus to delineate CNS connections to using fluorescent protein genes derived from ocean coral to generate voltage probes that can convert voltage changes across biological membranes into optical signals.

CVCSN student presenter winners

CVCSN student presenter winners were Jianmin Su (Virginia Tech), Kareem Clark (VCU), Claire Dixon (VCU), Joseph Balsamo (JMU) and Ryan Poland (VCU). Photo taken by Pavel Lizhnyak.

Chapter President Raymond J. Colello, Ph.D., Treasurer Andy Ottens, Ph.D., Secretary Unsong Oh, M.D., and Rory McQuiston, Ph.D., organized the symposium.

An associate professor in VCU’s Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Colello says that the annual gathering has always been a place to learn about recent findings, but it’s also an important forum for students to begin to take their place in the neuroscience community.

In an hour-long session, called a Data Blitz, eight doctoral students and post-doctoral scholars from VCU presented a series of oral presentations. They shared their research findings with an audience populated by faculty, students and post-docs from neuroscience research programs around Central Virginia.

“I was delighted how well all the students did at explaining their research and its impact within the five-minute time constraint of the Data Blitz talk,” says Colello.

VCU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology postdoc Michael Surace presented during the Blitz. “Although the Data Blitz format presses you to present your data concisely, this may actually be a benefit,” he says. “I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of conversation it sparked with other researchers, especially those from other institutions.”

An additional poster session boasted nearly five dozen abstracts representing the work of undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs from a half dozen Virginia schools: Eastern Virginia Medical School, James Madison, VCU, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and William and Mary.

At the end of the day, symposium organizers selected five outstanding student presenters for awards.

“It was a wonderful opportunity, not just to be able to share your work, but to see all of the amazing research being performed right in our own backyard,” said Kareem Clark, VCU graduate student and poster presentation winner. “As a grad student, a regional meeting such as this one is great for networking and finding potential post-doctoral positions locally.”


Graduate students hone communication skills at annual Forbes Research Colloquium

The nine students at annual Forbes Research Colloquium

Nine students participated in the Forbes Research Colloquium: (from left to right, standing) Ali Bonakdar Tehrani, Shiping Zou, Natalie Wheeler, Justin Sperlazza, Kyle Ferber and Jeanine Guidry; (l-r, seated) Anting Hsiung, Wafa Tarazi and Amrita Sule.

The ability to tell the story behind the research can be key to securing funding, presenting findings and raising awareness with peers as well as the general public. The 43rd annual John C. Forbes Research Colloquium gave graduate students in the biomedical sciences the chance to develop both written and oral presentation skills.

Nine students presented research findings in a short talk format on March 12 in Sanger Hall. Selected on the basis of the quality and clarity of a written description of their research projects, the students’ oral presentations were also evaluated by members of the faculty on the basis of how effectively they communicated the research.

Student participants represented more than a half dozen programs in the medical school:

  • Kyle Ferber, Department of Biostatistics
    Modeling Censored Discrete Survival Time in High-Dimensional Settings
  • Jeanine D. Guidry, Department of Social and Behavioral Health
    On Pins and Needles: How Vaccines Are Portrayed on Pinterest
  • Anting Hsiung, Department of Human and Molecular Genetics
    CMYA5, a Candidate Gene for Schizophrenia: Expression in the Brain and the Effect of a Functional Variant on Binding
  • Justin Sperlazza, Cancer and Molecular Medicine
    Depletion of the Chromatin Remodeler CHD4 Sensitizes AML Blasts to Genotoxic Agents and Reduces Tumor Initiation
  • Amrita Sule, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    A PP2A-ATM Protein Complex Regulates the DNA Damage Response and Pro-Survival Signaling
  • Wafa W. Tarazi, MHPA, Department of Healthcare Policy and Research
    Medicaid Expansion and Access to Care among Cancer Survivors
  • Ali Bonakdar Tehrani, Healthcare Policy and Research
    Closing the Medicare Doughnut Hole: The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Prescription Drug Access, Utilization and Spending
  • Natalie A. Wheeler, Neuroscience
    The Autotaxin-LPA Axis Mediates Changes in Gene Expression and Histone Acetylation during Oligodendrocyte Differentiation
  • Shiping Zou, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
    Oligodendrocytes Are Targets of HIV-1 Tat: NMDA and AMPA Receptor-Mediated Effects on Survival and Development
John Forbes, Ph.D.

John Forbes, Ph.D., a pioneer of VCU’s Ph.D. training program

“The event memorializes the pioneering effort of John Forbes who organized our institution’s entry into advanced degree training over 80 years ago,” said Jan F. Chlebowski, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate education at the VCU School of Medicine. “He was the first advisor of graduate students at what was then the Medical College of Virginia.”

John C. Forbes, Ph.D., is one of the pioneers of VCU’s Ph.D. training program. Along with Charles Clayton, Ph.D., and Daniel Watts, Ph.D., Forbes founded and grew advanced degree education at MCV, which at one time was among the top 10 producers of Ph.D. graduates in medical centers nationally.

Forbes joined the MCV faculty in the Department of Biochemistry in 1927. He grew to be internationally recognized as an authority in cholesterol-atherosclerosis research and alcoholism. During his tenure, Forbes became the first chairman of the Committee on Graduate Studies in 1934, supervising the first two graduate students receiving their degree from MCV. Because of his insight and dedication to the advancement and excellence in research and as a pioneer in graduate education, the School of Medicine recognizes Forbes in its continuing awareness and promotion of those students who are dedicating their lives to the advancement of science.

The medical school’s Office of Graduate Education coordinates the annual event, which is supported by a fund established by the Forbes family.