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AMSA fellow sees beyond the individual: “I view the community as my patient”

The Class of 2020's Avanthi Jayaweera, second from right, and other AMSA members meet California congressman and physician Raul Ruis.

The Class of 2020’s Avanthi Jayaweera, second from right, and other AMSA members meet California congressman and physician Raul Ruis (center) in Washington, D.C. Jayaweera is AMSA’s 2018-19 Education and Advocacy Fellow.

Academic medicine can sometimes seem like an ivory tower: a sterilized, well-lit operating room, high above the dirt and chaos of the world below, to which students climb, step by step, until they arrive at the final height and are called “Doctor.”

But to the Class of 2020’s Avanthi Jayaweera, not only is the path to the coveted M.D. less linear, but the ivory tower itself is an illusion. Where medicine belongs, the enterprising student advocate believes, is down in the streets, not hovering above them.

“My medical training can only take me so far,” Jayaweera says. “If we want to strive for sustainable solutions for the community, we need to challenge ourselves to look at our system as a whole and analyze the intersection of policy and health.”

For one year, Jayaweera will explore those intersections thanks to her American Medical Student Association Education and Advocacy Fellowship.

Awarded annually to a single U.S. medical student, the AMSA Education and Advocacy Fellowship offers recipients a chance to help shape educational and advocacy programming while delving into issues ranging from health care access to global health equity, diversity and social justice.

Accepting the fellowship meant deferring graduation for one year, a choice that can feel risky for students already committed to at least seven years of medical school and training.

“I was nervous about possibly being away from clinical medicine for a year,” Jayaweera says. “But I just knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have this much time to study these policies.”

Support she received from the Harry and Zackia Shaia Scholarship, awarded to students who demonstrate a commitment to community service, helped ease her decision. The scholarship has covered a portion of her tuition and fees for the past three years.

“To know I had that type of support and financial aid was a tremendous help,” she says.

As part of her fellowship, Jayaweera spends time in AMSA’s Northern Virginia headquarters and travels around the nation to work with local AMSA chapters. She also completed a six-week clinical rotation with Kaiser Permanente Northern California Residency Programs focused on community-based issues — in Jayaweera’s case, working with Spanish-speaking patients as well as transgender and non-binary communities.

As the Education and Advocacy Fellow, Jayaweera oversees AMSA campaigns including but not limited to Med Out the Vote, a program that encourages health care providers to vote, and Just Medicine, an initiative that seeks to diminish the influence of corporations in medicine and increase transparency in order to make access to health care more equitable and fact-based.

The latter issue in particular has been close to Jayaweera’s heart since volunteering at a free clinic near Virginia Tech, her undergraduate alma mater, and encountering a host of patients who couldn’t afford medication.

“It’s frustrating when the problem isn’t that we don’t have a cure. The problem is that we have a cure, but it’s too expensive,” she said. “It’s almost the same problem: patients still don’t have access to it. We can’t have affordable health care without affordable meds.”

Many of Jayaweera’s efforts as a fellow have focused on coming up with more effective strategies to get medical students involved with health care policy and training them to be good advocates within the profession.

That task has involved everything from offering local AMSA chapters seminars on prescription drug costs and other issues to teaching them how to set up advocacy days and meet with elected officials. Jayaweera also organized the Advocacy Leadership Summit at VCU this past November and will plan AMSA Advocacy Day in March 2019.

“I’m trying to find different ways to empower students to talk about these issues with confidence and expertise,” Jayaweera says.

Involved in AMSA since premed, Jayaweera has from the start been acutely sensitive to the intersections between medicine and the political and social factors that impact individuals’ health.

“Even as a physician, there are lots of factors outside of our clinical scope that affect health,” she says. Access to grocery stores with healthy food, living in a safe neighborhood where people can go outside to exercise, and affordable drug prices are only a few of the most obvious, she says, “and those are things that I can’t personally control in the clinic.”

It is for that reason that in looking at her own mission, Jayaweera sees more than each individual patient.

“I view the community as my patient,” says Jayaweera, who is active with the medical school’s International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program.

Mark Ryan, M’00, H’03, now an associate professor with the School of Medicine, serves as one of Jayaweera’s mentors, both in his capacity as the director of the I2CRP program and as adviser to the school’s AMSA chapter. He sees her fellowship as a logical extension of a path she has walked since arriving at VCU.

“The thing that strikes me most powerfully is her genuine desire to use her training and her skills as a health professional to help communities and individuals strive for the best possible health that’s available to them,” he says. “It’s been this common theme of seeing the role of a physician, the role of a medical professional, as being more than a prescription.”

For Jayaweera, perhaps the best gift to patients beyond prescriptions is policy.

“If I don’t speak up on these issues, who will?” she asks. “As physicians and future physicians, we are in a position where we’re natural leaders. This is not being political. This is standing up for our communities and our neighbors and the people we live with on a day-to-day basis.”

By Sarah Vogelsong


Lessons learned from Dr. Oz internship: M4 Michelle Baer aims to use communication to help patients lead healthier lives

Fourth-year medical student Michelle Baer spent a one-month internship on The Dr. Oz Show in October 2018. "I was really interested in finding out how he shares his information so that I can one day incorporate that into my own practice."

Fourth-year medical student Michelle Baer spent a one-month internship on The Dr. Oz Show in October 2018. “I was really interested in finding out how he shares his information so that I can one day incorporate that into my own practice.”

Fourth-year medical student Michelle Baer understands the hunger people have for trustworthy information on fitness and health.

She craves it herself.

A part-time fitness instructor and nutrition coach, Baer is always looking for ways to help people lead healthier lives. So it was a no-brainer, she said, when she had the opportunity to intern with the Dr. Oz TV show for four weeks this fall.

“It was a great experience,” she says. “I was really interested in finding out how he shares his information so that I can one day incorporate that into my own practice. We have all this knowledge as health care providers, but how do we best relay it all in a 10- to 15-minute appointment?”

Baer helped research and shape content for the show, fact-checking information and researching data. She worked closely with producers to help write the scripts.

“Michelle impressed me with her enthusiasm,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., medical unit chief of staff for the Dr. Oz Show. “She jumped right in there and was a valuable member of the team.”

The show employs two to three interns a month. These medical students are in their third or fourth years of school. Some stay one month, like Baer, while others are on set for a full year.

The show delves into a variety of topics, including food safety, nutrition, health trends, skin care, fitness and new products on the market. Baer helped research the benefits of apple cider vinegar and coconut oil, among other things.

“What was great was I also got to work on things for Dr. Oz’s other platforms, like his website and Instagram page,” she says.

During her one-month internship on The Dr. Oz Show, fourth-year Michelle Baer helped research and shape content for the show and worked closely with producers to help write the scripts.

During her one-month internship on The Dr. Oz Show, fourth-year Michelle Baer helped research and shape content for the show and worked closely with producers to help write the scripts.

Mostly, she worked behind the scenes, but had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Oz several times.

“He is very personable,” she says. “My first day he walked up to me and gave me a bottle of honey he had made. You can tell he is passionate about what he does. He really cares.”

Growing up in and around New York City, Baer knew early on she wanted to pursue a career in health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in human biology, health and society from Cornell University and a master’s from Columbia University in human nutrition and metabolic biology.

During her first semester of medical school, Baer worked at the World Health Organization helping to develop a costing tool that details the long-term advantages of preventive care. She has been a certified yoga instructor since 2014, and in 2016 joined Boho Studios in Richmond as a health coach and fitness instructor.

“It seems there are health bloggers popping up out there every two minutes,” Baer says. “But you don’t know what their qualifications are. It’s difficult to find reliable information. I want to be a source people can trust.”

Baer is enrolled in fmSTAT, the medical school’s Family Medicine Scholar Training and Admission Track that’s designed to develop and nurture students interested in family medicine careers. After medical school, she hopes integrate preventive medicine, holistic care and patient advocacy into her own practice.

“As people are becoming more invested in their own health, they are asking more questions,” she says. “We need to be able to provide the information they want, hone it down and make it succinct and understandable. If we don’t, they will never make the changes they need to make to lead healthier lives. I feel that’s what being a doctor is all about.”

By Janet Showalter


Clinical rotation takes M4 Kathryn Gouthro to Yellowstone: “You never know what’s going to walk through that door”

A clinical rotation took the Class of 2019’s Kathryn Gouthro to Yellowstone National Park.

A clinical rotation took the Class of 2019’s Kathryn Gouthro to Yellowstone National Park – where they remind visitors that all of the park is bear habitat!

Growing up inside Yellowstone National Park, fourth-year medical student Kathryn Gouthro never had far to travel to see her family doctor.

Three clinics were strategically located throughout the park, but only one was staffed with a full-time doctor. That’s where Gouthro went to be treated for colds, strep throat and other childhood aliments.

“That sparked my interest in family medicine,” says Gouthro, whose father managed Yellowstone’s hotels and restaurants. “The doctor there was not only someone who took care of the people, but he was part of the community. I respected that.”

More than 20 years later, Gouthro was back at Yellowstone completing a month-long clinical rotation. She lived and worked at two of the clinics alongside registered nurses and a physician’s assistant.

“It was a really awesome experience figuring out what to do with the resources available,” she says.

The clinics have X-ray and EKG machines, but no ultrasounds or CT scans. Gouthro could not take a basic metabolic panel, instead sending blood work to an outside lab. With limited resources, she relied on thorough physical exams. She took extra time to get to know her patients, their health habits, lifestyles and family history.

The Class of 2019's Kathryn Gouthro, catching a cutthroat trout on Yellowstone Lake as a child.

The Class of 2019’s Kathryn Gouthro, catching a cutthroat trout on Yellowstone Lake as a child.

She also consulted with her supervising physician and medical director at Yellowstone, Luanne Freer, M’88. But since Freer was off site, Gouthro uploaded patients’ files to a secure server and the two discussed treatment options by phone.

“This is such a great experience for students because they can hone their skills,” Freer says. “It opens their eyes to the fact that you don’t always have to order expensive and extraneous tests. We sometimes can get a little complacent relying on tests instead of really listening.”

Freer, who is based outside Seattle, is the associate medical director at Medcor, a large company that holds the contract for medical services in Yellowstone. Since 2005, when Medcor began overseeing the medical rotation elective at Yellowstone, more than 100 physician assistants, nurse practitioners and medical students have completed the program. Gouthro’s rotation marked the last time the elective will be open to medial students.

“Rural medicine challenges you,” says Gouthro, president of the Class of 2019. “You never know what is going to walk through that door.”

Patients are primarily park visitors or employees who live in the park. Gouthro treated everything from ear infections and high-altitude illness to bug bites, cuts, bruises and broken bones. On one occasion she called in a helicopter to transport a stroke patient to the hospital.

“Most of the patients were bummed because they are on vacation and find themselves at the clinic,” Gouthro says. “They are just looking for help and are so grateful that you are there. It felt wonderful to make a difference.”

The Class of 2019's Kathryn Gouthro at Yellowstone's Old Faithful Clinic.

The Class of 2019’s Kathryn Gouthro at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Clinic.

Gouthro, who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, learned about the Yellowstone rotation while volunteering at the clinic one summer. She met Freer about that same time when the two raced on the same relay team. When Gouthro applied to medical school, Freer was happy to write her a reference letter.

“She has this way of connecting with people,” says Freer, who founded the Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic, the highest-altitude emergency room in the world, in 2003. “She is special.”

A member of the Army Reserves, Gouthro is enrolled in fmSTAT – the medical school’s Family Medicine Scholar Training and Admission Track that’s designed to nurture and develop students interested in family medicine careers.

After she completes a seven-year commitment with the Army after school, she says, “I would love to be a rural family doctor. When you are it – when you are the only person available – you have the opportunity to really become a resource for the people there. You become part of the community, which is really a special thing.”

By Janet Showalter


Supper club gives students firsthand look into physicians’ careers and lives

September Medical Student-Alumni Supper Club.

Kelsey Salley, M’03 (third from left), and her husband and classmate David, along with Travis Shaw, M’04, and his wife, Jennie, co-hosted a September Medical Student-Alumni Supper Club.

Longtime friends, neighbors and classmates partnered to host the VCU School of Medicine’s second Medical Student-Alumni Supper Club.

The Class of 2003’s David and Kelsey Salley, who met and married in medical school, hosted the September event in their home along with the Class of 2004’s Travis Shaw and his wife, Jennie, who live down the street.

“Dave and I really enjoyed supper club,” says Kelsey Salley, an endocrinologist who also completed her residency on the MCV Campus. “We remember that in medical school it was hard to picture what life would look like in the future, so we thought it would be good to talk to the students about life after medical school and residency.”

In particular, she says the students were especially curious how she and her husband, an otolaryngologist who also trained at VCU, maintained work-life balance. “While we certainly don’t have all the answers, I hope it was helpful to them to see how we juggle family and careers. To make sure they got a better picture, our three kids were back and forth from upstairs to downstairs to get food and see what all the chatter was about.”

The supper clubs provide small groups of students an opportunity to enjoy a meal and conversation with Richmond-area alumni to share ideas, seek career advice and build relationships. The inaugural event was held in April at the home of John McGurl, M’93.

The Medical Student-Alumni Supper Club invites students to enjoy a meal and conversation with Richmond-area alumni.

The Medical Student-Alumni Supper Club invites students to enjoy a meal and conversation with Richmond-area alumni to share ideas, seek career advice and build relationships.

“My favorite part of the night was sitting down and answering the students’ questions,” says Shaw, a double board-certified specialist in otolaryngology and facial plastic surgery. “Many of them were very interested in the business aspects of medicine and it was really fun to share what I have learned along the way.”

In a post-event survey, the students expressed their gratitude to alumni for giving their time and opening their home to the attendees.

“The event was an enjoyable opportunity to get to know some local physicians in a casual setting,” wrote one student. “It was especially beneficial to get some perspective from those working in a private practice setting.”

Added another student: “It was a much needed break from studying and it gave me some much needed motivation. Most importantly, I really love the advice the hosts gave and it was nice hearing their individual stories into medicine.”

Jodi T. Smith, senior development officer and director of constituent relations in the School of Medicine, has known the Salleys and Travis Shaw since they were medical school students and now as they regularly engage with their alma mater.

“We are so grateful when our alumni go above and beyond as the Salleys and Shaws always do,” Smith says. “Whether it be serving on committees, taking part in a panel discussion, opening their home and serving as chairs for a reunion — they volunteer for almost every request and we cannot thank these dedicated alumni enough.”

Interested in hosting a Supper Club event?
The Medical Student-Alumni Supper Club is a unique opportunity for alumni to engage with their alma mater.Supper Club events can be held in alumni homes or at local venues near the MCV Campus. Medical school staff will assist with all of the arrangements to make hosting easy and convenient.

To be part of the Medical Student-Alumni Supper Club, contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at (804) 828-4800 or MedAlum@vcu.edu.

Just stopping in town for a visit? Development and alumni relations also can help alumni schedule tours of the MCV Campus or connect with students.

By Polly Roberts


Separated by 106 Years

Class of 1912 graduate sends gift to fourth-year medical student

Time capsules span generations, bringing messages and assistance from people who lived long ago. Once buried, the capsules ar e typically out of sight, out of mind, until the pr escribed time for the capsule to be opened.

Guy Rothwell Fisher, M'1912

Guy Rothwell Fisher, M’1912

In a similar fashion, a generous gift was made to the medical school over 60 years ago through the final wishes of Guy Rothwell Fisher, M’1912. Now, more than half a century later, the Class of 2019’s Kenneth Lim has been awarded the inaugural Guy R. Fisher, M.D., Scholarship.

Fisher specialized in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, practicing in New Hope and Staunton, Virginia. From his vocation to his avocations, he was invested in helping others as a business and community leader.

At the time of his death in 1957 at age 67 , he left his estate in trust with instruction to provide monthly support for each of his nieces and nephews . Upon the passing of his last heir in 2014, the remainder of the trust was transferred to the MCV Foundation, per Fisher’s wishes, and used to create an endowed medical student scholarship in his name to be awarded to students based on financial need and academic merit.

“Dr. Guy Fisher graduated from MCV 106 years ago, so it is strange that I feel this personal connection to him, ” Lim says of the unusual circumstances that led to the scholarship’s creation.

The Class of 2019's Kenneth Lim

The Class of 2019’s Kenneth Lim


“He has no idea about the progress MCV has made or how he has influenced my life. My parents have worked tirelessly and have made countless sacrifices to provide opportunities for me. I am fortunate to have them, and now, Dr. Guy Fisher — a man who passed away even before my parents were born — to support me on this path to becoming the first physician in my family.”

Now in his fourth year of medical school, Lim has begun applying to urology residencies. Much like Fisher, he says he is pursuing a surgical subspecialty to have the opportunity to work with patients both in the clinic and the operating room. “I am very grateful to receive this scholarship and to be its first recipient,”

Lim says. “It provides me peace of mind and allows me flexibility when making financial decisions, but more importantly, this scholarship motivates me to continue to work diligently and act righteously to be the best student I can be .”

A leader in his field, Fisher served as president of the Medical Society of Virginia and the Medical Society of the Valley of Virginia as well as of the Virginia Society of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. He was also active in the Shriners and the Kiwanis organizations and the Methodist Church.

Learn how you can make a difference like Dr. Fisher, with planned giving.On Jan. 15, 1957, Fisher was remembered with these words by the Augusta County Medical Society: “He departed this life, leaving behind a rich heritage to those with whom he had come in contact: wide w as the sphere of influence and acquaintance in the field of medicine , masonry, politics, religion and human relations; for he was not unknown to any organization in the many walks of life; for each and all had profited from his wide experience, rhetoric, personality and influence and the common welfare of man. Now, that only memory of this beloved personality remains in the minds of his many friends, they, indeed, will cherish the good fortune of having known Guy Rothwell Fisher, who ever strove to emulate the Great Physician.”

Today, he is remembered by Lim, who will carry his legacy forward: “While I cannot thank Dr. Fisher or his family today, I hope my actions and future accomplishments will honor him. I am grateful to receive this assistance and I hope to provide the same help to future medical students.”

By Leetah Stanley



M4, Fogarty fellow overcomes imposter syndrome, wins national award

“Imposter syndrome is a real thing.”

Oberlin,Austin receives award at conference

The Class of 2019’s Austin Oberlin wins the Young Investigator Award at the Infectious Disease Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology’s 2018 annual meeting for his work in South Africa as a Fogarty Global Health Fellow.

In August 2017, the Class of 2019’s Austin Oberlin had just received a prestigious Fogarty Global Health Fellowship. Chosen from a national applicant pool, he was one of seven doctoral trainees selected to spend one year abroad conducting research through the UJMT Fogarty Consortium.

He headed to Johannesburg, South Africa, in August 2017 as a step toward his dream of working in global health. Yet when he arrived, his initial excitement dwindled.

“I felt very out of place,” Oberlin says. “I kept wondering, ‘am I really supposed to be here’?”

While he had taken a year off from medical school to complete the fellowship, many of his Fogarty counterparts around the globe already had earned their Ph.D.s, with completed research projects under their belts. So he turned to his principal investigator and mentor, Carla Chibwesha, M.D., M.S.c., an associate director with the consortium.

“You’ve made it through three years of medical school,” she told him. “That tells us you’ll figure it out and will do whatever it takes to get it done.”

Taking her advice, Oberlin threw himself into the research, not being afraid to ask plenty of questions along the way. Two months later, he found his footing. “I can make it through this,” he told himself.

Six months after that, Oberlin launched his primary research project — a study of women’s preferences for cervical cancer screening — and was feeling “really good. It’s all about completing a project from beginning to end. I knew I could get it done.”

Not only did he finish the research project, he also submitted the results to the Infectious Disease Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology’s 2018 annual meeting. A year after arriving in South Africa, he presented his research and took home the Young Investigator Award.

“They chose the best project by a researcher under the age of 40,” says Oberlin, who competed against residents and practicing physicians for the award.

The Fogarty experience reinforced what Oberlin first learned when he traveled to Ghana as an undergraduate — and saw poverty and health care disparity like never before. “I had a desire to do something about it and that thing for me was medicine. If someone is in trouble, you can change somebody’s life right there with the proper health care.”

Austin Oberlin and research team

During his Fogarty fellowship in South Africa, the Class of 2019’s Austin Oberlin managed a cervical cancer research team ranging from research associates to nurses to co-investigators.

In South Africa, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women. Yet only one-third of women who should get screened actually do, according to Oberlin. The research he completed alongside PI Chibwesha provided insight into the types of testing that may be more desirable to South African women, including same-day test results and a home screening kit.

“I definitely want to incorporate research into my long-term career,” Oberlin says. “I’m especially interested in where the research world and public health intersect.”

As Oberlin begins applying to OB-GYN residencies with a public health focus, he leans on mentors like Chibwesha, assistant professor in OB-GYN at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and Siddhartha Dante, M’12, who first met Oberlin on a VCU School of Medicine HOMBRE clinical mission trip to Peru. It was Dante who suggested Oberlin apply for a Fogarty fellowship.

“He took it from there and ran with it,” says Dante, a pediatric critical care fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital who continues to serve as an HOMBRE volunteer. “That’s Austin in a nutshell. He’s been driven from day one in global health and making a functional career abroad.”

Oberlin is part of the School of Medicine’s I2CRP program, or International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship, a four-year program for students who declare an interest and commitment to working with medically underserved populations in urban, rural or international settings.

“I2CRP is what sold me on VCU,” Oberlin says. “I hadn’t heard about anything like it at other places. My closest colleagues in medical school are all people from I2CRP and I hope will continue to be long-term connections as we move forward in our careers.”

Oberlin also benefits from the Jason Lee Arthur Scholarship.

“A scholarship is important for someone like me who plans to work in the public sector,” Oberlin says. “I don’t want my biggest concern to be getting out from under loans and taking a particular career track because of money instead of helping as many people who need it as I can.”

Oberlin extends that helpful approach toward mentoring younger medical school classmates, spreading the word about I2CRP and Fogarty whenever he can. “Fogarty was such a transformative experience for me and I want everyone to know it’s available — and attainable. It was a career-defining moment and I want everyone to have access to the same opportunity.”

I2CRP director Mary Lee Magee calls Oberlin a “shining example” in the I2CRP program. “He has worked steadily to foster the knowledge, skills and experiences to make his dream of serving low-resource communities into reality,” she says. “He never misses an opportunity to share what he has learned along the way with other students to shine a light on lesser known career paths and nurture the potential of fellow classmates.”

By Polly Roberts

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Updated: 04/29/2016