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Student milestones and achievements archives


Students organize Richmond’s first Camp Cardiac for high school students interested in medicine

Ameya Chumble watches Ryan Melchior demonstrate surgical knots

Camp organizer Ameya Chumble watches cardiology fellow Ryan Melchior, M.D., leads students through the surgical knots workshop.

When Ameya Chumble was in high school in Martinsville, Va., summertime educational opportunities were slim to none. Especially in specialized areas such as medicine.

Now he’s a rising second-year student at the VCU School of Medicine. During his first year on VCU’s MCV Campus, he learned about Camp Cardiac, a national day-camp for high school students interested in learning about medical careers. He jumped at the chance to establish a Richmond site of the program.

With the help of medical school faculty members – all volunteers – Chumble and a team of 14 medical students created an impressive schedule of presentations and activities. From obtaining CPR certification and learning suturing techniques, to hearing case studies and observing a live surgery, the high school students spent an action-packed week on campus.

Most of the 25 campers came from high schools in and around the Richmond metro area. One exception was a Seattle, Wash., student who attended the camp while her family visited the area during an extended vacation.

To apply, campers submitted a 300-word essay outlining their interest in attending, what they hoped to learn from the experience and why they were interested in the health care field. Scholarships were available to help cover the cost and meals were provided at no charge by the national Camp Cardiac organization.

“Since this was our inaugural year, we didn’t know what to expect of the campers,” Chumble says. “We ended up with a highly motivated and impressive group of individuals. Our students were flying through materials and tasks people usually don’t see until their first year of medical school. It was amazing.”

Camp Cardiac Staff acting as patients

Camp Cardiac Staff acted as patients so the campers could get a taste of what it’s like to take a patient’s medical history.

Established in Chicago in 2010 by cardiac surgeon Richard Lee, M.D., and three medical students, Camp Cardiac introduces high school students ages 15 and older to the real world of medicine. It focuses on both classroom teaching and hands-on experiences. It also serves as a springboard for students to develop self-awareness of a heart healthy lifestyle.

The importance of healthy living became all too clear during a presentation by Jordana Kron, M.D., associate professor of cardiology and program director of the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship. Kron and her patient, Mel Shaffer, provided a living example to illustrate the students’ weeklong coursework.

“I remember hearing patient stories when I was in school,” Kron says. “To hear something from a patient’s point of view means so much more.”

Shaffer told his first-hand account of how chest pains at the gym turned into sudden cardiac death: a disruption of his heart’s electrical system resulted in a potentially deadly malfunction. The unexpected condition can sometimes be successfully treated with CPR or defibrillation as it was in Shaffer’s case. He was shocked 11 times after being brought to the emergency room.

Kron presented Shaffer’s electrocardiogram history to the students and asked them to interpret the readout. After hearing his story, they peppered him with questions about his pacemaker and stents as well as his lifestyle changes.

“The students were very attentive and asked a lot of great questions,” Shaffer says. “They were very responsive, which showed they were not only listening attentively, but were comprehending complicated concepts. They had an obvious interest in a career in medicine based on their response and participation.”

Amit Varma shows students artificial heart technology

Campers get an up-close look at the technology that powers artificial hearts with cardiology fellow Amit Varma, M’06, H’12.

Kron will definitely volunteer to be a part of next year’s Camp Cardiac.

“I hope I’m asked to do it again,” she says. “The week’s itinerary was outstanding and it was a great success.”

Chumble and his team started planning the camp nearly nine months in advance.

“Finding professors took time, but they were very gracious,” he says. “We couldn’t have done it without the Departments of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Cardiology and Cardiothoracic Surgery. Their interest and support was overwhelming.”

The 2015 Camp Cardiac was so successful, the MCV Campus now is eligible to host its sister camp, Camp Neuro.

Chumble hopes to serve in an advisory capacity for next year’s camps, but most of the program’s leadership and coordination will be passed onto interested students in the Class of 2019 so that Chumble and his teammates can concentrate on their studies. In early 2016, they’ll take Step 1 of the USMLE national boards and then will move into clinical rotations and the chance to work with more patients like Shaffer.

“This year’s event was a lot of fun. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend a week out of my summer.”

By Nan Johnson


Resident and student take top honors in skills competition at vascular surgery conference

Dan NewtonIn addition to participating in the surgical skills competition, third-year general surgery resident Dan Newton, M’12, presented original research: Contemporary Outcomes of Isolated Iliac Artery Aneurysm Repair.

Dozens of medical students and surgical residents faced off in a skills competition at the 2015 Vascular Annual Meeting. Organized by the Society for Vascular Surgery, the meeting was held June 17-20 in Chicago.

The clinical skills competition drew 40 residents and 48 fourth-year medical students. Dan Newton, M’12, and student Grayson Pitcher had known about the opportunity beforehand, but had not known what it would entail.

While there was no way to specifically prepare, “the vascular surgery rotation at the VA Medical Center gave my technical skills a huge boost,” said Newton, a third-year general surgery resident. “Out there we primarily work with Dr. Michael Amendola, who has been an incredible teacher and mentor, and really sparked my interest in vascular surgery.”

“Our residents get extreme exposure,” noted Amendola, M’02, H’07, F’’09, pointing out that the McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center has the fifth busiest vascular surgery schedule in the nationwide VA system.

Newton was one of three residents to receive perfect scores on five timed stations that tested different skills like suturing, suture identification and knot tying without putting any stress on the item being tied.

Newton plans to apply for a vascular surgery fellowship this year. “The field has a great mix of big open cases and minimally invasive endovascular procedures,” he said. “It is also based heavily in physics and geometry, so it just sort of clicks for me.”

Grayson Pitcher during the skills competitionRising fourth-year student Grayson Pitcher during the skills competition at the 2015 Vascular Annual Meeting.

Rising fourth-year student Pitcher also was awarded a perfect score along with two other student participants. The fourth-year medical student competition’s tasks included a two-minute station at which they had to tie knots to the tab of a lightly weighted soda can without moving the can from a designated circle. Another event involved closing a 3 cm slit on a plastic tube.

Dr. Rahul Anand does a phenomenal job with the M3 surgical clerkship,” Pitcher said. “Because of him and the rest of the surgical faculty, I believe every third-year student at VCU has an advanced set of surgical skills and knowledge after their clerkship.”

For Pitcher, though, the event was less about the competition and more about the ability to network with vascular surgeons who were assigned to judge each station. He met faculty from across the country and was able to learn more about vascular surgery programs at a number of medical schools. That knowledge will be useful when he applies to vascular surgery residencies this fall.

Pitcher grew up with a balance of art, music and sports in his life. As a result, “I love anything creative, and it reflects in my personality in that I am very patient and obsessive compulsive about projects and detail. I always thought surgery would be a great fit. I loved how intricate and meticulous the vascular procedures were.”

He, too, credits the mentorship of assistant professor Amendola for his success. “My experience inside and outside the operating room with him has been an instrumental reason for choosing vascular surgery.”

Amendola, in turn, points to his experiences when he was a trainee with Richmond vascular surgeon Ronald K. Davis, M’63, H’69, and his MCV-trained practice partners. Amendola emulates the examples they set and prioritizes his role as a mentor, knowing it’s one of the most influential factors when students choose a specialty.

“The real reward in academic medicine is influencing the surgeons of tomorrow,” he said. “Dan and Grayson are going to be fantastic vascular surgeons.”


Doctoral candidate Wafa Tarazi wins award for captivating research presentation

Wafa Tarazi, MHPA

Doctoral candidate Wafa Tarazi, MHPA, in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research

For healthcare policy researchers like Wafa Tarazi, MHPA, explaining the results of their studies to people from different fields can often be a significant challenge. When your audience can’t understand small things, like certain terms or concepts, they’re liable to miss the overarching significance or impact of a study altogether.

To address this obstacle, AcademyHealth, a health services research and policy organization, sponsors an annual competition that challenges students to successfully explain a research paper in layman’s terms.

This year, Tarazi, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, and three other students presented on Austin Frakt’s “Plan–Provider Integration, Premiums, and Quality in the Medicare Advantage Market.” The article discusses how integration between Medicare plans and healthcare providers relates to plans’ premiums and quality ratings. Each student had about seven minutes to present and had to act as if the audience had no expertise in health care.

Tarazi chose to construct a narrative as a way of expressing the article’s complex material.

“I used my grandma as the main character of the story, and showed pictures of seniors, a hospital, a health insurance company, and the Affordable Care Act to demonstrate the interactions between them. In addition, I talked slowly in a way that would make the audience easily imagine the story of my grandma and realize how policy changes could affect her health insurance plan.”

Tarazi’s approach worked, as both the panel of judges and the audience picked her as the winner of the competition. They highlighted her use of personal connection and vivid imagery as being particularly effective.

Although she appeared to breeze through the competition, Tarazi initially struggled to find the right tone for her presentation. After writing an abstract and being accepted into the competition, she took a few weeks to digest the article and produce a presentation. She then gave a practice presentation to faculty members Bassam Dahman, MS’07, PhD’09 (BIOS), Tiffany Green, PhD, and Lindsay Sabik, PhD.

“They didn’t like the first version of the slides. Although they liked the content and how I presented the important issues in the study, they thought the clipart and animations I used in the slides were distracting. To be honest, I wasn’t happy with the feedback at first, but as I thought about it more carefully I saw what I needed to change. I prepared my second version of the slides in two days and had a unique opportunity to present them at a meeting of the Advanced Richmond Toastmasters club. I proudly took my slides to the competition at AcademyHealth.”

The feedback from her third presentation, of course, was all positive. Tarazi says she felt an enormous sense of pride seeing a group of her professors and colleagues in the audience clapping for her after winning the competition.

Tarazi says she learned a lot about presenting complex subjects in easy-to-understand language. She will need to call on her newfound skills soon, as she works to complete her dissertation on breast cancer screening and disparities in care before her expected graduation in 2016.

By Jack Carmichael


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 HamadaniFrom 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