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Student milestones and achievements archives

13
2017

M4 Nehal Naik helps develop devices to manage tuberculosis, improve patient care

The Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik spent a year in Peru with the NIH’s Fogarty Global Health  program. Here he’s pictured in a TB isolation room with a TB aerosol filter.

The Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik spent a year in Peru with the NIH’s Fogarty Global Health
program. Here he’s pictured in a TB isolation room with a TB aerosol filter.

Nehal Naik, M’18, was out of his comfort zone during his year in Lima, Peru, as a research fellow with the National Institutes of Health Fogarty Global Health program.

He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“It was great,” he says. “We really delved into the social aspects of health and social science research, which I wasn’t used to.”

Naik teamed with three other fellows to create novel devices that improve tuberculosis clinical management and prognostication. They identified biomarkers for the disease, which will help physicians track how a patient is doing.

“I feel a lot of health issues in the world are forgotten because so many patients in poorer areas don’t have the same access to health care,” says Naik, who returned to Richmond in April. “As a result, the plight of patients in low and middle income countries can be overlooked by the general public and even health care providers. There are so many things in the U.S. that we take for granted. I want to help increase access to care for everyone.”

For the last year, he focused his research in Lima, where he helped create a sensor that measures the frequency of a patient’s cough over a four-hour period. In a study with a group of 60 patients from two hospitals in the city, the sensor recorded coughing data and Naik conducted interviews to get a better understanding of each patient’s personal life – such as access to nutritious food and the stigmas they face because of the disease.

Using the data, the team will analyze how many times a patient coughed, if he or she improved with treatment and if it correlates to existing laboratory diagnostics.

Naik’s group also helped develop a filter that measures tuberculosis particles in the air when a patient coughs that has the potential to determine in future studies the risk posed to doctors when they treat patients.

“We worked with a great team of doctors,” says Naik, who in April presented the results of his filter study at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. “Collaboration is the only way to get things accomplished. It’s great to see how medical students and physicians are driven to change their community.”

While in Peru, the Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik helped set up the Peruvian chapter of the Panamerican Trauma Society. Here he’s participating in a disaster simulation with PTS students.

While in Peru, the Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik helped set up the Peruvian chapter of the Panamerican Trauma Society. Here he’s participating in a disaster simulation with PTS students.

While in Peru, Naik continued his role as the chair of the student subcommittee of the Panamerican Trauma Society. Based on the MCV Campus, the society promotes the development of international collaborations among health professionals in trauma and critical care. Naik helped set up the Peruvian chapter, which now has more than 120 members in three local universities. He also is working with VCU Health’s Division of Acute Care Surgery to develop a collaboration with Peruvian surgeons to assess access and quality of surgical care.

“Nehal is a fantastic student, and more importantly a great human being,” says Joel Moll, M.D., Naik’s advisor and the residency program director for the Department of Emergency Medicine. “He will likely start residency more accomplished than many faculty in his niche. But meeting him, none of this is obvious. He is warm, kind and very down-to-earth.”

Naik plans to pursue his residency in emergency medicine because it not only encompasses all his clinical skills and interests, but because of a growing need for the specialty around the world as poorer countries urbanize. He witnessed this need as an M1 researcher in Ecuador in 2014. Naik was at the city of Cuenca’s 911 center when a call came in from the scene of a serious car accident. Because of a lack of communication, the hospital was unprepared for the severity of the patient’s injuries, and the patient died.

Since then, Naik helped Cuenca’s hospitals implement a communications protocol similar to the one at VCU Health.

“I’ve seen people who have access to good health care and those who don’t,” he says. “Inherently, it’s saddening. But it makes me want to give them the tools to improve that inequality. That’s where I want to make a difference.”

The Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars
• Provides supportive mentorship, research opportunities and a collaborative research environment for early stage investigators to enhance their global health research expertise and their careers.
• Generates a new and young cadre of global health researchers, educators and professionals who will be prepared to address the new challenges in global health.
• Provides fellows with outstanding, interdisciplinary education and training in innovative global health research to promote health equity for populations around the world.

Learn more about the Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars >>

By Janet Showalter

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

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

25
2017

M4 Michael Krouse completes 50-mile ultramarathon

One week after Match Day, the Class of 2017’s Michael Krouse headed into difficult terrain — a 50-mile run in the frigid cold and sweltering heat of Monument Valley, located within the Navajo Nation in Arizona. He completed the ultramarathon in 13 hours and 45 minutes and shares his experience of training and inspiration below.

Michael Krouse completed the Monument Valley 50 Miler during his fourth year of medical school.

Michael Krouse completed the Monument Valley 50 Miler during his fourth year of medical school, working in training runs on the residency interview trail and to-and-from the hospital during his ICU rotation.

The Monument Valley 50 Miler included a 1,000-foot climb up a mesa via a boulder-laden, single track mining road; a 10-mile stretch through deep, loose sand; and, for me at least, a pitch-black, headlamp-lit game of hide-and-go-seek with trail markers to finish.

Before medical school, I’d completed numerous marathons as well as the Bethel Hill 50 Miler and relished the thought of returning to ultramarathons. There isn’t a lot of time to train during both the pre-clinical and clinical years but I have been fortunate to run with a diverse group of friends who all share a passion for running.

VCU School of Medicine does a terrific job of admitting students with a wide range of backgrounds and interests — Division I athletes, researchers, teachers, businessmen and businesswomen, aspiring cardiologists, emergency medicine physicians, pediatricians and surgeons. Running brought many of us together on early morning 4-mile runs before class and Saturday morning long runs during the pre-clinical years. This awesome group of friends kept my spirits high those first two years and kept me in maintenance-shape for this 50-mile run.

As the clinical years drew to a close and the residency interview season started, I began toying with the idea of running another ultramarathon. I’ve always enjoyed pushing my limits — doing the Mile Swim as a Boy Scout, cycling the shores of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans to Kenner, Louisiana, as a middle schooler and hiking Half Dome in Yosemite as a high schooler. Running ultras was perhaps a natural progression.

So I ran at every stop on the residency interview trail as a way to see each city through a unique lens and keep up with training. When I traveled to my hometown of New Orleans for Thanksgiving, I accomplished a homegrown marathon with, of course, a portion along Bourbon Street. The hardest part came when the interview trail ended and I began my ICU rotation at VCU Health.

Knowing there would be no time to train on this rotation, in which the team is caring for medically complicated patients, I chose to run to school in the mornings, shower and eat in the medical student on-call room, help the team, and run back home. There were some mornings, especially in early January, when the roads were slick with ice and I had to don YakTraks — spike-attachments for shoes — to run. That was an adventure in its own right!

As the race grew closer and the ICU month ended, I relied on my roommates — the Class of 2017’s Claire Lauer, Adam Sadik and Cameron Sumner, as well as Camille Hochheimer, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biostatistics — to keep me safe on training runs lasting 30 and 40 miles up and down the James River, Pocahontas State Park and the Virginia Capital Trail.

We would check in via text periodically and I’d also turn on the Find Friends app on my iPhone so they could track my progress. I could not have done this run without my roommates and Camille.

Paying it forward
Training for the race also highlighted the need for adaptive sports in the Greater Richmond area. Following my acting internship in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, VCU Health’s William O. McKinley, M.D., put me in touch with Sportable, a Richmond nonprofit providing adaptive sports and recreation opportunities for people with physical and visual disabilities.

I spent a month-long internship with Sportable. Part of that internship was assisting with wheelchair basketball practice. After watching the kids practice and talking with them about their stories and the challenges they have faced, I wanted to do more for them and for the organization which adds so much quality to their life. If some good could come out of such a difficult task, in addition to completing the race, I would feel content.

So I started a fundraiser for Sportable and began raising awareness about adaptive sports via social media. I’m a member of the International, Inner City, Rural Preceptorship Program in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health and it’s encouraged me to remain committed to my patients even outside the hospital. So much of our patients’ health status is determined by what happens outside of our clinics and hospitals. Making sure our communities are primed to maximize their health and quality of life is an important reason why I went into medicine.

I’ll begin my residency at the Ohio State University in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in mid-June and I’m already eyeing the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon.

Maintaining a sense of balance — physical, mental, spiritual — remains a primary focus in my life. I want to bring the best of who I am to my patients every day and I think that one means of doing so is making sure that I am taking care of myself, too.

By Michael Krouse