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26
2017

Grandchildren ensure alumnus’ legacy lives on through scholarship

Joe Smith (middle) meets the Class of 2017’s John Weeks (left), the recipient of the scholarship that bears the name of his grandfather, the Class of 1911’s Henry Clay Smith (right).

Joe Smith (middle) meets the Class of 2017’s John Weeks (left), the recipient of the scholarship that bears the name of his grandfather, the Class of 1911’s Henry Clay Smith (right).

As a young boy, Joe Smith visited his beloved Grandad every year in Burkeville, Virginia. Growing up in a military family, at times living as far west as California, he and his siblings shared fond memories of those annual trips to rural Virginia.

Their grandfather Henry Clay Smith from the Class of 1911 practiced family medicine out of his home and Smith recalls watching patients come over for appointments as the grandchildren played nearby.

“Grandad would see patients at the house and we would watch them come and go,” Smith says.

His grandfather practiced family medicine in rural Virginia for 61 years and was known to be loved and respected by his patients, many of whom he counted as friends. In 1976, two years after the physician’s passing, his children established the Henry Clay Smith M.D. Memorial Scholarship to honor his life and devotion to medicine.

Each year, the scholarship is given to a graduating fourth-year student interested in providing health care to rural Virginians. Joe Smith recently had the opportunity to visit the MCV Campus and meet this year’s scholarship recipient, John Weeks, M’17.

During medical school, Weeks participated in the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program, a four-year program for students who declare an interest in and commitment to working with medically underserved populations in urban, rural or international settings.

Prior to medical school, Weeks spent three years as an outreach worker on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He returned to the community during his third-year family medicine clerkship and fourth-year community immersion elective. “People think that to truly find the underserved, you have to go international,” Weeks said of his time on the Shore. “But that’s just not the case. All you have to do is open your eyes and look around you. The biggest similarity of all underserved populations, regardless of location, is access.”

In June, Weeks began his residency at the University of Colorado, Denver, to train in family medicine.

“It’s really rewarding for me to see someone like John receive this scholarship,” says Smith, who has faithfully supported the Henry Clay Smith M.D. Memorial Scholarship for many years. Earlier this year, the fund also received a substantial gift from the estate of Smith’s sister Elizabeth, who passed away in 2016.

Their gifts ensure that their grandfather’s name will appear on the donor wall in the McGlothlin Medical Education Center at the conclusion of the medical school’s 1838 Campaign. Donors who make leadership gifts to the 1838 Fund or to a new or existing scholarship endowment, like the Henry Clay Smith M.D. Memorial Scholarship, will appear on the donor will.

For the Smith family, it marks a fitting tribute to a cherished grandfather whose legacy now lives on in educating future generations of physicians committed to serving those most in need.

By Polly Roberts

13
2017

M4 Justin Mauser: Mind Over Mountains

M4 Justin Mauser used a 900-mile bike tour to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

M4 Justin Mauser used a 900-mile bike tour to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. You can see more photos from his bike tour and read his blog at https://meditate.bike/#intro.

Pedaling through the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming with a cool breeze against his face, Justin Mauser, M’18, couldn’t help but reflect on his journey to medical school.

“Sometimes people think they can’t clear their mind while engaged in a physical activity,” he says. “But surrounded by all that beauty in wide open spaces, it was very meditative.”

Mauser spent two weeks in August on a self-supported bike tour along the Continental Divide Trail to raise funds and awareness for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He and a friend, Cedric Bosch, traveled by bicycle for about 900 miles from Dillon, Montana, to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He returned to northern Virginia, where he is completing his fourth-year of medical school at the School of Medicine’s Inova Fairfax Campus, on Aug. 20.

“Suicide is taboo and frightening; people don’t necessarily want to talk about it,” Mauser says. “It’s important to bring more awareness to suicide and let anyone who might be headed down that road know there is a network of support for them.”

“Suicide is taboo and frightening; people don’t necessarily want to talk about it,” Mauser says. “It’s important to bring more awareness to suicide and let anyone who might be headed down that road know there is a network of support for them.”

Mauser’s “Mind Over Mountains” tour is his second major bike trip. In 2011, he trekked from Bar Harbor, Maine, to his alma mater, the University of Arizona in Tucson. The ride raised more than $8,000 for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona.

“It’s rewarding to turn these rides into something that benefits others,” he says.

Growing up in Tucson, Mauser always wanted to be a doctor. But he wasn’t sure he would ever reach his goal. He was denied admission to medical school twice before he was accepted to VCU.

“I tell people all the time to never give up on their dreams,” he says. “Keep working toward your goal. I hope I can motivate others.”

On reflection, Mauser realizes the wait was beneficial. It gave him time to earn his EMT certification, to volunteer in hospice and work as a hospital scribe.

“The amount of growth I’ve seen in myself has been incredible,” he says. “I realize that when you step in a room you can have a big impact on the health of a patient – whether you are brightening their day with a joke or helping them feel better through medicine. It’s gratifying to see their improvement.”

“I ride to not only expand my own horizons and challenge myself, but to turn that challenge into something bigger than myself,” he says. “If I can do something that benefits others, it’s so much more powerful.”

“I ride to not only expand my own horizons and challenge myself, but to turn that challenge into something bigger than myself,” he says. “If I can do something that benefits others, it’s so much more powerful.”

His bike tours have also helped him connect with people. On his recent ride, he met a group of bikers while seeking refuge at a church in Pinedale, Wyoming. Some had come from as far away as Italy, Ireland and Great Britain to conquer the Continental Divide Mountain biking Trail.

“We rode together for a few days,” Mauser says. “It was amazing to meet others from around the world and form a bond with them. It was like we knew each other for years after less than a week.”

During his rides he has also noted how making time for meditation, eating healthy foods and getting plenty of sleep improved his mood. He hopes to share his findings with his classmates as part of the Getting Progressively Stronger Student Wellness program.

“I’m so proud of Justin,” says Homan Wai, M.D., director of the Student Wellness program. “Having a passion and sticking to it is a great lesson for us all. We want our students to be humanistic, to have that inner passion to help people.”

Justin Mauser’s bike tour raised about $2,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more information about the nonprofit, visit www.afsp.org. The foundation also offers a hotline for people in crisis, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Mauser is already looking forward to his next ride, wherever it may take him.

“I ride to not only expand my own horizons and challenge myself, but to turn that challenge into something bigger than myself,” he says. “If I can do something that raises awareness of a serious issue, it’s so much more powerful.”

By Janet Showalter

07
2017

The Class of 2021 is amazing

Class of 2021's Bob Jones at the base camp of Mt. Everest

The Class of 2021’s Bob Jones hiked to the base camp of Mt. Everest. Scroll below for more pictures from the incoming class.

They’ve traveled to all 7 continents and can talk to people once they get there. They speak French, Chinese Mandarin, Haitian Creole, Korean and Guarani – that’s an indigenous language spoken in South America. Watch out for the one who can recite all eight Harry Potter movies verbatim – that’s probably in English.

Of course we like a good medical background, so you’ll find an EMT, an EKG specialist and an emergency department scribe. A cancer researcher investigated a drug that’s now in Phase I clinical trials. One got medical exposure shadowing a Shaman in the Amazon Rainforest and another got a different kind of exposure. She spent her birthday last year hospitalized in Thailand after catching a mosquito-borne virus.

There’s the student who enjoys donating blood. Which is a good thing because her classmates include a phlebotomist and a Red Cross blood drive coordinator.

One student is the newest in four generations of doctors. Another is the first person in his family to graduate from college.

They love sports – and they’re good at it. We’ve got a college quarterback and a short stop who was drafted by the Major Leagues. Plus the college football fanatic who can name mascots to all 128 FBS schools. They compete in field hockey and golf, tennis and badminton — make friends with the student who knows how to string tennis rackets.

There’s the one who biked across the country from Baltimore to San Francisco, and the other who learned how to ride five months ago.

Mountain climbers have hiked Table Mountain and to the base camp of Mt. Everest. Another summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. We’ve had marathoners in Chicago and Boston, a triathlete and even an Ironman. Along with a brown belt in Judo and a second degree black belt in karate.

A licensed open-water diver recently came back from the Great Barrier Reef, a certified deep sea scuba diver can hold his breath for 3 minutes, and we’ve got an an oyster gardener.

They’ve worked as a personal trainer, a nutrition counselor and a cab driver from Boston. One tutored refugees in ESL and another launched a nonprofit that helps the homeless. An Air Force engineer has launched, landed and disposed of satellites, a magician has performed for pediatric patients at hospitals in the U.S. and the U.K., and an actress made it out on stage four times a week for two months during her senior year of college – she had to, she was playing Cosette in Les Mis.

There’s a volunteer dog rescuer and a knitter who’s won two ribbons at the Virginia State Fair. A beer brewer and a barista. And the food blogger behind AMPMBM – it will help you stay regular.

We’ve got adrenaline junkies who like to skydive and keep bees in their backyard. Another taught fourth grade math and science. And then there’s the one who spent some time this summer chasing a moose. Yes, a moose.

Click the images below for expanded views.

Story by Erin Lucero

28
2017

Eight years running: family medicine student group receives national honors

VCU’s Student Family Medicine Association is again among the nation’s top student groups for their activities to generate interest in family medicine. This is the eighth year in a row the group has been recognized by the American Academy of Family Physicians at its annual conference for residents and medical students in Kansas City.

SFMA

The Student Family Medicine Association received national honors for excellence in promoting the scope of family medicine. Courtesy Tiffany Matson Photography

“The [Family Medicine Interest Groups] we honor this year have gone above and beyond allowing students to put into practice the knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom,” said Clif Knight, M.D., senior vice president for education at the AAFP. “These programs help students develop leadership skills that will serve them in their future practices and communities, and better understand the vital role that family medicine plays in our health care system.”

Seventeen student groups were honored with Program of Excellence Awards on July 28. The SFMA was singled out for excellence in promoting the scope of family medicine, and SFMA student leaders were on hand in Kansas City to accept the award on behalf of the 383-member organization.

“The Student Family Medicine Association has been honored year after year for their exceptional programs,” says Peter F. Buckley, dean of the School of Medicine. “I am so proud to see the AAFP hold them up as role models for other student groups around the country.”

The group was recognized for its programs like Career Profiles in Family Medicine, a faculty panel that introduces first- and second-year medical students to family medicine’s broad scope of practice, as well as its popular sports medicine workshop. The fully subscribed three-hour workshop described the types of sports medicine practiced in a family medicine setting and gave students time to practice their clinical skills in examining the shoulder, knee and ankle.

SFMA

The SFMA was recognized for its excellent programs that included a three-hour workshop introducing students to the types of sports medicine practiced in a family medicine setting and providing time to practice clinical skills in examining the shoulder, knee and ankle.

The AAFP has posted SFMA’s winning application online as an example of best practices and programming ideas for FMIGs nationwide.

Twenty-two MCV Campus students made the trip to Kansas City to participate in the AAFP conference.

“This is the largest group we’ve ever had attend,” says Judy Gary, M.Ed., faculty adviser to SFMA and assistant director of medical education for the VCU Department of Family Medicine and Population Health. “We were also proud to see that six of the students were awarded AAFP scholarships to attend the conference.”

In addition, a pair of fourth-year students had the chance to serve as student delegates at the AAFP National Congress, weighing in on issues like improving health care access and addressing student and physician burnout. Kenneth Qiu voted on behalf of Virginia medical students, and Ryan Ortizo represented Guam, where he was born.

“It is critical we continue to garner interest and attract students to the specialty of family medicine,” said the AAFP’s Knight. “The physician shortage in primary care continues, and programs such as FMIGs are key to exposing students to real-world experiences that will help them dig deeper into — and ultimately choose — family medicine.”

Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 129,000 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits. The organization notes that family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty.

By Erin Lucero

26
2017

M2, cancer survivor awarded fellowship to pursue cancer research

Class of 2020's Seth Spencer performs cancer-related research

M2 Seth Spencer received the 2017 James D. Popp Summer Research Fellowship, named for the Class of 1988 alumnus and awarded to a first-year medical student who performs cancer-related research during the summer.

In 2009, the Class of 2020’s Seth Spencer underwent surgery to replace his right hip. In 2012, he had his other hip and both knees replaced — he was just 23 years old.

Spencer’s joint deterioration was a side effect of a bone marrow transplant he received five years earlier to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

“When you’re younger and you’re diagnosed it really changes how you live the rest of your life,” he says.

That change has been difficult for Spencer because even though his leukemia has gone into remission, the side effects and surgeries will continue to affect his activities and behavior for the rest of his life.

But that change also has been empowering.

“I’ve been given an opportunity to have my life and because of this I want to look for ways that I can help others,” he says.

Spencer, having completed his first year of medical school, is staying on the MCV Campus this summer to begin his fight to ensure young people in the future won’t have to face what he did.

Finding a research fit

During orientation for first-year medical students last fall, Anthony Faber, Ph.D., assistant professor at the VCU School of Dentistry’s Philips Institute for Oral Health Research, presented his research on targeted therapy for ALL.

Spencer was intrigued immediately because of his personal battle with ALL and because of that extra word Faber was using before therapy — “targeted.”

The American Cancer Society says targeted therapy “is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to more precisely identify and attack cancer cells.” When cancer cells are targeted directly, the treatment’s negative impact on other parts of the body can be greatly diminished.

When he arrived on the MCV Campus, Spencer had already planned to find research to be a part of as soon as possible, and when he heard Faber speak he knew targeted therapy was what he wanted to pursue.

After attending several research meetings at Faber’s lab, Spencer decided to apply for the James D. Popp Student Research Fellowship and pursue targeted therapy for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). DIPG is a rare and fatal pediatric cancer that effects the brain stem.

Seth Spencer, Class of 2020

Leukemia survivor and second-year medical student Seth Spencer is staying on the MCV Campus this summer to begin his fight to ensure young people in the future won’t have to face what he did.

“In the past, DIPG has been hard to research because the brain stem is so important for function,” Spencer says. “If you have a tumor somewhere else they can take a sample of the tumor to start studying it, but it’s not as easy with DIPG.”

Faber helped Spencer find the necessary DIPG tumor cell samples, which were shipped from California. Spencer has now begun growing the cells in the lab and screening for proteins in the cells to see how they grow or die. He is researching which drugs make an impact on certain proteins, and that helps him identify possible targeting strategies for treatment.

“The idea is to find a treatment that affects just the tumor and not the whole body,” Spencer says. “Proteins we target that are in the tumor are also in a patient’s body, but our hope is to find something like a protein that’s expressed 100 times more in the tumor than in the rest of the body. Attacking that protein then would have 100 times more effect on the tumor than the body.

“One thing that’s nice about these targeted therapies is that they don’t work the same way as chemotherapies do. The better one of these targeted therapies is, the better it focuses on just the tumor and not so much the patient.”

Supporting student research
Spencer received this year’s James D. Popp Student Research Fellowship, named for the late Jim Popp from the Class of 1988. Awarded each year since 2010 to a first-year VCU medical student, the stipend covers travel and living expenses while the recipient performs cancer-related research during the summer.

The Class of 1988's James Popp

The late Jim Popp from the Class of 1988

“The James D. Popp Student Research Fund was established in memory of an exceptional individual who died of cancer at age 45 in August of 2007,” says Jack Haar, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. “Jim was a caring physician, athlete, friend, devoted husband and loving father of five young children.”

Prior to and during the years Jim was a medical student at VCU, he worked in the research laboratory of Haar.

In order to establish a living memorial to Jim, Haar established the James D. Popp Student Research Fund at the MCV Foundation. Haar and his son Philip then completed a 4,000 mile cross-country bicycle ride, RideForJim, in 2008 as a fundraising effort. Several other cyclists completed the ride and an annual local cycling event contributed to the fund until 2014.

The purpose of the fellowship is to support talented first-year medical students in completing cancer-related research at the VCU Massey Cancer Center, with the hope that the experience will lead them to pursue a career that incorporates cancer research with patient care. Through the efforts of the riders and contributions from hundreds of family members and friends, the fund reached the point at which a $5,000 award has been made annually since the summer of 2010.

“Each year students apply for the Popp Fellowship and the selection committee determines who will receive the award,” Haar says. “I am always amazed to see qualities of Jim in each awardee when I call them to my office to notify them of the award. This is especially true of this year’s recipient, Seth Spencer, who is doing research in an area that could have significant impact on the treatment of cancer. He truly is an extraordinary living memorial to my friend Jim.”

“I think everyone that goes through cancer ends up with a different experience, but I do feel like the experiences I had helped me understand a little bit more about what patients are going through,” Spencer says. “What really speaks to me about research is finding something new that wasn’t known before. I think anyone that has cancer has a life-changing experience, so having a chance to make that experience more tolerable for others is an amazing opportunity.”

This story by Eric Peters first appeared on the MCV Foundation website, where you can watch a video of Spencer describing his research.

**If you would like to make a gift, you can do so online by selecting the James D. Popp Research Fund on the online form.

You may also do so by check, making it payable to the MCV Foundation, designating Popp Research Fund on the memo line, and mailing it to:
MCV Foundation
Attn: Brian Thomas
1228 East Broad Street
Box 980234
Richmond, VA 23298

04
2017

M2 Yasaman Ataei celebrates Independence Day by becoming a U.S. citizen

Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., with the Class of 2020’s Yasaman Ataei

Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., with the Class of 2020’s Yasaman Ataei who became a U.S. citizen on July 4.

On July 4th, the Class of 2020’s Yasaman Ataei had a new reason to celebrate.

Along with others from 50 countries around the world, the rising second-year medical student took the oath of allegiance and became a U.S. citizen.

Ataei and her family immigrated from Iran in 2010. “There are great things that come with living in the United States, more personal freedom, freedom of speech,” Ataei told the local NBC affiliate.

Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., who is of Irish descent and is also a U.S. citizen himself was on hand for the ceremony held at the Virginia Historical Society.

“What a beautiful way to celebrate America’s birthday by welcoming Yasaman and 78 others from across the world as they join this great nation,” Buckley said. “We are fortunate that Yasaman will be training with us.”

You can watch Ataei’s interview with WWBT NBC12 and read more of her story in a profile by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

By Erin Lucero

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Updated: 04/29/2016