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Video produced by senior neurology residents vies for Neuro Film Festival honors

Two senior neurology residents, Alicia Zukas, M.D., and Ken Ono, D.O., have produced a video that’s drawing attention in the American Brain Foundation’s film competition.

Their five-minute video, “Back to Life,” brings awareness to the phenomenon of strokes in young adults through the story of 33-year-old Delanie Stephenson. It is currently one of the top 4 vote getters from among more than 50 competition entries.

Go online before March 27 to select your favorite. You will have to register in order to view the videos and cast your vote.

The “fan favorite” winner will be announced at the Neuro Film Festival at the American Academy of Neurology Meeting in Philadelphia in late April.

One in six people is affected by brain disease. The American Brain Foundation aims to reduce the prevalence of brain disease by supporting research into prevention, treatment and cures. The Neuro Film Festival helps raise awareness about the need for more research. This year’s entries feature a diversity of brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, autism and Parkinson’s disease.

Zukas earned her medical degree from VCU in 2010, and Ono is a graduate of the NY College of Osteopathic Medicine.


Societies vie for the inaugural Strauss Cup

Strauss cup logo

The Strauss Cup Society Field Day will be held on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at Abner Clay Park.

A year’s worth of bragging rights are at stake.

Over the past seven months, a series of competitions have been waged in the School of Medicine, pitting its four medical student societies against one another in athletic, academic, spirit and community service challenges. Known as the Strauss Cup, the competition takes its name from Dean of Medicine Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D.

“The Strauss Cup is designed to build both camaraderie within each Society and a healthy sense of inter-Society pride and competition,” says the Class of 2016’s Shikha Gupta, the Medical Student Government’s vice-president of societies.

The Societies have earned points in each of this year’s academics, spirit and service challenges. “The Societies were all neck-and-neck until the SOUPerbowl, a week-long Society and Faculty food drive competition benefiting FeedMore and the Central Virginia Food Bank,” Shikha said. “The Baughman Society collected nearly 400 food items, earning them a healthy lead in the Tournament standings.”

The other Societies have plenty of time to catch up. The competition’s inaugural year will culminate in the Strauss Cup Society Field Day to be held on Saturday, March 22, from noon to 4 p.m. at Abner Clay Park, located at the corner of Brook Road and Leigh Street. Points will also be awarded for participation in a Society Spirit Week that will be held in advance of Field Day.

The Field Day will give the four societies a final chance to win points before the Strauss Cup is awarded. The event will include the medical school’s traditional M1/M2 Powderpuff Football game along with tug of war, egg tosses and three-legged races. There will also be Dunk Tank featuring favorite faculty members and student leaders from all the MCV Campus schools.

The Field Day is free of charge and open to the VCU community and their families. Some activities will carry a suggested donation, which will be used to benefit United 2 Heal, a non-profit organization based on the Monroe Park Campus. United 2 Heal provides recycled or discarded high-need medical supplies to developing countries at no cost. The organization was founded by Mohamed Ibrahim, a first-year medical student who died suddenly in November. Admired by faculty and students from both of VCU’s campuses, Mohamed’s life has inspired a number of memorial activities.

The school’s 780 M.D. students are assigned to one of four medical societies according to their career and specialty interests, learning styles and proficiencies. The Baughman, Benacerraf, Harris and Warner Societies each carry the name of an alumnus or faculty member to honor the rich history and tradition of MCV.

Each year, the winning society’s name will be engraved on the Strauss Cup, which will take up temporary residence on that society’s floor in the McGlothlin Medical Education Center until the next victor is crowned.

The Societies’ leaders chose to honor Strauss with the naming of the Cup as a way for the medical student body to show its appreciation for the work he does on their behalf.

“It’s our hope that this tournament will continue long after we all leave MCV, so future medical students will be reminded of Dean Strauss’ legacy,” said Shikha. “As a student leader, I’ve been incredibly impressed both by Dean Strauss’s unwavering support of student initiatives and by his commitment to transparency in communication between students and administrators. The autonomy given to our student leaders by the administration to make decisions and implement programs without direct faculty oversight is a demonstration of Dean Strauss’s faith in the student body’s ability to participate in the process of MCV’s growth and development in a meaningful way.”


M.D. students tutor elementary children in Fulton Hill after-school program, alumnus lends support


About 10 medical students volunteer with an after-school tutoring program for K-12 students from the Fulton Hill neighborhood.

Last year, the Class of 2016’s Arhanti Sadanand was faced with a choice. Part of her responsibilities as a first-year medical student included participating in LINC, or Learners Involved in the Needs of Communities. She knew she wanted working with children to be part of her community service.

She chose to volunteer with the Fulton Outreach Program, where she could tutor school-aged children in the Fulton Hill neighborhood after school. When her first-year LINC commitment came to an end, Arhanti decided to continue volunteering.

“I wanted to remain in touch with the Richmond community,” said Arhanti, who acknowledges it can sometimes be hard to get out from under the books. “I view Fulton as a really great study break. For a couple hours, I can clear my mind of studying and just focus on helping a kid learn about fractions. It’s refreshing.”

Three other M2s were able to commit for a second year, and they’ve joined forces with about half a dozen M1s. Working together, the students are able to supply tutors for two hours a day, four days a week.

Of the 100 school-aged children in the Fulton community, as many as half are regularly involved in the after-school sessions. While most are elementary school aged, students from kindergarten through high school can come for homework help in reading and math. After a first hour of hitting the books, the second is devoted to games and activities.

“Tutoring has made a huge impact on me,” Arhanti said. “I feel that I have made lasting connections with the kids when I hear that they ask about me over the school vacations, and I consider myself lucky that some of them have accepted me as a regular part of their lives.”

Working alongside the medical students are Fulton residents Chavioleytte Crenshaw and Theresa Burrell who are committed to helping care for and mentor the children in the neighborhood. A program coordinator from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority also assists in running the program.


The first hour of the after school program is devoted to studies and the second is spent in games and activities.

“I think there are often misconceptions about the Fulton neighborhood and generalizations about the kinds of people who live in the projects,” Arhanti said. “After spending time with the kids and exploring the history of the community, I’ve learned a lot about what binds the community together. There are a few amazing women who have invested much of their own time and resources to keep these kinds of enrichment programs alive. Initially, I was surprised by how hard they have pushed to help their own children succeed, and now I am simply in awe of how deeply they care for the entire neighborhood.”

Giving medical students the opportunity to better understand the Richmond community is one of LINC’s goals. The nationally recognized service learning experience serves as a critical link between the school and the community and allows students to experience first-hand the environments in which their patients spend their lives.

“I know that many of us wish we could do more for our community,” Arhanti said. “Realistically, two hours of my time each week isn’t enough to solve big problems, but I find that simply showing up every week, especially for a child who doesn’t necessarily have a stable role model, is undervalued. I’m happy to be part of a medical school community in which others feel the same way.”

The Class of 2004’s Danny Avula, M.D., M.P.H., helped get the project off the ground. He worked with Joan Seldon, family and community services manager with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, to get access to an empty public housing unit in Fulton Avenue to give the tutoring program a home.

Avula, who is the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District, continues to support the program. He stays on the lookout for community partnerships and funding opportunities. He and Seldon teamed up again and were able to secure a small stipend for the program’s coordinator from the Office of Attorney General.

“We think the Fulton initiative is a beautiful example of how committed community residents, paired with dedicated MCV students are making a meaningful difference in the lives of kids in the Fulton neighborhood,” said Andrew Thompson, special projects coordinator with the Richmond City Health District. “And all with essentially zero funding.”

Danny T.K. Avula, M.D., M.P.H., is the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District
You can read about the highs and lows Avula experiences as the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District in a guest column published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last summer: Healthy family model can make the difference.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Thompson, who also helped in compiling this story.


VMI alumni join forces for VCU medical students


Third-year medical student Quinn C. Wicks was one of the first students to benefit from the School of Medicine/VMI partnership.

The Virginia Military Institute experience is one that stays with alumni for a lifetime.

“It’s a tight community,” said Warren W. Koontz Jr., M.D., professor emeritus in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Division of Urology and a 1953 VMI alumnus.

That tight community extends beyond VMI’s Lexington, Va., home.

For VMI students hoping to study medicine that spirit of community has helped pave the way for an experience on the MCV Campus.

In 2008, Koontz and fellow VMI alumnus David S. Wilkinson, M.D., Ph.D., professor and former chair in the VCU Department of Pathology, worked to include VMI in the School of Medicine’s Preferred Applicant Track, which allows students enrolled at select undergraduate colleges and universities to apply to medical school at the end of their sophomore year. If accepted, those students are guaranteed admission, provided they stay on track for grade and service requirements. As many as 15 VCU undergraduates are accepted annually into the program including up to two students from VMI.

Once the preferred track was in place, Koontz made a lead gift in 2009 to establish the VMI Scholarship Fund, gaining support from other VMI alumni, including Bruce C. Gottwald Sr., a member of the VMI Board of Visitors and a longtime supporter of the MCV Foundation and VCU’s School of Engineering.

“VMI is a shared experience,” Gottwald said. “It’s four years of close association with your fellow cadets. That builds a certain amount of pride that stays with you. You work your way to graduation by a good bit of extra hard work and responsibility. That’s got to be a plus for medical students.”

Quinn C. Wicks, a third-year medical student, was one of the first VMI undergraduates admitted to the School of Medicine via the Preferred Applicant Track. He also is one of the first recipients of the VMI Scholarship.

“I’m very fortunate for the blessings that I’ve received from Dr. Koontz and Mr. Gottwald,” Wicks said.

Gottwald’s generosity has touched Wicks’ life more than once. At VMI, he was awarded the F.D. Gottwald Scholarship, established by Gottwald and his brother, Floyd, in honor of their late father.

Fundraising for the VMI Scholarship at VCU, which is awarded based on need or merit, now stands at more than $200,000, said Wilkinson, whose long-term goal is for the scholarship to cover full tuition for every VMI student admitted to the School of Medicine.

“Scholarships are vital in making medical education affordable,” said Jerome Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “Our Preferred Applicant Track with VMI has brought us some outstanding and disciplined medical students. But these VMI alumni have taken it a step further. I admire the remarkable loyalty they have shown to their alma mater and to their fellow graduates by creating a scholarship that gives a helping hand to VMI cadets who dream of studying at our School of Medicine.”

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the 2014 winter issue of the Power of Personal Philanthropy.


Ph.D. candidate Matthew Allen-Daniels selected for ASM fellowship award


Matthew Allen-Daniels

The American Society for Microbiology has selected Matthew Allen-Daniels as a 2013 award recipient of its ASM Undergraduate Research Capstone Program.

Now a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Matt was a student in VCU’s Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at the time of his selection. The one-year biomedical PREP program provides recent college graduates from underrepresented groups with a paid, mentored research experience that prepares them for graduate-level training.

Originally from Longview, Texas, Matt studies a species of bacteria known as Mycoplasma hominis and its role in pre-term birth. M. hominis is frequently found in the amniotic fluid when women give birth preterm. However, the process that the bacteria uses to ascend the reproductive tract, enter the uterine cavity and invade the gestational sac is unknown.

Under the mentorship of Kimberly K. Jefferson, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology, Matt is trying to identify the molecular factors that contribute to virulence in M. hominis and better understand its role in pre-term birth.

The ASM capstone program seeks to enhance the presentation skills of underrepresented minority students by providing them with resources to transition to disciplinary scientific meetings. Each ASM awardee receives a two-year ASM student membership and up to a $1,500 in travel support to the ASM Capstone Institute and to the 113th ASM General Meeting if their abstract was accepted.

This year, 18 awardees were selected from 32 applications. Those selected must demonstrate superior research project involvement and knowledge, commitment to research and academic achievement. The American Society for Microbiology is the oldest and largest single biological membership organization, with over 37,000 members worldwide.


M2 Jennifer Tran blogs for AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries

Jennifer Tran

Jennifer Tran

The Class of 2016’s Jennifer Tran is sharing her second year of medical school with the world.

She’s writing about her experiences as part of a blog project conceived by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Called Aspiring Docs Diaries, the project is designed to inspire and educate young people who are interested in becoming physicians. She is one of two medical students blogging for the site that’s attracted hundreds of followers.

She discovered the blog last year when she read a few posts from a student blogger from Harvard. “I thought it would be neat to share my own experiences and contrast it to what the first year of medical school is like,” Jennifer said.

So when she saw a call for student writers go out this summer on the AAMC Facebook page, she decided to reply back. Turns out, the AAMC blog staff were happy to take her on.

So far she’s written about a volunteering experience that, she says, took her out of her comfort zone. At the start of her second year, she made the more than six-hour drive from Richmond to Wise, Va., to take part in a three-day Remote Area Medical (RAM) expedition. The RAM expedition provides vital health care to residents of southwest Virginia and even surrounding states.

“Each day of the clinic, I met patients who had been up at four o’clock that morning, so that they would be one of the first hundred in line for the opening of the clinic at six o’clock,” wrote Jennifer. “We were able to provide preventive care and other specialty services in over 3000 patient encounters, giving people health care they would have otherwise gone without.” In addition to discussing chronic health problems like hypertension, diabetes and obesity, she also heard about the socioeconomic obstacles patients face on a daily basis.

In her second post, Jennifer blogged about her small group encountering a simulated patient in the school’s newly opened simulation center.

“Walking into one of the rooms at the Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety was like entering a typical hospital room,” wrote Jennifer. “I noticed the gowned patient in the bed, the vitals monitor, and assorted medical equipment. Although our patient was a mannequin, he could blink, breathe, produce a pulse in various parts of his body, and even talk!”

Faced with an overdose scenario, Jennifer’s team was able to pool their collective pharmacology knowledge and arrive at a diagnosis. She reported to her blog followers that they delivered treatment with three minutes to spare.

Jennifer is the eldest child of Vietnamese refugees, who fled their homeland 30 years ago. She’s the first person in her family to attend college. Jennifer says that she first became interested in medicine after her grandmother died from cardiac arrest. “Her death made me realize that medicine was the one field where I am intricately connected to patients, learning about their lives and helping them in health and sickness,” Jennifer said.

Read more about Jennifer Tran.