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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.

By Erin Lucero

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

Reflections on Pinares as HOMBRE team heads back to Honduras

Medical students travel to Honduras, as part of HOMBRE.

Medical students travel to Pinares, Honduras, as part of the Honduras Outreach Medical Brigagda Relief Effort.

This June a team of more than a dozen health sciences students head to Pinares, Honduras, as part of the Honduras Outreach Medical Brigada Relief Effort, where alongside faculty they will provide medical services and health care education to the country’s underserved and rural populations.

Nine medical students will travel with this year’s team, led by faculty members Michael Filak, M.D., and Sandra Tandeciarz, M.D., who have a combined decade of HOMBRE experience between them.

“We are ever grateful to our School of Medicine faculty for their volunteerism, as well as mentorship, as exemplified here in this global outreach with our dedicated medical students,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D., Dean of Medicine.

Team members also include Kate DiPasquale Seelig, M’12, an HOMBRE alumna now returning for the second time as faculty. As a student, Seelig received an Aesculapian Scholarship, made possible through the medical school’s Annual Fund. Even a partial scholarship relieves the burden of debt today’s medical students face and can make it easier for recipients to choose to travel and gain global health experience.

In Honduras, team members will work in health care clinics or on public health projects geared toward improving villagers’ quality of life. On the trip, held June 13-24, medical students gain interdisciplinary experience working alongside nursing, pharmacy and physical therapy students.

After HOMBRE’s summer 2016 trip to Honduras, nonprofit partner Shoulder to Shoulder provided a glimpse into the landscape and people of Honduras, as well as the work of the HOMBRE team. Read on for highlights from the Shoulder to Shoulder blog as this year’s team embarks on a new journey.

As the crow flies

HOMBRE team members provide medical services and education.

HOMBRE team members provide medical services and education to Honduras’ underserved and rural populations.

“As the crow flies …” is a great expression, probably a little bit overused in the U.S. We don’t hear the expression here in Honduras very much. Primarily, I guess, because we don’t have too many crows. We do have vultures, “zopilotes” we call them, and they fly across the mountains with great ease. Perhaps that’s more the reason why the expression doesn’t get used that often here. It is just a little too depressing to think on how quickly a zopilote crosses from one mountain peak to the other, a matter of a minute or two, and then to think that the same trip takes up to an hour or two in a four-wheel drive pickup. It’s just a little bit too humbling to think that nature is that far ahead of human ingenuity. Here, the terrain and the elements of the natural world continue to present tremendous challenges to human dominance. Perhaps not so much in the U.S. Here, we prefer to not remind ourselves how much easier it is to be a crow or a zopilote.

The Frontera is a really small place, less than 700 square kilometers, smaller than El Paso, Texas. But, there are no straight lines and nothing is ever level. One goes north to arrive at a destination to the south, or up in order to go down. This counterintuitive travel is yet worsened by roads that would not merit the designation of a road in the U.S. Steep volcanic mountains are breathtakingly beautiful, but living within them is hardly practical.

San Marcos de La Sierra is the first municipality that one encounters in the Frontera, driving south from La Esperanza. The road here is still at a high elevation and one doesn’t really see any evidence that people live here. Virginia Commonwealth University and Fairfax Family Practices have been coming to this area three times a year for many years. They were just here once again. We dropped them off at the school and clinic in Pinares and we came back about a week or so later to pick them up. If we didn’t know what they do while they are there, we might assume they just hang out and admire the tremendous vistas they are privileged to view. But we do know better.

During HOMBRE, medical students gain interdisciplinary experience.

During HOMBRE, medical students gain interdisciplinary experience working alongside nursing, pharmacy and physical therapy students.

Hiding behind those mountains, across ravines and beyond the treacherous slopes, are about 9,000 residents. Few of them make their way to the health clinic. This is not surprising. They are poor, simple people. They have all they can do to maintain a small home and, if they are fortunate, a small plot of land on which to farm. They travel to a river for water. They collect wood for a fire to cook humble meals. They battle daily with a harsh, unforgiving environment so that they can stay ahead of a mortality curve. They remain unseen, forgotten, abandoned, invisible if you will, except for the zopilote vultures that circle their heads. If anyone is going to know these people, if anyone is going to care for them, treat their illnesses, recognize their dignity, then it demands going to them. They can’t come to us.

We sometimes look naively upon a just response to inequity and poverty. It would be easy to sit outside the school at Pinares where VCU/Fairfax houses their service team and admire the beauty of majestic mountains. It takes insight, compassion and even sacrifice to gain the view of a zopilote that flies beyond the mountains with ease. For the doctors, students, translators and volunteers, they brave the rough terrain to make their way to unseen, ignored people who live in poverty. They climb into the beds of pickup trucks, squished in among the bins of medical supplies, and bump along to destinations where most anyone would not dare to go. They stare down the cliffs as they go. They stop when they can go no further with a car because the road has fallen down the mountain. They sling their supplies over their shoulders and into backpacks. Then they walk. Perhaps even as they trek along, they wonder about this odd journey: going south to arrive to the north, and up in order to get down. Then they finally arrive in a little village, a place mostly unknown. Maybe they look up and see a zopilote circling their heads. Perhaps they indulge themselves with a knowing smile.

This is how we discover people. We make our way along treacherous journeys. Once again, VCU/Fairfax has made their journey to reach a poor, forgotten, invisible people. The people they have met are happy and grateful for the encounter. For this journey, to have arrived to where the crow flies, everyone has been enriched.