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Student milestones and achievements archives

09
2017

M4 John Weeks returns to Eastern Shore to treat underserved population

For the Class of 2017’s John Weeks, practicing medicine means more than providing care to patients in an exam room. It’s a commitment to caring for an entire community and the challenges it may face.

That’s why after earning his undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary and spending three years as an outreach worker on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, he enrolled in the VCU School of Medicine where he also was accepted into the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program on the MCV Campus. I2CRP is 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.

“The I2CRP program is one of the big things that drew me to VCU,” says Weeks. “There’s an overall sense that you can really make an impact — improving people’s lives and improving the community they live in. It’s not just serving one patient, treating them, and moving on to the next, but going beyond and helping a whole community.”

International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program ‘Open your eyes and look around you’
In addition to working for the Eastern Shore Rural Health System prior to medical school, he returned during his third-year family medicine clerkship and fourth-year community immersion elective. There Weeks experienced firsthand the challenges of providing effective medical care to an underserved population that included the indigent, elderly and Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers.

For starters, some of the biggest hurdles he saw had very little to do with the medical issues that originally brought patients to the clinic. High blood pressure, diabetes and work-related injuries are further complicated by high levels of poverty, housing and food insecurity, lack of transportation, exposure to pesticides and chemicals, legal problems with immigration status or navigating Medicare.

“People think that to truly find the underserved, you have to go international,” Weeks said. “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.”

Serving the Eastern Shore population has particular meaning for Weeks, who grew up in Northern Virginia and appreciated the small, intimate community he met on the shore.

“It was constantly amazing to me how much the people knew each other,” he says. “The outreach worker I partnered with knew not only everyone’s family ties, but where they lived, what they needed and, most importantly, what resources they might be willing to accept to help them through difficult times.”

Weeks received the medical school’s Scott Scholarship, awarded by the Marguerite L. Hopkins Trust and James Perkins Memorial Trust to a deserving medical student from Virginia with preference given to a student with ties to the Eastern Shore.

Marguerite Hopkins grew up on the Eastern Shore and stipulated that some of the funds in her trust should be used to create an annual scholarship named for her cousin, Ralph M. Scott, M’50. Scholarships continue to be a high-priority need for the medical school and donors may outline criteria to select student recipients, including supporting students from a particular geographic region.

‘I want to go someplace and make people healthier’
Approximately 24 students are admitted to I2CRP from each medical school class, said Mark Ryan, M’00, H’03, I2CRP medical director and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health. “Our students are amazing. They have diverse experiences and diverse backgrounds but a similar sense of ‘I want to go someplace and make people healthier where otherwise they would have struggled.’”

Since its first graduating class in 2000, 37 percent of I2CRP graduates have gone on to practice in family medicine with nearly a third of those practicing in rural areas. All told, 85 percent of graduates enter careers in the National Health Service Corps priority fields of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, combined internal medicine-pediatrics, OB-GYN, psychiatry and general surgery.

I2CRP director Mary Lee Magee attributes much of the program’s success to its curriculum that spans all four years of medical school, starting with electives in the spring semester of M1 and ending with a month-long community immersion during M4. Along the way, students share their experiences with their peers and faculty members.

“Our retention rate is very strong,” she says. “The program offers meaningful opportunities for critical thinking, reflection, mentorship and community building that are essential to support careers in underserved communities.”

That support is designed to go beyond graduation, Ryan says, when the challenges of caring for the underserved can become trying.

“Patients can’t fill prescriptions, can’t get to appointments, don’t have the same language as their physicians,” he says. “There will be times when it feels very hard to sustain and it’s important to have a support system to lean on. Hopefully through I2CRP, John and others will develop a network of peers, physicians and faculty who they can ask for advice and connect with when that time comes.”

It’s advice Weeks takes to heart as he applies for a family medicine residency with the ultimate goal of working “where people need me.”

“Find the little victories,” he says. “Some patients have a million obstacles lying in their path but if you can remove one or some of those obstacles, it’s huge. Every piece of the puzzle matters and once you start putting it together and help people get healthy, you realize everything you do, no matter how big or small, can be really rewarding.”

By Polly Roberts

30
2017

MD-PhD students spotlighted in Internal Medicine’s research newsletter

A pair of M.D.-Ph.D. students have been featured in the winter 2017 issue of the Department of Internal Medicine’s research newsletter. The Class of 2017’s Bridget Quinn and Tim Kegelman are both preparing to graduate this spring and hoping for a residency match in radiation oncology.

M.D.-Ph.D. student Bridget Quinn

M.D.-Ph.D. student Bridget Quinn is preparing to graduate from the program this spring and hoping for a residency match in radiation oncology.

Originally from central New Jersey, Bridget Quinn earned her bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in Maryland and then she spent two years doing ovarian cancer research at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia before entering medical school. Quinn had been drawn to a career in clinical medicine since she was young, but it was the two years she spent in the lab after college that pushed her to pursue a dual degree.

The M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree program is designed to provide students the knowledge to ask pertinent and meaningful clinical questions that may ultimately lead to novel discovery in the medical field. The degree gives graduates the preparation to stay involved in research and work on the translational border between science and medicine.

Quinn completed her Ph.D. work in the lab of Department Chair Paul B. Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics where she focused on novel therapeutics for pancreatic cancer.

After completing the graduate phase of her MD-PhD program in late 2014, Quinn has been working on clinical research projects with the Department of Radiation Oncology’s Emma C. Fields while completing the program’s medicine phase. In addition to providing clinical mentorship, Fields has also spent time with Quinn discussing various aspects of career planning and the process of applying to residency programs. Quinn is currently applying to residency in the field of radiation oncology and plans to do an internal medicine intern year. You can read more about her background and research on page 5 in the Department of Internal Medicine’s research newsletter.

Finding a career that balances discoveries with patients

In Tim Kegelman’s final year of the MD-PhD program, he’s pursued an elective with the Center for Human-Animal Interaction. Now he’s certified his Siberian Husky, Lola, to be a Therapy Dog and part of VCU’s Dogs on Call program.

Tim Kegelman grew up in Yorktown, Virginia, where his mom, a nurse practitioner, and his dad, a NASA scientist, influenced his interest in becoming a physician-scientist. The path he took led to the University of Notre Dame where he pursued a chemical engineering degree.

Drawn by the potential of making discoveries in medical sciences while also having significant and direct patient interactions, Kegelman enrolled in the M.D.-Ph.D. program. Like Quinn, he performed his dissertation research with Department Chair Paul Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., where he could explore his interest in cancer molecular biology and genetics.

He’s known he wanted to work in oncology research since he enrolled in the M.D.-Ph.D. program, and more recently he’s begun collaborating with the Department of Radiation Oncology on projects combining a small molecule inhibitor in combination with radiation in glioblastoma.

While at Notre Dame, Kegelman worked as an undergraduate research assistant in the chemical engineering department. He also was captain of the men’s swim team and competed at the NCAA championships. He has applied a student-athlete’s work ethic to various aspects of M.D.-Ph.D. training and credits his time as a collegiate swimmer with helping him integrate well into new teams – which is something he does regularly during his clinical training.

Away from campus, both Quinn and Kegelman have young children as well as a love for dogs. Kegelman, in fact, recently certified his Siberian Husky to be a therapy dog as part of VCU’s Dogs on Call program.

You can read more about Kegelman on page 7 of the Department of Internal Medicine’s research newsletter.

14
2016

The Class of 72’s David Lorber: Just say ‘yes’ – to a nontraditional career path

David Lorber, M’72

“Most physicians practice medicine,” says David Lorber, M’72. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.”

David Lorber, M’72, rarely says no – it’s a trait that has worked out well for him. It’s led him into a career he never planned, but one which has been extremely rewarding, he says.

Lorber visited the MCV Campus this month to share stories with medical students about his nontraditional career that jumped from academia to a busy practice to industry … and almost to the South Pole. “Most physicians practice medicine,” he notes, “but it doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.”

After completing a fellowship at the University of Arizona, he first assumed he’d have a future in academia. But that wasn’t as fulfilling as he hoped, so he ended up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, becoming the state’s fourth pulmonary critical care physician. Despite a grueling schedule, Lorber kept doing more. “I volunteered for everything I could,” he recalls. “Whatever we needed, I always raised my hand.

“My objective was to learn everything I could about the business of health care and to be able to provide value.”

On the side, he started a consulting firm, worked in an emergency and urgent care department and began exploring options for a post-clinical career. Though medicine was rewarding, he says, after two decades, he was burned out on 100-hour work weeks and started looking for something else.

He didn’t have to look long, as all the extra knowledge he’d gleaned paid off in an understanding of all facets of the health care industry.

David Lorber, M’72

Lorber returned to the MCV Campus in November to talk with students about alternative careers in medicine.

A friend at Blue Cross/Blue Shield pointed him towards a job there; he ended up as medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, working in utilization management, disease management, provider relations, oversight of pharmacy and credentialing. He also served as medical director for the Indian Health Service Contract Health Services, managed by BCBS. After that, he joined the small company, PCS Health Systems, which eventually transformed into CVS Caremark, where Lorber became a vice president. When he left that job, he was snapped up by Walgreens. “I felt like you can impact the way health care is delivered in the U.S. more in industry than from the clinical side.”

Lorber is rarely content with just one job, and though he calls himself retired, he still works as consultant, entrepreneur, marketer and clinician. One of his side jobs he still loves is working as a consulting physician for National Geographic’s Lindblad Expeditions adventure cruise line.

As the company has grown, he’s become, in effect, the company’s chief medical officer, overseeing about 50 physicians who travel on Lindblad’s ships to remote corners of the earth.

“It can be gut-wrenching when you have something that in an emergency department would be a no-brainer and easy to do, but can become a catastrophe because of where you are,” he says. On a cruise to Antarctica, he once had to treat a patient with a bowel obstruction when the nearest hospital was days away. In Norway, he jumped in to treat a woman with an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy; the nearest airstrip was on a small island 10 hours away. The patient survived, was treated on the mainland and returned to the ship several days later.

With Lindblad, Lorber has traveled to about 40 countries on all seven continents, allowing him to indulge his passion for photography (check out some of his travel photos below that appeared in the latest issue of the school’s 12th & Marshall magazine).

Lorber continues his routine of learning new skills and keeping an eye out for his next adventure. “You can’t have a five-year plan,” he muses. “You’ve got to be open to new things.”

Still, he says, his career hasn’t been totally random. It’s been about being prepared to be in the right place at the right time. “I really do believe you make your own luck.”

His advice for medical students?

“It’s about relationship building. While you’re in practice, get on committees, get involved politically and get involved any way you can. You’ve got to develop people skills, public speaking skills and the ability to negotiate.

“And learn everything you can. You never know when it’ll come in handy or may spark your interest.”

Always open to opportunities, David Lorber, M’72, said ‘yes’ to National Geographic’s Lindblad Expeditions adventure cruise line. As a result, he’s traveled to about 40 countries on all seven continents. It’s allowed him to indulge his passion for photography, like this shot that was taken in Montenegro. Click the images below for expanded views.

By Lisa Crutchfield

12
2016

M4 Andrew Percy honored with scholarship carrying name of surgeon Jim Brooks

The Class of 2017's Andrew Percy (left) met Stephen Yang, M'84, H'94

The Class of 2017’s Andrew Percy (left) met Stephen Yang, M’84, H’94, at the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association annual meeting in November. Yang helped establish the James W. Brooks Medical Student Scholarship in memory of his mentor, and Percy is the latest recipient.

Ask Andrew Percy, M’17, the key to a successful future and he will sum it up in one word.

Mentorship.

“No matter what field you go into, it helps to have someone guiding you,” he said. “Mentors have always been a special part of my life.”

That bond continues today. Percy was one of two students in the country to receive the James W. Brooks Medical Student Scholarship, which enabled him to attend the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association (STSA) annual meeting in Naples, Florida, Nov. 9-12.

“I was very humbled to be associated with an award in Dr. Brooks’ memory,” Percy said. “He was an important mentor to a lot of people. That’s the spirit of this scholarship. It inspires me to become a better clinician, researcher and person.”

Jim Brooks, M’46, H’55, joined the MCV Campus in 1957 as a thoracic and vascular surgeon and trained hundreds of residents and students. Even after retiring from the operating room, he continued to go into work each day to teach and serve on the admissions committee, communicating his love for the school to all the applicants he met. Appointed emeritus professor of surgery in 2000, he was active on campus until his death in 2008. He was the 23rd president of the STSA.

Jim Brooks, M'46, H'55

Longtime faculty member Jim Brooks, M’46, H’55. Courtesy of Tompkins-McCaw Library’s Special Collections and Archives

“Dr. Brooks had this aura about him,” said Stephen Yang, M’84, H’94, who trained under Brooks and now holds the Arthur B. and Patricia B. Modell Endowed Chair of Thoracic Surgery at Johns Hopkins. “You just loved the man. One of the things that impressed me the most was how much time he spent with his patients. He touched so many lives.”

To honor his memory, Yang helped establish the STSA fund in 2010 that supports the Brooks Scholarship.

“How do you repay the past?” Yang asked. “You want to honor those who trained you, who mentored you.”

Even though Percy never met Brooks, stories about the surgeon still abound on the MCV Campus. Percy has heard enough of them to know he would have loved him, too.

“It sounds like he was a remarkable individual,” Percy said. “He had a great sense of humor.”

Brooks is warmly remembered for not only his compassion, but his quirks. He wore his scrub pants backwards; his glasses hung near the end of his nose; a white towel was draped around his neck; and a bar of Dove soap was always at the scrub sink.

The stories also emphasize how Brooks valued mentorship.
“That’s so important,” Percy said. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors.”

Percy’s parents and later his high school cross country coach provided guidance early on. While studying biology and philosophy at Bates College in Maine, Percy spent his summers doing research for the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale. The two have published several papers together since then, and they are currently working on a research project focused on redefining the size cutoff in which surgery is warranted for aortic aneurysms. Percy is also writing a book chapter on the medical management of aortic aneurysms.

After graduating in 2008, Percy worked in research for four years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School and earned a master’s in medical sciences from Boston University. He has also conducted research in oncology and urology.

“I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in very interesting research projects across different disciplines because of mentors I had who gave me generous opportunities that they were under no obligation to give,” Percy said.

He found that same spirit at the STSA meeting, where he got to know some of the country’s leading cardiac surgeons, including Joseph Coselli, M.D., chief of adult cardiac surgery at the Texas Heart Institute, and Andrea J. Carpenter, M.D., Ph.D., president of the STSA and director of cardiac surgery at the UT School of Medicine in San Antonio.

“They were all so generous with their time,” Percy said. “I want to emulate that and become a mentor to others. I want to make a positive impact. One way to do that is by reflecting on all the help that you received along the way and then paying it forward throughout your career. ”

Do you want to help pay it forward? Learn more about our 1838 Scholarship Campaign aimed at increasing the number and size of available scholarships for the School of Medicine.

By Janet Showalter

11
2016

Patient education wins big at first VCU HealthHacks event

M4 Sina Mostaghimi and Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor

Fourth-year medical student Sina Mostaghimi teamed up with Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor to create VCU’s first medical hackathon. It gave students 24 hours to work in interdisciplinary teams to find solutions to unmet medical needs.

As a biomedical engineering undergraduate at Georgia Tech, Sina Mostaghimi thrived on solving problems.

Today, the fourth-year VCU School of Medicine student from McLean, Virginia, is still solving problems in hopes of helping others thrive.

“My favorite thing at Georgia Tech was senior design,” he says. But, “During my senior design project, it took weeks for me to get feedback from the physicians I was working with.”

There had to be a better way, Mostaghimi thought.

At a dinner party last year, he met senior biomedical engineering student and Honors College member Simone Gregor and shared his idea.

“When Simone told me about hackathons, we decided a venue like that would be perfect for students from various disciplines to come together to help solve unmet medical needs,” he says. “I wanted to create a student environment to foster opportunities for innovation, to provide time for project development and to offer immediate feedback.

For the uninitiated, a “hackathon” is a marathon-like experience bringing computer programmers together to solve problems by creating software projects. In VCU’s case, Mostaghimi and Gregor envisioned an event to include not only computer science and biomedical engineering students from the VCU School of Engineering, but also pre-med and medical students.

HealthHacks 2016

HealthHacks drew more than 140 students who tackled problems pertaining to product design, hospital throughput and patient experience.</p

“It’s the weirdest team concept, but you get diverse ideas this way,” he says.

Mostaghimi and Gregor assembled a team of volunteers, attracted sponsors and created VCU HealthHacks, which took place over the first weekend in October. More than 140 students from VCU, Canada and even a high school in Richmond collaborated on three areas of focus: product design and improvement, hospital throughput and patient experience. The School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine provided problems for students to solve as well as sending residents and faculty members who served as team mentors.

To close the event, teams had three minutes to present their projects to 10 judges who decided first, second and third place winners.

“It was quite an afternoon. We all sat in the front row of a lecture hall and listened to 30 teams describe their work,” said Nathan J. Lewis, M.D., clerkship director and assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. “It was tough. There were so many great groups and ideas.”

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy. This image shows the heart and an abdominal aortic aneurysm in red, located between the kidneys, shown in yellow. Click the image to go to a page where you can view the image in 3D.

The winning team used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images for use in a virtual reality headset to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy.

“As medical students, we learn from two-dimensional CT scans all the time,” says team member Anish Desai, a second-year medical student from Richmond, Virginia. “It’s incredibly confusing, difficult and non-intuitive.”

Desai and classmate Vivek Pandrangi, from Los Angeles, are both interested in virtual reality and its application to the patient experience.

“We’d been talking about our shared interest in surgery and finding a better way to educate patients during pre-op,” Pandrangi says.

Via the HealthHacks experience, the team was paired with mentor Daniel Newton, M’12, a fifth-year surgery resident who was impressed with the students’ abilities to take a totally rough idea and turn it into a solution.

Vivek Pandrangi and Anish Desai

HealthHacks’ winning team Vivek Pandrangi (left) and Anish Desai.

“The ability to show a patient his or her anatomy in an understandable way was solved by their technology,” Newton says. “It’s definitely a big step. Anytime patients have a full understanding of their disease or problem and the way it’s going to be fixed, it helps take the fear out of the unknown.”

Judge Nathan Lewis, who is also Mostaghimi’s faculty advisor, sees a future in the winning team’s work. He also hopes there’s a future for VCU HealthHacks.

“If you can take the complex language of medicine and translate it into something tangible, it breaks down a lot of barriers,” he says. “I’m not sure who’s going to take over the HealthHacks reins, but the event illustrates the amount of collaboration between the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Emergency Medicine at VCU Health. We’d all love to continue.”

A student team of volunteers made VCU’s first HealthHacks a reality:

  • Sina Mostaghimi
  • Simone Gregor
  • Mashya Abbassi
  • Michael Pasyk
  • Brandon Kates
  • Stephen Holtz

By Nan Johnson

20
2016

Alumni host basic science students in Research Triangle Park

Jean Kim, PhD’10 (MICR)

Jean Kim, PhD’10 (MICR) welcomed students to RTI International where she is now a research microbiologist. Photography: Carrie Hawes

Career exploration hit the road when 38 students and four post-docs boarded a bus bound for Raleigh, N.C., to take part in VCU Career Services’ Rams’ Roadtrip program.

The graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering spent two days meeting with researchers, publishers and clinicians to learn more about careers beyond the scope of academia. The goal was for students to walk away with a broader perspective on what they could accomplish after graduation.

Rams’ Roadtrip began because members of VCU Career Services noticed that graduate students were leaving VCU without understanding the breadth of available job opportunities. Many Ph.D. candidates overlook non-academic opportunities in favor of a traditional career trajectory that takes them from doctoral study to postdoctoral research to university faculty, a path where opportunities are in decline.

A 2011 study by the journal Nature noted a 150 percent increase in the number of postdocs from 2000 to 2012. At the same time, full-time, tenure eligible opportunities remained constant or declined. Carrie Hawes, the program’s organizer and assistant director at VCU Career Services, believes exposure through Rams’ Roadtrip helps to enhance students’ perspectives on potential career paths.

Basic science students visit Research Triangle Park

Research Triangle Park was the third stop in the Rams’ Roadtrip program that broadens students’ perspective on careers beyond the scope of academia. Photography: Carrie Hawes

North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park is known for its high concentration of organizations focused on pharmaceutical and biological sciences research and development. So it was an ideal destination in October when students visited Becton Dickinson, Research Square, QuintilesIMS and RTI International. They had the chance to tour the facilities, hear overviews of current research and meet with researchers from each organization.

“This was an awesome opportunity for someone like me in their second year of a Ph.D,” said Supriya Joshi, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. “I still have some breathing room to look at opportunities and assess what things work in non-academic careers.”

Jean Kim, PhD’10 (MICR) welcomed students to RTI International where they met with members of the commercialization group to learn about monetizing research. At RTI, students also met Jenny Wiley, Ph.D., an alumna of VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences and a former faculty member in the medical school’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

At Research Square, the students were exposed to careers in scientific publishing, meeting Jennifer Mietla, PhD’14 (BIOC), who is now quality control editor with the organization.

Throughout the trip, the students got a heavy dose of career advice from their hosts related to how to find their first job.

“People really got to see what others who had once worked in those exact same VCU labs are doing now,” Hawes said. “It was neat for the students to see what you can do come to life.”

This is the third time VCU Career Services has hosted the Rams’ Roadtrip program. In September 2015, the group took students to Bethesda, Maryland, for a look at science policy and consulting careers through visits to the National Institute of Health, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, American Society of Microbiology and MedImmune. Students also visited the University of Richmond to explore teaching-focused careers at a liberal arts university.

Organizers say this hands-on program is providing graduate students networking opportunities and a greater awareness of potential career options. Seven students from last year’s trip found employment with non-academic research organizations after graduation.

By Brian Nicholas