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School of Medicine discoveries

28
2019

M2 Shivam Gulhar went blind for two weeks. Then he found his calling.

In February, the Class of 2021's Shivam Gulhar will present findings from his stroke patient research at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In February, the Class of 2021’s Shivam Gulhar will present findings from his stroke patient research at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the Association of Academic Physiatrists annual conference in Puerto Rico.

In high school, the Class of 2021’s Shivam Gulhar dreamed of becoming a computer engineer and changing the world through technology. But plans shifted his junior year when a misdiagnosed cornea ulcer left him blind for two weeks.

Suddenly, Gulhar found another calling, inspired by the care of an ophthalmologist he met at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“He was my first exposure to how a doctor could really help a patient,” Gulhar says. “I was extremely upset — if my scar had been a centimeter down, I would have needed a transplant — but he quickly put me at ease. The care he provided saved me from permanent blindness and made me realize the importance of medicine.”

The Maryland native went on to shadow his ophthalmologist several times before coming to Virginia Commonwealth University as an undergraduate biology major with aspirations for a medical career. In 2017, he was accepted to the VCU School of Medicine.

His decision to study on the MCV Campus was reinforced when he learned he’d been awarded the Sarah Snyder Laughon Medical Scholarship.

The scholarship had been established upon Laughon’s passing, when she bequeathed a generous gift to the School of Medicine for scholarship support to deserving medical students. Her daughter, S. Katherine Laughon Grantz, is a 2000 graduate of the School of Medicine.

“While I worked hard to realize my dreams, I did not entirely understand the price that it would cost me,” Gulhar says. “Now that I have begun medical school, the financial burden is astonishing. But just as I was shown how medicine is the path for me earlier on in my life, I felt that earning a scholarship was nothing short of a sign that I truly deserved to be here and that medicine was my calling.”

Last summer, Gulhar returned to Johns Hopkins for a research rotation in the hospital’s Motion Analysis Lab at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Through the Rehabilitation Research Experience for Medical Students, provided by the Association of Academic Physiatrists, he researched gait patterns of stroke patients and healthy adults with the ultimate goal of finding the best way to teach stroke patients how to improve their walking.

While on a treadmill, patients walked wearing oxygen masks and electrodes attached to nine different leg muscles, sending data to a computer to create a patient model. “Then we can develop a model that mimics stroke patients, giving physical therapists tools to target the most affected muscles during therapy and providing patients with the best treatment possible,” Gulhar says.

In February, he will present the lab’s findings at the Association of Academic Physiatrists annual conference in Puerto Rico.

“With the increasingly competitive nature of the residency match, being able to present his research at a national conference will distinguish Shivam from other applicants regardless of his eventual specialty choice,” says Christopher Woleben, M’97, H’01, associate dean for student affairs.

1838 Scholarship Campaign
The School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign aims to increase the number and size of scholarships to students. Full- and half-tuition scholarships are most urgently needed and serve as one of the medical school’s best resources for recruiting and rewarding top students. Learn more about how you can help a medical student escape debt.

Originally drawn to ophthalmology, Gulhar says the summer research experience — suggested to him by his sister, a medical student at Howard University who had worked with stroke patients — opened his eyes to other specialties where patient interaction plays a prominent role.

Luckily, thanks to the Sarah Snyder Laughon Scholarship that pays a portion of his tuition and fees, he has the freedom to let his interests (and not his student loans) decide his ultimate path in medicine.

“Debt can cause students to choose fields for monetary reasons,” Gulhar says. “I’m glad I don’t have that constraint. This scholarship allows me to choose what I want to do.”

By Polly Roberts

28
2019

The Class of 83’s Wayne Reichman continues his work in Haiti with a trio of fellow alumni

Michael Boss, M'06, H'08; Wayne Reichman, M'83, F'89; Paul McNeill, H'88, F'90; and Kenneth Collins, H'88, connect over their affection for their alma mater and a commitment to the citizens of Haiti.

Michael Boss, M’06, H’08; Wayne Reichman, M’83, F’89; Paul McNeill, H’88, F’90; and Kenneth Collins, H’88, connect over their affection for their alma mater and a commitment to the citizens of Haiti.

In 2013, Wayne Reichman, M’83, F’89, began transitioning from his role as a Baltimore vascular surgeon to the medical director for a free surgical clinic in Jacmel, Haiti.

His commitment to the Jim Wilmot Surgery Center, owned and operated by nonprofit Community Coalition for Haiti, inspired a trio of VCU School of Medicine alumni to join him in providing free surgical care to the country devastated by a 2010 earthquake. While each alumnus took a different path to Haiti, it was their ties to their alma mater that opened doors to an opportunity to help the less fortunate.

Anesthesiologist Michael Boss, M’06, H’08, first heard about Reichman’s work in an article in the medical school’s alumni magazine, 12th & Marshall. Later, the two physicians found themselves operating together at University of Maryland Medical Center, and Reichman invited Boss to join him on an October 2015 trip to Haiti.

Boss has been back twice a year ever since.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for MCV and the people I worked with in residency and in medical school,” Boss says. “It was my first introduction to an underserved population. I had great attending physicians like Bob Kravetz, M.D., who opened a free clinic in Fredericksburg where I got to spend a little time.”

Michael Boss, M'06, H'08, trains a Haitian CRNA student to perform regional blocks under ultrasound guidance.

Michael Boss, M’06, H’08, trains a Haitian CRNA student to perform regional blocks under ultrasound guidance.

However, Haiti was his first experience traveling internationally to treat the underserved. “My first trip was pretty eye-opening to see the poverty and condition of the country. It was heartbreaking at times … Now, it’s more of a second home and the people there are like family.

“I’m excited to continue this work indefinitely,” Boss says, “and to have this attachment to MCV is such a special thing.”

Paul McNeill, H’88, F’90, and Reichman trained together as fellows on the MCV Campus and kept in touch at vascular surgery conferences over the years. In 2016, McNeill started coming to Haiti with Reichman once a year. It was McNeill who led Reichman to his fourth MCV Campus connection: urologist Kenneth Collins, H’88, who made his first trip to Haiti in 2017.

“It makes my life easier being able to rely on folks that I know will have the right skillset and personalities,” Reichman says. “They are all super and work well with the rest of the team.”

The four physicians traveled to Haiti together for the first time in fall 2017, solidifying their friendship as they connected after 14-hour days of operating by sitting on the rooftop of their guest house and reminiscing about their time on the MCV Campus.

“We shared some hilarious stories,” Reichman says. “It was quite a laugh.”

Details of those stories, however, are on strict “lockdown,” Boss laughs. “Old stories from residency, funny things that happened. Things functioned differently 20, 30 years ago, so it was fun to hear everybody’s take.”

The new Community Coalition for Haiti clinic opened in November 2018.

The new Community Coalition for Haiti clinic opened in November 2018 and allows for new services including cataract surgery, upper endoscopy, and general surgical and gynecological laparoscopic procedures.

In November, Boss and Reichman attended the grand opening for a new facility two years in the making. Spearheaded by Reichman, it’s twice the size of the previous facility and allows for new services including cataract surgery, upper endoscopy, and general surgical and gynecological laparoscopic procedures.

The new hospital also includes a larger recovery room, a small intensive care unit, six additional inpatient beds, three large operating rooms, more physical therapy space, primary care and wound clinics, a pharmacy and administrative offices. Two smaller, nearby buildings will house educational and community development programs.

In 2017, the Haitian government awarded the clinic full accreditation as a foreign health care provider, meaning it is now one of only a handful of foreign providers that can purchase medicine in the country and organize regional preventive care programs such as mobile cancer screenings and school-based health screenings.

Reichman says the surgical facility has expanded from 75 cases annually in 2015 to more than 300 in 2018. That’s not including the 20,000 patients who come through the clinic’s primary care unit each year and the 8,000 patients who receive physical therapy.

“My role now is to ensure that the surgical center is adequately staffed with recruiting and volunteers who can train Haitian physicians to do what we do,” Reichman says. “Our long-term goal is to train enough Haitian medical personnel to be able to take over and run the entire facility.”

Reichman says he’s most proud of the partnerships created with Haiti’s health ministry, the local hospital In Jacmel and numerous other clinics to better the country’s overall health care system. He encourages other physicians with public health interests to narrow their focus as they define how they want to make an impact.

Interested in volunteering with Community Coalition for Haiti?

Email Wayne Reichman, M’83, F’89, at wayne@cchaiti.org for details.

“There are many places around the world where you can volunteer,” he says. “But you can’t change the whole world and do everything for everyone. Pick one area and serve it well.”

And if you can find your spot and make an impact with your fellow alumni?

All the better.

By Polly Roberts

28
2019

Millennials ‘ideally suited’ to be doctors, says Class of 77’s David Adams

David Adams, M'77, specializes in treating challenging gastrointestinal disease. He recently returned to the MCV Campus for a guest lecture.

David Adams, M’77, specializes in treating challenging gastrointestinal disease. He recently returned to the MCV Campus for a guest lecture titled “Total Pancreatectomy with Islet Auto Transplantation — When, Why, How.”

David Adams, M’77, is weary of hearing about “the good old days.” From where he sits as a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, the best is yet to come.

“Every generation is the greatest generation and every generation has its challenges,” says Adams, who has spent three decades at the Medical University of South Carolina. While Millennials often are criticized as work-shy and entitled, Adams sees it differently. “They are ideally suited to be the doctors of the future because they value meaningful work, they’re internationalists, they’re tech-savvy, they like feedback, they’re team-oriented and they’re collaborative.

“So all the things my generation complains about come naturally to Millennials.”

His feelings were reinforced on a recent visit to the MCV Campus when he joined VCU Health transplant fellows and residents on morning rounds. The coordination between the transplant and critical care teams impressed Adams, who hadn’t returned to campus since graduation.

“From what I saw, the future of surgery is bright,” Adams later told attendees at his guest lecture, “Total Pancreatectomy with Islet Auto Transplantation — When, Why, How.”

Adams specializes in treating challenging gastrointestinal disease and performs islet cell transplantation for patients with chronic pancreatitis. Marlon Levy, M.D., chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery and director of the VCU Hume-Lee Transplant Center, calls Adams one of the field’s senior surgeons.

“David Adams has had a long and very influential career,” Levy says. “His particular contributions to surgery for chronic pancreatitis patients underscore his thought-leader status in academic surgery.”

‘Colorful, smart characters’

During his return to the MCV Campus, David Adams, M'77 (right), visited with his mentor Walter Lawrence, M.D.

During his return to the MCV Campus, David Adams, M’77 (right), visited with his mentor, the beloved surgeon Walter Lawrence, M.D.

During medical school, Adams learned from favorite professors such as rheumatology’s Shaun Ruddy, M.D.; surgery’s Walter Lawrence, M.D., and H.M. Lee, M.D., H’61; pediatric surgery’s Arnold Salzberg, M.D., H’53; neurosurgery’s Harold Young, M.D., and gastroenterology’s Alvin Zfass, M’57.

“They were all colorful, smart characters,” Adams says. “Every chance I got, I would go to the operating room to watch Dr. Lawrence work because he’s such a beautiful surgeon.”

Lawrence enjoyed getting to know the young student as well, and the two continued a mentoring relationship over the next 40 years. “I knew when he was an M3 he was going to amount to something,” Lawrence says. “I’m so proud of the work he’s done and his whole career.”

Adams credits the School of Medicine for laying his foundation. “It was easy to transition to an intern after being a medical student here,” says Adams, who completed his residency at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, where “they were all astonished when I showed up the day before I was to start my internship to get to know the patients. But that’s what you would do on the MCV Campus. You were responsible.”

And the medical students relied on one another.

“There was a great camaraderie among students,” Adams says. “Your rotations were difficult. There was a lot of hard work so you had to depend on others to share the work.”

‘Another mountain to climb’

Interested in visiting the MCV Campus?

Find out when your class will celebrate Reunion Weekend or contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at (804) 828-4800 or MedAlum@vcu.edu to schedule a tour.

Adams found his way to gastrointestinal disease thanks to Zfass, who would arrive in his blue corduroy suit and give “wonderful lectures. He made me realize we weren’t there to learn facts; we were there to learn how to think critically. That made it fun.”

After residency, Adams served as chief of surgery at the Naval Hospital in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He later transferred to the Naval Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, where he worked with residents from the Medical University of South Carolina and rekindled his affection for academic medicine. He went on to spend 18 years performing traditional operations for chronic pancreatitis before transitioning to islet cell transplantation in the late 2000s.

“We weren’t always successful with traditional operations and frequently we were unsuccessful,” Adams says. “So we had to think of new ways to treat patients. One way to deal with the terrible pain was to remove the entire pancreas before patients have nerve damage and then, so they don’t become diabetic, transplant the islet cells into the liver.”

In medical school, Adams didn’t know his life’s work would lead him to fighting chronic pancreatitis. But his patients showed him the way.

“You serve the needs of where you are,” he says. “What became apparent to me was that chronic pancreatitis is and was poorly understood and these people suffered.”

Even with the latest progress, chronic pancreatitis remains a baffling disease with many unanswered questions. “That is what’s so exciting,” Adams says. “What’s the new frontier? Where are the new answers going to come from? There is always another mountain to climb.”

By Polly Roberts

08
2019

The Class of 87’s Thomas Eichler named ASTRO president-elect

Thomas Eichler, M'87, H'92, is president-elect of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

Thomas Eichler, M’87, H’92, is president-elect of the American Society for Radiation Oncology, the world’s largest radiation oncology society.

Thomas Eichler, M’87, H’92, recently began his term as president-elect of the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s Board of Directors. ASTRO is the world’s largest radiation oncology society.

As president-elect and eventual ASTRO chair, Eichler will continue a career-long commitment to promoting radiation oncology as the leader in quality, innovation and value in multidisciplinary cancer care.

“I am honored and humbled to be elected as ASTRO’s next president and to work on behalf of ASTRO’s 10,000 members,” Eichler says. “I look forward to working collaboratively with my colleagues to advance the field of radiation oncology as we continue to seek advanced treatment options, address priority policy issues and advocate on behalf of all cancer patients.”

Eichler spent much of his career with Virginia Radiation Oncology Associates, where he served as president from 2006-16, and with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute in Richmond, Virginia. At the institute, he worked as the medical director of radiation oncology until scaling back his clinical responsibilities in recent years to spend more time volunteering with ASTRO.

His volunteer roles have ranged from chair of the ASTRO Health Policy Council and the ASTRO Political Action Committee to senior editor of the member magazine ASTROnews. Twice Eichler was named ASTRO’s grassroots activist of the year. He was named an ASTRO Fellow in 2013.

“Radiation oncology has a central role in discussions on safeguarding cancer patients’ access to high-quality, high-value treatments,” says ASTRO Board of Directors Chair Brian Kavanagh, M.D., M.P.H., FASTRO. “The dedicated leaders chosen by ASTRO’s 10,000-plus members will help drive these conversations and guide our field on the key issues of education, advocacy, quality and safety.”

A 1974 graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a degree in American Studies, Eichler worked as an orderly before taking pre-med classes at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y. After failing to gain admission to medical school, he accepted a friend’s offer to serve as the stage manager for First Street Theater in Dayton, Ohio. He later relocated to Northern Virginia with his future wife, Alison, and worked at the Folger Theatre as the box office manager.

But he hadn’t given up on his dream of a career in medicine and in 1983, he again applied to medical school and this time was accepted to the VCU School of Medicine.

“I just love the whole process of medicine,” Eichler shares in the fall 2017 issue of the medical school’s alumni magazine 12th & Marshall. “Being responsible for helping people, along with the rigor and discipline involved, really excites me.”

Eichler remains active in theatrical productions around Richmond and has taken on a wide variety of roles, including Kris Kringle in “Miracle On 34th Street,” Andrew Carnes in “Oklahoma!” and Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee.”

“This chapter of my life has been punctuated by revisiting my love of the theatre and subsequently embarking on a modest acting career that I expect to keep me busy in retirement,” he says. “It has also been an opportunity to expand my volunteer activities with ASTRO, unexpectedly culminating in the honor of being named president-elect.”

He will serve a one-year terms as president-elect, a year as ASTRO president beginning at September 2019’s Annual Meeting and then a year as chair of the board of directors starting in the fall of 2020.

08
2019

National honors for the Class of 1972’s James Patterson

James W. Patterson, M'72, H'76

James W. Patterson, M’72, H’76

For 18 years, James W. Patterson, M’72, H’76, called the MCV Campus home: first earning his medical degree and completing his residency, and later serving for a decade on the faculty. Now his career-long contributions have been honored at the annual meeting of the American Society of Dermatopathology in Chicago.

Patterson accepted the 2018 Founders’ Award on Nov. 9 in recognition of his outstanding original and significant contributions to the field of dermatopathology. The next day, he delivered the Elson B. Helwig Memorial Lecture that carries the name of his teacher and mentor.

Patterson was named to the Helwig Memorial Lectureship in recognition of his excellence in the field of diagnostic dermatopathology and for his significant contribution to the literature and to the education of fellows and colleagues. At the annual meeting he presented on Problematic Dermatopathology: What the Textbooks Don’t Teach, and discussed challenges that impact decision-making and patient care.

“The challenges presented by dermatopathology are not always in the realm of straightforward differential diagnosis,” Patterson says. “Mixed-up specimens, misleading clinical information, deficiencies in specimens or the manner in which they are handled, and confounding historical and laboratory data, occur all too frequently.”

Patterson has been a director of the American Board of Dermatology and served as its president in 2015. He also has served on the ACGME’s residency review committees for dermatology and dermatopathology. A past-president of the American Society of Dermatopathology and the Virginia Dermatological Society, he has authored or co-authored more than 250 scientific papers as well as six books, most recently the fourth edition of Weedon’s Skin Pathology, the leading textbook in the field. He is past editor-in-chief and now editor emeritus of the Journal of Cutaneous Pathology and has been a member of the editorial boards of numerous other journals.

After medical school and residency, Patterson served at Keller Army Hospital at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, and then trained at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., as a fellow in dermatopathology under the tutelage of Elson B. Helwig, M.D., and James H. Graham, M.D.

After serving at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, where he also was a clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of Colorado, Patterson returned in 1982 to his alma mater for his first faculty appointment in pathology and dermatology. He became a tenured professor and was the director of dermatopathology.

Patterson joined Dermatology Associates of Virginia in Richmond as a private-practice dermatologist and dermatopathologist in 1992 and, from 1996 to 2016, served as professor of pathology and dermatology and director of dermatopathology at the University of Virginia. He retired in 2016 and is now professor emeritus of pathology and co-owner of PRW Laboratories in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he works part-time as a dermatopathologist. He remains active in teaching and writing on topics in dermatopathology.

08
2019

AMSA fellow sees beyond the individual: “I view the community as my patient”

The Class of 2020's Avanthi Jayaweera, second from right, and other AMSA members meet California congressman and physician Raul Ruis.

The Class of 2020’s Avanthi Jayaweera, second from right, and other AMSA members meet California congressman and physician Raul Ruis (center) in Washington, D.C. Jayaweera is AMSA’s 2018-19 Education and Advocacy Fellow.

Academic medicine can sometimes seem like an ivory tower: a sterilized, well-lit operating room, high above the dirt and chaos of the world below, to which students climb, step by step, until they arrive at the final height and are called “Doctor.”

But to the Class of 2020’s Avanthi Jayaweera, not only is the path to the coveted M.D. less linear, but the ivory tower itself is an illusion. Where medicine belongs, the enterprising student advocate believes, is down in the streets, not hovering above them.

“My medical training can only take me so far,” Jayaweera says. “If we want to strive for sustainable solutions for the community, we need to challenge ourselves to look at our system as a whole and analyze the intersection of policy and health.”

For one year, Jayaweera will explore those intersections thanks to her American Medical Student Association Education and Advocacy Fellowship.

Awarded annually to a single U.S. medical student, the AMSA Education and Advocacy Fellowship offers recipients a chance to help shape educational and advocacy programming while delving into issues ranging from health care access to global health equity, diversity and social justice.

Accepting the fellowship meant deferring graduation for one year, a choice that can feel risky for students already committed to at least seven years of medical school and training.

“I was nervous about possibly being away from clinical medicine for a year,” Jayaweera says. “But I just knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have this much time to study these policies.”

Support she received from the Harry and Zackia Shaia Scholarship, awarded to students who demonstrate a commitment to community service, helped ease her decision. The scholarship has covered a portion of her tuition and fees for the past three years.

“To know I had that type of support and financial aid was a tremendous help,” she says.

As part of her fellowship, Jayaweera spends time in AMSA’s Northern Virginia headquarters and travels around the nation to work with local AMSA chapters. She also completed a six-week clinical rotation with Kaiser Permanente Northern California Residency Programs focused on community-based issues — in Jayaweera’s case, working with Spanish-speaking patients as well as transgender and non-binary communities.

As the Education and Advocacy Fellow, Jayaweera oversees AMSA campaigns including but not limited to Med Out the Vote, a program that encourages health care providers to vote, and Just Medicine, an initiative that seeks to diminish the influence of corporations in medicine and increase transparency in order to make access to health care more equitable and fact-based.

The latter issue in particular has been close to Jayaweera’s heart since volunteering at a free clinic near Virginia Tech, her undergraduate alma mater, and encountering a host of patients who couldn’t afford medication.

“It’s frustrating when the problem isn’t that we don’t have a cure. The problem is that we have a cure, but it’s too expensive,” she said. “It’s almost the same problem: patients still don’t have access to it. We can’t have affordable health care without affordable meds.”

Many of Jayaweera’s efforts as a fellow have focused on coming up with more effective strategies to get medical students involved with health care policy and training them to be good advocates within the profession.

That task has involved everything from offering local AMSA chapters seminars on prescription drug costs and other issues to teaching them how to set up advocacy days and meet with elected officials. Jayaweera also organized the Advocacy Leadership Summit at VCU this past November and will plan AMSA Advocacy Day in March 2019.

“I’m trying to find different ways to empower students to talk about these issues with confidence and expertise,” Jayaweera says.

Involved in AMSA since premed, Jayaweera has from the start been acutely sensitive to the intersections between medicine and the political and social factors that impact individuals’ health.

“Even as a physician, there are lots of factors outside of our clinical scope that affect health,” she says. Access to grocery stores with healthy food, living in a safe neighborhood where people can go outside to exercise, and affordable drug prices are only a few of the most obvious, she says, “and those are things that I can’t personally control in the clinic.”

It is for that reason that in looking at her own mission, Jayaweera sees more than each individual patient.

“I view the community as my patient,” says Jayaweera, who is active with the medical school’s International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program.

Mark Ryan, M’00, H’03, now an associate professor with the School of Medicine, serves as one of Jayaweera’s mentors, both in his capacity as the director of the I2CRP program and as adviser to the school’s AMSA chapter. He sees her fellowship as a logical extension of a path she has walked since arriving at VCU.

“The thing that strikes me most powerfully is her genuine desire to use her training and her skills as a health professional to help communities and individuals strive for the best possible health that’s available to them,” he says. “It’s been this common theme of seeing the role of a physician, the role of a medical professional, as being more than a prescription.”

For Jayaweera, perhaps the best gift to patients beyond prescriptions is policy.

“If I don’t speak up on these issues, who will?” she asks. “As physicians and future physicians, we are in a position where we’re natural leaders. This is not being political. This is standing up for our communities and our neighbors and the people we live with on a day-to-day basis.”

By Sarah Vogelsong

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
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Updated: 04/29/2016