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12
2018

Organs for sale

Distinguished transplant surgeon Francis Delmonico, H’78, helps lead global fight against human-organ trafficking for profit. 

In 1957, the Medical College of Virginia’s legendary “restless genius,” David Hume, M.D., performed the first organ transplant in Virginia – a kidney donated between twins. Hume’s pioneering work in transplant medicine helped usher in a new era of hope for patients and laid the foundation for what today is VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center, named in honor of Hume and his colleague and longtime chief of transplantation for the medical center, H.M. Lee, H’61.

Francis Delmonico, H’77, has been called both a respected elder statesman as well as a respected trailblazer. “No other transplant professional has done so much or worked so hard to insist on fair and ethical treatment of the live-organ donor and ethical use of the donated organ.” [View Image]

Francis Delmonico, H’78, has been called both a respected elder statesman as well as a respected trailblazer. “No other transplant professional has done so much or worked so hard to insist on fair and ethical treatment of the live-organ donor and ethical use of the donated organ.” Photo Credit: Skip Rowland

Yet the medical breakthroughs that made organ transplantation possible also inadvertently spawned a darker legacy. Worldwide, the need for human organs for transplant – particularly kidneys – greatly exceeds the number that become available each year from living and deceased donors; in the U.S. alone, more than 100,000 people on the organ-transplant waiting list need a kidney. This stark disparity, coupled with the fact that kidneys can be taken from living donors, has fueled the rise in a lucrative international black market – the trafficking of human organs for profit.

During a December 2017 weekend celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Hume-Lee Transplant Center, Francis Delmonico, H’78, presented a keynote address on organ trafficking and the international effort – in which he’s played a leadership role – to fight it.

Organ trafficking is a complex global business and a “microcosm of social dysfunction,” said Delmonico. At one end of the transaction are people with money and the need for an organ. At the other end are the impoverished and vulnerable – migrants seeking passage to Europe, persecuted minorities, individuals ensnared in human-trafficking. The traffickers lure donors with promises of money, jobs or other opportunities, and sell the organs for amounts that can exceed $200,000 for a kidney. “Transplant tourism” results when recipients travel to another country for the surgery.

“The levels of corruption get so disgraceful that it staggers you,” said Delmonico, “but it is all about money.”

In some cases donors in desperate need actively seek to sell a kidney. In other cases, donors are solicited with sometimes false or misleading information. And in even more horrifying situations, unwitting victims have been imprisoned or held captive and forced to submit to kidney removal. The fate of these donors is often unknown, but some have shared stories of promised payments that never come, of failing health, of being unable to work anymore.

Recipients too are vulnerable. They may be extorted for an ever-increasing fee, may receive a compromised or even non-functioning organ, may be provided with inadequate care, and sometimes suffer serious medical complications or even death.

In his presentation, Delmonico outlined this portrait of human misery exploited for profit and spoke of how he came to be involved in the fight against organ trafficking. His inspiration, he said, reaches back to his days among one of the last cohorts of residents to study under Hume before the physician’s untimely death in a plane crash. The exacting, patient-focused training Delmonico received under Hume, Lee and the other surgeons here, he said, set the standard he has practiced through his own long and distinguished surgical career at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he continues to serve as emeritus director of transplantation and as professor of surgery for Harvard Medical School.

Delmonico’s prominence and accomplishments in his field led in 2005 to his election as president of UNOS (the United Network for Organ Sharing), which manages the organ-transplant system in the United States. A year later in 2006, he was appointed as advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) on transplantation matters and accepted the position of director of medical affairs for the international Transplantation Society.

In 2016, Francis Delmonico, H’77, was appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which last year held a summit calling on the world to repudiate the practices of organ trafficking and human trafficking for organ removal and to promote ethical principles of transplantation. [View Image]

In 2016, Francis Delmonico, H’78, was appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which last year held a summit calling on the world to repudiate the practices of organ trafficking and human trafficking for organ removal and to promote ethical principles of transplantation.

In 2004, the WHO had called on its member states to address the problem of international organ trafficking and transplant tourism. For his leadership role in the transplant community, Delmonico travelled all over the world, in collaboration with the WHO, to gather a deep understanding of the problem. What he saw was profoundly disturbing, intolerable for a surgeon whose principles were shaped by the pioneers under whom he had learned during his residency.

“There is a regard for the nobility and science of organ transplantation derived from Dr. Hume,” said Delmonico, “that must not be prostituted by organ sales.”

In 2008, Delmonico was instrumental in helping convene an international gathering – the Istanbul Summit – where more than 150 medical leaders, scientists, public-policy experts, ethicists, legal scholars and others together worked to draft what would become known as the Declaration of Istanbul. The landmark statement called for all countries to establish a “legal and professional framework” for organ donation and transplantation that safeguards donors and recipients, enforces standards and prohibits unethical practices, including the financial exploitation of donors through buying and selling organs.

Delmonico continues to serve as senior advisor to the volunteer Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group to promote, implement and uphold the Declaration across the globe. More recently, in 2016, Delmonico was appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which this past year held its own summit, calling organ trafficking and human trafficking for organ removal “crimes against humanity” and calling on the world to repudiate these practices and promote ethical principles of transplantation.

By Caroline Kettlewell

  

 

A “respected trailblazer”: Francis Delmonico, H’78

In 1971, Francis Delmonico came to Richmond to begin his residency in surgery, aspiring to a career in the still-young field of organ transplantation. More than 45 years later, he still recalls with appreciation the qualities of the surgeons who trained him, like H.M. Lee, H’61, (“a great teacher”), B.W. Haynes, H’46, (“so exhilarating to watch”), and the legendary chairman of the Department of Surgery, David Hume, M.D., who, Delmonico remembers, was unpretentious enough to repair a shoe by wrapping it in tape, but exacting and unyielding in what he expected of his residents.

At the Hume-Lee Transplant Center’s 60th Anniversary, Francis Delmonico, H’77, reunited with Kyung Ok Chi Lee, M.D., the widow of transplant pioneer H.M. Lee, M.D., for whom the center is named. [View Image]

At the Hume-Lee Transplant Center’s 60th Anniversary, Francis Delmonico, H’78, reunited with Kyung Ok C. Lee, M.D., the widow of transplant pioneer H.M. Lee, M.D., for whom the center is named. Photo Credit: Kevin Morley

When Hume died at the end of Delmonico’s second year, though, the young resident’s future was thrown into uncertainty. Delmonico had been slated to complete a research fellowship in transplantation under Hume’s direction, but now, “There was no guarantee that there would be the opportunity,” says Delmonico.

Fortunately, a place was found for Delmonico at Massachusetts General Hospital both to participate in research and to continue clinical service. He took with him the standards of excellence in which he’d trained in Richmond; “I knew how to take care of patients,” says Delmonico.

After two years in Boston, Delmonico returned to Richmond to complete his residency, serving the final year as chief resident. But the professional relationship formed with the chief of surgery while in Boston would lead to him being invited back to join the staff at Massachusetts General.

Delmonico practiced surgery at Massachusetts General until 2005, achieving an impressive list of accomplishments and earning broad recognition, including the National Kidney Foundation’s David M. Hume Award for exemplifying “high ideals of scholarship and humanitarianism.”

“He truly is both a respected elder statesman as well as a respected trailblazer,” notes Marlon Levy, M.D., chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery and director of the VCU Hume-Lee Transplant Center. “No other transplant professional has done so much or worked so hard to insist on fair and ethical treatment of the live-organ donor and ethical use of the donated organ.”

By Caroline Kettlewell

12
2018

Aspiring pediatricians introduce preschoolers to yoga

It’s Friday afternoon at VCU Health’s MCV Campus Daycare. The preschoolers are just waking up from their naps, eager to tackle the afternoon. They peek through the windows on their classroom doors when they spot a group of medical students in the hallway.

A collaborative initiative created by the VCU School of Medicine's Pediatric Interest Group and YogaRx student group, Yoga for Preschoolers introduces children in the local community to the benefits of yoga, and introduces medical students to what it will be like to work with their youngest patients. [View Image]

A collaborative initiative created by the VCU School of Medicine’s Pediatric Interest Group and YogaRx student group, Yoga for Preschoolers introduces children in the local community to the benefits of yoga, and introduces medical students to what it will be like to work with their youngest patients.

In groups of six to eight, the preschoolers make their way to the hall to participate in Yoga for Preschoolers, a collaborative initiative created by the VCU School of Medicine’s Pediatric Interest Group and YogaRx student group.

“Find your lily pad,” says M2 Tori Rodgers as she directs the children to their yoga mats. In fall 2016, Rodgers, co-president of the Pediatric Interest Group, reached out to her classmates in YogaRx to develop a partnership. A devotee of yoga herself, she wanted to bring yoga to children in local daycare centers throughout Richmond.

M2 and Yoga Rx president Victoria Keiser jumped on board. A certified yoga teacher who completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training course in May 2016, she had founded YogaRx as a way to bring stress relief to medical students and was eager to expand the group’s reach into the community. Yoga for Preschoolers was born.

“It’s fun working together to make a curriculum for kids and adapting it so kids understand it,” Rodgers says. “It’s interesting to see the kids’ progress. They just soak up everything we give them.”

Developing a yoga curriculum for preschoolers means trading standard yoga terms for kid-speak. Downward dog becomes breathing like a lion. Lying on bellies and stretching becomes hissing like snakes and looking up to see if there’s any danger. “I see a fire-breathing dragon!” Rodgers says as the group squeals.

Medical students created Yoga for Preschoolers to introduce children in the #RVA community to yoga, giving them new tools to manage their emotions and their bodies at an early age. "It's rewarding to teach any population but even more rewarding to teach kids. We hope that they'll go back home and talk about what they've learned, improving their family's health, too." [View Image]

Yoga for Preschoolers gives children new tools to manage their emotions and their bodies at an early age.

Like any good medical student, she works in some basic knowledge about the body throughout the session. She explains the heart pumps blood as the children put their hands over their hearts to feel the beat and that lungs are for breathing oxygen as they practice taking slow breaths.

Keiser also teaches geriatric yoga once a month through YogaRx and says she enjoys introducing yoga at both ends of the age spectrum. “It’s rewarding to teach any population but even more rewarding to teach kids. We hope that they’ll go back home and talk about what they’ve learned, improving their family’s health, too.”

MCV Campus Daycare director Tracy Walters says the sessions provide an uplifting way to end the day for the preschoolers.

“Yoga brings another level to staying healthy physically and brings in mental health as well,” she says. “It’s a release for them — some children are here 12, 14 hours a day. It’s a big benefit for families who don’t always have built-in time to take them to a lesson.”

Ananda Amstadter, Ph.D., sends her 2-year-old son to the daycare, where he participates in the yoga classes. A researcher and associate professor at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, she sees the benefits for the medical students, too.

“It’s good for the students to work with little humans and de-stress, get some of that toddler energy,” she says.

Keiser’s medical interests lean toward internal medicine rather than pediatrics, but she says the experience working with children outside the doctor’s office has helped prepare her for pediatric rotations and what to expect from her youngest patients.

“They may take something completely differently than the way you meant it, and you just have to go with it,” she says. “If you keep that mentality, it’s less intimidating when we do work with kids down the road and it will make it more fun.”

Walters says it’s good for the students to see from an early point in their careers that every child is different and giving thought to your approach is so important because you “make it or break it” with a child in those first interactions.

As the session winds down, the wiggly students who came into the hallway are now lying still on their “lily pads,” relaxing. Rodgers ends the class with the traditional yoga salutation, “Namaste,” before the preschoolers head back into their classrooms.

The medical students seem more relaxed, too, as they gather by the door and chat about the upcoming exam on Monday. When asked what they would be doing on a typical Friday afternoon if they weren’t with the preschoolers, they all answer in unison: “studying.”

That makes their commitment to the monthly sessions all the more impressive, Walters says. “For our parents, because many of them have been medical students themselves, they know the demands and find particular delight in the students sharing their time and talent with their children. It’s been a real gift.”

Susan R. DiGiovanni, M’84, H’87, F’89, senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs, sees the benefit, too. “This a great learning experience for the students as well as a way to de-stress,” she says. “You cannot stress over exams when you are giggling with a toddler!”

By Polly Roberts

12
2018

Master’s candidate breaks new ground in Genetic Counseling Program

Camerun Washington, genetic counseling student [View Image]

“It’s such an advantage to have diversity in any area of medicine. Whether it’s the language you speak, the background you come from or the color of your skin, seeing things through different lenses is always important. It helps you establish trust and make that connection with your patients.” -Camerun Washington, genetic counseling student

Camerun Washington was a freshman in high school when his biology teacher brought up the subject of common genetic traits.

He raced home to ask his family if he could inspect their ears to see if they had attached or detached lobes. He then completed a family tree to look for traits passed down from generations before him.

“That sparked my interest in genetics,” Washington says. “Then in my junior year, I really got hooked.”

That year, his AP biology teacher brought up the subject of DNA mutations and genetic counselors.

“I had never heard of genetic counselors,” Washington says. “I immediately Googled it.”

What he discovered changed his future. After graduating from Winthrop University in 2017 as a dual major (modern languages and biology), he enrolled in VCU’s Genetic Counseling Program. He is on track to earn his master’s degree in 2019.

“I want to help people uncover how genetics can affect their health,” he says. “I want to help guide their health care decisions.”

Established in 1990, the VCU Genetic Counseling Program has prepared more than 130 graduates for careers in genetic counseling. Washington is the first African-American man to enroll.

“Despite the diversity of the genome and of patients’ experiences, the genetic counseling field is not yet as diverse as if should be,” Rachel Gannaway, M.S., L.C.G.C., director of the School of Medicine’s Genetic Counseling Program and associate director of Clinical Genetic Services in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. “But there are a lot of patients who respond better to people who look like them. Genetic disease is no different. It is important that the people who graduate from these programs reflect the diversity of our patient population.”

Washington, who grew up just outside Charleston, S.C., wasn’t surprised to learn he was the first African-American male to enroll in the program. He hopes he starts a trend.

“When others see me here, hopefully it will encourage them to pursue the field,” he says. “It’s such an advantage to have diversity in any area of medicine. Whether it’s the language you speak, the background you come from or the color of your skin, seeing things through different lenses is always important. It helps you establish trust and make that connection with your patients.”

Washington, who is fluent in French, is already making that link. This semester, he is counseling patients for the first time under the supervision of his professors. Most of the counseling so far has been in the area of prenatal genetics.

“It’s so exciting to take what you are learning in the classroom and apply it to the real world,” he says.

Genetic counselors see a wide variety of patients, from parents concerned about their child’s developmental delays to young adults who have a family history of heart disease or cancer.

“We can help determine their risk and better monitor their health,” says Washington, who receives a partial scholarship funded by the School of Medicine. “We can be more proactive if someone is predisposed to disease.”

“Here in the School of Medicine, we are privileged to train health care professionals who’ll serve patients in all kinds of roles,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “Across the board, we are committed to supporting a diverse workforce and are proud to see the skills, empathy and experiences that Camerun will contribute.”

As people become more interested in family traits, thanks in part to direct-to-consumer genetic tests, the demand for genetic counselors could continue to rise. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, there are about 2,500 certified genetic counselors working in clinical care in the United States. It’s estimated that by 2020, the workforce will need between 3,500 and 4,500 in clinical care.

“I have been blessed to be in this position where I can pursue my passion,” Washington says. “I can’t wait to see where it takes me.”

By Janet Showalter

24
2018

Pedal power: Class of 04’s Travis Shaw combos cycling and community service

The Class of 04’s Travis Shaw has found a unique way to give back to his community! With a specially designed cycle called a trishaw, he’s able to offer those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities the chance to get outside. [View Image]

The Class of 04’s Travis Shaw has found a unique way to give back to his community! With a specially designed cycle called a trishaw, he’s able to offer those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities the chance to get outside and feel the wind in their hair again.

Travis Shaw, M’04, H’09, drew on his lifelong loves of cycling and community service when he founded a unique nonprofit in Richmond last year.

Shaw, a double board-certified specialist in otolaryngology and facial plastic surgery, has founded Cycling Without Age Richmond. The nonprofit, Richmond’s chapter of a worldwide organization, offers those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities the chance to get outside and feel the wind in their hair on a specially designed cycle called a trishaw.

It’s a program, Shaw explains, that rekindled his love of service and helps him connect with older people, many of whom may otherwise don’t get outside much or feel forgotten. “This is one way to tap into the richness of their lives,” he says. During the outings, which last about a half hour, he gets to know the riders, asking questions about their families, their histories and their interests. Most are grateful for the attention.

Cycling Without Age began in bike-friendly Denmark. Word spread, and so did chapters of the program. Shaw’s mother-in-law alerted him to a video from Scotland that was making the rounds on social media; he was intrigued, and began investigating. Within a week, he decided that Richmond needed it, too. “I’d been looking for a way to combine community service with my love of cycling,” he says.

The cycles differ from traditional pedicabs, Shaw notes, because the passengers sit in the front. “They get a better view,” he says, “and it helps balance the bikes better.” The electric-assist motor makes pedaling easier, though Shaw, a former racer, likes to turn it down to give himself more of a workout.

He applied to the international headquarters and was accepted as a “pilot,” as cyclists are called. Shaw used nearly $10,000 of his own money to purchase one of the trishaw electric-assisted bikes. His mother-in-law made introductions at St. Francis Home, a facility for lower-income people. By August, he was ferrying St. Francis residents – two at a time – near the Forest Hill Park area.

Since then, Cycling Without Age has grown to about 10 volunteer pilots, Shaw says, and a GoFundMe campaign is raising funds for more bikes and longer-lasting batteries for them, with plans to expand the program throughout the area.

“I’ve always felt very strongly that giving back, and being involved in our community and trying to make our community a better place, is an important life mission – for all of us,” he says.

Shaw credits his late father, James O. Shaw, M’70, with instilling the desire to serve. But the younger Shaw wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do after graduating from Washington and Lee University with a degree in East Asian studies. He taught English in Japan for several years before returning to the U.S., and joining a ski patrol. That job required paramedic training, which kindled an interest in medicine. He took science prerequisites, then enrolled at VCU’s School of Medicine. During his studies, he and his father participated in a medical mission trip to Kenya, where he became fascinated with facial surgery.

Now, with a busy practice, young children and an upcoming gig as an adjunct professor in VCU’s School of Business (where he’ll teach the Business of Medicine and Business Strategy), Shaw admits he doesn’t have a whole lot of spare time. But Cycling Without Age remains a passion that fits into his schedule.

“As physicians, we all want to do something to help other people. But it’s easy to get bogged down with day-in, day-out administrative duties.”

Cycling Without Age allows him to return to a pure essence of service. “I do it because I enjoy it. We all have sense of purpose in our careers, but this is really a sense of purpose in life.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

24
2018

‘It was like life was on standby:’ VCU team returns from Puerto Rico

M2 Gabriel Martinez Alvarez walks the streets in Tao Baja during a weeklong trip to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. [View Image]

M2 Gabriel Martinez Alvarez walks the streets in Tao Baja during a weeklong trip to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. “I was surprised by how evident the aftermath of the hurricane still is and how much recovery there still is to do.”

An interdisciplinary team learned a great deal while providing care to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico last month. Perhaps two of the greatest lessons: even months after the September storm caused a humanitarian crisis, the situation on the island is still changing rapidly and health needs – especially mental health needs – will continue for a long time.

The VCU team included Mark Ryan, M’00, H’03, associate professor of family medicine and medical director, I²CRP program; Emily Peron, Pharm.D., M.S., assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy; School of Medicine students Gabriel Martinez Alvarez and Frank Soto del Valle; School of Pharmacy student Camilla De Jesus Pinero; and clinical psychologist, Carla Shaffer, Ph.D., L.C.P.

The plan was to spend the week of Dec. 16 at the Clinica Bantiox in Tao Baja, just west of San Juan. Ryan had visited the clinic in October and established a relationship with its organizers. But when the VCU team arrived, the patient load was significantly lighter, so the team partnered with Clinica Bantiox to expand the clinic’s reach into nearby barrios and mountain communities in the island’s center.

VCU students and faculty also worked with another clinic in Quebradillas on the western side of Puerto Rico. There, they managed acute and chronic care needs while listening to residents who needed to share stories and emotions.

Through their interactions with the community, they heard chilling stories about the devastation and its long-term effects.

“Absolutely everyone on the island was affected by the hurricane,” says the Class of 2020’s Martinez Alvarez. “I was surprised by how evident the aftermath of the hurricane still is and how much recovery there still is to do.” Months after the hurricane, he notes, electrical poles are down, debris is piled up and tarps cover many of the roofs. Many residents in the areas visited still don’t have potable water and must fill containers from streams.

An interdisciplinary team including medical school faculty and students travels to Puerto Rico with donated supplies. [View Image]

An interdisciplinary team including medical school faculty and students travels to Puerto Rico with donated supplies, ready to manage acute and chronic care needs for the country’s residents.

Though Puerto Ricans’ most urgent medical needs may have been addressed for now, a slow-moving crisis still exists, Ryan says. “The emotional and psychological trauma is still a huge problem. We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

Clinical psychologist Shaffer agrees. “It was eye-opening to see firsthand that recovering from this storm wasn’t just a matter of recouping the tangible, it was also about rebuilding a sense of safety and normalcy.

“It really seemed life was on hold and they were finding a way for life to start moving again. I heard several people describe ‘it was like life was on standby’ and this sentiment still rang true even for those who felt the storm had spared them.”

Some residents, Shaffer adds, found the months after the storm as worse than the storm itself. “It’s the aftermath that feels harder to survive, harder still for those who had very little to begin with and continue to struggle without basic resources like electricity or water.”

With the images of the island’s devastation still fresh, Ryan hopes to work with contacts in Puerto Rico and at VCU to see if an ongoing relationship can be developed to support the Puerto Rican community and give VCU faculty and students an opportunity to gain practical experience. One possibility could be partnering with a clinic in Quebradillas. Organizers hope the facility will become a fully functional hospital in a few years.

“It felt great to be able to contribute in a small way to the long and hard rebuild that Puerto Rico is going through,” Martinez Alvarez says, adding that the experience honed skills that will be valuable in his future as a physician. “It reinforced the importance of listening and taking into account situations and environments when treating patients’ conditions.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

03
2018

Alumna and faculty member Betsy Ripley named fellow in Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine

Betsy Ripley, M'86, H'92, interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the medical school, has been named a 2017-18 fellow in the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine. [View Image]

Betsy Ripley, M’86, H’92, interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the medical school, has been named a 2017-18 fellow in the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine.

The keys to becoming a successful leader, says Betsy Ripley, M’86, H’92, MS’04 (BIOS), begin with being open to the opportunities that come your way while taking time to do your current job well.

“By being a leader and doing your job well on a daily basis, you’re not just shooting for the next job. You’re contributing along the way,” Ripley says. “Be active and participate. People will remember that and you’ll be asked to do the next thing. It all builds on itself.”

Saying “yes” has led Ripley down a path to her current role as interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs for the VCU School of Medicine and, more recently, as a 2017-18 fellow with the prestigious Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine. ELAM is a year-long part-time fellowship for women faculty in schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and public health.

A core program of the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, ELAM is dedicated to developing the professional and personal skills required to lead and manage in today’s complex health environment, with special attention to the unique challenges facing women in leadership positions.

“Applicants have to be incredibly accomplished to earn their position and Dr. Ripley was accepted the first time she applied,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., who also serves as Ripley’s ELAM sponsor. “This national recognition comes as no surprise to those of us who see Betsy’s outstanding work with faculty on a daily basis. I couldn’t be more proud to see her represent our medical school as part of ELAM.”

More than 1,000 ELAM alumnae hold leadership positions in institutions around the world. The VCU School of Medicine has sponsored 12 previous ELAM fellows.

“At VCU, we have a lot of good strong women leaders — Marsha Rappley, Deborah Davis, Deborah Zimmermann, Melinda Hancock, to name a few,” Ripley says. “Phenomenal women who speak to how open VCU is to developing and growing our women.”

As part of ELAM, fellows participate in three week-long on-site training sessions in September, January and April, in addition to working on assignments and reading throughout the year, participating in the leadership online curriculum and communicating regularly with ELAM colleagues.

Each fellow works on an Institutional Action Project that aligns with her experiences and meets an organizational goal or need at her home university. Ripley chose a cause near and dear to her heart: education and training for faculty members.

“In medical school, we don’t go to class to become a faculty member,” she says. “You come up through the ranks and — poof! — you’re a faculty member.”

In an effort to ensure that faculty development opportunities at the medical school better meet faculty’s needs, Ripley is cataloging each development opportunity offered through the school, assigning it to a particular competency (general knowledge, leadership, scholarship or teaching and service) and determining where more resources are needed.

“We offer a lot of development opportunities but what do our faculty truly need to grow and become successful?” Ripley asks. “Along the way, what they need to know may change. What resources are needed for that growth?”

Ripley will present her project at ELAM’s on-site meeting in April not only to this year’s 54-member ELAM class, but to a host of deans, including Buckley, who will attend the final session. Networking and mentoring opportunities among national leaders is a key component of ELAM’s ultimate goal to expand the national pool of qualified women candidates for leadership in academic medicine, dentistry and public health.

She attributes her leadership success to a multitude of mentors at the medical school: Domenic Sica, M.D., Berry Fowler, M.D., John Nestler, M.D., and Dick Wenzel, M.D., all in the Department of Internal Medicine, as well as retired senior associate dean of faculty affairs P.J. Coney, M.D., and, now, Dean of Medicine Buckley.

“I’m blessed to be at an institution that’s recognized the leadership skills within me,” says Ripley, who earned her medical degree at VCU and remained on the MCV Campus to complete residency training. “I’m lucky many people have helped me when I needed it and encouraged me along the way.”

Ripley remembers a “say yes” moment when early in her career, she applied for a National Institutes of Health K Award at the encouragement of Wenzel and Fowler. She received the award and it led her to sit on a panel of VCU’s Institutional Review Board, of which she later became senior chair. It sparked an interest in research ethics that led to a master’s degree from the Department of Biostatistics, an AMA ethics fellowship, and the role as clinical research compliance officer for the university.

Ultimately, her clinical and research experience, combined with her dual role as a mother to three sons, led her to faculty affairs, first in the Department of Internal Medicine and later in the School of Medicine.

“I can speak to the variety of challenges faculty members might face, both in the workplace and at home,” Ripley says.

Sometimes, it only takes that one voice telling — and showing — others it’s possible that can make all the difference. It was in her medical school interview on the MCV Campus with a female faculty member when Ripley heard the words that molded how she approached medicine, a career and family.

“She said ‘you can do it all — if you want to,'” Ripley says. “I had that one woman who told me I could.”

Now she serves as that one voice of encouragement for faculty members across the School of Medicine, taking her place as a role model and mentor for countless others.

By Polly Roberts

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