VCOM View Vol 11 No 1


IN THIS ISSUE: Responding to the Opioid Overdose Epidemic 6 · Student Helping Afghan Refugees 10 Alumni Serving in Spartanburg’s Northside 12 · Advancing Sports Medicine in Louisiana 16 · Donor Spotlight 27 International Outreach 30 · Research Review · 36 · Outstanding Alumni Recognized 46 · 474 New Physicians Graduate 48

A Day in the Life of a VCOM Student

Match Day is an important day of every medical student’s life. From the first day a student steps into a classroom, until the day they graduate, their entire medical education and experiences lead up to matching to a residency program where they will go on to apply for state licensure, seek board certification, and begin practice. Elton Banks, DO (shown here) graduated in May 2021 from the VCOM-Auburn campus in Alabama.




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Learning toCombat OpioidDeaths VCOM-Virginia students join together in program to learn to administer naloxone to prevent the epidemic of overdose deaths. Helping Afghan Refugees VCOM-Auburn student and son of Afghan immigrants volunteers to help refugees transition. Alumni Serve in the Northside VCOM-Carolinas is part of the Northside Revitalization. Now two of its alumni are living the mission as new physicians in the neighborhood. Advancing Sports Medicine VCOM-Louisiana is gearing up to develop a sports medicine program for the Delta region.



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Section Highlights: 5 From the President and Provost ALUMNI & DEVELOPMENT 27 $150,000 Grant fromTruist Foundation RESEARCH 36 Research Review NEWS AND EVENTS 40 College and Faculty News ALUMNI NEWS

46 Outstanding Alumni News 48 Class of 2021 Graduates



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Contact Us! Submit letters and editorial material to:

VCOM View magazine is an annual publication produced by the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine to keep its faculty, staff, friends and supporters informed of the most recent news, events and changes at the College. MISSION The Mission of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) is to prepare globally-minded, community- focused physicians to meet the needs of rural and medically underserved populations and promote research to improve human health. For a copy of our Outcomes Reports, please see www.vcom. edu/outcomes. ©2021 Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. All rights reserved. VCOM is certified by the State Council of Higher Education to operate in Virginia. Dean Sutphin Theresa McCann Diane Sutphin Grace Milauskas EDITOR AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR Cindy Shepard Rawlins Vice President for Communications, Marketing, Website and Publications COMMUNICATIONS TEAM Lily Collins, Carolinas Director for Communications, Marketing and Publications Scott Godwin, Auburn Director for Communications, Marketing and Publications Desi Hammett, Louisiana Director for Communications, Marketing and Publications Kailey Ketter, Auburn Communications and Graphic Design Jenna Marquardt, Communications and Graphic Design for Special Projects NormMiller, Virginia Director for Communications, Marketing and Publications James Nichols, Carolinas Communications and Graphic Design Bailey O’Quinn, Louisiana Communications and Graphic Design WEBSITE Elijah Bailey, Director of Web Applications CONTRIBUTORS Thim Corvin Jim Lojocano Chase Regian

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Stay informed and engaged with all of the exciting things happening at VCOM. Be among the first to find out about VCOM news, events and more.

www. vcom. edu/ i ntouch

ON THE COVER: VCOM-Auburn student Kristie Liao, Class of 2023, learns how to properly draw medicine into a syringe and administer vaccines. Throughout the past year, students from all campuses have volunteered at COVID-19 vaccination clinics throughout their regions. ABOVE: VCOM-Virginia Dean Jan Willcox, DO supervises students providing osteopathic medical manipulation (OMM) treatments to patients at the 4th Annual Franklin County Health Fair and Free Market in August 2021.


A NOTE from the President and Provost


One College, Four Campuses. Together, We Can Make a Difference. T he past year has shown us that VCOM’s Mission and the need for physicians and access to healthcare has never been more critical. VCOM has the advantage of being one College with four campuses. We work together to make a difference in the lives of our students and the communities we serve, which has inspired us to innovate with creative new methods to educate our future physicians and advance medical research. Our Mission has attracted more students who want to serve and help bring healthcare access to their communities. 92% of the Classes of 2021-2024 matriculated from VCOM’s targeted states and adjoining states in the Appalachian and Delta region. 46% are from medically underserved communities with a population of less than 30,000, bringing hope to our smaller communities and rural areas. With the commencement of the Class of 2021, VCOM added 474 new physicians to the physician workforce, and many started residencies in our target regions or went to serve our country in the military. This brings the College graduate totals to over 4,100 alumni.


DEAN, VCOM–AUBURN Heath Parker, DO DEAN, VCOM–LOUISIANA Mark Sanders, DO, JD, MPH, LLM, MS, FACOFP, (Interim Dean) W. Bruce Hanks Roy E. Heaton, DO Bruce Holstein Gov. James C. Justice II, MBA Randal J. Kirk, JD Elizabeth McClanahan, JD Sue Ellen B. Rocovich, DO, PhD Jimmy Sanford Raymond D. Smoot, PhD Daniel A. Wubah, PhD Thomas R. Brock Jr., MBA Alan Fabian Bill Flattery Roy E. Heaton, DO Carol Pratt, DDS Sherry Penland-Ismatov, DO, Alumni Association Representative


John G. Rocovich Jr., JD, LLM, Chair Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, DO, FACOFP, President and Provost James F. Wolfe, PhD, President Emeritus Thomas R. Brock Jr., MBA Nick J. Bruno, PhD Jimmy Gibbs Jay Gogue, PhD Jan M. Willcox, DO, FACOFP, Dean John G. Rocovich Jr., JD, LLM, Chair Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, DO, FACOFP, President and Provost James F. Wolfe, PhD, President Emeritus



Matthew D. Cannon, DO, Dean John G. Rocovich Jr., JD, LLM, Chair Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, DO, FACOFP, President and Provost Graham Adams, PhD

Ingo Angermeier William Barnet III Jimmy Gibbs Bruce Holstien Marlon Hunter A. Alan Turfe, MBA

Every day, we work to provide the best medical education and outreach experiences for our students. Our graduates go into the communities they serve,


Heath Parker, DO, Dean John G. Rocovich Jr., JD, LLM, Chair Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, DO, FACOFP, President and Provost William G. Anderson, DO

Mark Baker Martin J. Bonick Laura Grill L. Keith Granger Bill Hardgrave, PhD Jimmy Sanford


Mark Sanders, DO, Interim Dean John G. Rocovich Jr., JD, LLM, Chair Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, DO, FACOFP, President and Provost Ray Morrison, DO, FACOS, Dean Emeritus

Nick J. Bruno, PhD W. Bruce Hanks P. Gary Jones, MD Scott McDonald Randy Morris Ed Williams Kristin Wolkart

prepared to make a difference. ■

Dr. Tooke-Rawlins with Dr. Ace, see page 19.

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Responding to the Opioid Overdose Epidemic

How medical students joined together to be proactive in helping to save lives

by Grace Milauskas


I n September 2020, the Virginia Department of Health reported that drug overdoses in Southwest Virginia were up 11% since the start of 2020. The Class of 2024 at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Virginia campus took this information and chose to make a difference by committing to a goal of 100% participation of their class in naloxone training. While some schools make this training an academic requirement, these students wanted training to be a class effort demonstrating the community-minded physicians they plan to be in the future. Naloxone (or Narcan ® ) is the only medication approved to block or reverse the life-threatening effects of opioid or narcotic overdoses. “The opioid crisis in the United States has had a profound impact on the lives of so many. With overdose-related deaths climbing again during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that we need to ensure our rising healthcare professionals feel competent and confident in their ability to intervene in an overdose situation now more than ever,” said Hunter Funk, Class of 2023. “The Class of 2024

Association (SOMA), the Overdose Prevention Task Force (OPTF). The vision of the OPTF is to eliminate overdose deaths around the country through osteopathic organization has worked tirelessly to establish College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) Leaders on every osteopathic campus to further its mission. Last year, Hunter Funk, Ami Shah and Katlyn Logsdon, all Class of 2023 members, led VCOM-Virginia’s Overdose Prevention Task Force (OPTF) COM Leaders. This year’s leaders are Cynthia Dillon, Gabriel Cox and Pragna Sutrave, Class of 2024. “Training students to administer naloxone is essential to fulfilling our duties as future osteopathic physicians. Not only does this program educate individuals on the science behind opiate addiction, but it also aids in de-stigmatization efforts. So many of us either know or are familiar with someone who faced opiate addiction,” said Ami Shah. “Throughout the past year, it has been both a humbling and profound experience to have the opportunity to teach others about the impacts of opiate addiction, naloxone, and the stigma medical student education, advocacy, and action. The

reaching 100% participation in our voluntary initiative shows how committed they are to serving the needs of their community, and I am honored to have been part of a training team that shares such a deep passion for substance use awareness.” academic years, two Substance Use Awareness Weeks were led by Class of 2022 students Megan Schlegelmilch, then President of the Emergency Medicine (EM) student organization and Hannah DePoy, then Chair of the Bioethics and Humanities in Medicine Committee. These Awareness Weeks included naloxone training for interested students. Over 200 students, faculty, and staff were trained by the EM student organization. The EM student organization took this one step farther, hosting a “train the trainer” event, where over 30 students trained to become REVIVE (Virginia’s naloxone training program) trainers. DePoy and others became part of the new sub-group within the Student Osteopathic Medical Students Set the Goal During the 2019 and 2020

With overdose-related deaths climbing again during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that we need to ensure our rising healthcare professionals feel competent and confident in their ability to intervene in an overdose situation, now more than ever.” —Hunter Funk, VCOM-Virginia Class of 2023

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Left : Hannah DePoy, VCOM-Virginia Class of 2022 student, setting up for the training sessions.

surrounding it, while also learning the stories and motivation behind students to learn more about how we can work together to become more prepared, impactful, future osteopathic physicians.”

The Inspiration Behind the Initiative

Student-doctor DePoy was first introduced to Jean Bennett, PhD. Dr. Bennett has become a source of continued inspiration and assistance in related endeavors and was the first to introduce DePoy to the collaboration between Philadelphia medical schools that yielded naloxone in the pockets of all first- year medical students’ white coats. Inspired by their successes, this brainchild began growing as DePoy imagined the possibility of bringing together all medical schools in Virginia and West Virginia to achieve this same goal. Supported by Virginia campus Dean Jan Willcox, DO, the VCOM-Virginia COM leaders and Jessica Higgins, the 2020-2021 President of the student Emergency Medicine organization, worked to broaden naloxone training efforts to include ALL first-year VCOM-Virginia students. “The Revive! training program empowers Virginians to save a life from opiate overdose. As a trainer, I was impressed to see the Class of 2024 step up and take on this commitment, especially under the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic that already made their

...what continued to touch the trainers deeply were the countless students who shared how they had been personally affected by those with Substance Use Disorder and opioid overdose.


first year more difficult than most,” said Jessica Higgins, Class of 2023.

just like practicing physicians, also live with SUD,” said DePoy. “Our calling as osteopathic physicians to address the multidimensional wellness needs of our patients even extends to caring holistically for ourselves and our colleagues.” DePoy hopes that one-day naloxone training will be implemented into the Basic Life Saver (BLS) course. This training includes CPR and is required for medical school matriculation. “This osteopathic medical school class, matriculating during a time of social distancing and challenging opportunities to contribute to the community, showed their leadership and committed to 100% participation in naloxone training. This goal was accomplished before their white coat ceremony. Adding to the impact and significance of this story is the fact that VCOM- Virginia second-and third-year medical students led the training,” said Dean Willcox. Naloxone training, while only one hour in length, provides students with evidence-based skills to treat opioid overdose while also addressing topics that may promote a non-stigmatized introduction to OUD. ■ Editors note: This program has now been successful for TWO years. Both the Class of 2024 and now the Class of 2025 became voluntarily trained prior to their respective White Coat Ceremonies.

Drug Overdose Statistics in the United States Overdose Deaths* The U.S. as a whole saw a 29.4% increase in drug overdose deaths with a record high of over 93,331 deaths reported across the country in 2020, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Training Programs Uplift Students and Trainers Due to the pandemic restrictions, students were eager to get involved on campus, even through virtual meetings. From late fall until early spring, numerous small training sessions were held until they reached their goal of 100%. “We were hopeful, but realistic that the demands of medical school would likely translate to a lower completion rate. To say that we were blown away by student involvement would be an understatement,” said DePoy. During training sessions, they would sometimes invite students to share their reasoning for taking the training. Many students reported their desire to gain additional skills that might save a life. Others felt their knowledge regarding opioid use disorder (OUD), and overdose treatment could be bolstered. But what continued to touch the trainers deeply were the countless students who shared how they had been personally affected by those with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and opioid overdose. “Even as the child of someone who lived with SUD, I needed the reminder of the pervasiveness of this disorder. SUD knows no bounds, and statistically, not only do many students have loved ones living with SUD, some students,

Opioids were involved in 69,710 of the U.S. drug overdose deaths in 2020.

The CDC’s state-specific provisional drug overdose reported change from April 2020 - April 2021: Virginia: +22.5%

North Carolina: +37.6% South Carolina: +45.4% Alabama: +30.3% Louisiana: +51.6%

*Provisional data are based on available records that meet certain data quality criteria at the time of analysis and are subject to change.

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Son of Afghan Immigrants Volunteers to Help Refugees by Scott Godwin

Y ousef Nikzai is a fourth-year VCOM-Auburn student, who was recently rotating in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) in Opelika, Alabama. Nikzai said that he is interested in becoming an anesthesiologist, as the field offers many career options and fellowship opportunities. Nikzai was eager to attend medical school, but had been waitlisted two years. He completed the post-baccalaureate program at VCOM-Virginia, and ended up as a student at VCOM-Auburn. Nikzai said that both of his parents were born and raised in Afghanistan, and left in the 1970s when the Soviet Union invaded.

His mom was 18 when she left, and his dad was 21. They both met at a wedding in Virginia, involving mutual friends. Despite a long-distance situation, they began dating and got married after two years. In addition to regular jobs, they both work as translators and cultural educators for the U.S. military. Nikzai said that he talked with his father when events started unfolding in Afghanistan recently with the frantic U.S. withdrawal. He noted that they had been planning a trip to Afghanistan this winter, something that will not happen now. Nikzai felt compelled to do something to help refugees. Nikzai, along with several friends, started an online organization, , in order to streamline information about aid efforts and to offer free mental health services to refugees. In addition to creating this central hub of information, Nikzai saw an opportunity to go home to the Washington D.C. area and to offer medical assistance to refugees that were arriving in the U.S. In addition to his medical skills, Nikzai offered a critically needed resource: he speaks Farsi and Dari fluently. created in the Dulles Expo Center to handle medical needs of refugees that were connecting to other destinations. Nikzai said that Dulles airport was the main point of entry Nikzai said that a temporary volunteer medical center was


As far as the future of these refugees, Nikzai said that he had concern in several areas. “They are grateful to have been evacuated, but they are so sad to leave their homeland on these terms,” said Nikzai. “They are worried about their future, they need to adopt English- speaking skills and they have to find work,” he added. Many had to leave family behind. In addition to hoping to help with medical assistance again, Nikzai said that he hoped to assist with fundraisers to help refugees

for all the refugees. Though short- staffed and under-resourced to begin with, the temporary medical center eventually started receiving needed supplies and equipment. “From a supply standpoint, every day got better and better,” said Nikzai. “On day one, it was basically just Tylenol and Advil – we were way better prepared on our mission trip to El Salvador,” he added. Nikzai said that they were seeing all kinds of medical issues in arriving refugees to include ankle fractures, gunshot wounds, pregnant women and individuals with chronic medical issues that had not been treated in weeks. “One pregnant woman was three days overdue and there was concern about who would be able to deliver the baby,” said Nikzai. “I had done a rotation with VCOM-Auburn OB-GYN Co- Chair Kenneth Harris, MD, and helped deliver almost 50 babies, so I said no problem, we can do this,” said Nikzai. “There were a lot of kids that were sick, and we didn’t have antibiotics to give them early on,” said Nikzai. There was great pressure to treat

patients quickly so they did not miss connecting flights to other parts of the country. Nikzai said he saw 60 patients per day in 12-14 hours with two other doctors. “There were some sick people that had to be sent to the hospital – life or death type situations,” said Nikzai. One particularly touching patient encounter involved a five-year-old patient that Nikzai spoke with. “I asked this child who they were with, who their responsible adult was, and the child pointed to an eight-year-old

“ These people have lost everything in their lives and if I can give them an ounce of hope and help them transition here, it is worth it to me” —Yousef Nikzai, VCOM-Auburn Class of 2022

acquire essentials like home goods. Nikzai also said that efforts were underway to assist refugees with college scholarships, and that he had planned to speak with Auburn

University officials about these efforts.

sister,” said Nikzai. “It was just the two of them and she was the adult,” he added. Nikzai noted that he also changed the dressings on a gunshot for a 13-year-old. “He had no father, his brother was gone and he was trying to protect his mom from the Taliban,” said Nikzai. “They broke his mom’s ankle and shot him in the arm when he resisted, but thankfully they made it to safety,” Nikzai added.

“When I was there helping patients, I was not concerned about time,” said Nikzai. “I thoroughly enjoyed being there to help out, and making a difference,” he said. “These people have lost everything in their lives and if I can give them an ounce of hope and help them transition here, it is worth it to me,” Nikzai added. ■

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Gateway to the Northside VCOM Opens the Door for Physicians Who Care

by James Nichols


A fter VCOM’s flagship campus was well- established in Blacksburg Virginia, the College expanded its scope in 2011 with the opening of VCOM-Carolinas in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The addition of a second campus was a huge step towards VCOM’s goal of tackling the broader problem of physician shortages throughout the southeastern United States, with additional campuses eventually added in Auburn, Alabama (2015) and Monroe Louisiana (2020). VCOM’s original plan was to build the first branch campus in bustling, affluent Charlotte, North Carolina. But city leaders in Spartanburg, South Carolina began recruiting VCOM’s interest when they realized the needs of their area aligned with the Mission of the College. Spartanburg Regional Hospital administration contended that, although an unusual choice, Spartanburg was an ideal location for a medical school owing to the city’s medically underserved status and the unique opportunity it would offer the College to participate in the revitalization of a very challenged neighborhood, Spartanburg’s Northside. Unemployment, extreme poverty,

In 2001, Virginia was in the grip of a profound healthcare crisis, with critical

gang activity, foreclosures, skyrocketing crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, prostitution, homelessness and widespread abandoned and run-down properties had plagued the neighborhood for decades when it suffered the loss of 1,200 jobs thanks to the shuttering of the old Spartan Mill in 2001. The Northside took additional hits in each subsequent economic downturn, especially in 2008. With the founding of VCOM’s Carolinas campus, Spartanburg’s Northside Initiative was launched in 2011 to address these issues together and spark a turning point in the neighborhood. Ten Years Later On March 1, 2021, the new Northside Clinic opened, across the street from the VCOM-Carolinas campus. The ribbon was cut on the newly completed building by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, and the ceremony was also attended by State Senator Josh Kimbrell. A joint effort between VCOM and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the clinic was initially opened to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to the community.

physician shortages and medically underserved areas in many counties, especially in the southern and southwestern areas of the state. VCOM was founded that year to address this discrepancy. Fast forward to 2021, and VCOM is the second largest medical school in the United States.

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The clinic is now home to ReGenesis Healthcare’s Northside Health Center. Several VCOM- Carolinas alumni work at the clinic. “ReGenesis and the Northside clinic were established to help close gaps in access to healthcare for all individuals and families in Spartanburg, regardless of socioeconomic factors such as insurance coverage or income level,” says Amanda Pruitt, DO. Dr. Pruitt was a member of the VCOM-Carolinas inaugural class, receiving her diploma at the Spartanburg Memorial Dr. Pruitt, whose family has lived in Spartanburg County since 1999, exemplifies the VCOM mission in her work and life, splitting her time between practicing as a family physician at the ReGenesis Clinic and as a faculty member teach- ing the next generation of doctors across the street at VCOM-Carolinas. “I believe this perfectly reflects VCOM’s mission to serve the underserved,” Dr. Pruitt said. “And to be able to open the clinic in such close proximity to campus really highlights all the positive change VCOM has helped bring to the Northside area.” Auditorium in 2015, only two blocks away from where she now serves.

“Since I was a child, I always said I wanted to be a physician,” said Dr. Pruitt. “As I moved through my undergraduate career, that dream became more realistic. Once I became more familiar with the osteopathic philosophy, I knew I wanted to become a DO. As I was finishing my undergraduate degree, the Carolinas campus was opening in my hometown, close to family, and after meeting with everyone and touring the campus, I realized it would be a perfect fit.”

I enjoy being able to care for my community,” she added.

Neighborhood Progress Since 2011, over $200 million have been invested in new infrastructure

and developments, and the Northside is well on its way to recovery.

The Northside has seen many hopeful changes in recent years. In addition to the medical school, the neighborhood has welcomed a new community center, which offers mentoring and afterschool options

“ VCOM-Carolinas allowed me to study medicine in my hometown and stay close to my family. I enjoy being able to care for my community.” —Amy Bruce Arendt, DO VCOM-Carolinas Class of 2015

for local families, a thriving urban farm, a new green space and walking

trail around the previously piped creek. Substandard apartments have been replaced by new, inclusionary housing options for all income levels. The clinic itself is housed within the newly constructed Northside Station. The station was built as part of a project addressing the need for affordable and market rate housing in the Northside and providing access to services and education. “ReGenesis is a Federally Qualified Health Center,” Dr. Arendt says, “whose mission is to provide accessible, affordable, high quality and culturally sensitive health care to our community. I enjoy using

Amy Bruce Arendt, DO, who works at the clinic alongside Dr. Pruitt, is also a member of VCOM-Carolinas’ inaugural Class of 2015. A Spartanburg local, Dr. Arendt was completely educated in Spartanburg County from kindergarten through medical school. She did her residency in Family Medicine at Spartanburg Regional Hospital. “I’ve always enjoyed helping others and wanted to be a physician,” Dr. Arendt said. “VCOM-Carolinas allowed me to study medicine in my hometown and stay close to my family.


available resources to help those who may not otherwise have access to healthcare.” Bright Future While the clinic has just opened, opportunities for VCOM students are still in the planning stages. But, Drs. Pruitt and Arendt hope to see VCOM students in the clinic in the near future. “I anticipate we will have students rotating with us in the very near future, and Dr. Arendt and I both look forward to that opportunity when the time comes.” With a possibility of first and second-year students getting early clinical experience, and third and fourth-year students rotating at the location, ReGenesis Healthcare’s Northside Health Center could be instrumental in encouraging students to grow roots in this area and follow the example of Drs. Pruitt and Arendt in living out the mission where their care is needed most. ■ “This is something we look forward to,” Dr. Pruitt said.

Top left: A view of the former Spartan Mill site in the Northside razed before VCOM was built. Top right: Amanda Pruitt, DO stands in front of VCOM-Carolinas during its construction. Center left: Amy Bruce Arendt, DO, is shown at graduation from VCOM in 2015. Center right: The new clinic is part of the Northside Station redevelopment area. Bottom: The Northside Medical Center building.

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Advancing Sports Medicine in Louisiana Sports Medicine is a dynamic and rapidly growing subspecialty within the medical profession. VCOM is proud to be at the forefront of this movement. Both the Virginia and Auburn campuses already have well-established, award-winning sports medicine departments that each include a prestigious sports medicine fellowship program. The newest VCOM campus in Louisiana is gearing up to launch a similar program in the Delta Region.

either an assistant or associate professor in family medicine. During the pandemic, the sports medicine team has been some of the only faculty members on the VCOM-Louisiana campus to participate in day-to-day clinical patient care. Student Participation Given that this subspecialty focuses on all aspects of movement and exercise, sports medicine is a very functional medicine and thus, offers some of the earliest hands-on opportunities for medical students attending VCOM. Through the sports medicine program, students can perform exams on healthy individuals, which provides them a foundation for comparison with unhealthy individuals later in their education. season for ULM and Grambling, VCOM-Louisiana medical students and faculty performed physicals for the athletes. This service, which is often an expense incurred either by the school or the students, was offered free of charge to all participants by VCOM. Collegiate Involvement Leading up to the fall sports

by Desi Hammett

V COM-Louisiana is quickly following in the footsteps of its sister campuses and making the most of the partnerships it has built with the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM), Division I – FBS athletics, and Grambling State University, Division I – FCS athletics, as well as a few high schools across the state of Louisiana. Through these partnerships, VCOM-Louisiana hopes to provide comprehensive sports medicine to the Monroe community at the high school, collegiate and recreational levels to promote life-long health, wellness and physical activity. “The care that our sports medicine team provides to the community isn’t just a result of working with

athletes,” said Stephanie Aldret, DO, CAQSM, Chair for Sports Medicine at VCOM-Louisiana. “It’s about working with anyone who wants to get up and move.” While small in number, the VCOM- Louisiana Sports Medicine team is one of the most hands- on departments currently on campus, being, as Aldret said, “everywhere all the time.” The five full-time sports medicine faculty members are a department that reaches into several specialty areas, including family medicine, osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), clinical medicine, anatomy, simulation and technology, surgery, pediatrics and pharmacology. Each member of the department also serves as

These physicals are required for all


athletes prior to participation in the sports season and are a valuable tool for ensuring the general health of the athletes and identifying potential issues to watch for during the season. While certainly the no-cost physicals are a benefit to VCOM’s university partners, being able to perform the pre-season physicals allows the sports medicine team to provide better continuity of care for their athletes over the course of the entire season. This is especially true for those athletes who come to the area from out of state and those requiring continuation of rehabilitation care. High School Involvement In addition to the care provided to collegiate athletes, VCOM faculty have supported Emergency Medical Responders Programs at high schools in Ouachita, St. Landry, Vermillion and Acadia parishes, which have provided teacher/certified athletic trainers in those schools to ensure safe sport participation. These programs are designed to help extend the reach of VCOM’s support for rural and medically underserved high schools across the state. Once a fellowship program has been established at VCOM-Louisiana, there will be additional manpower

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of care available and to build awareness for the needs of underserved populations in the region.

to expand the program to additional areas of high need.

residency. This will provide the necessary outpatient clinic at which fellows will care for patients when not working alongside the College’s university and high school partners. Opening such a clinic has been delayed due to challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Primary care is the foundation of our practice, as we manage all aspects of the patient’s health,” said Jacob Turnbull, DO, a 2020 graduate of the VCOM-Virginia Once established, the fellowship will be a one-year program open to physicians from across the country who have completed their residency requirements and primary board certification. The goal will be to establish and grow relationships in Louisiana and across the Delta in order to continue to improve the quality sports medicine fellowship program and current sports medicine faculty member at VCOM-Louisiana.

“Ensuring the safety of youth sports (recreational and organized school sports) has been a mission of mine since moving to Lafayette, LA, after fellowship graduation,” said Aldret. “Partnering with high school athletic trainers for on-field coverage and injury clinics has been an integral part of securing safe sport practices. Sports are huge in Louisiana, and the entire town will turn out. Our visibility via coverage of Friday night lights and direct interaction with the future of Louisiana is a way for us to reform the medical mindset of the state and recruit future physicians for the rural communities.” Sports Medicine Fellowship Still young in its development, VCOM-Louisiana’s sports medicine program is quickly building steam and gearing up to launch the new fellowship program. In order to roll out such a program, however, the fellowship must be tied to a primary care

Research and Awards Continued research is one of the key components to ensuring the long-term success of both the fellowship and the sports medicine program as a whole. Aldret and her team have submitted REAP grants both years that VCOM- Louisiana has been in operation, with the goal of being able to obtain funding for research to improve the quality of treatment they can provide to the athletes in their care. Turnbull received a grant earlier this year from AACOM to further his research on sideline ultrasound technology. Read more about his research on page 39. As with the hands-on elements of sports medicine, VCOM- Louisiana’s medical students have been quick to jump into the realm of sports-related research. One


Left to right: VCOM-Louisiana/ULM sports medicine team, Jacob Turnbull, DO; Jonah Flowers, DO; Stephanie Aldret, DO, CAQSM; Randy Aldret, EdD, LAT, ATC, CSCS*D; and Travis Smith, DO, CAQSM.

Dr. Ace joins VCOM-Louisiana V COM-Louisiana is excited to announce its new mascot, Dr. Ace! Derived from ULM athletics’ mascot, Ace the Warhawk, the goal for Dr. Ace is to tie together the educational research and public service mission between VCOM and ULM. Dr. Ace got his start as an expert fighter pilot who flew with General Chennault and the “Flying Tigers.” Now retired, Dr. Ace decided to serve others in a new way: medicine. After studying Osteopathic Medicine at VCOM and becoming a DO, Dr. Ace was called to follow VCOM’s mission and serve the rural and underserved areas by using his hawk-eye instincts

student from the class of 2024, Joshua Torres, went so far as to develop a poster about gradual hip pain in a collegiate volleyball player, which he presented at the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine’s national conference in April 2021. Future of Sports Medicine in the Delta Region As part of the first osteopathic medical college in the state of Louisiana, VCOM-Louisiana sports medicine faculty certainly have their work cut out for them over the coming years. However, the strong focus on outreach and preventive care will continue to set the College’s sports medicine program for future success and growth, leading to a lasting impact on key areas of the country that need it the most. ■

to educate and care for the people of Northeast Louisiana and the Delta Region. These days, he can often be seen taking off from the Monroe Regional Airport in his vintage P-40, delivering VCOM faculty and staff to Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic for medical mission trips. When Dr. Ace is not flying or providing medical care to those in need, he can be found around campus working with medical students, attending VCOM events, or on the sidelines of ULM games cheering on his cherished Warhawk athletes. Dr. Ace made his official debut during the ULM vs. Georgia State game on Saturday, October 9, 2021.

Dr. Ace

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by Jim LoJacono Generations, a VCOM Family Story was nearing the completion of a long and illustrious career as one of the pillars of early Osteopathic Medicine. When Matt asked me about this seemingly familiar name, for participants in their newly established Standardized Patient (SP) program. Anne and I both

This is the story of how VCOM has impacted our family over multiple generations. T he saga began in 2008 when our son, Matthew LoJacono, accepted a position on the VCOM staff as a student services and marketing assistant. For the next seven years Matt served in various capacities at VCOM, departing in 2015 to pursue his master’s degree. Matt’s first connection with his family roots came in about 2011 while helping to set up for the annual White Coat ceremony. He noticed the name card for one of the VCOM board members, John Cifala, DO. Dr. Cifala was a founding member of the board and

signed up. In the years that followed, there was quite a bit of LoJacono family participation in various VCOM programs. Our daughter, Kathleen Werner, had overcome breast cancer in 2006 and served as a survivor advocate for the Susan G. Koman Foundation. She was invited to give several presentations to VCOM students on her family history with the BRACA II gene mutation and the impacts it can have on women’s health. Also during this time frame, VCOM was doing a series of photoshoots of students, faculty and SPs. These

I told him that he was indeed related to him. Dr Cifala was a first cousin of Matt’s grandfather, Ignatius LoJacono. In 2010, my wife Anne LoJacono and I moved to nearby Salem, Virginia after more than 30 years in Northern Virginia. I had completed a long career in the U.S. Air Force and later worked as a contractor on the “Star Wars” anti-missile program. Anne raised four children and taught pre-school.

Shortly after we arrived, Matt mentioned that VCOM was looking


Standardized Patient Program What is a Standardized Patient and how does this benefit or teach medical students? The Standardized Patient (SP) Program is a methodology of teaching and learning involving the use of an individual hired to portray a particular physical or emotional dysfunction. This program, which is part of the Integrated Clinical Cases course, assesses the medical student’s knowledge relating to interpersonal and communication skills as well as specific clinical skills while interacting with a live patient (the SP). During their first two years, VCOM medical students are introduced to approximately 36 cases (six per block). There are also times when the SPs participate in Manikin-based simulations. They may portray the mother or care giver of an infant or a toddler. How many SPs are there on each campus? The numbers vary at times, but there can be between 20 and 50 SPs on each of the four VCOM campuses. The directors of standardized patients on each campus have noted that many of the SPs have medical backgrounds (pharmacists, nurses, paramedics, etc). “My SPs love bragging about the free education they are getting, all have a background in education or healthcare except one who is a CPA, go figure (pun intended). I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” said Krystal Phillips, director of standardized patients at VCOM- Louisiana. Go to academics/simcenter/sp-program to find out more about the program.

were to be used for informational and promotional material at VCOM and its branch campuses. One such picture (shown far left) was of then “Student Doctor” Caroline Summers interacting with SP Anne LoJacono. The other is of myself as an SP. In 2011 Matt was introduced by a colleague in the student affairs office to her roommate Mollie Hyde. At the time, Mollie was working as a foreign student advisor at Virginia Tech. Matt and Mollie were married in September 2012. Tragically, shortly after Matt and Mollie returned from their honeymoon, we lost Kathleen to a pulmonary embolism. This was just 10 days after the birth of Kathleen and Jeff’s fourth child. During this period, the VCOM family was wonderfully supportive of our family. Matt left VCOM in 2015 to study for a master’s degree in communications at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Matt and his wife Mollie both now work on the staff of North Carolina State University.

Anne left the SP program after we lost Kathleen. I have continued the family connection and have just completed my tenth year as an SP. Recently my fellow SPs and I have been receiving training on the new SimIQ Telemedicine Block developed by the VCOM simulation, training and assessment team to meet the challenges of digital instruction during the pandemic. However, the story does not end there. There is one more little twist. On October 10, 2020, Mollie gave birth to her first child, Virginia Kathleen LoJacono, and the doctor who delivered our new granddaughter was Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Obstetrician Caroline Summers, VCOM-Virginia Class of 2013. This marks the fourth generation of interaction between our family and VCOM. ■ Editors note: the following pages continue this story from alumni Dr. Caroline Summers point of view.

Opposite page, top left: Anne LoJacono with then medical student Caroline Summers. Top right: Jim LoJacono in his role as an SP with Rachel Neubert, DO, Class of 2013. Above left to right: The LoJacono family, Jim and Anne, with Mollie and Matt and their daughter Virginia.

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Below: Caroline Summers, DO, with SP Anne Lojocano, while Summers was a medical student attending VCOM. Right: Matt and Mollie Lojocano with baby, Virginia. Far right: Dr. Summers in her practice as an obstetrician and gynecologist.


Forging Lasting Relationships through Osteopathic Medicine by Sara Jamison and James Nichols

Caroline Summers, DO, reflects on her VCOM relationships and how the SP program prepared her for practice. C aroline Summers and her husband John were high school sweethearts who both decided to go into clinical medicine and earned their DO degrees from VCOM-Virginia, with Caroline graduating in 2013 and John in 2015. While at VCOM, they met and became acquainted with members of the Lojocano family in student services and the standardized patient (SP) program. Even after graduation and a subsequent move to North Carolina, the two families kept in touch. “We kept in touch with Matt and Mollie Lojocano while I was in residency,” Summers says. “They were moving to the Raleigh area,

and they were going to work at NC State. So we always just kept in touch and said well if and when we move back to the area we’d love to stay in touch and reconnect and then we did. It worked out,” added Summers. Mollie then became Dr. Summers’ patient after her family moved to Raleigh, and she ended up delivering the Lojocanos child, Virginia. As a student, Dr. Summers found that the SP process prepared her for real life. “You may have clinical knowledge but applying it to a live person is different,” Summers said. “It helped me with COMLEX PE tests. It made me feel comfortable since VCOM had prepared us for this timed patient encounter format. I’m thankful that I had so much experience to get comfortable with live patients.”

“An important part of learning at VCOM was upholding the osteopathic principle of considering the whole person: mind, body and spirit,” Summers said, contrasting the osteopathic to the allopathic approach. “It’s a thought process of going through not only looking at a patient’s symptoms and their vital signs but also taking a step back to recognize there may be more, and why the patient is here. Sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between their chief complaint and why they’re actually there. Then it turns out that there may be some social situation or something potentially psychological. It’s important to recognize that sometimes. I ask how can I help you beyond just what you’re telling me?” ■

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VCOM-Louisiana Students Aid Hurricane Evacuees by Charles Regian

A ugust 29, 2021, marked the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In deranged fate, this day now also signifies the landfall of Hurricane Ida. A Category 4 hurricane, Ida ravaged South Louisiana and Mississippi, displacing thousands. Hundreds of evacuees from Terrebonne, Lafourche and St. John the Baptist parishes took shelter at the Monroe Civic Center. After these arrivals, Monroe Mayor, Friday Ellis, quickly realized that many evacuees lacked their daily medicine and basic necessities. This sparked a call from Ellis to VCOM-Louisiana’s Ray Morrison, DO, FACOS. From there, faculty members were contacted, students were organized and VCOM pounced on the opportunity to make an immediate impact in Louisiana. Around 90 students and faculty members arrived that Sunday afternoon and began to work on completing triage forms provided by the State. After hours of triage, the VCOM team finally had an understanding of what immediate demands needed to be fulfilled. From glucometers and insulin



needles to pillows and blankets, it was obvious that someone needed to go shopping. The generosity of VCOM faculty, staff and students was shown when supplies arrived quickly. Gloves, diapers, blankets, pillows, diabetic products, socks, clothes and much more were brought in as soon as messages were sent out about the supplies needed. The team left around midnight that night, gearing up for a much longer day upcoming. The following day, Monday, August 30, looked much different. From 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., 30 students arrived every two hours, with many choosing to stay all day. With help from the ULM School of Nursing, VCOM students had an incredible opportunity to provide assistance to a diverse population. Some patients needed assistance with baths, some needed their blood pressure taken, but almost everyone needed their prescriptions written and filled. For many students, this experience became personal. “I look out there and see my family. I see my aunt and uncle,” said Stephanie Koplitz, second-year medical student and

By Labor Day, Monday, September 5, all evacuees had been transported home to South Louisiana. More than an opportunity for the College’s medical students, the Civic Center experience allowed VCOM to show the Monroe community, and state of Louisiana, that it is serious about its mission. “The work done in the Civic Center, by VCOM, will never be forgotten,” said Mayor Ellis. ■

member of the Class of 2024. Having lived in South Louisiana and with family in that area, Koplitz was one of many VCOM students personally affected by Hurricane Ida. Emotions ran high in such a tense setting, but every student handled themselves with professionalism as VCOM stabilized those in the Civic Center. As Andy Langley, DO, associate dean for clinical affairs, told the students, “this is what it is all about.”

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“ As part of Truist’s commitment to inspire and build better lives and communities, these grants will support VCOM’s efforts as it continues to train medical students and provide health care for those families living in the region.” —David Camden, Virginia-West regional president for Truist



VCOM Receives $150,000 Grant from Truist Grant to fund pilot internship for students to practice in medically underserved areas

by Thimothy Corvin

T he Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) received grants totaling $150,000 from Truist Foundation and Truist Financial Corporation through its Truist Charitable Fund, a donor-advised fund at The Winston-Salem Foundation. The grant will create a pilot month-long internship program for fourth-year medical students and provide VCOM students additional training opportunities in medically underserved communities throughout Appalachia and the southeastern United States. In 2016, the National Center for Rural Health reported that a primary care physician practicing in a community with a local hospital created approximately 26.3 local jobs and nearly $1.4 million in labor income, including wages, salaries and benefits.

A primary goal of this pilot program is to train and graduate students who will return to practice in medically underserved areas. These future physicians will positively impact the communities’ health and economy where they work and serve. Tooke-Rawlins, president and provost of VCOM. “Research shows students who train in economically and medically underserved communities are most likely to stay in those communities to practice medicine. Therefore, improving access to and the quality of health care for those living in medically underserved areas is at the heart of our mission.” “We are very grateful to Truist for this wonderful grant,” said Dixie

and communities, these grants will support VCOM’s efforts as it continues to train medical students and provide health care for those families living in the region,” said David Camden, Virginia-West regional president for Truist, on behalf of Truist Foundation and Truist Charitable Fund. “We’re pleased to support VCOM’s efforts to address the physician workforce shortage and encourage its graduates to remain in the region to practice after graduation and the completion of their residencies.” ■ For more information about the grant, please contact Thimothy Corvin, Vice President for College Development and Alumni Relations, at 540-231-7189 or

“As part of Truist’s commitment to inspire and build better lives

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