VCU School of Nursing receives $2.6M award to improve educational and clinical practices in primary care setting

Tamara Zurakowski, Ph.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing has received a $2.6 million award to advance nursing’s influence in the primary care setting through educational and clinical practice improvements.

The award from the Health Resources and Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was granted to Tamara Zurakowski, Ph.D., clinical associate professor and director of undergraduate programs in the VCU School of Nursing.

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VCU researchers are developing a device to restore a person’s sense of smell

Two VCU faculty are developing a device meant to restore the sense of smell.

Scott Moorehead was thrown into a deep depression when he lost his sense of smell five years ago due to a traumatic brain injury. Moorehead fell in the driveway of his Marion, Indiana, home while teaching his then 6-year-old son, Mason, how to skateboard.

Moorehead suffered a major concussion and internal bleeding, but the long-lasting consequence was severing the connection of the olfactory nerves in his nose to his brain, which resulted in total smell loss, or anosmia.

It is an “invisible injury,” Moorehead said. The sense’s tie to memory and enjoyment made the loss debilitating.

“Until you can’t smell at all you have no idea how emotional the experience can be,” he said. “You start to think about these really awful things, like, someday my daughter is going to get married and I’m going to walk her down the aisle and I’m going to give her a big hug, and I’m going to have no idea what she smelled like.”

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Fulbright scholar develops technology to bring independence to people with disabilities

VCU Engineering alumnus Shawn Joshi in front of Oxford University’s Radcliffe Camera.

When Shawn Joshi (B.S.’12/H&S; B.S.’12/En) was 14, his brother suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Joshi was able to find technological solutions for the family’s day-to-day life, and has carried that idea with him to this day.

“While I never saw medical science perform any miracles for his condition, I would say there have been remarkable technologies that have made both his life and our family’s lives easier,” he said. “He has a standing wheelchair that can relieve tension and pressure as it stands and supports him. We have put Alexa in our house and have controlled lights and cameras. And while we can easily Google anything that comes to our mind, he too can ask Alexa for answers and play music any time he wants.”

Bringing independence to people with impairments has been important to Joshi ever since.

“I am always trying to use technology to make life easier for any population that may have a harder time than others,” said Joshi, who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012 with dual degrees in physics and biomedical engineering.

At VCU, Joshi worked with Paul Wetzel, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering in the VCU College of Engineering, to design glasses that could control a computer mouse via eye blinks and head movements. The device could bring independence to people with paraplegia or other disabilities.

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Engineering students, recent grads spent senior year tackling augmented reality

Recent Computer Science graduate Nathaniel Ingram discusses the augmented reality app that his team developed at the 2018 Capstone Design Expo.

Cory Gray (B.S.’18/En) spent his senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University working with classmates from the College of Engineering and School of Business developing an augmented reality app for Newport News Shipbuilding.

“The biggest thing I got out of this was project management,” said Gray, a recent computer science graduate. “I had to learn how to work with my teammates and, at times, manage them. Through this whole process, I learned about what kind of leader I am. Now that we [have come] to the end, I can reflect on that and think about how I can improve as a leader and a coworker.”

The project introduced, exhibited and explored recent advances made in augmented reality technology, while identifying a marketable product for which the students developed a business plan.

“Our project was effectively researching augmented reality, which is simply adding virtual elements to real life using either a screen or a lens of some sort,” said Tal Reznikov, Gray’s teammate and a computer science student who graduates in December.

Their team was one of more than 90 participating in a yearlong Capstone Design course that prepares students for the everyday practice of engineering. The endeavors culminate in VCU’s annual Capstone Design Expo in April, which features projects developed by student teams and engineering faculty members in cooperation with industry experts, nonprofit organizations and the VCU School of Medicine.

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VCU receives $21.5M National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Award

Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded $21.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to promote and expand research and improve access for Virginians to cutting-edge treatments for diseases, including cardiac disease, pulmonary disease and addiction. This is the largest NIH grant ever awarded to VCU.

The five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) through NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was awarded to VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, allowing the center to support clinical research, integrate research and clinical practice and provide training to develop the clinical research workforce.

“As a governor and physician, nothing is more important to me than the heath of Virginians — the Wright Center’s historic grant is a huge boost to the commonwealth’s ability to bring innovations in clinical research that will result in better treatments and new cures,” Northam said. “This funding will support collaboration across the state and speed translation of research to patient care, and I look forward watching VCU solidify Virginia’s place as a research leader.”

Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, which played an essential role in supporting the grant, celebrated the award Monday.

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Former patient cuts ribbon on expanded pediatric intensive care unit where she recovered from brain surgery

Hospital leaders watch Alexa Nixon and CHoR CEO Elias Neujahr cut the ribbon to the newly-expanded pediatric intensive care unit.

Alexa Nixon is no stranger to the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. It’s where she spent some of her most difficult days and recovered following multiple surgeries during her fight against two brain tumors — first in 2005 when she was 11 years old, and again seven years later.

Nixon has grown up, and so has the PICU. On Wednesday, the now healthy, vibrant 24-year-old helped CHoR leaders cut the ribbon on the hospital’s newly expanded PICU, the largest in the region. This expansion increases the unit’s capacity from 14 to 21 beds, improving access to lifesaving care for the region’s most critically ill and injured children.

“This expansion marks an important milestone,” said CHoR CEO Elias Neujahr. “It’s about much more than additional space and the latest in technology. It’s a place where families can turn to our team for compassionate and expert care during some of the scariest moments of their lives. We’re committed to continuing to advance children’s health in our community, and this newly expanded unit will do just that.”

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Sheltering Arms Hospital and VCU Health System break ground on new rehab institute

Leaders from VCU and Sheltering Arms break ground Tuesday on their new rehabilitation institute in Goochland County.

Sheltering Arms Hospital and VCU Health System broke ground Tuesday to begin construction on a 114-bed rehabilitation facility that will be located on 25 acres in the West Creek Medical Park off Broad Street Road, just east of the state Route 288 interchange in Goochland County.

Officials and staff from both organizations were present in addition to donors, patients, community members and other leaders in the community. Attendees heard remarks from Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D.; Sheltering Arms President and CEO Mary Zweifel; Dianne Jewell, D.P.T., Ph.D., chair of the Sheltering Arms board of directors; and patients Cole Sydnor and Berry Williams, who shared their perspectives on what the joint venture will offer the community.

“Today marks an important step forward in our plan to bring advanced technology, research and evidence-based clinical care together under one roof in order to offer our patients the best possible outcomes for success. Today we celebrate the building that will bring that goal to life,” Zweifel said.

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VCU launches apprenticeship program, providing opportunities and valuable skills to future tradespeople

Melissa Yancey, one of five apprentices in VCU Facilities Management’s new apprenticeship program, is learning to become a steamfitter and working in the MCV Campus Steam Plant.

Only 1.6 percent of the nation’s steamfitters are women, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Labor statistics. As part of a new apprenticeship program at Virginia Commonwealth University, Melissa Yancey is on her way to joining their ranks.

“I like working with my hands and I’m learning a new skill,” said Yancey, who began working in the MCV Campus Steam Plant in January. “I wanted to learn a trade, and to have a job that’s more physical than stationary. I guess I just saw a lot of potential to working at VCU.”

Yancey, who is the only woman working in the steam plant, has been learning how to weld, use a variety of tools, install and repair pipes, and troubleshoot the system that provides steam for the MCV campus, the VCU Medical Center and several nearby state government buildings.

“It’s been great,” she said. “They all treat me like one of the guys.”

Yancey is one of five apprentices hired this year as part of a new initiative of VCU Facilities Management to bolster the university’s workforce of skilled tradespeople. The apprentices are training to become a certified heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, electrician, locksmith and plumber.

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Extraordinary nurses are first to graduate from VCU’s new doctoral program in nursing

Angelica Smith, right, performs a medical assessment. Smith is one of 11 students graduating Friday from VCU’s new Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, which focuses on quality and safety.

Angelica Smith (B.S.’10/ EN; B.S.’13/N; M.S.’15/N) grew up in a “humble home” in the small, rural town of Corozal, Puerto Rico, “where everybody knows each other,” she said. Now, the soon-to-be-graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University Doctor of Nursing Practice program applies her clinical and public health skills to assist disadvantaged populations in Petersburg, Virginia, where she lives. Petersburg is one of the most impoverished localities in Virginia with the worst health outcomes in the state, according to recent County Health Rankings & Roadmaps reports by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and U.S. Census data.

“Growing up, I saw the struggle that it takes every day to take care of things financially,” Smith said. “Since I was in that environment as a child, I want to make a difference now that I am in a position to impact people’s quality of life.”

The 40-year-old nursing student earned an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering as well as undergraduate and master’s degrees in nursing from VCU after a 10-year career in the U.S. Marines. On Friday, she and 10 classmates will be the first graduates from the School of Nursing’s DNP program.

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VCU’s School of Allied Health Professions becomes the VCU College of Health Professions

Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Allied Health Professions is now the VCU College of Health Professions. The new name reflects the expanding breadth and level of academic programming, as well as the college’s increase in research, faculty and student enrollment.

“We are updating ourselves to current ways of identifying health profession colleges,” said Cecil B. Drain, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Professions. “The name change is going to pull us together within one college administration.”

The new name echoes another significant change on the horizon — construction of the new College of Health Professions building, which is scheduled to open for classes in fall 2019. The 154,000-square-foot building will provide a unified space for the college’s nine academic units, the doctoral program in health-related sciences, the dean’s office and the Virginia Center on Aging. The college’s top-ranked programs have occupied 13 buildings in the past 49 years and are currently scattered among five buildings on two campuses.

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