Clinical lab science students will soon graduate with the skills to use mass spectrometry, a cutting edge diagnostic technique

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A SCIEX mass spectrometer.
Photo courtesy of SCIEX

Mass spectrometry is one of the most accurate analytical techniques used in today’s clinical diagnostic laboratories, and workers who know the process are in high demand. Despite this trend, college students across the country don’t graduate with sufficient working knowledge of how to apply the technology.

To fill this educational gap, William Korzun, Ph.D., associate professor of Clinical Laboratory Sciences in the School of Allied Health Professions; Dayanjan “Shanaka” Wijesinghe, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science in the School of Pharmacy; and Lorin Bachmann, Ph.D., associate professor of Pathology and co-director of Clinical Chemistry, VCU Health; collaborated to create new coursework that teaches mass spectrometry to students in the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Department in the School of Allied Health Professions. The partnership also received a donation of software used in mass spectrometry from SCIEX — a leader in mass spectrometry sales — to aid in teaching.

The Virginia Commonwealth University program is the first nationally to teach students both the theory behind mass spectrometry and how to use the technology firsthand.

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School of Allied Health Professions breaks ground on new state-of-the-art facility

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Left to right: JD Drasbek, president of the Master of Health Administration class of 2019; Marsha Rappley, M.D., CEO of VCU Heath System and VCU vice president of health sciences; Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health System; Cecil B. Drain, Ph.D., dean of VCU School of Allied Health Professions; Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; Delegate S. Chris Jones; Harry Thalhimer, board chair of the MCV Foundation.

More than 200 students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and community members gathered beneath a white tent bordered by mounds of dirt and bulldozers on Friday at the future site of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Allied Health Professions. The event attendees, many of whom had been working toward the day for decades, were assembled to celebrate the groundbreaking of the school’s new 154,000-square-foot building.

“What is great about this building is that it will bring all of these health care professionals together,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said.

The eight-level facility will, for the first time in the school’s nearly 50-year history, centralize all 11 of the School of Allied Health Professions’ units.

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Physical therapy fund provides opportunities for students

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Sue Hirt, at right, has had lasting impact on the Department of Phys­ical Therapy through the Sue Hirt Fund.

Sue Hirt, at right, has had lasting impact on the Department of Phys­ical Therapy through the Sue Hirt Fund.

When Joseph D. Wilkins was a child, his father was involved in a serious car crash. The event planted the seeds of a career path.

“From the seventh grade, I wanted to go into physical therapy,” said Wilkins (M.S.’01/AHP; D.P.T.’06/AHP; M.S.H.A.’11/AHP). “After seeing the therapy that helped my father mobilize himself, I wanted to help people walk again. It had a huge impact on me and what I wanted to do.”

But as he searched for a way to attend graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University and pursue his dream of becoming a physical therapist, he realized he was going to need some help.

“Early on, as an undergraduate at William and Mary, I was on an academic scholarship, then I converted to a football scholarship,” Wilkins said. “So coming into graduate school, I was on my own. It seemed a little daunting, but I knew there was a light through the tunnel. I’d be able to survive and support myself.”

A scholarship from the Sue Hirt Fund enabled Wilkins to focus on being a full-time physical therapy student.

“The scholarship helped pay my rent, buy food and provide essentials such as clothing,” he said. “I dedicated my time to school because of the help it provided.”

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Physical therapy program offers help for infants with delayed skills

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Shaaron Brown, DPT, a pediatric physical therapist, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles is part of the START-Play Study.

Shaaron Brown, DPT, a pediatric physical therapist, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles is part of the START-Play Study.

Soon after he was born, Miles Mrozinski’s parents knew he would be developmentally delayed. He was diagnosed with Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy, a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain during birth. It is the leading cause of death or severe impairment in infants and can be permanent.

“The hardest part is not knowing what his life will be like and also thinking that, as his parents, are we doing everything we possibly can to positively impact his development?” said Whitney Mrozinski, Miles’ mother.

A toddler with HIE experiences severe cognitive delays and motor impairments such as difficulty sitting up and picking up small objects. Like Miles, now a 1-year-old, babies with HIE must undergo physical and occupational therapies. To provide as many opportunities as possible for Miles, Mrozinski and her husband enrolled him in the Virginia Commonwealth University START-Play Study in April.

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VCU part of national $3.4 million award for research on infants with delayed skills

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Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles has been part of the START-Play Program since April.

Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles has been part of the START-Play Program since April.

Thanks to a $3.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, a team of researchers that includes Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Physical Therapy faculty has begun work on an initiative to rehabilitate infants with motor skill delays.

The START-Play program is one of the largest national clinical trials of its kind. The project’s purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of a fully developed intervention that targets sitting, reaching and motor-based problem-solving in infancy. VCU is one of four intervention sites across the United States.

Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions, is the primary investigator on the project.Emily Marcinowski, Ph.D., is a VCU postdoctoral fellow in charge of recruitment and assessment. The study will take place over four years, Dusing said, and will include students from the Department of Physical Therapy, the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Rehabilitation and Movement Science.

“We are excited to be part of this effort because the research we’re conducting will contribute to research going on around the world on this topic,” Dusing said. “One goal of the study is to advance the motor and cognitive skills of enrolled children in order to better prepare them to learn in preschool and beyond.”

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Alumna leads at the bedside and beyond

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Henrisa Tosoc-Haskell stands in front of the UNOS National Donor Memorial, which honors all organ, eye and tissue donors. Photo by Andrew Swartz/UNOS

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

When the United Network for Organ Sharing merged two units into a newly created department of member quality, the organization set its sights on finding someone with the right set of skills to help the organization, and its employees, navigate the new course.

“Embarking on a journey from a compliance-focused organization to an organization focused on performance improvement, we were looking for someone who had experience with quality practices and performance improvement,” says Maureen McBride, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’95/M), UNOS’ chief contract operations officer.

They found their match in Henrisa Tosoc-Haskell (M.S.’88/N; M.S.H.A.’02/AHP), who joined the Richmond-based organization last July as director of member quality.

“I wasn’t really looking for a change,” says Tosoc-Haskell, who at the time was working as corporate director of quality and clinical improvement at Bon Secours Health System. “But when I sat down with the team here, I saw how mission-driven they were, and I decided to come aboard.”

Quality and performance improvement has always been one of Tosoc-Haskell’s passions. She serves on the National Board of Examiners for the Baldrige Award for Performance Excellence, the only presidential award given to organizations for performance excellence. She has also been an examiner for the board, at both state and national levels, for the past four years.

This article appears in the spring 2016 issues of the award-winning alumni magazines Shafer Court Connections and Scarab. VCU Alumni members receive a complimentary subscription to the magazines. Not a member? Join today to get your copy in the mail.

“Her clinical background, having worked in different hospital settings, and her work with the Baldrige Award were a huge advantage,” McBride says of Tosoc-Haskell’s credentials.

Tosoc-Haskell earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Old Dominion University and then joined the nursing extern program at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, where she continued work as a nurse for several years before changing her focus to gerontology. She enrolled in the master’s program at the VCU School of Nursing and, as part of her studies, worked on a home-care team under Peter Boling, M.D. (H.S.’84/M), professor and chair of the Division of Geriatric Medicine in the VCU School of Medicine.

“I was really fortunate to work under Dr. Boling, but I had a desire to broaden my focus to the other end of the health care continuum,” she says.

Tosoc-Haskell took several sports medicine classes toward the end of her studies and, after graduation, moved to Louisiana where she worked as an athletic trainer for the Louisiana State University football team. She returned to Richmond, and VCU, to earn her master’s in health administration and, because of her experience at LSU, landed a position as practice director with VCU Sports Medicine. There, she played a role in the construction of the Sports Medicine Center on West Broad Street near the Siegel Center.

“It broadened my skills in leadership and management,” Tosoc-Haskell says of her tenure at Sports Medicine. “It was a great opportunity to showcase everything I had learned up to that point.”

In 2003, she moved to Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Maryland, where she spent the next 11 years.

Today, as UNOS’ director of member quality, Tosoc-Haskell monitors the performance of transplant hospitals, organ procurement organizations and laboratories that work with UNOS and their compliance with organ procurement and transport policies.

“She’s been amazing,” McBride says. “She’s really unified the team. Taking two departments and making them one can be challenging from a management and operational perspective, and she really brought them together. She also spearheaded a number of projects to improve our internal operations and change our vision for how we want to see member quality operate in the future.”

For Tosoc-Haskell, the most rewarding part of the job is knowing how her work gives others a chance to live.

“We have people who’ve been on organ waitlists for a long time,” she says. “But because of the work we do, our monitoring and expertise, we can provide an organ to recipients in an efficient and safe way. It’s that sense of purpose that drives the work we do at UNOS.”

Students first: Retired professor launches rehabilitation counseling scholarship

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Anne Chandler, Ph.D.

Anne Chandler, Ph.D.

The Department of Rehabilitation Counseling in Vir­ginia Commonwealth University’s School of Allied Health Professions prepares students to help those with disabilities find lives with meaning and purpose — two words that, after many years serving on the faculty, resonated with Anne Chandler, Ph.D.

The recent retiree gave $100,000 to establish the Anne L. Chandler Scholarship in Rehabilitation Counseling, creating the department’s largest endowed scholarship.

“I just felt like it was my time to give back,” Chandler said. “The rehab department is an extremely strong department. It’s nationally ranked, and I’m proud of my affiliation with my outstanding colleagues.”

It’s an affiliation that goes back 33 years. After graduating with both her master’s and Ph.D. in rehabilitation counseling from Michigan State University in 1974 and 1978, respectively, Chandler became assistant professor of rehab counseling in a VCU program based in Fishersville, Virginia. She worked there for two years before joining the University of South Carolina. When a position in rehab counseling on campus at VCU opened three years later, she was recruited back.

“Rehabilitation counselors, they’re the people who go into their communities, roll up their sleeves and work with populations who are typically marginalized,” said Amy Armstrong, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’02/E), chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling. “The goal is to enhance the well-being and community inclusion of people with disabilities.”

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As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, VCU Department of Gerontology eyes ending ageism

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Linda Brown-Burton pauses to reflect on the poster presentations at the VCU Department of Gerontology’s 40th anniversary event. “The VCU Department of Gerontology illustrates their values through their mission statement,” Brown-Burton said. “They empower the knowledge of gerontology studies through the educational process.”

Linda Brown-Burton (M.S.’05/AHP) pauses to reflect on the poster presentations at the VCU Department of Gerontology’s 40th anniversary event. “The VCU Department of Gerontology illustrates their values through their mission statement,” Brown-Burton said. “They empower the knowledge of gerontology studies through the educational process.”

When Cathy Saunders (B.S.W.’76/SW;M.S.’82/AHP) graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a master’s degree in gerontology in 1982, most people she met had never heard of the discipline. “Some people would think it was geology,” the 62-year-old says.

Saunders is now the chair of the advisory board for the VCU Department of Gerontology, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in Carytown last Friday. More than 100 current students, alumni, faculty and staff attended the event, dubbed a “Day of Disruption.”

“The discipline emerged out of a medical model and we are now moving toward a more wellness-based model that is focused on the benefits of longevity, positive elderhood and recognizing that aging is a natural experience and not about disease and suffering like many people think it is,” said department chair E. Ayn Welleford, Ph.D.

The theme of the event alluded to one of the department’s primary goals: ending ageism.

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Behind the music

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Monty (left) and Andrew Kier

Professor and son pen VCU’s first alma mater

By Anthony Langley

A year and a half ago, Lemont “Monty” B. Kier, Ph.D., began reflecting on his time and experiences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I’ve been here since 1977,” says Kier, who has taught and held various roles in VCU Life Sciences’ Center for the Study of Biological Complexity, the School of Allied Health Professions Department of Nurse Anesthesia, and the School of Pharmacy departments of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science and Medicinal Chemistry, the latter of which he served as chair for 10 years. “I’m so fond of the diversity and the opportunities that I’ve had here I began to write a little poem about it.”

As he started writing, Kier learned that VCU did not have an alma mater, which prompted him to take his poem and transform it into “We Gather Here,” the university’s new, official anthem. The song celebrates the values and memories Kier believes that each and every student makes while at VCU.

“When you walk around the campus, there are people from all around the world,” he says. “The opening verse tells you what our colors mean: diversity and value.”

Upon completing the lyrics, he brought them to his son, Andrew Kier (B.M.’90/A), who took his father’s words and sketched out a rough melody on paper, adding in chords to fill in spaces where needed. About a week later, he loaded the finished music into a software program that helped him finalize the musical arrangement.

“I think it will draw people together,” says Andrew Kier. “It’s a great honor to have it chosen as the alma mater, and I’m proud to be connected to VCU in this additional way.”

While the father-and-son duo were working on the song, Monty Kier shared a draft with Gordon McDougall, associate vice president for university alumni relations, who in turn shared it with VCU’s leaders.

“The university asked the VCU Alumni board of governors to adopt ‘We Gather Here,’” McDougall says. “I’m proud of what Monty and his son accomplished. It’s a great moment for the university.”

In March, the board approved “We Gather Here” as VCU’s official alma mater. Kier is excited to see what comes next for the song and its impact on the university.

“It tells a story about how good it is here. There’s a wonderful spirit that surrounds everyone at VCU,” he says. “Making this contribution is one of the highlights of my career.”

– Anthony Langley is a VCU senior majoring in mass communications.


 “We Gather Here”

Lyrics: Monty Kier
Music: Andrew Kier

We gather here, our voices raise, of VCU we sing our praise, the Black and Gold our colors show, diversity and value grow. We’ve learned so much beyond each class, the joy of friendship will not pass.

So much in life is mem’ry borne, of VCU they’ll not be shorn.

The mem’ries of a campus walk, so many friends, we stop to talk, the friendships here were made to last, they’re in our minds though years have passed. The seasons pass, the years roll by, from VCU the reason’s why we are enriched from values learned, they bring us joy that we have earned.

Next year again we will be here to see our school and give a cheer. So VCU keep all that is great, you’ve brought us joy that is our fate. So come let us sing of VCU, with ev’ry verse we will renew the mem’ries from our campus time, each one embedded in a rhyme.

Listen to the alma mater.

Blind athlete finds reassurance to keep running after visit to VCU RUN LAB

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Charlie Plaskon runs tests at the VCU RUN LAB.

Charlie Plaskon runs tests at the VCU RUN LAB.

Charlie Plaskon has never acted his age and at 72 years old he has no plans to start. The legally blind, retired teacher began running at the age of 55 and hasn’t looked back, competing in more than 45 marathons and triathlons, including the grueling Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 2007.

Nothing could slow Plaskon down until he suffered a back injury in 2015 that put his running career on hold. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the vertebral canal that compresses the spinal nerves and can cause leg pain and difficulty walking. After a successful laminectomy, or decompression surgery, followed by a rigorous rehabilitation with a physical therapist, he was ready to start running, swimming and biking again.

Plaskon enlisted the help of D.S. Blaise Williams III, Ph.D., director of the VCU RUN LAB, with the goal of competing again. Williams specializes in 3-D biomechanics as it relates to injury and recovery from running and landing injuries. The VCU RUN LAB is a collaboration involving the Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions and the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

The main reason for Plaskon’s visit to the VCU RUN LAB, a national leader in running analysis, was to see if it was possible for him to continue running long distances. He would like to compete in full marathons while posting times under five hours, as he had before his injury. His ultimate goal is to compete in a full Ironman competition once again.

“I don’t like doing half-marathons because half means I didn’t do the other half,” Plaskon said. “That’s why I’m here. I want to see what the next level is. Can I compete like I used to? I want to find out exactly what’s left after 72 years.”

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