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Every day College of Health Professions students, alumni, faculty and staff do extraordinary things. Read more about our latest achievements below.

VCU Health Administration Boosts Research Bench with Health Economist and Professor

Adam AtherlyThe addition of a new VCU Health Administration faculty member has bolstered the research capabilities of one of the nation’s leading academic health leadership programs.

To boil Adam Atherly, Ph.D.’s research into a single phrase: “Choice modeling,” he explains — specifically, how consumers make buying decisions around Medicare and private health insurance plans.

“That's the core of what I'm interested in,” says Atherly, who comes to Richmond after four years teaching and researching at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. “People think money drives everything. But it doesn’t. People make decisions for all kinds of reasons, and all of those reasons are completely valid. We make decisions based on culture, age, income, and millions of other factors.”

Atherly joined the VCU faculty on August 1 as a full professor. He will teach the U.S. Healthcare Systems course this fall in the MHA program. 

Over two decades, his work has spanned health insurance theory: how benefits packages are put together, how market forces impact offerings on consumers, scale development and psychometric analysis, and the effectiveness of community health teams on improving the quality and efficiency of care delivery. He’s part of an ongoing study identifying individual, community, and structural factors associated with lower COVID-19 testing rates in northern New England, with a focus on underserved and vulnerable populations.

Yet Atherly is perhaps best known for his work around Medicare Advantage plans. Known also as "Part C" or "MA Plans," Medicare Advantage is offered by Medicare-approved private companies that must follow rules set by the federal government. The plans may offer extra benefits and have lower out-of-pocket costs compared to Original Medicare.

The popularity of Medicare Advantage has grown over the years – nearly half of all Medicare recipients are on them. “Everybody knows the growth in Medicare Advantage is happening, but nobody knows why,” he says. He is working on projects to model and understand why the program dynamics are changing and how that will affect the future of the Medicare program.

To that end, Atherly’s work is often described as “the economics of aging,” he explains. “My work is really thinking about older populations, and what’s necessary economically to help them be successful in managing their healthcare.”

Paula H. Song, Ph.D., the Richard M. Bracken Chair and Professor at VCU Health Administration, said the department was interested in finding a faculty member who could contribute to its research portfolio.

“It's important for our students to understand how research drives practice and policy,” she says. “Adam's focus around Medicare and health insurance market choice is highly relevant given the way the industry functions and the how vast majority of health services is financed by Medicare and health plans.”

Song also said Atherly had demonstrated an ability to collaborate across a number of disciplines, “which is important for a department like ours” in the VCU College of Health Professions. Health Administration is one of nine key health career fields housed under a single roof, and students and faculty often work with one another.

“My skills are very complementary to what the department wants to do,” Atherly says. “I have the opportunity, being there, to really focus on the areas of my research that I'm most interested in.”

An Oregon native, Atherly has lived in various parts of the country and is looking forward to finding new outdoor activities to pursue in Richmond and Virginia. He moves here with his wife, Tricia. Their two children, a son and daughter, are in college at the University of Vermont.

VCU Takes Top Honors at the VCU-Marquette Challenge

The ‘VCU-Marquette Challenge’ is a national competition in which physical therapy students compete to raise the most money to support APTA’s Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR). VCU Physical Therapy students came out on top again this year, and were awarded the coveted first place among 79 participating programs in the country. This marks three years in a row that VCU students have won the competition signaling their clear and unwavering passion and dedication to support physical therapy research. Congratulations to Shawne Soper, who supported the PT student leaders in developing and implementing a year-long fundraising campaign that raised just $23,053.72.

Congratulations to VCU’s physical therapy students, staff, faculty and alumni who made this all possible, and on a job well done!

Click here to view the 2022 FPTR Awards Ceremony.

Click here to read the VCU News article about the VCU-Marquette Challenge.

VCU Health Administration Faculty Member Earns Fellowship Designation from Healthcare Financial Management Association

Stephan Davis standing at the bottom of the College of Health Professions stairway.Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE, FNAP, FHFMA, executive director of inclusive leadership education and assistant professor in VCU’s Department of Health Administration and assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the College of Health Professions, has been named a fellow of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA).

“Finance is one of the pillars of excellence for the department of health administration at VCU” said Paula Song, PhD., Richard M. Bracken chair and professor of Health Administration. “With three healthcare finance researchers in our department, Drs. Nathan Carroll, Saleema Karim and myself, combined with Dr. Davis’ leadership experience overseeing utilization and his achievement of this important professional distinction, we are uniquely positioned to expose our students to both the theory and application of healthcare finance and how business decisions impact care coordination and patient outcomes. We are thrilled to congratulate Dr. Davis on his third national fellowship and look forward to his continued work to guide our students and alums in pursuit of board certifications and national fellowships.” 

To be awarded the FHFMA distinction, applicants must be credentialed as a Certified Healthcare Financial Professional (CHFP); be an HFMA member for at least five years; meet academic and continuing education requirements; be recommended by an HFMA fellow or healthcare association leader; and demonstrate substantive contributions to HFMA and the field of healthcare management. More than 1,700 HFMA members nationwide have achieved this accomplishment in the organization’s 75-year history.

While many know Davis for his current work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, the beginning of his healthcare leadership journey included more than a half-decade overseeing utilization management and case management for health insurance companies and a safety-net hospital in New York City. These areas are key to revenue cycle and value-based purchasing.  

“Leading nurses, physician advisors, physical therapists, social workers, and other clinical professionals and support staff in the coordination of healthcare services – ensuring access to high quality medically necessary care while also promoting efficiency and reducing costs, was such an important part of my development as a healthcare executive” Davis said. “I tell our MHA students that no matter what area of healthcare leadership they choose to pursue, a solid foundation in quality and revenue cycle is so important for all aspiring executives.” 

In addition to being a fellow of HFMA, Davis was named a distinguished scholar and fellow of the National Academies of Practice earlier this year. He is also a fellow and national faculty member with the American College of Healthcare Executives. Beyond fellowships, he holds several board certifications including Nurse Executive, Advanced-Board Certified (NEA-BC) through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) through the National Association for Healthcare Quality, and Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) through the National League for Nursing. He is a passionate champion for increasing the numbers of healthcare leaders from historically underrepresented and excluded backgrounds holding national fellowships, prestigious awards, and advanced academic and professional credentials. 

The VCU Department of Health Administration is a premiere research department geared toward creating the most innovative, compassionate, and business-savvy leaders to reimagine healthcare. For more, visit here.

About HFMA

The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) equips its more than 83,000 members nationwide to navigate a complex healthcare landscape. Finance professionals in the full range of work settings, including hospitals, health systems, physician practices and health plans, trust HFMA to provide the guidance and tools to help them lead their organizations, and the industry, forward. HFMA is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization that advances healthcare by collaborating with other key stakeholders to address industry challenges and providing guidance, education, practical tools and solutions, and thought leadership.

Rehabilitation Counseling Names Associate Chair for Academic Affairs

A headshot of Courntey HolmesThe VCU College of Health Professions Department of Rehabilitation Counseling recently appointed Courtney Holmes, Ph.D., as the new associate chair for academic affairs. She also serves as associate professor in the Department.

In this role, Holmes will support the academic journey of students from the time they enter the program all the way to graduation. Some of her priority areas will include enrollment, student engagement and accreditation.

Holmes says she has been informally serving as the department’s accreditation liaison for nearly eight years, where much of her responsibilities have included student, supervisor and program evaluations, as well as preparing the annual report.

“In this role, my goal is to help strengthen student engagement and communication within our department,” said Holmes. “I want our students to feel more connected and to have access to resources at the university that might help them throughout their educational experience.”

Holmes, who is licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist, recognizes the importance of effective clinical training, now more than ever.

“I think the pandemic really highlighted the need for programs like ours, and our profession, as we train our students to support people through mental health and other types of challenges they have in their life,” she said. “We have the opportunity to leverage our training, and show people why it’s important to pay attention to our mental health.”

Holmes received her MA from Gonzaga University in Community Counseling and her PhD from The College of William & Mary in Counselor Education and Supervision. Her clinical experience includes work with individuals, families and couples on a variety of mental health related issues. She also has also served as a clinical supervisor for counselors-in-training across various specialties, such as clinical mental health, family counseling, and rehabilitation counseling.

She currently serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision and the Virginia Counselors Journal. She is the recipient of the Outstanding Supervisor Award from the North Central Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (NCACES) as well as the Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching from the VCU College of Health Professions.

Dean Susan Parish Named to Sentara Professorship

By Jeff Kelley
VCU College of Health Professions

Susan Parish in the College of Health ProfessionsVCU College of Health Professions Dean Susan L. Parish, Ph.D., has been appointed the Sentara Professorship in Health Administration. In addition to serving as Dean, Parish is a professor in the Department of Health Administration.

The Sentara Professorship was created in 2007 with a generous gift from Sentara Healthcare to support a distinguished faculty member in VCU Health Administration. In a letter to Dr. Parish, VCU and VCU Health System President Michael Rao called her “an integral part of our vision to make a difference as a major research university.”

Parish’s research examines the health and financial well-being of women and children with disabilities, and their caregiving families. She has garnered more than $12 million in external research funding from a range of federal, state, and foundation sources. She has published over 130 peer-reviewed journal articles, and is a fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Society for Social Work and Research.

“We are also confident of your ability to remain highly productive throughout your academic career and of your continued commitment to excellence and ensuring student success,” Dr. Rao wrote. “I am grateful for your commitment to improving the quality of the lives of people throughout the world.”

A Look at the Assistive Technologies Laboratory

The Herbert and Charlotte Meyer Assistive Technologies Laboratory & Quiet Room in the VCU College of Health Professions, was made possible by Dr. John H. and Carlyn Meyer Dalness, in memory of her parents. The lab space features advanced technology which provides occupational therapy students with further training before as they prepare to serve patients in clinical settings after completion of their studies.

Dreaming Big: Amber Coleman ’18 Building a Brand Beyond the OR

Amber Coleman standing in front of anesthesia equipmentGraduate, pass the National Certification Exam, get certified, practice as a CRNA.

It’s a path to success and personal and professional advancement for many VCU Nurse Anesthesia graduates. Yet Amber Coleman, a 2018 alumna, simply had a different path in mind.

Since gaining certification (“That test is expensive, so I was only doing it once”), she’s practiced as a CRNA at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. And while passionate about anesthesia and building her specialty, she also views it as a stepping stone: to mentoring others in the field, to writing books, to building businesses, and to showing her two currently young children how to build a solid foundation in their own lives.

Coleman recently self-published a children’s book, Amber Dreams of Anesthesia. The story mirrors her own journey: a young girl receives a birthday gift, the game “Operation,” and becomes fascinated with the human body. The cartoon Amber begins to explore healthcare, looking up “people who help you feel comfy during surgery” on a tablet and coming across the anesthesia specialty (in real life, kid Amber was looking through a set of old encyclopedias when she stumbled across the word “anesthesiologist,” and she never turned back).

Amber Dreams of Anesthesia book cover featuring a young black girl imagining an anesthesia careerIn the book, the young Amber falls asleep and into a deep dream about becoming a nurse anesthetist. Readers pick up a simple education on the path to becoming a CRNA and many of the ways in which they provide care – such as for obstetrics, or in general surgery.

“This book is about planting a seed in kids early,” Coleman says. “They don’t have to do to anesthesia or even go into healthcare. It’s just about having a dream, coming up with a plan, and doing it.”

Coleman is clear that while the book is not specifically aimed at young Black and Brown readers, but rather all children, she hopes it resonates with those in communities of color, which are underrepresented in healthcare jobs. “Representation matters, and I do have a responsibility as a woman of color to help those who look like me blaze a trail in the field,” she said.

Coleman paused her career as an ICU nurse in 2016 to pursue her nurse anesthesia education at VCU. She and her husband and then two very young children relocated from Hampton to Richmond. He commuted to work in Newport News. They had no family in the area to support them at the time, “but we made it work.” The VCU experience, Coleman says, changed her life, and gave her the foundation for a stable and rewarding career path.

Coleman is also one of 10 alumni heading up the Addie Pontiflet Scholarship at VCU Nurse Anesthesia. Pontiflet, who died in 2007, was an assistant professor of nurse anesthesia at VCU. The annual award will be given to students with preference in those who have demonstrated interest in equality, diversity or social justice for the African American community through community activities, social groups, student clubs or organizations. The scholarship also asks that students show active membership and involvement in professional nurse anesthesia-oriented organizations and activities that focus on racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion, and serve on the VCU Nurse Anesthesia’s DEI committee.

“The candidate has to be passionate,” Coleman says. “I don't care if you mentor or if you go into education, you have to be willing to give back.”

Beyond the book, she’s partnered with her brother to start a trucking company. She’s writing a second children’s book on financial literacy. And she and her husband dabble in real estate investing, too.

And most importantly — balancing the work of a CRNA, part-time author, entrepreneur, and investor — Coleman is sure to make time for their two children, aged 9 (girl) and 7 (boy).

How does she handle it all? “You have to balance and be passionate about it. Find your passion, be positive, make a plan, and remain persistent,” she says. “With these steps you are guaranteed to succeed and along the way elevate others.”

“Like I tell our kids: ‘Dream big.’ ”

For more on Amber or to purchase her book, visit her website.

Give to the Addie Pontiflet Scholarship.

Visit VCU Nurse Anesthesia’s Giving page and be sure to select “Addie Pontiflet Scholarship” in the drop-down menu.

MSNBC/NBC News Journalist Lui Encourages College of Health Professions Students to Lead with Eyes on Inclusivity, Compassion

Richard Lui presenting Sky BlossomRichard Lui has been on national TV for 15 years. And it took him a while to get comfortable with that.

Perhaps it is due to the fact viewers paid more attention to the color of his skin, or the way he looked: He’s the first Asian American man to anchor a daily national cable news program.

For a long time, Lui second-guessed himself: “Am I smart enough? Am I doing the right thing? Is it what I’m wearing?” Maybe he’d change his voice to sound more like previous generations of older white anchors.

“I was questioning everything at the beginning of my career 15 years ago. And I felt I was always behind because of that,” he told a group of about 100 students and faculty in April at the VCU College of Health Professions.  The news industry, he said, wasn’t looking for Asian Americans when he started in the business. “There is no call from the corner offices of the network saying, ‘Hey, you know, we really need [an Asian American person on our channel].’ And that is why I've depended on not waiting for that call, but instead, I know I have to make that call myself. I've got to do it. We must all make that call together.”

It was that message — advocating for equality and inclusivity not only in the news business, but in healthcare and in society at large — that Lui, an award-winning journalist for MSNBC and NBC News, shared with students and faculty mostly from the College’s Department of Health Administration.  

In a series of examples, Lui encouraged the nation’s future healthcare leaders to build teams with clinical providers and leaders who look like and share similar lived experiences as the people in the communities they serve, and develop creative ways to ensure care is equitable to all by reaching out to patients. Compared to the overall U.S. population, healthcare providers who identify as Black, Asian, or Hispanic represent a small portion of the doctors, nurses, and leaders in clinical settings. It’s widely accepted that leaders and clinicians who share experiences and backgrounds with their patients play an essential role in reducing health disparities and improving the patient experience.

“Closing that gap is a collective effort across all of our communities,” Lui said. “We know that outcomes are improved when we increase [the diversity of] the faces in healthcare.”

Lui’s talk comes as the Department of Health Administration has placed a top priority on incorporating inclusive leadership into its programs and curricula.

Lui recalled a story of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco. In 1983, the overwhelmed San Francisco General Hospital set up ward 5B for AIDS patients — mostly gay men, many of whom had been ostracized from their families. They were sick, dying, and alone.

But nurses of many backgrounds, and many of them also in the LGBTQ community, stepped in to help and provide patients with compassionate care — even if it meant risking their own lives, as no one fully understood how the sexually transmitted virus spread at that time.

“Those caregivers in 5B had a different perspective on how to care for people. They knew they weren’t there to bring patients back to health or to life,” Lui said. So the nurses broke protocol: They held patients’ hands without gloves, rubbed the patients’ foreheads, even crawled into beds to give them comfort.”

Lui noted the media failed at accurately telling the story of AIDS in the early years of the epidemic, in particular by not getting close enough to the community suffering from the virus due to fear or gay stereotypes at the time.

“That story is a story of failure to me, because we didn't get it right as journalists. So those healthcare workers were the ones who were telling the stories of those ignored groups,” Lui said. “And they were of all different backgrounds…of color, of different gender identities, of different orientations.”

Lui also drew a comparison of journalism to healthcare and showed why having reporters — or healthcare providers and leaders — with backgrounds that reflect the communities they serve is so important. On March 16, 2021, a shooter killed eight people, including six Asian women, at spa parlors in Atlanta. Lui called it “a dark day” for the Asian American Pacific islander (AAPI) community.

Lui covered the spa shootings, which came after a year of thousands of AAPI hate and harassment incidents as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a breathless moment. The [AAPI] community, me included, felt like we weren't human for that moment,” he told the diverse room of students at VCU. “And perhaps many of you had those moments before. It's not a fun moment.”

Typically journalists do not get involved in the story, he said, and simply report on what they see. But nearly immediately following the event, the Asian American Journalists Association broke rank and put out guidance to newsrooms nationwide to ensure reporters and editors got the story right and respected the victims. They explained how full names of the victims should be printed and pronounced, worked to make sure newsrooms did not perpetuate Asian stereotypes, and offered insights into the hyper-sexualization of AAPI women.

“If it weren't for [the AAPI community] being there to tell the story, to bring it home and say, ‘This is wrong,’ then we may not know about it,” he said. “When we think about inclusion, and the dynamics around it, it does count that we have workers who look like those who we serve. It works.”

Lui’s late father, Stephen, died in December after an eight-year struggle against Alzheimer’s disease. Richard has spoken publicly about setting aside his career to care for his father and family and recently published a book, Enough About Me, that documents his time as a caregiver and offers tools to find meaning and compassion in everyday choices.

Paula Song, Richard Lui, Amy Armstrong, Stephan DavisThat same month, Lui interviewed U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, and was able to connect with him not only as a journalist, but as a fellow caregiver — both are one of 53 million people who serve as caregivers (in Becerra’s case, both his mother and father). Becerra and Lui shared their personal stories as they discussed nation’s plan to address Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

“I am grateful for the Secretary to come forward to share that, because I think he probably helped two or three caregivers across the country say, ‘I gotta take care of myself. This isn’t easy. It’s okay. I can say that word: I am a caregiver.’”

As his dad’s caregiver, Lui noted that while he is not a healthcare provider, “I am an expert in my father.” Whenever they visited a doctor or ER, Lui and his family could clearly explain to providers what was happening with his dad.

And it’s important to advocate for yourself or others who cannot speak for themselves, he said, because “I cannot expect any healthcare professional will be a walking encyclopedia.” That’s especially true, Lui said, in advocating for patients of color. “We’re all leaning in to understand these layers of what it means to be a person of color — as a journalist, as well as in healthcare,” he said.

Finally, he encouraged students to go to “No Go Zones” — whether those communities are figurative or literal, but places where society believes one should not visit or discuss.

“I must continue in my work to go to No Go Zones. And all of us need to do that. We must always go towards what we think might be No Go: either an idea, a physicality, or an appearance,” he said. And when a person goes to a No Go Zone and experiences another person’s story, “you are now smarter for it, and you can tell their stories better, you can see other people's stories better.”

View the Q&A portion of Richard Lui’s talk with VCU College of Health Professions students.

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