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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 Student Receives “We Believe in You Award” from NAHSE

Scholarship is awarded to exceptional graduate students striving to become a future health care leader

By Malorie Burkett
VCU College of Health Professions

Maya Perkins, a Virginia Commonwealth University Health Administration student, recently was named a winner of the “We Believe in You Award” from the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE).

Maya Perkins (center), a VCU Health Administration student, recently was named a winner of the “We Believe in You Award” from the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE).
Maya Perkins (center), a VCU Health Administration student, recently was named a winner of the “We Believe in You Award” from the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE).
Photo courtesy of Maya Perkins

The award is given to an exceptional graduate student striving to become a future leader in health care management and NAHSE.  It also is one of four distinct scholarships developed by NAHSE to support and encourage minority students to pursue a career in healthcare leadership, or related field.

A native of Chesapeake, Perkins is a first-year student in the Masters in Health Administration program.

“As an African American woman striving to become a health care leader, I am committed to the journey of working to break health disparities,” she said.

Perkins says she was always interested in health care, and she started out as a nursing major at Hampton University. She knew that working to break barriers and health disparities in the community as a whole were important to her, and she was determined to make a difference for patients in a different way, especially among the minority population. As a result, Perkins changed her major to health sciences policy and administration.

“Maya exemplifies the passion, energy, and dedication the organization is looking for in aspiring healthcare leaders”, said Stephan Davis, DNP, FACHE, executive director of inclusive leadership education, assistant professor in the Department of Health Administration, and a member of NAHSE. “Only a few months into her studies at VCU, Maya is already demonstrating leadership in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. The faculty congratulate Maya and we look forward to celebrating future successes during her studies at VCU and in her career.”

Additionally, Perkins was elected DEI director for her cohort this fall. In this role, she will focus her efforts on being an advocate for her fellow classmates, encouraging and empowering students, and ensuring there are safe spaces with no barriers hindering success in the program.

“My cohort overall is very supportive of each other, and we're always encouraging one another,” said Perkins. “This is a great place to be. It's great energy and you feel like you want to succeed. You want everyone around you to succeed, and they give you those resources to do so, and are really preparing you to become the best health professional.”

Medical laboratory science shapes future for VCU alumna

By Malorie Burkett
VCU College of Health Professions

Modesola Akala was 13 years old when she immigrated to the United States. Her father moved their family from Nigeria, to make a new home in Richmond. But for Akala, transitioning to life in a new country as an adolescent came with its share of challenges, as she struggled to fit in comfortably with her peers.

Modesola Akala
Modesola Akala, a two-time alumna of the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences, found her calling in laboratory sciences.

“As an immigrant with a strong accent and dark skin, I was heavily bullied in high school,” said Akala.

But throughout all of the change and growth she experienced, science remained a constant. It was something Akala always enjoyed, and she knew from a young age that science would always be part of her life. Upon graduating from high school, Akala became a biology major at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Maintaining her focus on science, Akala was still uncertain of how her studies would shape her future. About halfway through her undergraduate program, she sought guidance from her academic advisor.

“I asked about my options, because I honestly did not want to go to medical school,” she said. “I loved science, the research, and the behind-the-scenes kind of science, but I didn’t know what field that was.”

It was during this time when Akala and her advisor had a discussion about clinical laboratory sciences.

“My advisor told me about clinical lab sciences, and it just kind of clicked,” said Akala.

From that moment, Akala’s aspirations in laboratory sciences continued. She graduated from VCU in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in clinical laboratory sciences and minor in chemistry. Having been awarded a two-year contract to work in a laboratory at the University of Virginia, Akala immediately went to work as a clinical laboratory scientist. However, being away from Richmond made her realize how much she missed it. After fulfilling her role at UVa, Akala returned to the Richmond area to work as a clinical laboratory generalist for Bon Secours.

She came full circle back to VCU, and decided to pursue a Masters in Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

Akala says she felt as if she had done everything, and was hungry for more. Akala could see herself in a leadership role, but knew that obtaining a Master’s degree would be part of her journey.

“For me to come back and get my Masters in clinical lab sciences, and to focus in chemistry was mind blowing,” said Akala, who previously struggled with chemistry as an undergraduate. “I actually grew to love chemistry to the point where I excelled in it.”

Her role in the laboratory continued at VCU Health, first as a clinical laboratory scientist, and then as a senior medical laboratory scientist – a position she held until she graduated in May 2022.

Modesola Akala and spouse dressed in blue at their wedding
Modesola and her husband Olutade celebrated a multi-day traditional Yoruba wedding wedding in 2021.

On top of being a full-time student and working in the lab full-time, Akala planned her dream wedding on her own. Originally scheduled to take place in 2020, the wedding was postponed to 2021 because of COVID. Coming from the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, Akala married the love of her life, Olutade Akala, in a multi-day traditional Yoruba wedding. This month, Olutade also will graduate from VCU with a Masters in mechanical and nuclear engineering.

“Modesola has followed a very successful educational and career path in laboratory medicine, beginning with her education at the community college through completing her MS degree,” said Teresa Nadder, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences. “From the start, she impressed me with her positive attitude and endless enthusiasm for her profession and the opportunity to advance her knowledge in the field.

Earlier this year, Akala was awarded a Distinguished Abstract Award from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) for her abstract titled, “Potential Detection of 58 Fentanyl Analogs in Urine Using Fentanyl Immunoassays.” Her abstract was one of 19 accepted for the 2022 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting, selected for scientific excellence by a panel of academy fellows. Her abstract was chosen out of 640 submissions. 

“It's something I was really interested in and passionate about, and I didn't want to do research where it was just going sit on the shelf,” said Akala. “I wanted to do research that would be used on a daily basis, to help other labs and help other patients. That's where I feel like my passion kind of poured into it.”

AACC Academy is composed of more than 600 doctoral level clinical biochemists and is dedicated to advancing scholarship in the field of laboratory medicine.

Akala credits William Korzun, Ph.D., associate professor of clinical chemistry and instrumentation in the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences, Nadder and other faculty members for instilling in her the drive to help her succeed.

“Honestly, everything they said was right. You know, clinical chemistry, clinical life sciences – they don’t have to be stepping stones. They are careers,” she said. “I love what I do every day and I cannot thank the faculty enough for it because I saw their passion as I was going through the program. All of the instructors really made an impact because laboratory science was their career. This is my career and I don't see myself doing anything else.”

Today, Akala serves as a laboratory manager at HCA Kingwood in Houston, where she is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the lab. She also visits Lone Star College in Texas to speak to students regularly about the field of medical laboratory sciences.

“Dr. Korzun and Dr. Nadder were always so supportive. They pushed me and supported me by giving me the drive that I needed to succeed,” said Akala. “And to Dr. Korzun, I really should have listened more in chemistry class!"

For more on Medical Laboratory Sciences at VCU, visit the Medical Laboratory Science departmental website.

College of Health Professions Alumni Spotlight: Evangeline Yoder, PT, MS, DHSC

Evangeline Yoder was first introduced to the physical therapy profession as a child while being treated by an orthopaedic surgeon in Richmond named Dr. Thomas Wheeldon. Yoder had adolescent idiopathic scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine that appears in late childhood or adolescence. Wheeldon received accreditation in 1931 from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) to establish the first physical therapy school “in the south” at Richmond Professional Institute, the forerunner of the Medical College of Virginia’s (MCV) physical therapy program.

T. Greg Prince, senior director of development at the College of Health Professions and Evangeline Yoder, a 1962 graduate of VCU Physical Therapy
T. Greg Prince, senior director of development at the College of Health Professions and Evangeline Yoder, a 1962 graduate of VCU Physical Therapy.

She studied in the PT program and graduated from MCV in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy. The department chair during this time was Susanne Hirt, RPT, M.Ed.

“Miss Hirt developed and taught an intensely rigorous and demanding curriculum for aspiring therapists,” said Yoder, who also recalls the words of a 1953 graduate ‘she could put the fear of God in you with just one look.’”

Yoder began practicing at a rehabilitation center in Cleveland, and after a year, she traveled to England for experience in caring for patients with spinal cord injuries at the National Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Center in Aylesbury, England. The center was founded in 1943 by Sir Ludwig Guttman – a medical pioneer in treating post WWII victims of spinal injury, and originator of the 1948 Paralympic Games.

With the practice of physical therapy expanding in the 1960’s to include neurophysiological approaches, Yoder took a post-graduate course in neurodevelopmental treatment in London, and a residency in proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation in Vallejo, Ca. She also learned physiotherapy procedures for patients with vestibular disorders conceived by otoneurologist Sir Terrance Cawthorne.

Another area of Yoder’s training took place at the Bad Ragaz Medical Center – Medizinische Abteilung in the Swiss Alps. She acquired skills in aquatic therapy, while also learning German and skiing on the alpine slopes.

In the 1970’s physical therapy practice expanded in the USA to include orthopaedic manual therapy procedures. Yoder took courses with Dr. James Cyriax and Freddy Kaltenborn, PT, DO, followed by a certification course in spinal manipulation with Geoffrey Maitland, PT in Adelaide, Australia.

Yoder says these experiences proved to be invaluable during her more than 20 years of clinical practice, in a variety of settings, and later as a professor in academic settings.

“I especially treasure the enduring friendships forged with other globe-trotting physios,” she said. “To this day, we still commiserate about our golden years as therapists.”

Yoder spent the latter 20 years of her career as a teacher. She says she is especially grateful for the mentorship of Otto D. Payton, who was once chair of the MCV Physical Therapy Master’s program.

Department of Physical Therapy names interim chair

Oct. 31, 2022

Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Health Professions has named Benjamin Darter, P.T., Ph.D., interim chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. Darter replaces Michel Landry, Ph.D., former department chair.

“In our search for the next chair, we hope to find someone who embraces a shared vision for what I think is an outstanding culture of mutual respect, and a focus on strengthening our already highly successful, highly reputable program,” said Darter. “I feel fortunate stepping into this role with a certain level of confidence that those who are here to support me are very experienced and very good at what they do.”

Darter’s primary research and clinical interests are in the areas of rehabilitation following extremity amputation, optimization of gait performance, and overall health promotion. He teaches courses in orthotics and prosthetics, and applied exercise physiology in the entry level Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

“Ben’s leadership and outstanding focus on research will allow him to maintain VCU’s excellent physical therapy program,” said Susan Parish, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Professions and Sentara Professor of Health Administration. “I am thrilled he will serve in this role as we continue to build upon the department’s long-standing and remarkable reputation.”

A national search for the next department chair will begin immediately, and will be led by the search firm Isaacson Miller.

Who will lead this year's food drive?

In a couple of weeks, the College will launch the annual fall food drive to benefit the Ram Pantry. This special program provides food to VCU students in need. Once again, the food drive will be a competition among CHP units. Last year, the Department of Health Administration collected over 450 pounds of food, and was named winner of the “Cream of the Crop” trophy. As a College, we successfully collected nearly 740 pounds for the Ram Pantry.

Please consider taking part in this important event, which runs Nov. 1 – 15. There are many students across VCU experiencing food insecurity and other challenges. Our food donations help provide meals to ease some of their stresses, allowing them to focus on schoolwork.

Thank you to our food drive organizers, Beth Williamson-Ayers and Cameron Parkins, for partnering with the Division of Student Affairs’ Ram Pantry in coordinating the food drive.

Nurse Anesthesia events drive excellence through continuing education and diversity

Group of students watch ultrasound demonstration.The College of Health Professions Department of Nurse Anesthesia recently hosted the inaugural Nurse Anesthesia Faculty Associates (NAFA) RVA conference. The four-day event featured continuing education activities on diverse and clinically-relevant anesthesia topics. At the culmination of the conference, faculty participants had the opportunity to engage with students, alumni and CRNAs.

On the heels of the NAFA RVA conference, more than 200 critical care nurses of color from across the country interested in nurse anesthesia, came together as part of the Diversity CRNA information session and airway simulation lab workshop. The mission of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program is to inform, empower, and mentor underserved diverse populations with information to prepare them for a successful career in Nurse Anesthesia.

Students ventilating mannequinDemonstration of anesthesia machineStudents gathered around medical mannequin for ultrasound demonstration

Visit Flickr for event photos.

National Grief Awareness Day

Compassionate care for others begins with ourselves.

VCU Health team members found that developing strategies for coping with their own grief from the pandemic helped them be more effective providers for the patients and families they serve.

National Grief Awareness Day takes place every year on Aug. 30. It’s a day dedicated to the different ways individuals cope with loss while offering resources and support to those who are grieving. Whether someone is struggling with the loss of a loved one or undergoing significant life changes, Grief Awareness Day has shown that grief affects every person in its own distinct manner.

But what happens when grief affects those who dedicate their lives to providing support and care for others? A group of VCU Health team members has learned to face their own experiences with grief in hopes of becoming stronger, more effective providers for the patients and families they serve.

Read more about the VCU Health team members and their experience with grief on vcuhealth.org.

Two faculty at CHP selected as American Academy of Nursing fellows

Four faculty members from Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Health Professions and School of Nursing will receive one of the most prestigious honors in nursing this fall when they are inducted as fellows of the American Academy of Nursing.

The faculty members were among 250 nurse leaders selected to join the academy’s 2022 class of fellows. The inductees will be recognized for their significant contributions to health and health care at the academy’s annual Health Policy Conference, set for Oct. 27-29.

The VCU CHP faculty to be inducted this year are: 

  • Stephan Davis, DNP, the executive director of inclusive leadership education and assistant professor in the Department of Health Administration and assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the College of Health Professions. Davis is a registered nurse, a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, fellow of the National Academies of Practice and a fellow of the Healthcare Financial Management Association.
  • Jiale (Gary) Hu, Ph.D., an assistant professor and director of research and global outreach in the Department of Nurse Anesthesia at the College of Health Professions. Hu is a registered nurse.

Read more about the four VCU faculty selected as fellows on VCU News.

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.

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Have a story about the College of Health Professions in action that you'd like to share? Contact us at mgburkett@vcu.edu or (804) 828-7247.