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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.

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.

Kaiser Permanente Northern California Regional President talks environmental sustainability in health care

Owen Plietz, MHA '00 speaks with Health Administration students

Do No Harm.

Like the promise doctors make to their patients, health care systems must do the same for their communities when it comes to environmental sustainability.

That was the message delivered to VCU Health Administration students by Carrie Owen Plietz, FACHE, a 2000 MHA graduate who serves as the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Regional President.

“We need to expand this concept of ‘Zero Harm’ from patient care to our community,” said Owen Plietz, the Paul A. Gross Landmarks in Leadership Lecturer. “We have a moral obligation here to do something different.”

As a kick-off to April’s reunion weekend at the VCU College of Health Professions, Owen Plietz cited statistics from the organization Health Care Without Harm that show health care’s climate footprint is responsible for 4.4% of total global emissions — and the U.S. contributes to a quarter of that total.

Environment and Healthcare infographicThe focus on environmental sustainability is part of what Kaiser Permanente calls “Total Health” — treating patients holistically with an eye on investing in and improving the social determinants of health. And it’s a mission taken seriously by the organization. Owen Plietz described Kaiser Permanente as a unique “magic unicorn” of an integrated health system and not-for-profit health plan. The organization provides care to more than 4.5 million members through 21 hospitals and more than 250 medical offices in Northern California.

“We’re fully incented and aligned on keeping you healthy,” she said. “Every day, the people in our organization are mission driven to keep people healthy, at home and living their best lives. It is so cool.”

When it comes to impacting the environment, Kaiser Permanente was the first health care system to achieve carbon neutrality in 2020. It improved energy-use efficiency 8 percent since 2013, saving $19.6 million annually, and decreased water-use intensity 15.3 percent, saving $2.8 million annually. Through offsets, policies, and updated or new infrastructure, the organization’s hospitals and medical buildings no longer have a carbon footprint — equivalent to taking 175,000 cars off the road.

Owen Plietz walked through Kaiser Permanente’s “Carbon Neutral Protocol,” a three-phased approach to removing as much pollution from the atmosphere as possible. It has achieved two of its three “scopes,” which include goals for reducing emissions from fleet vehicles, anesthetic gas, and refrigerants.

The second scope includes emissions targets for all the system’s buildings, which require electricity and steam to operate Kaiser Permanente. The organization has long-term purchasing agreements for 335 megawatts of utility-scale electricity from renewable sources, has installed more than 60 megawatts of on-site solar arrays (enough to power 9,600 homes for a year), and has bought carbon offsets to mitigate unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions.

Like other California-based health systems and hospitals, under a 1994 state law, Kaiser Permanente had to retrofit old buildings and design new hospitals to standards that would require them to remain functional after a major earthquake. In doing so, the company also committed to constructing with sustainability in mind — adding solar panels or using greener building methods. Today the organization has several LEED-certified green hospitals and buildings, including the San Diego Medical Center, the world’s first double LEED-Platinum hospital.

Kaiser Permanente employs an entire sustainability team, including an Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship and a Chief Energy Officer, all of whom are held accountable for achieving key sustainability metrics.

“It's been iterative. It's been adaptive. We're not where we want to be yet,” Owen Plietz said. “With any type of zero harm, it is continuous improvement, right? You're never there because you're always trying to get better.”

Kaiser Permanente infographicShe encouraged VCU Health Administration students entering third-year administrative residencies with health care organizations to, should they work on construction projects, ask questions about sustainability initiatives.  Initiatives such as incorporating solar power, whether carbon credits will be purchased to offset on-site boilers, or if buildings will be constructed to zero-carbon standards.

“You’re going to bring something new and creative and fresh to the conversation,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of us in health care thought about Zero Harm for our patients, our community, and the environment, and had a more holistic view of Total Health? It’s a great way for VCU to stand out.”

In another example, she explained how Kaiser Permanente questioned how they bought food and wondered if they could buy more local fruits, vegetables, and meats, which were raised using more sustainable practices.

“The immediate response was, ‘[buying local food] is going to be more expensive,’” Owen Plietz said. “It actually ended up being less expensive.”

Her lesson: “Sometimes, when we're talking about sustainability, we think it's going to be more expensive. But all of you are smart enough to know to dig a little bit deeper, because the story is much broader. Challenge the status quo. It is the right thing to do.”

Students triumph at prestigious interprofessional case competition

CLARION Case Competition focused on diversity, equity and inclusion in health care.

A group of Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate and graduate students have won the prestigious CLARION Case Competition, designed to improve interdisciplinary communications within health care.

Josephine Gresko, Lance Mendoza, Gruhi Patel, and Kush Savsani teamed to win a national title. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)Josephine Gresko, a first-year student in the School of Pharmacy; Lance Mendoza, a graduate health administration student in the College of Health Professions; Gruhi Patel, a senior biomedical engineering major in the College of Engineering; and Kush Savsani, a sophomore biology major in the College of Humanities and Sciences, won $7,500 and are the first VCU team to win the competition, beating out 16 other teams from across the country. The team also won this year’s $1,000 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award with their presentation.

Read more about the CLARION competition on VCU News.

Class of 2022: Surviving childhood cancer inspired Jeff Renner to innovate pediatric health care

Jeff Renner's administrative residency at Children’s Hospital of Richmond has reinforced his belief that he is on the right path. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)Pursuing a master’s in health administration, Renner wants to make compassionate leadership and equal access to high-quality care the standard in pediatric health care.

Renner started as an engineering major, but made the switch to health professions. Intrigued by the VCU College of Health Professions’ affiliation to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Renner enrolled in the health administration program. “It was a perfect fit. The health administration track has an emphasis on compassionate leadership and I found mentors to help me launch a career in pediatrics,” he said.

Read more about Jeff Renner's journey on VCU News.

VCU Celebrates First-Ever Giving Day

VCU Giving Day Find your Cause givingday.vcu.eduThe College needs your help to continue the work we do to ensure all of our qualified students can achieve their dreams to work in health care and are not derailed because of the costs of education. Cathy Saunders, Gerontology alumna, shares this special message about the impact the College made on her life and her commitment to ensuring our students complete their education. 

Please consider supporting the College of Health Professions’ Student Emergency Fund or one of our scholarships to make a real difference in the lives of our future health professionals.

To donate to the Student Emergency Fund, visit here. If you’d like to contribute to a scholarship fund, or for more information, contact T. Greg Prince, senior director of development at tgprince@vcu.edu or (804) 828-3269.

Michael Elliott named first COO of VCU Health System

headshot of Michael ElliottAfter an extensive national search, Michael Elliott, Pharm.D., MSHA, FACHE, has been selected as the inaugural chief operations officer of VCU Health System, effective May 15. The new position is responsible for integrating the academic health system’s organizational strategic plan with its operations. Elliottt holds a doctorate in pharmacy and master’s degree in health administration from VCU.

Read more about Michael Elliott being named the first COO of VCU Health System on VCU Health news.

NBC/MSNBC Journalist Lui to visit VCU College of Health Professions

Richard Lui, an anchor and journalist with NBC News and MSNBC, will visit the VCU College of Health Professions on April 7. The first-generation Chinese and Polynesian American will spend a day in Richmond and share his personal and professional journey while discussing the importance of investing in diverse communities in order to improve population health.

Lui presentation flyerLui was invited to VCU by the Department of Health Administration as part of its new inclusive leadership education initiative. 

Lui is an award-winning journalist and author with more than 30 years in television, film, technology, and business. Prior to anchoring for MSNBC and NBC News, he was with CNN Worldwide and became the first Asian American man to anchor a daily national cable news program. He regularly speaks to his on-the-ground experience on the complex topic of race, driven by his journalistic expertise.

“We are so excited that Richard Lui is able to join us and meet with our students and faculty to share his story and his vision for investing in diverse communities,” says Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE, FNAP, assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the VCU College of Health Professions (CHP) and executive director of inclusive leadership education for the Department of Health Administration. “After years of watching Richard on the news, I was elated to have the opportunity to speak with him one-on-one at the end of 2021. I knew from our conversation, which ranged from healthcare to the challenges minorities often face in professional environments, that VCU students would benefit from learning about his personal and professional journey and his mission-driven work on caregiving and mental health.”

"I am thrilled to join the VCU College of Health Professions and the Department of Health Administration as they commemorate National Minority Health Month,” Lui said.  “When I met with Dr. Davis, I was impressed with his leadership and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the College's investment in this important work. Given my personal experience with and films related to caregiving, I am most excited to meet with students who will be the next generation of healthcare providers and health system leaders."

Lui is the author of the bestselling and award-winning book Enough About Me: The Unexpected Power of Selflessness. He is also the director and producer of two feature documentary films including his directorial debut, Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation, which covers children caring for military veteran parents and grandparents with disabilities. His second film, Hidden Wounds, profiles three families at the intersection of mental health and caregiving. 

April is National Minority Health Month, and Lui’s talk on the Month’s theme, Give Your Community a Boost, will focus on the ways that investing in diverse communities can help to eradicate health disparities. The day will include a keynote address for 150 guests and a screening of Lui’s award-winning film on caregiving, Sky Blossom, followed by an exclusive Q&A session.

Links to register are below. Space is limited.

VCU Health Administration Leader inducted into National Academies of Practice (NAP) Nursing Academy

Stephan Davis smilingStephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE, has been inducted as a distinguished scholar and fellow to the National Academies of Practice (NAP) Nursing Academy. The induction comes in advance of Davis’ presentation on nursing leadership and workforce development at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress on Healthcare Leadership on March 28 in Chicago. Two nurse executives from Wellstar Health System will present alongside Davis.

“I congratulate Dr. Davis on his induction as a fellow of the National Academies of Practice Nursing Academy. He is absolutely deserving of this recognition. His commitment to transforming health care to be respectful and effective for underserved and underrepresented populations is simply unparalleled. His efforts and his impact extend far beyond our community,” said Susan L. Parish, PhD, MSW, dean of the VCU College of Health Professions. “This honor is a tribute to his leadership in interprofessional collaboration.”

Davis joined the VCU Department of Health Administration in January and serves as executive director of inclusive leadership education. He is also the assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the VCU College of Health Professions, a nationally recognized leader in the education of healthcare providers and leaders, cultivating an interprofessional approach to training across 9 disciplines.

"His commitment to transforming health care to be respectful and effective for underserved and underrepresented populations is simply unparalleled."

Susan Parish, Dean of the VCU College of Health Professions

The National Academies of Practice is a non-profit organization that advises governmental bodies on the healthcare system. Practitioners and scholars are elected by peers from various health professions disciplines to join the group dedicated to supporting affordable, accessible, and coordinated quality healthcare for all.

“VCU and the National Academies of Practice are both focused on transforming healthcare through interprofessional collaboration while improving quality, increasing access, and reducing costs,” Davis says. “I am honored that a respected national organization like NAP has recognized my work to guide healthcare organizations to become designated leaders in LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality, as well as my efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare and academic settings.”

One of the key elements of his interprofessional leadership cited in his nomination was his work with the Josiah Macy Foundation. Davis served as an invited conferee at the 2020 Macy Foundation conference on Addressing Harmful Bias and Eliminating Discrimination in Health Professions Learning Environments. It culminated in a report of recommendations and action steps to advance diversity and inclusion in those settings. Subsequently, Davis has been instrumental in disseminating the report recommendations in collaboration with the Foundation through multiple channels, including webinars, blogs, and podcasts.

Davis will present “21X—From RN to Chief Nursing Officer: Journeys of Leadership and Resiliency Amid Unprecedented Change” on March 28 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the ACHE Congress in Chicago. He will be joined by Wellstar’s Jill Case-Wirth, RN, FAAN, Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive, as well as LeeAnna Spiva, Ph.D, RN, System Assistant Vice President of Nursing Operations and Practice. Learn more and add the session to your calendar.

VCU professor’s new book challenges ageism in society

‘It's so normalized that we literally have to unmask ourselves to be able to see it because it's all around us and it's been all around us for decades.’

Tracey Gendron holding her new book, Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End it
Tracey Gendron, Ph.D., director of the Virginia Center on Aging at VCU, is the author of the new book "Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It." (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

In her book "Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It," Tracey Gendron, Ph.D., director of the Virginia Center on Aging at Virginia Commonwealth University, challenges why “everything we know about aging is wrong,” and why the concept of generations divides us more than it serves to bring us together.

Click here to read more about Tracey Gendron's book.

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