Alan Keesee has been named by his alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, as one of the university’s top 10 graduates of the previous decade.
VCU Alumni’s 10 Under 10 awards celebrate alumni who earned their first VCU degree within the past 10 years and who have enjoyed remarkable professional success, made important contributions to their community and/or loyally supported the university.
Alan Keesee has garnered some impressive accomplishments in the 10 years he’s been working in health care management. Keesee began his career immediately after graduation as a director of business operations in HCA Healthcare’s Capital Division in Richmond, Virginia, where he led strategic planning, outpatient imaging, business development and project management. After only a year at the company, he competed against more than 1,000 applicants to land one of seven slots in the company’s executive development program, subsequently rising quickly through HCA’s ranks. He served for three years as Henrico (Virginia) Doctors’ Hospital’s associate chief operating officer, then became chief operating officer at Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2013. There he led daily operations of the 266-bed acute care facility with 1,000 employees and 90,000 ER visits. He also served as the ethics and compliance officer while overseeing a team responsible for all support, diagnostic and procedural departments.
In 2015, Keesee accepted the chief operating officer position at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, an opportunity that put his leadership skills to the ultimate test. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas concert shooting in 2017, Keesee and his team provided care for hundreds of victims. In the wake of the event, he has traveled across the country to speak about the importance of creating a team that can support patients — and each other — during crises. After his time in Las Vegas, Keesee returned to Capital Regional Medical Center in 2018 where he currently serves as president and CEO overseeing 1,400 employees and 380 medical staff.
This rising star has received honors including the 2019 Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for Young Health Care Executive. Keesee also serves on several boards and committees, including the United Way of the Big Bend and Meals on Wheels Elder Care Services, both in Tallahassee, and VCU’s College of Health Professions Health Administration Alumni Advisory Committee.
Skilled, selfless and sought after: VCU College of Health Professions mints students ready to work and give back.
Every day, VCU’s College of Health Professions helps meet the demand created by workforce attrition and the aging population. Our strategy is multifaceted: We’re teaching middle- and high-school students about health careers through the VCU Pipeline, a series of health career exposure and exploration programs. We’re grooming our students for rewarding careers through rigorous classwork, competitive internships and clinical training with our community partners. And, we’re actively recruiting working adults into our distance-learning programs, preparing them to live and work in localities where their skills are needed most.
Once our graduates are in the workforce, they thrive. Many are filling leadership roles. What’s more, you’ll often find our grads going above and beyond their job descriptions through volunteer commitments at home and abroad.
Earlier this year we surveyed our alumni to learn about where you work and how you give back. We were excited to hear from so many of you! You let us know your VCU education has set you up for success, that you value your relationship with the college and that you’re helping countless people every day through all kinds of meaningful pursuits.
The following stories reveal a snapshot of our alumni and provide a glimpse into how the college is actively helping meet today’s — and tomorrow’s — labor needs.
In the pipeline
Unique programs put students on the path to health careers.
Chenel Hodges’ strong desire to help people drew her to the field of health care, where she discovered occupational therapy.
“The summer before my senior year of high school,” she recalls, “I got to see an occupational therapist change a little boy’s life. He went from completely immobile and unresponsive to walking with just the assistance of a walker and responding to certain commands. I saw the OTs bonding with their patients and caring for them in such loving ways, and I wanted to do the exact same thing in the future.”
During her senior year, Hodges learned about VCU Acceleration, one of several programs coordinated by the VCU Division for Health Sciences Diversity focused on increasing awareness of health care careers in individuals from underserved populations. “I knew that entering health care was not going to be easy, and I wanted to all the help I could,” Hodges says. So, she applied.
VCUA is a combination pre-matriculation summer session and academic year-long program for students interested in pre-health concentrations in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and other health sciences. The program emphasizes academic preparation in math and hard sciences like biology and chemistry. During the summer session, students get career coaching and assessments. During the academic year, students focus on class rigors and getting acclimated to VCU, then shadow professionals in the field and solidify their academic professional plan.
“Acceleration is an amazing opportunity for students,” says Hodges. “I was able to explore all health care fields and get prepared for my freshman year. Most importantly, Acceleration helped me build an amazing support group to help me get through college and enter into my graduate program.”
Hodges is a textbook example of student benefiting from the VCU Health Sciences Pipeline, which features programs and initiatives intended to support students in their journey toward a health profession. With an array of opportunities from middle school through the post-baccalaureate level, the VCU Pipeline strives to improve the academic and experiential profiles of participants from diverse backgrounds. While each program has its own distinct goals and benefits for students, all of the programs aim to educate and excite students about careers in the health sciences, provide resources to strengthen students’ academic skills in math and science, as well as in verbal and written communication, and ensure students make informed decisions while pursuing the health career of their choice.
VCU Acceleration is one of five pipeline programs that introduce students to skilled health professions and provide VCU’s health sciences schools with bright, dedicated and prepared students from diverse backgrounds. The programs contribute to a larger, more diverse health care work force.
“Students who participate in our programs are retained to the university and graduate on-time at higher rates than the university average,” adds Amy Taloma, assistant director for the Division for Health Sciences Diversity. “They are also more likely to attend VCU health professional programs.”
To help meet the need for a diverse and highly trained workforce, recruiters from the College of Health Professions are targeting communities around VCU’s distance-learning sites in southwest Virginia.
The bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in gerontology, nurse anesthesia and clinical laboratory sciences offered by VCU at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va., and the Roanoke Higher Education Center in Roanoke, Va., serve full-time professionals living and working in those rural communities.
Amanda Alley is graduate student services administrator for the Department of Nurse Anesthesia, the No. 1 ranked program in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Alley knows that attracting CRNAs to work in underserved areas such as Abingdon and Roanoke starts with recruiting local candidates into the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) and Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) programs offered at Abingdon and the BS-toDNAP program offered at Roanoke.
“Ninety-five percent of our southwest graduates return to the area to work,” she says, “which leads to a higher population of professionals.”
Strong family ties to the area are a driving force. Coupled with a low cost of living and a great salary, the return on students’ investment is significant.
Students in the nurse anesthesia graduate programs must have a registered nursing degree and at least one year of experience working in a critical care setting. Alley’s recruitment efforts include posting fliers in operating rooms and tabling in hospitals where nurse anesthetists are already employed. It’s a strategy that seems to be working: The number of applicants in the Roanoke program doubled from 10 to 20 since 2017. In Abingdon, the number jumped from 15 to 21 in the same time period.
Just a year from opening its doors, the college’s new building is taking shape.
There are no bad views from the new College of Health Professions building on the MCV Campus. That was the consensus of the VCU faculty, staff and alumni who took guided hard-hat tours of the structure in April.
Sizing up the faculty offices and their expansive panoramas, Department of Gerontology Chair Ayn Welleford, Ph.D., beamed. “I was excited before,” she says. “But now, to get to see all this … It’s so fantastic!”
The eight-story, 154,000-squarefoot building at the corner of Leigh and 10th streets will, for the first time, centralize all 11 of the school’s academic units under one roof. College of Health Professions Dean Cecil Drain, Ph.D., has made it a personal mission to unite the college’s programs, which have occupied as many as 13 buildings in the past 49 years and are currently scattered among five buildings on two campuses.
“I have always had it as my goal to get a building,“ Drain says. “It is a phenomenally deserving school.”
When completed in April 2019, the L-shaped, LEED Silver certified building will have a west-facing, eight-story wing and a south-facing, four-story wing. Each of the building’s floors will feature formal and informal spaces designed to promote interprofessional education and collaboration. The building will also feature cutting-edge learning laboratories for human simulation, diagnostic technology, rehabilitation and counseling education. Flexible classrooms will promote student engagement and foster distance-learning opportunities.
In April 2018, 16 months into the project, the building was fully enclosed. Walls were up; windows were in. A cooling system was being installed. Finishes — paint and flooring — were next. Brilliant sunlight glinted off the steel and glass exterior from every angle.
Walking in small groups through each floor, visitors measured the offices with outstretched arms, peered behind steel girders to envision full classrooms and took selfies in front of breezy openings where expansive windows would be hoisted into place. They marveled at high ceilings and airy stairwells, stopping at times to thank the workers wielding power tools and paint brushes. More than 1,500 individuals will have worked on the building since ground was broken in January 2016, and more than 2,000 will have contributed their construction skills by the time doors open for classes in August 2019.
With 12 months of construction still to come, the visitors could only imagine what the spaces would look like filled with students and furnishings. But the vast city views they found and the brilliant natural light they saw flooding each floor required no imagination: The building will be bright, airy and inviting — a stark contrast to the basements and back hallways that have housed many of the college’s programs over the years.
“This is one of the most exciting buildings on campus,” says Jay Davenport, VCU’s vice president for development and alumni relations. “We are so excited to have it under construction and to get the dedication planning underway.”
He adds, “I already have several plans for the open deck — so we’re going to have lots of events up there!”
Sharing in the collective enthusiasm, Russell Davis, Ph.D., professor and the Rev. Robert B. Lantz Chair of the Department of Patient Counseling, called the building “an architectural gem.”
“The whole building is a place of beauty to inspire those preparing for careers in health care,” he says. “It is a reminder that in the halls of science, there must be room for the human spirit.”
Accompanying Davis on the tour was Katherine Lantz, who is naming the patient counseling suite in honor of her late husband. Robert Lantz spent nearly 15 years as chair of the Professional Advisory Group for VCU’s patient counseling program and had a huge influence on the development of the Master of Science program in patient counseling. Located on the seventh floor, the suite will be known as the Rev. Robert B. Lantz Patient Counseling and Clinical Pastoral Education Suite. Lantz was all smiles as she walked through the department’s future home and called the new building “quite handsome.”
Alexander Tartaglia, D.Min., BCC, senior associate dean of the College of Health Professions and the Katherine Lantz Professor, was most struck by the building’s clear design to be student focused. “Student labs that reflect professional practice settings and collaborative learning environments demonstrate a significant opportunity to engage students and promote active learning,” he says. “It delivers on the capacity to promote interprofessional collaboration.”
The building’s ability to exponentially enhance interdisciplinary, interprofessional research and scholarship was a common theme expressed by visitors after the tour.
“The tour of our new building was exciting!” says Tracey Papas (M.S.H.A. ’11). “The health administration space offers many opportunities for collaborating, which is one of the key strengths of our department. It was thrilling to stand in the future classroom where students and alumni will be learning how to lead the future of our health care system.”
The new building is a visible investment from VCU in the college’s academic programs and in support of the health professions.
“It’s been a long time coming,” says Ann Charlescraft, D.Min., BCC, who oversees alumni relations and development for the Department of Patient Counseling. “Folks have worked diligently to set this in place. It will be spectacular.”