Health Sciences Diversity Summer Program Hosts Deans’ Discussion

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Undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students participating in VCU’s Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP) were treated to a welcome-to-VCU reception June 4, as well as the chance to quiz four deans.

The schools of Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Medicine and Pharmacy participate in the six-week inter-professional program that’s designed for students preparing to apply to health professions schools. All SAEP students take classes in physiology, microbiology and pharmacology and then receive specialized instruction in the track of their choice: dentistry, medicine, pharmacy or physical therapy.

This summer program is administered by VCU’s Division for Health Sciences Diversity in partnership with the health sciences schools. The 51 members of this year’s SAEP group hail from Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia,  Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee,   Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The reception at Kontos Medical Sciences Building allowed students to meet and interact with deans Cecil Drain (allied health professions), David Sarrett (dentistry), Jerome Strauss (medicine) and Victor Yanchick (pharmacy). It also gave the deans the chance to introduce students to their respective schools with facts and stats and to discuss their schools’ various strengths and selling points.

“Providing students with opportunities to engage the heads of four VCU health profession schools has mutual benefits,” said Kevin Harris, assistant vice president, academic and diversity affairs.

“Foremost is the extension of the students' enrichment as they get a glimpse into the complex and critical factors involved in training our nation's health professionals. The deans are beneficiaries, as well, as they get a first-person perspective on the front-of-mind questions that occupy students who have aspirations of joining them as students and, ultimately, as colleagues.”

“In a broader sense, programs such as SAEP traditionally seek participant exposure to senior leadership as a show of institutional commitment. What better example than the quadruple bonus provided by SAEP deans!”

A question-and-answer session following the deans’ introductions began with a query as to how VCU health professions schools are responding to health care reform issues. One example, said Yanchick and Strauss, is that information regarding accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes has been integrated into the pharmacy and medicine curricula. Sarrett said attention is being paid to the need for pediatric dental care and also how to integrate oral health care into general health care.

Asked which issues – in addition to the previously discussed topics of health care and diversity – are greatest at each school, Drain volunteered that technology ranks high at the School of Allied Health Professions. Trying to keep up with technology and use it to its greatest advantage is key, he said, to delivering the best education possible.

Sarrett said the School of Dentistry is placing more emphasis on ethics and professionalism. The assumption, he said, is that people come into the health care professions with a great understanding of both, but often that isn’t the case.  

The School of Pharmacy, said Yanchick, is taking education out of the classroom and into the community, concentrating more on on-the-job learning for increased confidence and competence.

The School of Medicine is developing a new competence-based approach to reduce redundancy in the classroom, Strauss said. By accelerating competency skills, he said, the school can get physicians into practice sooner and help curtail a predicted shortage.

Drain noted that a predicted shortage of nurse anesthetists also is a major concern. “I suspect it’s the same across the board,” he added.

Pipeline programs such as SAEP are doing their part to assuage that concern by ensuring that prospective health sciences students are exposed to professions that will benefit from their knowledge and interest in years to come.  

Following the presentations and discussion, Drain, Sarrett, Strauss and Yanchick further engaged students during a luncheon event.

The Summer Academic Enrichment Program runs through July 3. For more information, visit

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