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Lifting the curtain

VCU Health’s Community Internship Program gives influential donors a behind-the-scenes look at VCU Medical Center

 By Brelyn Powell

 

Betty Sue Grandis LePage has visited the MCV Campus for her medical care since the day she was born at the Medical College of Virginia.

“My first instinct anytime I need to see a doctor is to go there,” she says.

LePage comes from a family with a long history of philanthropic support for the university. Her parents, Harriet and Harry Grandis, were dedicated benefactors of medical education scholarships and cancer research at VCU, and she has been a member of the Massey Cancer Center advisory board since 2008. But it wasn’t until LePage and her husband, Todd, participated in the VCU Health Community Internship program in November 2016 that she says she really understood the complexity of what the institution does.

VCU Health invites community leaders, board members, local politicians and other influential partners to participate in the Community Internship program to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at VCU’s academic medical center. Over two days, interns learn about groundbreaking clinical research and see some of the facility’s most advanced technology.

“They definitely kept us busy,” Todd LePage says. “Each day was packed from start to finish. They really showed us everything.”

Unlike his wife, LePage was not born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, but has become familiar with VCU Medical Center’s reputation in the 40 years he has lived in the area. The Community Internship gave him fresh insight into the critical role VCU Health plays in the Richmond community.

“For Todd, it was an eye-opening introduction to an institution that I had gotten to know pretty well throughout my life,” Betty Sue LePage says. “I really thought I had a pretty good idea of what the hospital does, but that experience gave me a new appreciation for how the facility works and all the wonderful things they do.”

Since the program began in 2014, 49 community leaders have participated. Each has walked away from the experience with the ability to share their inside perspective with others.

“Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of endorsement,” says Deborah Davis, CEO of VCU Health System Hospitals and Clinics and vice president for clinical affairs at VCU. “Inviting members of the community to experience the medical center is extremely valuable for them and for us. While participants learn about our complex environment – how we teach, treat and care for the community – we gain their insights about how we can continuously improve to ensure we are always delivering on our mission.”

Pamela Kiecker Royall and William A. “Bill” Royall, Jr., were among the first group to complete the Community Internship and have been champions of the program ever since.

“We saw the kind of expert and compassionate care we would recommend to others,” Pamela Royall says. “Bill and I regularly share what we learned to ensure others know what an amazing resource the hospital is to our community and the commonwealth.”

 

DEPTH AND BREADTH

The Community Internship program also lets the providers and educators at VCU Health give others a glimpse into their everyday work environment.

“The interns get to see firsthand how multifaceted and resource-intensive healthcare is,” says Wilhelm A. Zuelzer, M.D. (H.S.’77/M; H.S.’81/M), a professor in the VCU Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Zuelzer is the guide for the Community Internship’s surgery-focused unit, during which the interns don scrubs to witness a surgical procedure.

“The actual surgery was remarkable, but we also got to see some of the background processes you don’t even think about,” Betty Sue LePage says. “From the sterilization of the surgical instruments to a close-up look at some of the newest technology being used, we saw it all.”

Ginny and Charles Crone were part of the same Community Internship group as the LePages in November 2016. Even though Charles Crone had served more than 15 years on advisory boards for the MCV Foundation and Massey Cancer Center, they found there was much more to discover.

On the first day of the internship, they learned about VCU Trauma Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention program, an initiative designed to reduce and prevent injuries through ongoing education, research and community outreach. Later that afternoon, they passed through a unit that was being visited by Dogs on Call, a base of community volunteers and certified therapy dogs that visit patients, visitors, students and staff at VCU Medical Center.

“It’s easy to think of a hospital as just a place where people go after something terrible has happened to them,” Ginny Crone says. “It was heartwarming to see other services that are not as well-known but that are just as important.”

 

A COALITION OF ADVOCATES

The interns meet with VCU Health leadership at the end of the program. They share which parts of the experience resonated most with them, offer suggestions on what services could be improved and recommend others from within their social and professional networks who might be interested in the internship. After the internship, interns continue to receive regular updates about key happenings on the MCV Campus, and once a year, they gather for an annual reunion.

Marsha D. Rappley, M.D., CEO of VCU Health System and vice president of VCU Health Sciences, is grateful for the participants’ continued involvement and the critical role they play in helping the institution fulfill its mission.

“The leaders of our community care deeply about our ability to provide the finest and most advanced health care for the people of Richmond, the commonwealth and the nation,” she says. “As a teaching facility we prepare the health care workforce of tomorrow and we believe teaching the community is equally important. Sharing our work with them helps us to do more and better for all those we serve.”

The Crones say that after witnessing the lifesaving work performed at the medical center every day, they developed a better understanding of how the services provided on the MCV Campus are improving lives in the Richmond community and beyond. Now they see themselves as advocates for the VCU Health System.

“I get to tell people what VCU Health is all about,” Charles Crone says. “It’s a perspective that I’m proud to share as often as possible.”

 

To learn more about VCU Health’s Community Internship program, contact Payton Hardinge (B.A.’11/H&S), stewardship manager for VCU Health, at (804) 828-3407 or payton.hardinge@vcuhealth.org.