Enrique Gerszten, M.D., Faculty Teaching Excellence Award

In 2005, 24 third-year medical students arrived in Fairfax, the first group of students to train at the new Inova Campus of the VCU School of Medicine. Craig Cheifetz, M.D., Assistant Dean for Medical Education and Student Affairs for VCU School of Medicine and Director of Undergraduate Medical Education for Inova Health System, had already been at work for three years preparing for their arrival.

Dr. Cheifetz’s charge: develop educational programs for 24 third-year and 24 fourth-year students at the Fairfax campus that provide comparable educational experiences to those available in Richmond, while taking advantage of the learning opportunities inherent in Inova’s community hospital setting and diverse patient population.

In addition to the considerable task of developing student support services and teaching facilities on site, faculty needed to be trained to teach students to meet the competencies expected of VCU medical graduates. Dr. Cheifetz took steps to assure that students would have an outstanding educational experience. As two of these first clerkship directors, Samantha Buery-Joyner, M.D., (OB-GYN) and Alita Mishra, M.D., (Internal Medicine) recall, “When he saw the needs of the young medical school campus, he immediately helped to create resources on site to further develop our volunteer faculty.” Dr. Cheifetz applied his training from the Stanford Faculty Development Program in Clinical Teaching to create a Faculty Development Course on Clinical Teaching for Inova faculty which has trained over 130 attending physicians to date. Dr. Cheifetz also instituted an Educational Grand Rounds series which was cited by ACGME and Inova Health System as a “Best Practice.”

As the curriculum progressed, Dr. Cheifetz saw needs and enthusiastically developed programs to meet them: a pre-residency “boot camp” to prepare M4 students for internship; learning experiences to prepare new clinical students for their M3 year; a “Positive Teacher-Student Alliance” developed with Dr. Buery-Joyner, to support a safe learning environment; new research opportunities for interested students; integration of simulation training; new “Quality and Safety” and “Cultural Competency” courses; a “Residents as Teacher” program to improve teaching skills and confidence; these and other programs create an atmosphere where students and faculty both feel supported in their roles.

As Dr. Buery-Joyner and Dr. Mishra describe it, Dr. Cheifetz “nurtures a family atmosphere where students feel safe and can readily confide struggles and work on creating action plans to ensure a successful future.” Marjorie Hermes, M.D., Family Medicine Clerkship Director, applauds Dr. Cheifetz’s “endless encouragement, open door policy and tireless work ethic.”

Current and former students speak of Dr. Cheifetz with the highest praise. “Dr. Cheifetz has shown himself to be not only a gifted and motivated educator, but also has demonstrated leadership skills to weave an entire web of support for us at Inova”, states Pooya Jahanshahi, M’12. Jessica Klein, M’10, needed help before her first residency interview. Dr. Cheifetz answered her frantic email and scheduled a coaching session via telephone for the next day, even while his own child was sick and in the hospital. “The simple act of kindness he demonstrated by taking a minute to write me back and calm me down when he had a sick child…is one I will never forget.” Yukli Elliott, M’11, remembers that Dr. Cheifetz “took time to personally review all of the student personal statements for residency application as well as to talk over goals and aspirations.” As William Yoon, M’11, says, “What makes Dr. Cheifetz exceptional is his understanding and respect for us students. He is a fearless and relentless advocate when circumstances demand.”

This dedication resulted in praise from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) for the richness and diversity of the Inova Campus learning environment. Dr. Craig Cheifetz, our 2011 Enrique Gerszten, M.D., Faculty Teaching Excellence awardee, has truly achieved excellence in all aspects of medical education; teaching, mentoring, innovation, and leadership.