Enrique Gerszten, M.D. Faculty Teaching Excellence Award

When Virginia “Ginny” Pallante, MS, Instructor, Human and Molecular Genetics, began teaching medical and graduate students, it was not anticipated that in a few years there would be a Federally-funded Human Genome Project and consumers would be buying genetic testing kits on-line. Human genetics has rapidly become foundational knowledge and practice for nearly every clinical specialty. During this transformative time, Ms. Pallante has constantly updated her teaching content to be sure students have access to the most up-to-date information, while adopting new and more effective teaching approaches to support learning.

Ms. Pallante came to VCU in 1989 to earn an MS in Genetic Counseling, and joined the faculty in 2002 as Instructor, Human Genetics Course Director for the M.D. Program, and Senior Genetic Counselor. She is known for her passion for teaching, approachable manner, and outstanding communication skills. Ms. Pallante has taught over 5000 medical students, in addition to teaching genetic counseling students, dental students, graduate students, and learners in the community, including high school teachers, students, and health care providers.

A former medical student attests, “Ms. Pallante’s lectures were truly a work of art and an indication of great mastery of both the subject matter and the best methods of imparting information to students…I was very impressed by how thorough Ms. Pallante was about relating the emotional impact of genetic diseases and the necessity of genetic counseling, both through her lectures and at the patient panels.”

Ms. Pallante has received the human genetics curriculum “Best Teacher Award” from medical students a total of 17 times. She has won the award every year it was given, except for the year she served on the awards committee and recused herself!

Former student and colleague Virginia Anne Adams, MS, CGC, explains. “She has an uncanny ability to explain the complicated subject matter of genetics in a way that is easy for people of all education levels to understand. Whether teaching a group of 5 genetic counseling students or an auditorium of 200 medical students, Ginny is warm, congenial, and extremely effective as an educator.”

Ms. Pallante was a leader in embracing, and in encouraging others to embrace, the recent new M.D. curriculum and small group teaching approaches. She developed small group problem solving sessions, and a POGIL™ (Process- Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) activity on facial dysmorphology for the M1 students. She shared her expertise with faculty colleagues by presenting on her experiences with POGIL™ and helping them to learn to use this technique. She worked with SOM Office of Faculty Development staff to create a self-assessment module on modes of inheritance, a “flipped classroom” video for pedigree analysis, and an instructional video on using OMIM® (the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man) and GeneReviews®. Ms. Pallante has organized the use of patient panels on Down syndrome (with her colleague Dr. Colleen Jackson-Cook) and Inborn Errors of Metabolism, to help students better understand and communicate with patients and families.

In fact, a significant group of Ms. Pallante’s learners are families participating in genetic counseling, and she expertly reviews cases with students observing these sessions to support learning of important communication skills. “In many sessions, psychosocial factors play an important role in how information is disseminated to patients. Ginny is keenly aware of this and makes adjustments (quickly!) based on body language, silence, and other non-verbal cues.” recalls former student and colleague Maria E. Gyure, MS, LCGC Program Director, Genetic Counseling Program, UConn.

A former medical student summarizes Virginia Pallante’s impact: “Ms. Pallante is the most caring and passionate instructor I have ever had.” We are all fortunate to benefit from this role model for teaching excellence.