Faculty Excellence Awards – 2010
Educational Innovation Award

As the field of molecular medicine developed, its concepts and tools were applied to a growing range of scientific disciplines. In the early 1990s, there were few opportunities for academic physicians to learn about this area in a format suitable for a busy faculty member, and with enough hands-on experience that the information could be effectively applied to one’s work. Originally developed by Carleton Garrett, M.D., Ph.D., now Professor Emeritus of Pathology and Andrea Ferreira-Gonzalez, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Chair, Division of Molecular Pathology, as a one-week seminar series for the College of American Pathologists, the Practicum, as it is called, developed into an intensive two-week program offered here at the VCU Medical Center each month. Now co-directed by Dr. Ferreira-Gonzalez, Ph.D., and Catherine I. Dumur, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pathology, the Practicum is also required for all Pathology residents as part of their training.

The Practicum includes hands-on training in all aspects of molecular diagnostics testing, including scientific principles, testing methods, interpretations of results, quality assurance, and laboratory management. The Practicum was also an early model of multi-disciplinary education, attracting medical students, residents, fellows, laboratory technologists, researchers, physicians, and other professionals from a variety of fields.

“The success of this unique program is due to the collective knowledge and dedication of an outstanding academic unit,” states Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pathology, David S. Wilkinson, M.D., Ph.D. “The Practicum faculty and technical staff provide a depth of knowledge and experience that make this program the finest of its kind in the world.”

“In the two week course, we learned new skills that have enabled us to remain NIH funded for over a decade now,” says Dr. Alpha A. “Berry” Fowler, Professor of Medicine. “During the 15 plus years of its existence, the Practicum has always provided VCU faculty, fellows, and students with a unique engaging learning experience in molecular medicine…and has been a critical “lynch pin” to the educational mission of the School.” Student Michelle Alabek’s praise of the program is typical. “The Practicum exceeded my expectations. The equipment we trained on was top notch, the faculty who gave us lectures was outstanding. It is one of a kind. I will recommend it to everyone who is interested in molecular pathology.”

As the reputation of the program has grown, it has attracted attendees internationally and nationally, from academic, state and federal regulatory agencies and the private sector.

One participant, Thomas Hearn, Ph.D., Acting Director, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enthuses, “The team really found the right way, in short order, of bringing scientists like me – – who do not typically reside in the realm of molecular technology and its multiple applications – – up to speed…the Unit’s method certainly goes against the grain of conventional classroom settings and laboratory instruction. And the unit’s method works!”,

Beyond providing excellent, effective training for learners, the Practicum has helped to create relationships and collaborations with high-profile professionals from other institutions, which in turn have raised the visibility of the VCU School of Medicine at the national and international level.

“I believe this Practicum is perhaps the highest quality, best known, and most innovative program of its type in the U.S.,” states Steven Gutman, M.D., M.B.A., Director, Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Device Evaluation and Safety, Food and Drug Administration. “VCU is very fortunate to have a work group with the commitment to have developed this gem and to keep it polished. I can think of no programmatic activity better suited for recognition as relevant, high quality, innovative and important to public health.”