New campus, same academic excellence

In 2002, Anita Bakshi, M.D., now a gastroenterology fellow at George Washington University Hospital, found herself still mulling options for medical school. However, once the Northern Virginia native learned of the VCU School of Medicine’s plans to partner with Inova Fairfax Hospital and develop a branch campus near her hometown, she said she didn’t bother to send in any other applications.

At the time, the Inova campus was still in the development stages and wouldn’t be launched until August 2005 — the culmination of eight years of discussions among VCU, state and Inova officials, as well as comprehensive planning efforts led by Craig Cheifetz, M.D., associate dean for medical education and student affairs at VCU’s Inova Campus and director of undergraduate medical education for the Inova Health System.

In the late 1990s, Cheifetz said, at the same time Inova looked to increase its commitment to education, VCU had begun its own search for more clinical space, research partners and expanded educational opportunities, making the two a “perfect fit.”

Inova could offer unique clinical experiences and an intimate group dynamic for third- and fourth-year medical students, and VCU could continue its outreach efforts to different parts of the state.

Since then, class size at Inova has grown from its initial cohort of 24 students (of which Bakshi was a member) to 31 currently, and Cheifetz said demand is so high (usually twice the allotted class size) that Inova plans to increase its student body to 48, in addition to the 20 students the School of Pharmacy sends each year through its own affiliation with Inova.

Part of the reasoning behind that demand, Bakshi contends, is the one-on-one time and personalized attention she was able to receive through working closely with Inova’s residents, attendings and administrators.

Sumbul Desai, M.D., a member of Inova’s second class who then moved on to a residency at Stanford University Hospital and has since been retained there as a clinical assistant professor and director of strategic initiatives for the chief medical officer, credits that attention not only for sharpening her clinical skills, but also helping her figure out those crucial next steps in her professional life.

“You had a lot of responsibilities day-to-day at Inova,” Desai said of the experience. “They really allowed us to manage patients and were able to provide immediate feedback. Because of that, they got to know you, so, when it came time to apply for residencies, the counseling and advice they were able to give was extremely personalized and invaluable. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”