Dean’s Message  

Health is not just the absence of disease. It can be better defined as a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being1. Other definitions and descriptions have included spiritual and intellectual well-being. In short, mental health is health. It is not a separate entity and cannot be cleaved from other aspects of health and well-being. The different elements of heath interact with each other and profoundly impact our personal health perceptions. This understanding is crucial as we work to increase society’s understanding and acceptance of mental health and the factors that impact it, both positively and negatively.

Being mindful of the language we use in describing mental illness is a good start. Most people who experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, etc. as the punchline to jokes, would not want to be associated with these terms even if they perfectly explain what a person has been living with. Destigmatizing the language of mental health means people are more likely to discuss it in non-stigmatizing ways, helping to reduce the barriers that people face as they take the first steps to reach out for support.

Good brain health is another strategy for promoting good mental health. The earlier habits promoting brain health are established the better it is for the individual. So, you may ask yourself “What can I do?”

Here are a few tips2

  • Spend time with other people doing things you enjoy.
  • Sleep well and eat well.
  • Stay physically active whenever and however you can.
  • Consider starting new activities, hobbies, or interests.
  • Reduce unhealthy habits while establishing healthy ones.
  • Seek help from others, including professionals, when needed.

The changes that we make individually are great but not necessarily enough. We know there are systemic barriers to promoting good mental health. In fact, these barriers may lead to worse mental health outcomes. The social determinants of mental health3 include the stigma associated with mental illness, healthcare systems, social and economic structures, and the built environment. I believe that it is our duty as physicians and healthcare practitioners to help reform these systems for the benefit of all.

Looking back, we can see how far we have come in understanding the complexity of health, our awareness of the importance of mental health, and its impact on overall health. Despite all this knowledge and progress, the associated stigma has persisted. I am hopeful that we are currently living in an age where the stigma many associate with mental illness is waning so that everyone who needs help can seek help without fear.

Azziza Bankole. M.B.B.S.
Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine
Chief Diversity Officer

  1. Constitution of the World Health Organization (
  3. Social determinants of mental health (

Editor’s note: The next issue of Progress Notes will be published Monday, July 1. All submissions should be sent to Catherine Doss ( no later than Monday, June 17.


Humanism Notes 

What does it mean to be kind? Why should we be kind to one another? We can all learn from the heartwarming reflections from these astute youngsters.


  • Congratulations to all of our students and faculty who ran in the Blue Ridge Marathon last month.  We even had two first place finishers in their category, Varun Mishra, Class of 2026, and Renee LeClair, associate professor in basic science education.
  • A special thanks goes out to all the students and faculty who helped make this spring’s Bodies and Bites program a success. VTCSOM med students: Areej Ennasr, Sarah Kremer, Jacqueline Urdang, Uma Kelavkar, Varun Mishra, Adam Hoch, Alli Seifert, Anthony Poluyanoff , Audrey Korte, Bryan Kim, Brynna Gleeson, C Hebert, Cole Pieroni, Dean Neutel, Drew Hartley, Kady Ngo, Leo Vandoros, Maegan Gabby, Marie-Claire Evans, Matt Drescher, Melissa Greco, Neel Patel, Nicki Rohani, Rachel Ziegler, Shestruma Parajuli, Stewart Silver, Vaishnavi Nandanam, Velu Krishnan, Veronica Qu. FBRI/TBMH grad students: Mary Frazier, Renesa Tarannum. VTCSOM faculty: Lisa Uherick, Shari Whicker, Kristofer Rau.
  • The new TEACH website launched last month. Special thanks to JT Addair (curricular and media coordinator), Olivia Chan (computer science major at Virginia Tech), and Mariah Rudd (director), TEACH team and collaborators, for leading efforts and contributing countless hours to this project. Heather Mason (research coordinator) also contributed to this revamp in its early stages. 
  • A big congratulations to Hillary and Sean O’Boyle, Class of 2017, who welcomed their second child, Sadie Faith O’Boyle on May 15. Mom and baby girl are doing well, while older son Patrick is learning all about being a big brother!


Posters and Presentations

  • Shaylyn Fahey and Grace Rovenholt, Class of 2022 presented their research at the recent Society for Academic of Emergency Medicine conference.

Welcome New Employee

A warm welcome is extended to Valerie Roberts, Admissions Application Appraiser

Welcome New Faculty

Internal Medicine – Kevin Lingle, Ritesh Kohli, Ram Chandra Khatri Chhetri, Mohammad Khan,  and Sarah Harendt
Emergency Medicine – Richard Dykstra and Rachelle Dykstra
Family and Community Medicine – Amy Doolan
Pediatrics – Harsha Bhagtani

Alumni Update  

We were delighted to welcome back members of our charter class last month for a ten-year reunion. The graduates, their families, VTCSOM faculty, and other friends of the school gathered at The Hotel Roanoke for a weekend of reflection and celebration!

See the photo gallery from the event

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Update 

Below are June holidays and celebrations.

  • June is: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month
  • Immigrant Heritage Month
  • Caribbean American Heritage Month

2:  Native American Citizenship Day
7:  Feast of the Most Sacred Heart
10:  Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev
11-13 (sundown to sundown):  Shavuot
14:  Flag Day
15-16 (sundown to sundown):  Waqf al Arafa
16-17 (sundown to sundown):  Eid-al-Adha
19:  Juneteenth
21:  National Indigenous Peoples Day or First Nations Day
21:  Litha/Midsummer
26 (last Sunday in June): LGBTQ+ Pride Day 
29:  Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul

Community Corner

STEM Goes Red

On May 13, 2024, the American Heart Association held its second-ever STEM Goes Red event in Virginia at FBRI and VTCSOM. More than 70 female high school students from Roanoke City Public Schools and Salem City Schools were chosen to take part. The students participated in different STEM-related activities and there was a panel on what career paths different women took to get where they are today.

Visitors from Wonju, South Korea

On May 16, Wonju’s mayor and other residents came to the area to celebrate the 60-year connection between the two cities. During their trip, the delegation toured VTCSOM, an FBRI Human Imagining Lab, and the Carilion Sim Center. Yonsei University College of Medicine and VTCSOM/Carilion Clinic have participated in a medical student exchange program since 2014.

Roanoke Pride

Medical student members of the VTC Pride Alliance participated in this year’s Pride Festival to share programs that support local LGBTQA youth. Since the start of the year, the Alliance has launched a free tutoring program for Roanoke youth and a project aimed at connecting trans youth with gender-affirming care resources.

Take Note

Interested in opportunities to engage with K-12 students interested in health care? Click here to sign up for the upcoming session! For more information, contact Sophia Minor at

The GME office has a quarterly electronic newsletter that highlights our programs as well as the accomplishments of our residents, fellows, and faculty.  If you would like to receive the newsletter, please send an email to Alaina Lawrence at

The Last Note

Recognize the picture on the left? It appeared on the cover of Virginia Tech Magazine in the fall of 2010 along with an article announcing the opening of our school. Class of 2014  members Don Vile, Raeva Malik, and Robert Brown posed for the same shot last month when they attended the 10-year reunion of our charter class. It was a pleasure to welcome them and their classmates back to VTCSOM. Photos by Virginia Tech and Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.