All posts by Greg Hack

A message from Dean Jackson

Recruiting, educating and graduating the students at our medical school are occurring in a time like no other. In the year 2020, as we confront the global COVID-19 pandemic, we also stand united in fighting the injustices and inequities that are emblematic of racism in America.

In our country, in our state, and in our city, hospitals have been overwhelmed and have dealt with the hard truth that we have insufficient beds, continued critical shortages of personal protective equipment, and too few nurses and other members of our team to care for patients. The physical and mental health tolls have required specific efforts to address and care for those who are suffering burnout and compassion fatigue. While we welcome the first ever COVID vaccines, it is likely that it will be well into spring of 2021 before we can safely say that the pandemic is under control. This stark fact underscores the importance of all members of our community adhering to requirements for masks, socially distancing and avoiding community or family gatherings that may place you at risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19.

The pandemic has amplified the racial and ethnic health care inequities that over the years have been rooted in systemic racism. As a people, as physicians, as health care professionals, we oppose racist ideas and behaviors and stand as advocates for racial justice, promoting open dialogue and active educational policies. We have consistently seen an over-representation of Black, Hispanic and Native American patients who suffer and die from COVID-19. This health inequity spans the age groups as we see Hispanic and Black children diagnosed and hospitalized at rates that far exceed those of White children.

Embracing a comprehensive approach to create and sustain a diverse and culturally responsive workforce that works toward eliminating health inequities is our mission. We have expanded our leadership within the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with our associate dean, Dr. Tyler Smith, and the addition of an assistant dean, Doris Agwu. We have engaged Professor Mikah Thompson, a critical-race scholar who has been instrumental in launching our first ever anti-racism curriculum. Dr. Diana Dark, associate dean in the Office of Learning Environment, has worked to assure that we meet the students’ educational needs within a culture of care, inclusiveness and belonging. Dr. Dark leads the Expect Respect Committee, working to reduce mistreatment at all levels. She has introduced the student ombudsperson, and is developing a faculty professionalism statement. Dr. Liset Olarte has created the Latinos in Medicine physician group to mentor our Latinx students. Dr. Melissa Lewis, a member of the Cherokee nation, will advance our recruitment of tribal students, and we hope to add curricular content she has developed that addresses the history of and solutions to health inequities that continue to affect indigenous peoples in our society.

We proudly will expand our campus to St. Joseph, Missouri, in affiliation with Mosaic Health System to recruit, prepare and encourage a workforce that will address the shortage of providers in rural areas. This effort, backed by an award of $7 million issued by HRSA, supports our commitment to train those who will focus on rural health care. The first student cohort begins in January, and all curriculum will be delivered where they will live and train. With leadership from Drs. Steve Waldman, Davin Turner and Kristen Kleffner in collaboration with support from our senior associate dean of curriculum, Dr. Nurry Pirani, we are confident that our pre-clinical curriculum will be seamlessly delivered on both the Health Sciences District and the St. Joseph campuses. Since the onset of the pandemic, Drs. Mike Wacker and Darla McCarthy and all of our faculty have been instrumental in ensuring that our students receive this content using a virtual format that is inclusive of what they require in the biomedical sciences.  The St. Joseph campus will maintain the docent system and the early introduction of clinical experience for these students.  As these students advance to their clinical curriculum, we look forward to their engagement with Mosaic physician leaders to guide them, similar to the expertise provided by faculty at our anchoring partners: TMC, Children’s Mercy, St. Luke’s, the Center for Behavioral Medicine, Research Medical Center and the VA in Kansas City.

We celebrate the growth of research fueled by the talents of Drs. Jannette Berkley-Patton, Peter Koulen, Gary Sutkin, Paula Monaghan-Nichols, Jared Bruce and Nihar Nayak. They along with many others have allowed us to more than double the amount of awards we’ve received in the last 5 years. We recognized this past month distinguished faculty and celebrated the promotion of 73.  Thank you to the work of Dr. Christine Sullivan, associate dean of professional development, and her committee, who selected the awardees after a SOM-wide competition. Those honored included Dr. Molly Uhlenhake for her contributions to Excellence in Diversity and Health Equity in Medicine, Dr. Gary Sutkin for Excellence in Medical Education and Research, Drs. Fariha Shafi and Peter Koulen for Excellence in Mentorship, Drs. Emily Hillman and Darla McCarthy for Excellence in Teaching, and Dr. John Wang for Excellence in Research. University awards were presented to Dr. Jennifer Quaintance for Excellence in Teaching and to Dr. Peter Koulen, who received the Trustees Faculty Fellow Award.

At this moment in time, I ask that each one of you know that you make a difference in people’s lives. The road ahead will continue to be challenging. Our students are our future health care leaders, and it is our privilege as the faculty and staff at UMKC SOM, to be part of that future. I believe we are in good hands.

Mary Anne Jackson, M.D. ’78
Dean, School of Medicine

 

Stuart Chen, early faculty member and docent, remembered

Longtime School of Medicine faculty member Stuart Chen, M.D., Ph.D., died Oct. 17, 2020, at age 87.

Upon his passing, Dean Mary Anne Jackson wrote the following:

Dr. Chen completed his Internal Medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship at the University of Minnesota. He then spent eight years at the West Virginia University School of Medicine prior to joining the School of Medicine faculty in 1977. As an early SOM Docent on the Gold 6 Unit and a Professor of Medicine, he joined Dr. E. Grey Dimond leading a large contingent of UMKC School of Medicine students and faculty on a trip to China in 1980. During his time as a Gold unit docent, he led 45 of our graduates from years 3 through 6.

Dr. Chen left the SOM and Truman Medical Centers for a three-year stent between 2001 and 2004 working as a gastroenterology consultant for the Rockwood Clinic in Spokane, Washington, before returning to UMKC and TMC. He continued this work until just recently when the COVID pandemic struck. Over the years, he has been involved in the education and training of countless students, residents, GI fellows and faculty. He was a dedicated medical staff member at Truman Medical Centers for more than 40 years, covering two tours of duty in the section of Gastroenterology Department of Medicine. Dr. Chen was a dedicated physician but more importantly, a gracious colleague who will be greatly missed by all of us.

Dean Richardson Noback, who worked together with Dr. Chen after his arrival on the faculty in 1977,  stated that “he brought dignity and strength with the experience of both the medical and research degrees to his roles in the School of Medicine. He was always attentive, courteous, gracious, strong, and measured in his interactions with patients, house staff, students, and others.”

Our sympathies are extended to his family, friends and all of the staff and faculty at Truman Medical Centers, within our School of Medicine and to his community of family and friends. His wife, Yeh-Jung Lee Chen, preceded him in death in 2018 and their only child, Jennifer Chen Tyler, a beloved producer at KCUR and columnist with the Pitch, died in 2019, leaving behind her husband, Erik Tyler, and a young daughter.

Dr. Chen’s obituary is available here.

Vigilance required in the pandemic

As COVID-19 cases surge in the Midwest and across the country, UMKC and the School of Medicine are re-emphasizing the precautions that have kept the cases on campus relatively low and under control. Here are some resources you and your students may find helpful.

The university has been transparent in reporting aggregated data and individual reports on all known cases on campus; this information is updated daily. From mid-August through Oct. 27, there were 158 cases across the UMKC campuses, of which 28 were still active. In all cases, the students or staff members were quarantined, and contact tracing identified and notified others who needed to quarantine. Of all these cases, nine were reported from School of Medicine locations and the Hospital Hill Apartments.

As part of campus COVID-19 resources, UMKC has produced a series of informational videos, including several involving first-year medical students. Our medical students’ awareness of UMKC policies and strict observance of them have been vital to stemming the pandemic, and vigilance will be needed as cold weather arrives.

It’s all part of the School of Medicine’s commitment to keeping students, faculty and staff safe while continuing to provide excellent classroom and clinical experiences.

Thanks to you and your students for your diligence.

Health equity mini-grants aim to jump start collaborative research

The mini-grants are intended to foster research collaborations that improve community health.

Making access to health care more equal is a tough task, and a pandemic only makes the job tougher. To help, the UMKC Health Equity Institute is trying a new tool — mini-grants to university researchers and their community partners — to boost those efforts.

“We have about $12,000 to $15,000 to spend, and we think putting $1,000 to $2,000 in the right places could help eight to 10 projects move forward,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., the director of the institute and a professor in the UMKC School of Medicine. “Sometimes help paying for study participants, software, consultants or other resources can make a real difference.”


Apply HERE for a
UMKC Health Equity Institute
Mini-Grant
Deadline is Nov. 9

Though small, the grants could be the seed money — or the Miracle-Gro® — needed to turn ideas into budding projects that encourage and measure the effectiveness of community health efforts.

The brief application for the mini-grant program is available now, and institute members are encouraging researchers and community groups to submit their joint applications. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend a webinar Oct. 16 to learn information about the mini-grants. Important information, such as budget documents and the grant program overview, are available, as well.

Applicants will have until Nov. 9 to submit their proposals, after which finalists will be chosen. The finalists then will give short oral presentations and recipients will be chosen. The institute plans to have the funds available at the beginning of 2021.

“We’re hoping the mini-grants stimulate our researchers to be creative and to collaborate with community partners — or build relationships with new partners,” Berkley-Patton said. “The institute’s steering committee will evaluate the applications, and we hope to have applicants make a brief, but impactful, oral pitch for their proposals sometime this fall in a virtual presentation akin to “Shark Tank®.”

The idea behind the Health Equity Institute, an initiative Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal started in April 2019, is to partner UMKC researchers with community groups, non-profits and government agencies in underserved areas on projects that aim to improve community health.

The institute, for example, is working with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to evaluate the impact of the city’s now-free bus service on health outcomes. The institute wants to understand whether their recruited residents’ health and overall well-being improve because they walk more and have better access to jobs and health care through the free transit system. The institute has also helped the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department conduct COVID-19 drive-through testing by coordinating more than 90 student volunteers. The students helped with intake, traffic control and providing COVID-19 information to people seeking testing.

The institute also helped with formation of an interfaith ministers’ group, the Clergy Response Network,

founded to address COVID-19 inequities in Kansas City’s faith-based settings, and has created a church reopening checklist for clergy. The network recently received 30,000 face masks to distribute to congregations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Berkley-Patton is a veteran of community-based health research, including studies that engage churches and other community-based organizations’ in efforts to combat health disparity issues such as HIV and other STDs, mental health, obesity and diabetes.

“We need more research projects that improve the health of people where they live, play, worship and work, and projects that can be sustained for the long haul after research shows they work,” Berkley-Patton said. “We think these mini-grants can get more projects like these up and running while engaging the community in research efforts that we hope will reduce disparities and improve health in Kansas City’s urban areas.”

For more information on the mini-grant program, visit the Health Equity Institute website.

 

A message from the dean: Hope and inspiration as we move forward

Dear Alumni:

We are entering the 7th month of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and I am happy to say we have welcomed our 2026 class and successfully completed the first weeks of the fall 2020 semester at the UMKC School of Medicine. Students are in the dorms, meeting with their docents as usual, but classes look a little different this semester, with some classes online and in-person classes using venues to allow us to fill at 25% capacity.

I recently had the opportunity to stop while on Volker campus to meet with our Year 1 medical students, who were attending their anatomy class in Pierson Auditorium. Taught by one of our best, Dr. Tara Allen, this class is one of the most important for our first-year students. As a graduate of the SOM, I remembered my first classes on Volker campus, and emphasized to the students the importance of focusing on classwork and creating their support network. I was impressed by their grasp of the personal responsibility to wear their masks, socially distance and not gather in large groups—and this past week, a group of nine of them created COVID educational videos which we are launching across the campus.

We are just a few months away from having a COVID vaccine, and I hope that by spring 2021, we will have successfully immunized enough of the population to put a hold on SARS CoV-2 spread.

Confronting the crisis of the pandemic that amplifies the health inequities in our country also has accelerated our SOM work to advocate for social change in our country. The killing of George Floyd sparked the nation to confront systemic racism, and called on us all to begin the work of transforming our society. We will advocate for racial justice in our communities, are actively working toward racial equity in patient care, and made curricular changes by adding Professor Mikah Thompson from our School of Law to educate all of our students and faculty on the history of and manifestations of racism in our society. The dismantling of racism is a critical imperative and requires all of us to come together to promote the changes we need to ensure there is equality for all.

Seeing our newest students and my recent meetings with our more senior student leaders at the School of Medicine give me hope for our future.

As always, your continued support of our school is greatly appreciated.

Mary Anne Jackson, M.D. ’78
Dean, UMKC School of Medicine

Saint Luke’s fares well in U.S. News hospital rankings

Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, an affiliate of the UMKC School of Medicine, was the No. 2 hospital in Missouri and the Kansas City area in the 2020-2021 U.S. News & World Report rankings of hospitals nationwide.

The hospital’s cardiology and heart surgery specialty jumped in the national rankings to No. 22 from No. 42 last year. It also fared well in four specialties, receiving “high performing” rankings in gastroenterology and GI surgery, geriatrics, neurology and neurosurgery, and orthopedics.

The hospital also was deemed “high performing” in eight procedures and conditions: abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, aortic valve surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, colon cancer surgery, heart bypass surgery, heart failure, lung cancer surgery and transcatheter aortic valve replacement. That last procedure, also known as TAVR, is being more widely used as a less-invasive alternative to aortic valve surgery.

In Missouri, Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis had the top ranking, and the University of Kansas Hospital was top ranked in the Kansas City metro area.

The U.S. News rankings are based on reputation and data including patient outcomes and readmission rates. Twenty-six specialties, procedures, and conditions in nearly every community hospital in America were reviewed, according to the report.

To be nationally ranked in a specialty, a hospital must excel in caring for the sickest, most medically complex patients. In most specialties, the top 50 hospitals are nationally ranked and additional hospitals may be recognized as high performing.

In a separate ranking of children’s hospitals earlier this year, another School of Medicine affiliate, Children’s Mercy Kansas City, was nationally ranked in all 10 of its pediatric specialties.

Alumni Focus: David Glover, M.D., Class of 1978

By David John, M.D. ’77

I recently enjoyed a very pleasant evening with Dr. David Glover. I had asked him if I could drive to Warrensburg to hear about his career in medicine after graduating from our school in 1978. On July 14, I arrived at the Glover home about 5:30. I was able to spend about 15 minutes with his wife, Jan, before David and I headed out for a socially distanced dinner at his golf club.

Jan and David Glover

I know this is about David but, first, Jan Glover is amazing. She was warm and welcoming and obviously enjoyed telling me about her satisfaction in putting her career on hold to support David and raise four boys in that very house. When she was free to do so, she resumed teaching theater and the arts at the University of Central Missouri until her recent retirement.

In one of our few serious moments, David was later to tell me that without Jan he could not have had the successful career and rich home life he is so grateful for these past 45 years. But now, back to Dave Glover.

Dave and I spent maybe three hours over dinner. He told me that, after finishing his family practice residency at Baptist Medical Center in Kansas City, he and Jan settled down in Warrensburg. They were looking for a small town in which to raise a family, not too far from what a big city offers, and one that was a college town, where Jan could teach. All these years later, Dave still feels they made a fortunate choice.

Their four boys were all very athletic, and Dave became their high school’s team physician. Later, he was asked to be the team physician for the University of Central Missouri Jennys and Mules. Dave found a lot of satisfaction in this role and, realizing he needed more in-depth training, became a charter member of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM).

In that role, Dave became increasingly dissatisfied with the athletic physical exam requirements for the high school. They fit on a 3×5 card; not only was the exam superficial, but it didn’t even require that it be performed by a physician. Dave communicated with the appropriate department within the Missouri State High School Athletic Association, leading to a spot on its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. This led to AMSSM involvement with Dave becoming the liaison between that organization and the National Federation of State High School Associations. His position on the committee also led to a connection with Dr. Barry Maron, a renowned expert on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Eventually, Dave flew to Minnesota to meet Dr. Maron, a template for a thorough athletic physical in hand. David Glover, M.D., became first author of the 1998 JAMA article addressing the need for improved standards in the medical evaluation of high school athletes (JAMA, 279(22): 1817-1819, 1998).

Dave’s article made headlines. Over time, he spoke to virtually every major U.S. newspaper. A follow-up study was published in the American Journal of Cardiology (American Journal of Cardiology 2007; 100: 1709-1712).

More recently, Dave found an economical way to incorporate a screening EKG into his athletic physical. He found that, after they had been cleared to play pre-season, five of his athletes had cardiac conditions that put them at risk for sudden cardiac death, identified only by EKG. That led to two diagnoses of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and three diagnoses of aberrant cardiac conduction. The pre-participation physical is now a common setting to initially identify persons with HCM, and an EKG has become a permanent part of Dave’s athlete evaluation. Dave plans on finding the time to publish this data soon.

All the while Dave was making a significant contribution to the health and safety of young American athletes, he also was delivering babies, keeping long office hours and spending his free time with Jan and their sons. In the mix, he found time for a yearly week with a medical mission Jamaica. Often his sons or students would accompany him.

Board certified in family practice, later with the addition of certification in sports medicine, Dave also has been very involved in the Missouri Academy of Family Physicians, including serving as its 1992-1993 president, as well as in the AMA, MMA and multiple sports medicine organizations. His C.V. lists multiple lectures and 10 publications, five as first author.

During our last hour together, Dave’s son Drew joined us. He was the one son who also went into medicine and also graduated from our school. He, too, trained in family practice with a fellowship in sports medicine. It was Drew who told me his father was inducted into the University of Central Missouri Hall of Fame after receiving two Distinguished Service awards. And, like his Mom and Dad, Drew made a decision to settle down in Warrensburg and to practice with his father. Father and son supervise the Student Health Center at Central Missouri, as well.

Dave told me that evening that after Drew joined him, practicing medicine became more enjoyable again. He now plans to delay his retirement as long as feasible. He, long ago, stopped delivering babies and, more recently, cut to four days a week in the office. For Dave, life is good.

As I sat there, listening, I deeply appreciated Dave’s story, one that described a very rich, very rewarding life. A career that started in 1972, as a Year 1 student at our School of Medicine. I know that you, as an alum reading this, also have an important story to share, one that your fellow alumni will read about and smile.

I’m an alum. Class of ’77. And I am, right now, smiling.

David John, M.D. ’77
Assistant Professor, Gold 1 Docent
Associate Dean of Alumni and Community Engagement

 

A message from Dean Jackson on coping with the pandemic

I previously shared with you that all of the staff and faculty have worked tirelessly since the Jan. 22 onset of the pandemic in the United States to maintain a thriving medical school environment. Like those at other medical schools across the country, our students were affected by stay-at-home orders in our community that triggered us on March 11 to quickly move to an online biomedical science curriculum and shift our teaching of clinical medicine to virtual clinical encounters. I am happy to say that all of our students now have re-entered the health care environment to continue their clinical phase of training. We plan to welcome our Year 1 students to campus and our Year 3 students for their virtual White Coat Ceremony in just a few weeks. These exciting events are occurring as we address increasing challenges—namely, a post July 4th weekend uptick in COVID cases here in Kansas City.

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are again on the rise and we, like most across the country, have noted a rise in cases in younger people. Addressing the uptick of COVID cases in our communities and within the state of Missouri, requires us to ensure everyone is committed to masking and social distancing. Limiting viral transmission, improving treatment efficacy, addressing health care capacity and bolstering economic health of our communities all require specific interventions. We still have gaps in resources that we must address to achieve robust COVID testing capacity, speed testing turnaround time, ramp up contact tracing and continue to address PPE shortages.

Our current focus includes addressing the issues in children who have been out of school during the pandemic. Two public schools districts in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, recently announced they will be online for fall. These districts serve nearly 40,000 children in nearly 50 elementary schools and 20 middle and high schools, and most of their students are Hispanic or Black. In these districts, resources to provide at-home learning are fewer and COVID has produced a disproportionate impact on their families.

Children, particularly those under age 10, remain at lower risk to acquire and transmit COVID infection, have mild disease compared with adults and are unlikely to be the source of case clusters. This is critically important as we work to envision a safe path for students to return to in-person school. Dr. Rachel Orscheln, our pediatric infectious diseases colleague from Washington University, and UMKC pediatric infectious diseases faculty Drs. Jennifer Schuster and Jennifer Goldman from Children’s Mercy have worked on guidelines to outline how we may safety get children back to in-person school, and we still have hope that schools will open.

Further, as we navigate the “new normal,” we find hope in the knowledge that of the 26 COVID vaccines that are in human trials, four are progressing to Phase 3 efficacy trials. Vaccines from Pfizer, BioNtech, Moderna and AstraZeneca are leading the way and ready to recruit adult volunteers in the next few weeks. In Kansas City, the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford Phase III study will be led by Dr. Barbara Pahud, research director of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy, along with Dr. Mario Castro, a 1988 UMKC School of Medicine alumnus who is vice chair of clinical and translational research at Kansas University Medical Center. Our colleagues at Washington University will be recruiting for that same vaccine trial in St. Louis. Federal funding is expected to help at least five vaccines move to licensure by December.

As we respond to the pandemic challenges, we also acknowledge George Floyd’s killing while in police custody. At this School of Medicine, we are working for change to confront structural racism in our society. We commit to promote racial justice in our community, to address health inequity and to transform our medical school curriculum so our students and faculty are educated about the history of and expressions of racism in medicine. Changes are already in progress based on the voices of our students, staff and faculty. We have with great intent recruited and increased diversity in our Year 1 and 2 docents. We are focused on increasing our role in the community to address health inequity. And we are collaborating with Professor Mikah Thompson in the UMKC School of Law to teach critical race theory and to add curricular content throughout the six years. More changes are to come, but by using activism and advocacy, knowledge, love, grace and compassion, we believe we can change the course of humankind.

As always, we thank you for your continued support of the school, its vital mission, and our students, faculty and staff.

Mary Anne Jackson, M.D. ’78
Dean, UMKC School of Medicine

Making a Difference in Women’s Global Health

Faith Mueller wants to become an obstetrician/gynecologist and change the world. David John, M.D., believes she will and is mentoring her on that path. When each talks about the other, it’s clear that their inspiration is mutual.

“Early on, I became enveloped in the world of women’s liberation,” said Mueller, who is entering her last year of the UMKC School of Medicine’s six-year B.A./M.D. program. “I started reading stories of female genital mutilation, of sexual violence, of the pregnancy circumstances in areas of instability. These were stories that I could not shake, and I knew I had found my vocation.”

Faith Mueller
Faith Mueller

When she graduates, Mueller plans to find a role in women’s global health after serving her OB/GYN residency.

John, a member of the six-year program’s original graduating class in 1977, had a long career in rheumatology in Hawaii and returned to UMKC three years ago to teach and mentor students as a docent, the teaching physician for a small “docent unit” of medical students. He and Mueller met when she joined his docent unit.

“Our students are all bright and uniquely talented,” John said, “but it is rare to have a student like Faith Mueller. In addition to exceptional capabilities, Faith has the drive and the initiative, the passion, to do great things in her career. I hope to live long enough to see her early accomplishments to improve the health of women at a global level.”

“Dr. John … approaches medicine with an empathy that is sustainable and rooted in ideas of equality. He stands for a world that is better for the people he serves.” — Faith Mueller

Her drive to get started in medicine as soon as possible led Mueller to UMKC, where she could get her M.D. two years sooner than at other universities. But in John, who as a young man envisioned being a professor of English literature, she found a mentor who also emphasized the humanities and appreciated her desire to help others.

Dr. John is unwaveringly kind and takes the effort to see the humanity in everyone, no matter how they come to him,” Mueller said. “He approaches medicine with an empathy that is sustainable and rooted in ideas of equality. He stands for a world that is better for the people he serves.”

David John
David John

Her mentor’s personality and commitment also make learning medicine less daunting. “I know I can always ask questions, whether about patient care, navigating the medical field, or life in general,” Mueller said.

In turn, John said, Mueller and his other students have inspired and renewed him.

“I had become intellectually complacent, emotionally placid, professionally successful but somehow not complete,” John said. “When I was a medical student here in the 1970s, certain docents showed me what it really means to wear the mantle of the physician within society. I viewed it as a great gift. This knowledge kept me true to the profession; it kept me grateful that my purpose was to help people suffer less and live healthier. When I decided it was my turn to give back, life got exciting again.

“Faith has the drive and the initiative, the passion, to do great things in her career. I hope to live long enough to see her early accomplishments to improve the health of women at a global level.”
— David John

“As Faith’s mentor, I feel my major purpose is to be a sounding board and a cheerleader. Her accomplishments are her own; she created her own goals. Mueller said she appreciates his support: “Dr. John inspires me to live boldly. I feel like I can ‘go for the gold’ knowing that I have someone within the faculty who will have my back and advocate for my success.”

The med school’s docent system gave Mueller her opportunity to find a mentor, but she encourages other students to actively seek out mentors if a mentor relationship doesn’t develop naturally. “Keep your mind open for who would be a good mentor,” she said. “They don’t have to be in your field or occupation. Find someone that helps you grow as a person. Look for someone who inspires you.”

On a mission to bridge the health care gap

When Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal needed someone to head the new UMKC Health Equity Institute, he didn’t have to look far. The School of Medicine’s Jannette Berkley-Patton is a leader in community health research — just the right person to direct the institute, which is charged with combining the university’s research strengths with community groups’ grass-roots involvement to identify, quantify and reduce health care gaps.

Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., a professor in the school’s Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics, might be best known for her Taking It to the Pews project, an outreach effort through local churches that gets people tested for HIV. She also is director of the UMKC Community Health Research Group, putting her in an ideal position to bring together the university’s research programs and Kansas City social services groups and agencies.

In the year since Agrawal announced the institute, Berkley-Patton has made sure it got off to a running start. The institute has helped new projects large and small, with the goal of lasting improvements in health across social and economic classes. Anything that might improve health — from providing better transportation and more-affordable care to encouraging better eating and exercise — could be involved.

“We spend billions on health care but are still one of the unhealthiest countries in the world,” said Berkley-Patton, who has degrees in engineering, human development and family life, and child and developmental psychology. “Large federal grants can help create effective programs, but we need sustainable improvements that continue when the grants end.”

Berkley-Patton also is determined to keep the institute’s momentum moving forward, despite the COVID19 disruptions to health care and the wider economy.

“In fact,” she said, “the Health Equity Institute is even more important than ever given that these underserved folks who historically have had more challenges in accessing health care services are likely to be hurt the most by the disruptions.

Get on the bus

One big project for the institute will be tracking how free bus service affects people’s health. This year, Kansas City, Missouri, plans to become the first large city with free public transit — dropping bus fares to zero to match the city’s streetcars, which already are fare-free.

The institute, recognizing a golden opportunity to measure the benefits of free public transit, has drawn up a multi-step research plan and submitted ambitious applications for grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC grant calls for research into “a natural experiment,” Berkley-Patton said, “and if ever there was a natural experiment, offering free transit is it.”

She continued, “We know from other research that people who use public transit tend to get 5 to 15 minutes more physical activity than non-riders, just getting to and from public transit. So if free bus service increases ridership, we hope to also see improvements in the health of people in low-income areas.”

The institute will start by gathering baseline data, both from comparable cities’ transit systems and from 500 current riders. The plan for identifying those people and getting data from them has been approved by UMKC’s Institutional Review Board, which ensures that research subjects are treated ethically. That data gathering is on hold over COVID-19 concerns, but the institute is ready to go when the situation improves.

The CDC grant the institute seeks calls for data on 10,000 people, which defies individual recruitment. “So, we’re proposing to collaborate with the Truman Medical Centers,” Berkley-Patton said. “We have identified 11 low-income ZIP codes, and TMC has data on thousands of people that can serve as a measure of the health of those areas.”

Of those patients, the institute hopes to have 4,000 take a brief survey, to gauge some basics about them such as income and incidence of health problems including diabetes and obesity.

The institute also plans to recruit 200 occasional bus riders to track, to see whether free service turns them into regular riders, and whether that improves their health.

Berkley-Patton says the elimination of fares should be a good incentive, saving a regular rider an estimated $1,500 in transit costs. And the research should identify other possible benefits, such as having access to more and better jobs.

“We’ve had lots of collaboration on this already to design research and make our grant proposals,” Berkley-Patton said, ticking off allies from Children’s Mercy, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and Public Works Department, UMKC Departments of Economics and Psychology, and the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, and Nursing and Health Studies.

Now the institute must wait — on whether it gets CDC and NIH money to go full bore on its plans, and on when people can resume more normal living and head to jobs, doctor’s appointments and other activities.

‘They miss recess’

Another project is Youth Engagement in Sports, or YES, led by Joey Lightner and Amanda Grimes, UMKC assistant professors in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. When their proposal received an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Grimes described the need to increase activity in middle school students.

“The evidence is very clear that American youth suffer from high rates of obesity, inactivity and poor nutrition,” said Grimes, who has a master’s degree in health science and a doctorate in community health.

Joseph Lightner and Amanda Grimes of the School of Nursing and Health Studies
Joseph Lightner and Amanda Grimes of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences involve students in their community health research.

“Adolescence seems to be a critical time in a child’s life where behaviors are learned or reinforced. Girls are particularly prone to low rates of physical activity during adolescence.”

The YES program will help students at two Kansas City middle schools, Central and Northeast, said Lightner, who has a master’s in public health with an emphasis in physical activity, and a Ph.D. in kinesiology.

According to Lightner, sixth- through eighth-graders are in a tough place between elementary and high school. “In talking with them, we found out they miss recess. They don’t get to play anymore. And they’re suddenly supposed to be adults, often without all the information they need on health and nutrition.”

One goal of the institute is to come up with innovative programs, and YES is certainly that.

“So after school, we’re going to give them a big, healthy snack and then there’s a physical activity intervention — they get to play,” Lightner said. “We’re going to offer competitive and non-competitive games, because we’ve found that some students gravitate to one kind of sport or another.”

By reaching out to the students and their schools, the program also embodies the institute’s emphasis on community engagement. And it draws heavily on another institute strength — collaboration.

TMC’s Mobile Market, which brings healthy foods to underserved areas, will give students a weekly bag of produce along with recipes. Children’s Mercy consulted on the program, providing its expertise with young people’s health. The Kansas City Department of Parks and Recreation will help with the sports activities.

And Lightner, as director of the UMKC Public Health Program and a new bachelor’s degree under it, has recruited undergraduate students to help gather data — and get first-hand experience in devising and tracking the sorts of programs that could become integral in their careers.

The program’s aim is to help at least 300 students at the schools in summer sessions, and then again in the fall. Of course, the level of disruption and other unknowns caused by COVID-19 make it hard to plan. But when school is back in full swing, Lightner wants YES to be making a difference.

“We know this is a pivotal time for students, especially girls,” Lightner said. “Peer groups are really important; there’s a mentality of, ‘If my friends are doing it, I’ll do it.’ So if we get them engaged in physical activity with their friends at this age, they’re likely to continue. And so many benefits, from physical and mental health to staying in school and achieving academically, have been demonstrated.”

Seeding other efforts

Another goal of the institute is to communicate across the university and among hospitals, government health agencies and community groups. A database is being compiled for training and other resources, along with opportunities to collaborate.

The institute’s new website will be a clearinghouse for everything from health indicators to grant opportunities and processes. That could help community groups connect, for example, with the Health Forward Foundation, a Kansas City fund that promotes healthy communities.

The institute also will be awarding mini-grants, with the aim of giving several community groups a few hundred dollars each for health-related training, software, added staff help and other basics.

Overcoming health disparities is a huge task, made more daunting by the COVID-19 disruptions. But BerkleyPatton and other Health Equity Institute partners have had success in the past and will keep looking for new ways to reshape access to health care.

“It will be a while before we know how much damage the pandemic has done,” she said. “But we do know that research programs that involve people in improving their own health can make a real difference, and it’s going to take all the innovative, collaborative efforts we can build to help those most affected.