Our Healthy Kansas City Eastside receives $5 million for community health initiative

The Jackson County legislature approved $5 million to continue community health initiatives through Our Healthy Eastside Kansas City, based on the success of the coalition’s impact on COVID-19 and community health from its original funding in 2021.

Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., professor in the UMKC School of Medicine and director of the university’s Health Equity Institute, is leading the project. The funding will expand COVID-19 vaccinations, health screenings, reproductive services to address infant mortality and successful diabetes prevention programs in Kansas City’s Eastside. This funding is a continuation of the program’s initial $5 million grant.

Our Healthy KC Eastside is a community-wide initiative that promotes and delivers widespread COVID-19 vaccinations and other health services to residents on the east side of Kansas City. More than 60 community organizations and health agencies are partnering with OHKCE to support healthy lifestyles through vaccine events and health screenings such as blood pressure checks, diabetes screenings and dental education. OHKCE health agency partners include the UMKC schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Pharmacy and Nursing and Health Sciences, Children’s Mercy Hospital and University Health.

As part of the OHKCE initiative, more than 3,000 Kansas City residents completed surveys on their health beliefs, which showed that indifference or fear was not always behind low vaccination rates. Often, transportation or access to health care were factors. Providing health care delivery in community hubs on weekends and evenings provided better availability.

“This is a significant advance in assuring accessible and preventative health services are available to Jackson County residents,” Berkley-Patton says. “Our success with Our Healthy Eastside Kansas City is evidence that working collaboratively with community and health partners can greatly increase the reach of health care in the most underserved neighborhoods and have a positive impact on our entire community.”

“As a provider of community health and regional health education, UMKC recognizes the significance of this funding on our community,” UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal says. “We thank the Jackson County Legislature for their leadership on this issue, and congratulate Dr. Berkley Patton on her dedication to high quality healthcare delivery to every citizen of Jackson County.”

Celebrating Reaner Shannon

Reaner Shannon, Ph.D. (M.A. ’78, Ph.D. ’83), part of the UMKC School of Medicine for 34 years, died July 13 at the age of 85.

Shannon began her career at the school as the main research lab technologist. In 1990, she left the lab to become director of the minority affairs office at the school, becoming the school’s first associate dean for minority affairs in 1998, a post she held until she retired in 2008. That year, she was presented the Bill French Alumni Service Award.

Shannon and her husband, Henry Shannon, established the Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lectureship in Minority Health in 2006. Speakers of local and national interest have presented the lecture each February since in conjunction with Black History Month, focusing on timely topics that impact underserved and minority communities.

Mike Weaver, M.D., ’77, a member of the UMKC School of Medicine’s first graduating class to complete the school’s six-year program, delivered the 2022 lecture.

“Reaner Shannon was an insightful, compassionate, and tireless advocate for URiM (Underrepresented in Medicine) students, who was well ahead of her time.  Long before it was common to talk about health equity, Dr. Shannon recognized that the lack of attention to minority health was creating an ongoing healthcare disparities crisis. She raised awareness on these issues and encouraged the School of Medicine to bring these topics to medical education,” Weaver said. “The Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Endowed Lectureship in Minority Health is a testament to that vision and her intention to ensure that medical students at UMKC would forever have access to thought leaders in this area.”

“She recognized that URiM students experience unique challenges in medical school, and she was a mentor who helped hundreds of students mitigate those challenges and successfully graduate,” he continued. “I am very grateful that I was one of those students when I met her back in 1973. She helped me navigate some difficult situations, was affirming, and always had an open door and a warm smile.”

Shannon established the UMKC School of Medicine Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council in 2001 to promote a diverse, nondiscriminatory learning and working environment for the school. It was charged with promoting cultural competency, awareness, inclusion, respect and equity through education, training, programing and advancement. The Council hosts a Diversity Symposium bringing together all departments across the School of Medicine to create goals and recognize existing efforts towards more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments and work execution.

Shannon also launched Saturday Academy, a free program designed to spark interest in and help prepare young people for potential careers in health care. The program provides students in grades six through 12 with two and a half hours of classes that focus on math and science as well as ACT prep.

2022 class of Summer Scholars view an ventilation demonstration.

She started a similar program, Summer Scholars, that invites minority and disadvantaged students in the Kansas City metropolitan area to take part in a two-week session each July. They receive daily instruction in academic areas such as chemistry and language arts, and study anatomy and physiology in the school’s cadaver lab. Summer Scholars has grown from a single two-week experience for local underserved high school students that Shannon began more than 40 years ago to four different programs provided for high school and undergraduate college students.

“I’d like to think I made an impact in the lives of those students who, in some cases, might not have known that studying medicine was even an option,” she said when presented with the Bill French award. “It was important for me to build in the lives of young people, to help them in any way that I could to succeed.”

Shannon also served on the board of directors for the Black Health Care Coalition and the Edgar Snow Foundation.

UMKC honors School of Medicine faculty for achievements in diversity, teaching

Tyler Smith, M.D., and Theodore Cole, Ph.D.

UMKC honored School of Medicine faculty members Tyler Smith, M.D., and Theodore Cole, Ph.D., with special awards during the annual Faculty Recognition Event on May 18 at the Student Union.

Smith, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, received the Chancellor’s Award for Embracing Diversity. Cole, professor of biomedical sciences, received the Elmer F. Pierson Good Teaching Award.

The Chancellor’s Award is given annually to university faculty, staff and student organizations engaged in fostering an environment of multiculturalism, globalism and diversity and inclusion.

An assistant professor of pediatrics, Smith is the first physician to serve in her DEI role. She is a key strategist and supervises related to recruitment and retention of underrepresented or marginalized students, staff, and faculty. Her efforts promote a culture of inclusion and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard in a safe space. She has been recognized at Children’s Mercy with an Early Career Advocacy Achievement Award in 2019 and 2021 and with the DEI Achievement Award.

The Elmer Pierson Good Teaching Award recognizes creative and innovative teaching methods and skills, and educational leadership. Cole has been a School of Medicine faculty member for more than 24 years. He is the gross anatomy co-director for the Human Structure Function series.  Since 1998 he has taught anatomy in the HSF I, II, III courses and as course director for the HSF IV course since 2003, he directs coursework for thorax and abdomen anatomy.

In 2018, Cole received the Christopher Papasian, Ph.D., Excellence in Teaching Award from the School of Medicine. In addition to teaching medical students, he has served as course faculty in Human Gross Anatomy I for dental students since 1999.

Betty M. Drees, M.D., honored for efforts to advance the careers of women in medicine

Betty Drees, M.D., F.A.C.P., Dean, UMKC School of Medicine

The American College of Physicians has recognized former UMKC School of Medicine Dean Betty M. Drees, M.D., F.A.C.P., for her distinguished contributions to women in medicine.

Drees was presented the Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell Award for Outstanding Contributions to Advancing the Careers of Women in Medicine at the ACP’s national meeting in Chicago. The award recognizes an individual who has furthered the careers of women medical students, residents and/or physicians through mentoring and leadership development.

A board-certified endocrinologist with 30 years of experience in clinical practice, research, education and administration, Drees has played a major role in advancing the careers and career opportunities for women physicians.

She served as dean of the UMKC School of Medicine from 2001-2014 and established the school’s Excellence in Mentoring awards that recognize faculty members for significant contributions to enhancing and developing the careers of faculty and trainees. In 2018, she was appointed president of the Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, a program offers education and training that leads to a doctorate in biology. She also currently serves as a professor at the UMKC School of Medicine’s Departments of Internal Medicine and Biomedical and Health Informatics and continues to teach endocrinology to medical students, residents and fellows.

Among her many leadership roles, Drees is the immediate past president of the Kansas City Medical Society. She was named one of Kansas City’s Most Accomplished and Successful Women and an icon of education by Ingram’s Magazine. She remains passionate about community well-being and diabetes prevention with a research focus on improving metabolic health and diabetes prevention.

The ACP is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with 161,000 internal medicine physicians, related subspecialists and medical student members in more than 145 countries worldwide.

School of Medicine’s Steven Go receives NBME distinguished service award

Steven Go, M.D., (right) received the received the Edithe J. Levit Distinguished Service Award from the National Board of medical Examiners.

Steven Go, M.D., professor of emergency medicine, received the Edithe J. Levit Distinguished Service Award at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) in Philadelphia. The award recognized Go for his more than 20 years of dedicated service to the NBME.

Go has been a member of the UMKC School of Medicine faculty in the emergency medicine department since 1994. An active member of the NBME since 1998, he was selected as a member of the NBME board NBME in 2014. He has served on numerous test material development, computer case simulation, interdisciplinary review, and forms review committees, task forces, and the USMLE Management Committee.

Established in 1983, the Distinguished Service Award is named in honor of former NBME president and CEO Edithe J. Levit, who served from 1977 to 1986. Recipients are selected from individuals retiring from NBME membership and others who have served the NBME exceptionally in their dedication to research related to the evaluation of health professionals.

UMKC School of Medicine Welcomes New Chair of Pediatrics

The UMKC School of Medicine has announced that Jeanne M. James, M.D., FAAP, MBA, has been named the school’s new chair of the Department of Pediatrics. James will also serve as pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Mercy and pediatrics department chair at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

“Dr. James has incredible expertise and experience that will further enhance the academic excellence of Children’s Mercy and I look forward to working with her on behalf of our students” said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., dean of UMKC School of Medicine.

Most recently, James served as chief of cardiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and held the Leigh Gabrielle Herma Endowed chair for cardiology and served as the medical director of cardiology for the hospital.

Before joining MCW in 2017, James spent more than two decades at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Cincinnati advancing through the academic ranks, ultimately achieving the rank of professor and earning progressive leadership roles. She began at the academic rank of instructor in the Department of Pediatrics, a faculty position accompanying her appointment as a Proctor Scholar in the department and a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Jeffrey Robbins, Ph.D..

Throughout her career in Cincinnati, James continued working with the lab and developed many productive research collaborations. In addition, she served the Heart Institute as Pediatric Cardiology Fellowship program director, medical director of Cardiovascular Genetics and director of the Mouse Echocardiography Core. Among other roles, James served the University of Cincinnati as chair of the Department of Pediatrics Reappointment, Promotion and Tenure Committee and was a member of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Institutional Review Board.

James earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at West Virginia University and went on to the West Virginia School of Medicine. At 20 years of age, she was the youngest member of her class, but was widely recognized not for her age, but for her early achievements and leadership. She completed her pediatrics residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, followed by her fellowship in Pediatric Cardiology, also at Vanderbilt. During this time, she was a research fellow in the Molecular Physiology and Biophysics lab of Michael M. Tamkun, Ph.D.

A year-long, national search to fill this position was co-led by Drs. Shawn St. Peter and Tamorah Lewis and included many representatives from UMKC School of Medicine, Children’s Mercy and KU Hospital.

“I thank all who played a role in helping us fill this important position – expectations were high and the committee delivered,” said Jackson. “No doubt Dr. James will be a leader and a great addition to our faculty.”

SOM research office taking applications for SPiRe Grant

The School of Medicine Office of Research is seeking applications for the Sarah Morrison Pilot Research Fund (SPiRe), an internal grant for clinical and basic scientists. Application deadline is noon, March 1.

The grant provides support to develop preliminary data or pursue high-risk innovative research that will enable submission of highly competitive applications to national funding sources.

To be considered, research must either be performed at the School of Medicine or be in collaboration with faculty at the school where at least 50 percent of the research is performed. Tenure-track, tenured, research and clinical faculty are eligible to apply for the grant.

Standard awards are $15,000 to be spent during the course of two years. If a compelling case can be made for additional funding, up to $20,000 may be requested.

Full application guidelines and the application packet are available online.

Questions prior to preparing and submitting applications may be directed to Paula Monaghan-Nichols, associate dean for research, at nicholsap@umkc.edu or 816-235-6663. Questions about applications should be directed to Mark Hecker, director of research administration, at heckerm@umkc.edu or 816-235-6015.

Changes announced in Physician Assistant program, Department of Graduate Health Professions

Lindsay Abernethy
Lindsay Abernethy

Lindsay Abernethy, MMSc, PA-C, has been selected to serve as the interim program director of the School of Medicine’s Master of Medical Science-Physician Assistant program. The appointment is part of a recent restructuring within the Department of Graduate Health Professions in medicine and the PA program.

Abernethy takes over the role held previously by Katherine Ervie, who served as program director from the inception of the program in 2012 until January 2021. Abernethy will direct the clinical curriculum and provide overall leadership of the PA program.

She first joined the School of Medicine faculty in 2018 as an adjunct assistant professor. She previously served as assistant director of clinical education with the South University Physician Assistant Program in Savannah, Georgia.

Abernethy received her master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies from Emory University. Before joining UMKC, she was the first physician assistant to practice medicine on the island of Anguilla, where she provided family and emergency medicine care. Upon moving back to the United States, she found her niche in occupational and urgent care medicine. She continues to serve the Kansas City area through clinical practice one day a week.

Other staff and faculty changes include Laura Begley, Ph.D., serving as assistant dean for Gradate Health Professions; Sara Cox, MPAS, PA-C, as director of didactic education; and Stephanie Painter, MPA-PA-C, serving as director of assessment and student learning.

Begley joined the School of Medicine in 2009 as program assistant for the school’s Master of Science in Anesthesia program. She spent seven years as program coordinator for the Office of Allied Health and most recently was appointed associate director of the Department of Graduate Health Professions. She will provide leadership in accreditation and assessment, as well as supervision of student support personnel.

Cox has been part of the school’s PA program faculty since 2018 and will work to ensure that didactic curriculum content meets the program’s defined goals, student learning outcomes and accreditation standards.

Painter joined the School of Medicine in 2020. She will oversee the assessment needs across the program’s didactic and clinical curriculum to assess students for mastery of defined learning outcomes and competencies.

Two additional staff also have joined the department: Darlene Hirst as adjunct assistant professor in the PA program and Amber Blair as a student support specialist.

Edwin Kreamer, M.D., continues to serve as medical director for the physician assistant program and Julie Banderas, Pharm.D., will continue to serve as assistant dean and department chair for Graduate Health Professions in Medicine.

School of Medicine faculty among those to be honored at university-wide event

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke at the 2019 faculty recognition celebration

Six School of Medicine faculty will be among more than 60 UMKC faculty recognized in a university-wide virtual event to honor promotion, tenure, endowed chairs, distinguished professorships, and unique UMKC and UM System awards throughout 2020.

These recognitions occur throughout the year and are typically celebrated together at an annual event. They have taken on special meaning this year as all members of the university community have faced unprecedented challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, instead of a live event, faculty will be recognized at a virtual event on Feb. 12, where they will be honored in a special video celebrating their accomplishments. Following the event, the video will be posted on the Provost’s website for the remainder of the year.

“The effort, flexibility and patience our faculty have put into this difficult year have not gone unnoticed, and it is especially important to recognize the significant contributions of our faculty this year,” said Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “Many of our students say their relationships with our faculty are some of the biggest reasons they love being a Roo.”

Last October, the School of Medicine recognized 73 faculty members who received promotions and tenure, and special School of Medicine awards.

Medical school faculty recognitions featured in the video include:

New Endowed Chairs:      

  • Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., James B. Nutter, Annabel Nutter and Harry Jonas M.D. Professorship, School of Medicine
  • Mamta Reddy, M.D., Vijay Babu Rayudu Endowed Chair of Patient Safety, School of Medicine

Chancellor’s Award for Career Contributions to the University:
This is one of the highest honors for a UMKC employee who has made significant contributions to higher education at UMKC over the course of their career and has significantly enhanced the mission of the university.

  • Paul Cuddy, Pharm.D., vice dean and professor, School of Medicine

Chancellor’s Award for Embracing Diversity:
This award recognizes and celebrates UMKC faculty, staff and registered student organizations that embrace diversity by celebrating diversity in all aspects of university life, creating inclusive environments, culturally competent citizens, and globally oriented curricula and programs.

  • School of Medicine Summer Scholars Program, School of Medicine

Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching:
This is the university’s highest honor for excellence in teaching. It recognizes and celebrates UMKC faculty who are consistently superior teachers at the graduate, undergraduate or professional level over an extended period of time.

  • Mike Wacker, Ph.D., associate professor, School of Medicine

Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching:
This award recognizes and celebrates teaching excellence among UMKC clinical and teaching faculty.

  • Monica Gaddis, Ph.D., associate teaching professor, School of Medicine

Elmer F. Pierson Good Teaching Awards:
These are awarded annually to outstanding teachers in the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, and the Schools of Dentistry, Law and Medicine.

  • Jennifer Quaintance, Ph.D., assistant dean, School of Medicine

Trustees Faculty Fellows Award:
Through this award, trustees recognize the very best faculty who distinguished themselves through scholarship and creativity.

  • Peter Koulen, Ph.D., professor, School of Medicine

UMKC Vision Research Center receives NIH award to promote diversity in health-related research as part of ongoing glaucoma studies

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the UMKC Vision Research Center a new $120,399 grant that promotes the training of researchers from diverse backgrounds as part of ongoing research projects to develop novel glaucoma therapies.

Funded through the NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI), the new funding is part of a larger NIH initiative to enhance the diversity of the research workforce. It will aid in recruiting and supporting students, postdoctorates and eligible investigators from diverse backgrounds including those from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research.

“We are pleased to receive this support from the NIH,” said Peter Koulen, Ph.D., director of the Vision Research Center. “This funding is a substantial contribution to our mission to provide a more diverse workforce in biomedicine and the overall mission to discover new and improved treatments and therapies for vision health world-wide.”

The funding is part of Koulen’s NEI-supported program exploring novel therapeutic strategies to preserve the viability and function of the nerve cells of the retina affected by glaucoma. The research targets a novel mechanism of nerve cell protection utilizing intracellular calcium signaling as a drug target to treat degeneration of nerve cells in glaucoma.

“The new award is part of research that will allow us to generate data needed for the development of novel glaucoma drugs to complement existing therapies targeting abnormally high pressure in the eye,” Koulen said. Koulen and his team at the Vision Research Center received a $1.16 million NIH grant earlier this year to investigate a mechanism that allows nerve cells to communicate effectively and could lead to the development of such new treatments for glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a major cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in the United States and worldwide. The disease causes degeneration of the retina and optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Preventing such degeneration and the death of affected cells is currently the only feasible way to prevent vision loss due to glaucoma.

In the past year, Koulen has won two other major NIH research grants. His current study of new chemical compounds to treat and prevent age-related macular degeneration received a $1.16 million grant. He is also part of an innovative $1.5 million project exploring a novel tissue-preservation method that could help meet far-reaching clinical needs in ophthalmology and other fields of medicine

This glaucoma research will focus on alternative strategies directly targeting the damaging effects of the disease on the retina and optic nerve.

“Just like elevated blood pressure predisposes patients to stroke, high pressure inside the eye is a predisposing factor for glaucoma,” Koulen said. “There are currently several therapies available to patients to reduce abnormally high eye pressure, but when these therapies fail or cease to be effective, glaucoma and the accompanying vision loss continue to progress.”

Koulen’s project, including the new award to promote diversity in health-related research, will determine how to boost the cell-to-cell communication that retinal nerve cells use to defend themselves from disease and injury. The hope is this will protect these cells from the damaging effects of glaucoma.

If successful, Koulen’s research will result in new drug candidates that would contribute to “neuroprotection” as a strategy to treat and prevent glaucoma.

New therapies could potentially act in concert with current eye pressure lowering drugs. Other areas of medicine, such as cancer treatment, have effectively employed the concept of using complementary drug action in combination therapies.