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.”

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.

 

SOM’s Angela Nwankwo serving national leadership role with SNMA

Third-year medical student Angela Nwankwo has been selected to a national leadership position with the Student National Medical. She is serving as co-chair of organization’s national publications committee.

She took on her new role earlier this year during a virtual meeting of the annual SNMA Medical Education Conference. The educational and networking event is the nation’s largest gathering of underrepresented minority medical students and professionals.

Nwankwo has previously participated in the SNMA’ s National Future Leadership Fellow program. She has served as vice president of the School of Medicine’s group chapter. She has been secretary of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Interest Group and a student representative on the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and the Council on Evaluation.

She serves a clinic manager for the school’s student-run Sojourner Health Clinic and the Kansas City Free Eye Clinic.

SNMA is the national oldest and largest student-run organization that focuses on the needs of medical students of color. With chapters across the country, it has a membership of more than 7,000 medical and pre-medical students and physicians.

School of Medicine announces academic appointments

The UMKC School of Medicine has announced four recent appointments to academic leadership positions: John Borsa, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiology; Adam Algren, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine; Jennifer Elliott, M.D., interim chair of the Department of Anesthesiology; and Molly Uhlenhake, D.O., director of the Continuing Care Clinic clerkship.

Borsa adds the role of the school’s academic chair of radiology to his current position as department chair at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City. A board certified vascular interventional radiologist, he is a national expert in procedures related to percutaneous treatment of venous thromboembolic disease.

A fellow of the Society of Interventional Radiology, he also is a peer reviewed author and international lecturer in his field. He has been honored three times as teacher of the year by residents and five times as a distinguished faculty presenter.

Borsa completed medical school and an internship at the University of Manitoba, and his radiology residency at the Mayo Clinic. He also completed an interventional radiology fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle before joining the staff of Saint Luke’s Hospital in 2011.

Adam Algren, M.D.Algren, a 2001 graduate of the UMKC School of Medicine, has served as interim chair of emergency medicine since January. He is also chair of the University Health Physicians Board of Directors.

A member of the UMKC departments of emergency medicine and pediatrics since 2007, Algren has served as the chair of the School of Medicine’s Council on Selection and on the Truman Medical Centers Board of Directors.

He completed his emergency medicine residency and served as chief resident at TMC. Fellowship trained in medical toxicology at the Emory University/CDC program, Algren also served as a clinical instructor in the Emory University emergency medicine department.

Elliott, JenniferIn addition to her new role as interim chair of anesthesiology, Elliott currently serves as medical director of the Pain Management Clinic at Saint Luke’s Hospital. A 1996 UMKC School of Medicine graduate, she has served for many years as a member of the residency education committee in the radiology department.

After completing her anesthesiology residency and a fellowship in pain management at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Elliott joined the staff at Saint Luke’s Hospital. She has been a member of the hospital’s Institutional Review Board, a member of the UMKC School of Medicine Physician Promotions Committee, and the physician chair of the Saint Luke’s Health System Opioid Stewardship Committee. She completed the UMKC Physician Leadership Development Program in 2018.

Elliott has also written numerous articles and chapters on topics in pain medicine and is the primary editor of an acute pain management handbook published in 2011.

Uhlenhake, MollyUhlenhake takes on her director’s role in the school’s Continuing Care Clinic, having previously served on the Council of Selections as vice chair and the scholarship selection committee as chair. She is currently working to develop a multidisciplinary LGBT+ clinic at TMC, where she directs primary care services.

A member of the School of Medicine docent team, Uhlenhake is also medical director of Refugee and Immigration services at the Kansas City Health Department and medical director of community outreach for TMC. She is a core faculty member for the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics residency program at TMC and for Teen Primary Care at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.

After graduating medical school at Des Moines University in Iowa, Uhlenhake completed her internal medicine-pediatrics residency the UMKC School of Medicine, where she also served chief resident. Before joining the staff at UMKC and TMC, she served at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and was the medical director of adolescent medicine at the High Street Clinic in Denver.

UMKC vision researchers repurpose technology to identify early symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Changes in vision detected by microperimetry can be related to early signs of multiple sclerosis.

Technology used in eye exams called microperimetry could prove to be an effective, non-invasive method of identifying early symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

An article recently published by researchers at the UMKC School of Medicine Vision Research Center reports the effective use of microperimetry during routine clinical assessments of multiple sclerosis patients. The article appeared in the research journal BioMed Central Ophthalmology.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord that affects nearly 400,000 people in the United States and more than 2 million throughout the world. There is no known cure for the potentially disabling disease, but treatment can help manage symptoms and speed up recovery from attacks.

Therefore, a non-invasive, clinically relevant and cost-effective method of identifying damage early would be invaluable to patients and health care providers. It would enable prompt therapy that may slow the progression of the disease and its ocular manifestations before irreversible damage occurs.

The testing method studied by the team of UMKC researchers, students and residents, microperimetry, measures light sensitivity of the center of a patient’s vision and can detect specific areas of decreased sensitivity. It typically takes less than half an hour.

Researchers from the school’s Vision Research Center have previously found the technology to be effective in diagnosing early stages of other diseases of the nervous system such as mild cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s.

The vision research team of Landon J. Rohowetz, Qui Vu, Lilit Ablabutyan, Sean M. Gratton, Nancy Kunjukunju, Billi S. Wallace and Peter Koulen collaborated to determine subtle changes in visual function related to otherwise undetectable signs of multiple sclerosis. It is the first peer-reviewed study to assess the use of microperimetry, a straightforward and non-invasive vision test, as a tool to detect disease progression in early stage multiple sclerosis patients.

“The findings from this study provide a rationale for the use of microperimetry in the clinical assessment of patients with multiple sclerosis,” said Rohowetz, the study’s lead author. “By identifying visual dysfunction associated with multiple sclerosis, we hope physicians and researchers are able to use this technology to ultimately preserve and improve quality of life for patients with this often-disabling disease.”

More than 80 percent of the patients with multiple sclerosis show signs of impaired vision and 73 percent of MS patients experience visual impairment within the first 10 years of diagnosis, which is comparable to the prevalence of abnormal or impaired muscle function in the disease.

This initial study indicates that light sensitivity measured by microperimetry is lower among multiple sclerosis patients who have otherwise normal vision and no other history of issues with the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. It also revealed a significant correlation between this impaired function and a reduced thickness of the retina in MS patients that is not seen in control subjects.

The report says further studies would look to monitor and evaluate ongoing changes in retina sensitivity and thickness as they correlate to a progression of multiple sclerosis. It will also broaden the approach to include MS patients who have a history of optic neuritis, where measurable damage to the optic nerve has already occurred.

In place of KC Marathon, Million Mile Challenge makes every mile count with free and discounted entries for SOM

The Garmin Kansas City Marathon is not alone in canceling its fall event because of the coronavirus, but its organizers are challenging runners and supporters in a new way.

UMKC School of Medicine and its hospital affiliate Truman Medical Centers are gold sponsors of the MILLION MILE CHALLENGE, KC Marathon’s running alternative for 2020. School of Medicine has 10 FREE entries available on a first-come, first-served basis, and all UMKC students, staff and faculty who register can receive a discounted entry fee.

“It was a tough call, but canceling the race was best for the safety of race participants, partners, staff and volunteers,” said Dave Borchardt, director of corporate and community relationships at the Kansas City Sports Commission, the non-profit organization that organizes the Garmin Kansas City Marathon. “Now, we are excited about the Million Mile Challenge and encouraged by the interest it’s received.”

The Million Mile Challenge is a fun and engaging way to support your local community while staying fit through training and running. Between now and Oct. 17, participants can track and log miles anytime and anywhere they walk or run, both as they train and complete their race miles (5k, 10K, half marathon or full marathon). The goal is to reach one million cumulative miles among all registered in the challenge, with key mileage benchmarks celebrated with randomly selected gift winners announced along the way.

The event concludes with a two-day, drive-through Finishers Fest Oct. 16-17 with fun photo opportunities, sponsor booths and other activities. There, participants can pick up their participant items in person, including a race-branded shirt, finisher’s medal, commemorative race bib and finisher’s certificate, Million Mile Challenger finisher item and the ultimate KC swag bag. Registrants may also have their race packets mailed directly to them (additional fees apply).

If interested in a FREE entry, contact Lisa Mallow (lmallow@umkc.edu). Registration is open through Oct. 15, and the cost is $40. UMKC students, staff and faculty save 10 percent when using the discount code UMKCMED10.

To sign up and start logging your miles today, click here.

Traci McDonald joins Office of Research Administration

Traci McDonald has joined the UMKC School of Medicine Office of Research Administration as a grants support specialist.

She comes to UMKC from Hallmark Cards, where she worked as a demand/inventory analyst. She was later promoted to product execution specialist. She has a bachelor’s degree from Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas.

McDonald enjoys crafts, party planning, wedding decorating, and shopping. She has two children.

The newest member of the Office of Research Administration says she is looking forward to working with researchers at the School of Medicine and School of Nursing and Health Studies, and with clinicians and residents who conduct research activities at Truman Medical Center.

Med student’s message for those contemplating suicide: ‘Let’s Talk’

UMKC medical student Casey Rose, left, has led a project to promote awareness of help for those contemplating suicide.

Young people face a myriad of stressful events throughout their college years from academic pressures to family and relationship issues. Studies say as many as 20 percent of students will experience suicidal thoughts during college and 9 percent will actually attempt it.

Those facts struck a chord with Casey Rose, a fourth-year medical student at the School of Medicine.

“I was going through my behavioral health class with Dr. Trenton Meyers and he made it evident that suicide is a big problem,” Rose said. “I started thinking that I’ve been doing all this studying and getting prepared for my boards, and the things I’ve been doing are pretty much for myself. I haven’t really put myself out there to help others.”

That is when Rose got the idea to increase awareness of suicide prevention and offer help to students that might be contemplating suicide.

With the support of the medical school, Rose was able to get stickers printed that offer suicide help with hotline numbers. Currently, the stickers are in restrooms throughout the medical school and will be placed in all restrooms throughout the UMKC Health Sciences and Volker campuses.

Rose said Myers, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and course director for behavioral sciences at the School of Medicine, was one his strongest proponents for the project.

“He helped me design the wording for the stickers, using what’s worked for him to help his patients reach out for help when they’ve needed it,” Rose said. “With that and with student feedback, we created these stickers.”

Rose surveyed more than 100 students and used the responses, as well as input from other mental health professionals, to land upon a simple message: “It’s OK to not be OK. Let’s talk.” Included with the message are ways students can get help. Each sticker provides the Suicide Hotline number 1-800-273-TALK and a text option HOME to 741741. Medical students also have access to help through a program called Well Connect with a 24-hour number, 1-866-640-4777, that is included on the decals placed in the School of Medicine.

Myers said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students today in the United States. He believes the issue flies under the radar because people generally do not like to talk or think about it, or are nervous to speak about it.

“My hope is that when students see these stickers, it will give them the permission they need to spark a conversation with others and openly communicate about it,” he said. “I also hope that it will help those who are silently struggling to know that they are not alone or forgotten.”

For college-aged students, traumatic or difficult to handle events that can cause stress leading to suicidal thoughts can include academic and future career issues, death or other family issues, issues with intimate and other social relationships, personal health problems or even sleep disruptions. And now, these issues may be exacerbated with students returning to campus and dealing with anxieties related to coronavirus.

But Rose said the stickers are not just for those who may be thinking about suicide.

“I’m aware that the chance someone sees a sticker and it saves their life is not exceedingly high,” he said. “But you might see the sticker and remember the number you saw the next time your friend texts you and is like, ‘I’m having a horrible night, having thoughts of being better off dead.’ You could send that number you remember seeing. Maybe the sticker is just the nudge that you need.”

While Rose is quick to share the credit for creating the stickers, Myers finds inspiration in his drive to initiate and see the project through.

“I think Casey’s project speaks volumes about the virtuosity, humanism and caritas demonstrated by our amazing students here at the School of Medicine,” Myers said. “Casey was not looking for any kind of recognition with this project and did this purely with the intention to help those in need. This exemplifies the type of compassion and altruism I wish we could see in all physicians today.”

InDOCtrination Ceremony kicks off new chapter for 107 medical students

Second-year med student Akash Guruswamy, the 2020 Richard T. Garcia Award winner, addressed the new first-year class during this year’s virtual InDOCtrination ceremony.

The excitement and anticipation of students beginning a new chapter of life at the UMKC School of Medicine wasn’t lost on second-year medical student Akash Guruswamy.

The school’s 2020 Richard T. Garcia Award winner, Guruswamy reflected on his first days as a medical student and offered encouragement to his newest colleagues during the annual InDOCtrination Ceremony on Aug. 21.

After moving into their dormitory rooms on the UMKC Volker Campus just days earlier, most of the first-year class watched the virtual ceremony online from their new homes as a precaution to the ongoing coronavirus. The annual event kicked off a full day of orientation, marking the initial step for 107 medical students along their journey to earning a medical degree.

The class experienced the traditional elements of the InDOCtrination ceremony. One is the presentation of the Garcia Award, given annually to a second-year student for outstanding leadership, compassion toward fellow students and first-year academic performance.

Receiving the Garcia award, Guruswamy encouraged the class to enjoy the experience of meeting new people, exploring new places and, for many, a new independence. He also recognized the apprehension that comes with starting medical school, saying his first year was filled with times of anxiety.

“You’re not alone,” he said of those who feel anxious about starting medical school. “It’s totally normal. This program is hard, but look at it this way, you were selected for a seat in this program because the admissions council knew that you are capable.”

The ceremony also included a welcome from School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne, Jackson, who added her encouragement by reminding the class that they are the future of health care.

The highlight of the program followed with the introduction of each of the individual students with their first-year docent units and listening to the Oath of Physicians that each will recite when they receive the medical degrees.

This year’s class is a diverse group made up of 73 women and 34 men from a dozen states across the country from California to Maryland with hometowns as small as 200 and metropolitan areas of more than 9 million people. Some are the first in their families to pursue a career in medicine, while others are the first in their family to attend college.

Members of the class was also reminded that in preparing for medical school they have demonstrated that they deeply care about people and possess an aptitude for scientific inquiry and study that will help them succeed.

“You are on your way to a truly amazing profession,” Jackson said.

 

GME office welcomes new assistant deans

Gregory Howell, M.D., and Brook Nelson, M.D., have been appointed associate deans in the School of Medicine’s Office of Graduate Medical Education.

School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., and Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education Sara Gardner, M.D., announced two additions to the schools’ Office of Graduate Medical Education. Gregory Howell, M.D., ’00, associate professor of medicine and program director for the critical care fellowship, and Brook Nelson, M.D., ’07, assistant professor of surgery and general surgery residency program director, have been appointed as assistant deans for Graduate Medical Education.

Howell and Nelson will work directly with Gardner interacting with and supporting the school’s Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and non-ACGME programs, residents and fellows.

Each brings to their new positions extensive experience in graduate medical education. They will enhance the representation of our surgical and fellowship programs on the Graduate Medical Education Council. In addition, they will oversee the central line training course.

After graduation from medical school at UMKC, Howell completed his internal medicine and pulmonary/critical care training at UMKC.  Nelson also completed her general surgery residency at UMKC as well.

White Coat Ceremony Signifies Important Next Step for Class of 2024

Her father had the honor of coating third-year medical student Nadie Elkady during the UMKC School of Medicine’s virtual White Coat Ceremony.

The physician’s white coat is one of the most recognizable symbols of the medical profession. It signifies a relationship between physicians and their patients, and the obligation to practice medicine with clinical competence and compassion.

For the class of 125 third-year medical students who took part in the UMKC School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony this year, it also signified an important next step in the journey to joining the rank of physicians.

“Soon, you will be part of this distinctive group,” said Jill Moormeier, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine.

Moormeier served as emcee for this year’s event, which shifted from its usual campus location to a virtual format because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Students participated by watching online with family and friends. In many cases, students traditionally “coated” by their new docent during the ceremony shared that honor with parents instead.

Jennifer Allen, third-year student, in her white coat.

Following the online presentation, the newest students to graduate to the UMKC Health Sciences District campus enjoyed a Zoom reception with new docent team members.

Moormeier explained that the White Coat Ceremony represents a shift in the student’s education from a focus on classroom work to bedside care. She and School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., underscored that transition by reminding the class members of the professional responsibilities they will have as physicians.

Jackson said that six months into the pandemic, as they enter the intensive clinical phase of medical training that includes regular contact with patients, students must embrace those professional and personal responsibilities of health care providers working on the front lines of patient care. That, she said, includes following and promoting the safety precautions necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.

Steven Nguyen was all smiles after particpating in the White Coat Ceremony and joining his new docent unit.

She also spoke of the school’s commitment to racial justice in the community and throughout medical care. She encouraged students, as they don their white coats, to embrace the call to action.

“Lessons you learn along the way will guide your path to growing and developing as a healer who cares for patients with compassion and empathy,” she said. “Your white coat is a daily reminder of your commitment to patients, learning and understanding that struggle and reward are an opportunity to grow.”

Also during the ceremony, Jesica Neuhart, professor of pediatrics and pediatric hospitalist at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, was honored as this year’s Outstanding Years 1-2 docent. Each third-year class nominates a Year 1-2 docent for the award based on their teaching pursuit of excellence in medicine.

Third-year student Anna Boda said Neuhart “embodies the qualities of a perfect docent doctor, going above and beyond to provide the best educational resources for her students.” She said this year’s winner also served as a role model for teamwork and respect with all members of the health care team.

After Corrine Workman, also a third-year student, read the Class of 2024 Philosophy of Medicine, Brenda Rogers, associate dean for student affairs announced the new docent team assignments for the 2020-2021 school year.

Jackson said, “Remember, medicine is a team sport and you are part of a team.”

The School of Medicine conducted its first White Coat Ceremony for third-year students in 2003. The program is sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to emphasize the importance of compassionate care for patients and proficiency in the art and science of medicine.