Introducing Kansas City's new
Health Sciences District
A cooperative partnership formed by 12 neighboring health care institutions on Hospital Hill.

What is it?

The UMKC Health Sciences District was formed in May 2017 and strives to be a premier academic health district, engaging in cutting-edge biomedical research and entrepreneurship, delivering state-of-the-science health care, and educating the next generation of health care professionals.

Health Care Partners

  • University of Missouri-Kansas City and its
    • School of Medicine
    • School of Dentistry
    • School of Nursing and Health Studies
    • School of Pharmacy
  • Truman Medical Centers
    • University Health
  • Children’s Mercy
  • Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department
  • Missouri Department of Mental Health Center for Behavioral Medicine
  • Jackson County Medical Examiner
  • Diastole Scholars’ Center
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City
  • Charlie’s House

 

 


 

What is its purpose?

The UMKC Health Sciences District brings together health care partners in the Hospital Hill area. Working as one, they will create new potential for collaboration on research, grants, community outreach and shared wellness for employees, faculty, students and surrounding neighborhoods.

The UMKC Health Sciences District represents a new chapter in advancing health care, outreach and medical education throughout greater Kansas City.

 

  • University of Missouri-Kansas City
  • School of Medicine
  • School of Dentistry
  • School of Nursing and Health Studies
  • School of Pharmacy
  • Truman Medical Centers
  • University Health
  • Children’s Mercy
  • Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department
  • Center for Behavioral Medicine
  • Jackson County Medical Examiner
  • Diastole Scholars’ Center
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City

UMKC Health Sciences District Map

 

UMKC Health Sciences District By the Numbers

Fall 2019

 

Alumni:

21,220

Students:

3,311

Residency and Fellowship Programs:

77

Residents and Fellows:

511

Degree Programs:

19

Employees:

12,814

External funding:

Research Faculty have attracted external funding totaling:
$30,299,512

Outpatient Visits:

458,070

District Events

Follow our calendar to keep up with events and activities of the UMKC Health Sciences District and its members.



View Calendar

In the News

The UMKC Health Sciences District, consisting of 12 partner institutions, is committed to sharing news of collective and individual partner efforts to enhance and expand health care research and community outreach throughout Kansas City and the surrounding region.

Health equity mini-grants aim to jump start collaborative research

Health Equity Mini-grants Aim to Jump Start Collaborative Research

Funding from institute encourages UMKC-community research partnerships. Informational webinar on the grants Oct. 16; applications due Nov. 9.

Research to encourage fitness, access to care and better community outcomes

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 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.

“We’re hoping the mini-grants stimulate our researchers to be creative and to collaborate with community partners — or build relationships with new partners.” — Jannette Berkley-Patton

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.

 

Published: Oct 6, 2020



Beams of Light to Treat Diabetes: UMKC Invention Gets Federal Funding Boost

Beams of Light to Treat Diabetes: UMKC Invention Gets Federal Funding Boost

Pharmacy researcher awarded $1.5 million NIH grant to refine innovation

Simon Friedman, at right, with one of the researchers on his team.Simon Friedman, at right, stands in his lab talking to a researcher on the team.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue work on an important advancement to help treat the tens of millions of people who have diabetes.

The lifetime burden of constantly checking blood sugar and injecting insulin is significant. UMKC research has developed a way of delivering insulin to diabetics that eliminates pumps and most injections.

“We’re aiming to improve the lives of diabetics all over the world,” said UMKC pharmacy professor Simon Friedman, the principal investigator on the grant.

Normally, diabetics must inject themselves with insulin numerous times per day to enable the body to absorb blood sugar. The amount of insulin needed and timing vary with what an individual eats and their activity level. With blood glucose continuously varying, the insulin requirement parallels the amount of glucose in the blood.

The only clinically-used method to permit continuously variable delivery of therapeutic proteins like insulin is a pump. But they do so at a high cost:  a physical connection to the outside of the patient, where the drug reservoir resides, and the inside of the patient, where drug absorption will ultimately take place. This connection in insulin pumps is a cannula — or needle — which can be dislodged, crimped, snagged, infected and most importantly, rapidly gets biofouled from moisture after implantation. This leads to variable and unpredictable delivery.

For several years, Friedman and his lab associates have been developing a method in which a single injection of a material called a PAD (photo-activated depot) can take the place of multiple normal insulin injections and allow for minute-by-minute automatic updating of insulin release. The material is injected into the skin like insulin, but lies dormant until a beam of light stimulates release of insulin, in response to blood sugar information.

The new grant will help make the technology more reliable for someone to use and easier to manage.

“With the improvements, we anticipate creating a new and revolutionary approach to continuously variable protein delivery, one that minimizes invasiveness and maximizes the close matching of therapeutic with patient requirements,” Friedman said.

Karen Kover, associate professor of pediatrics at the UMKC School of Medicine and Children’s Mercy, has been an integral member of the research team for years, and Friedman is grateful for her collaboration.

Reviewers of the grant application praised the work, and Friedman, who has won previous NIH funding, said this was his highest rated grant award.

“We are grateful for the enthusiastic response from the NIH study section, given the very competitive nature of funding at this time during the pandemic,” said UMKC Vice Chancellor for Research Chris Liu.

The project is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the NIH.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin. Patients need insulin to process sugar from meals.

People with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but their bodies don’t respond well to it. At first the pancreas produces extra insulin to make up for it. But over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep blood sugar at normal levels.

About 34.2 million children and adults in the U.S. — 10.5% of the population — have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 25 percent use insulin shots. About 86 million people ages 20 and older in the U.S. have prediabetes.

Complications from diabetes include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system damage and amputation.

People with diabetes risk more serious complications from COVID-19 than others who do not have the disease.

“Through research at UMKC, we strive to improve the health of not just our community but our entire population,” said Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “We are proud of Dr. Friedman and his team’s innovation, which could significantly benefit people around the world.”

Published: Jul 8, 2020



UMKC School of Medicine Approved to Expand Its Program in Missouri

New campus in St. Joseph in partnership with Mosaic Life Care will increase rural health care

A photo of Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph, MissouriA new UMKC School of Medicine campus in St. Joseph in partnership with Mosaic Life Care will increase rural health care by addressing physician shortages in Missouri.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine plans to expand its program to St. Joseph, Missouri, to address the state’s rural physician shortage.

The University of Missouri System Board of Curators approved the proposal on Thursday.

UMKC received a $7 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to start the new program in January 2021. HRSA, the primary federal agency for improving access to health-care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable, will pay out the grant over four years.

“We are thrilled we will be able to address a critical health-care need in Missouri,” said Chancellor Mauli Agrawal, Ph.D. “This will enable more patients throughout the state to get better access to high-quality medical treatment.”

The need is great in the United States – the American Association of Medical Colleges projects a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032, with primary-care physicians making up almost half of this shortage. And the need is especially great in Missouri: the state has 250 primary-care health professional  shortage areas, including 109 of its 114 counties. It ranks No. 40 among U.S. states in terms of health.

“The disparities in care in rural areas result in higher rates of death, disability and chronic disease for rural Americans. Expansion of our medical school to the northwestern region of our state will serve to bridge this gap, knowing that students training in rural programs are three times as likely to remain in practice in those areas.” – UMKC School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne Jackson

“Missouri is facing a physician shortage in the next five years, creating major challenges for rural communities,” said U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Missouri). “As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, I started the Medical Student Education Program to ensure resources were specifically targeted toward improving access to care where it’s needed most. I am glad to see the University of Missouri-Kansas City focusing efforts on addressing that challenge by training more physicians to practice medicine in rural and underserved areas. This is great news for UMKC and the St. Joseph community.”

Typically, physicians remain in the areas where they go to medical school, and 80 percent of UMKC School of Medicine students are from Missouri and the surrounding counties, said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., dean of the school. “The disparities in care in rural areas result in higher rates of death, disability and chronic disease for rural Americans. Expansion of our medical school to the northwestern region of our state will serve to bridge this gap, knowing that students training in rural programs are three times as likely to remain in practice in those areas.”

While the UMKC School of Medicine is known for its innovative six-year B.A./M.D. program that admits students directly from high school, it will offer a four-year M.D. program in St. Joseph open to students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree. This M.D. track option has been part of the school tradition since opening its doors almost 50 years ago.

”I am glad to see the University of Missouri- Kansas City focusing efforts on addressing that challenge by training more physicians to practice medicine in rural and underserved areas. This is great news for UMKC and the St. Joseph community.” – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt

The new program in St. Joseph will expand the UMKC School of Medicine M.D. program by adding 20 students in St. Joseph to each cohort of about 100 students in Kansas City, said Steven Waldman, M.D., J.D., program director and principal investigator on the grant, and vice dean and chair of Humanities at the UMKC School of Medicine. The co-investigators on the grant are Michael Wacker, Ph.D., associate dean of academic affairs, and Paula Monaghan-Nichols, Ph.D., associate dean of research administration, both from the UMKC School of Medicine. The four-year program eventually will allow the UMKC School of Medicine to train 80 additional medical students.

In addition to the grant, the expansion is possible because of a partnership with Mosaic Life Care, located in St. Joseph. Mosaic is one of the largest private rural primary-care networks in the U.S. and a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network. Students will be able to learn and train in Mosaic’s rural healthcare network.

“The receipt of this federal grant, as well as the partnership, will allow the UMKC School of Medicine to expand our mission of training superlative physicians and health-care professionals to care for our most vulnerable populations,” Waldman said. “The addition of the UMKC School of Medicine’s St. Joseph campus will greatly enrich rural health-care education for our students.”

Other partners:

  • Truman Medical Centers, the primary teaching hospital for the school, has a mission dedicated to providing public health and specialty services for those with financial, health or insurance issues that limit access to care in Kansas City. Students, residents and faculty who are based at Truman in Kansas City will be able to learn and teach at Mosaic in St. Joseph and collaborate on care for patients.
  • UMKC Health Sciences District is a partnership of a dozen health-care entities including four UMKC health professions schools. This further expands the district’s reach into rural health care.
  • UMKC STAHR (Students in Training, in Academia, Health and Research) Partnership Program is committed to increasing the number of students from educationally and/or economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are prepared to enter, persist and graduate from a UMKC health sciences degree program. STAHR serves as a mentorship resource to students.

UMKC has a successful track record of creating rural health education programs in Missouri. The UMKC School of Pharmacy includes satellite campuses at the University of Missouri in Columbia and Missouri State University in Springfield.



For the Sixth Year in a Row, All 10 Children’s Mercy Specialties Ranked by U.S. News and World Report

KANSAS CITY, Mo., June 16, 2020 – Children’s Mercy Kansas City is once again recognized as one of the nation’s top pediatric hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2020-2021 “Best Children’s Hospitals” report. For the sixth year in a row, Children’s Mercy is listed with the best in the country in 10 out of 10 pediatric specialties included in the survey. Children’s Mercy is one of only 14 pediatric hospitals in the nation to rank in all 10 specialties in each of the last six years.

Children’s Mercy specialties’ rankings, with one in the nation’s top 10:

  • Nephrology (#10)
  • Urology (#21)
  • Cardiology & Heart Surgery (#23)
  • Neurology & Neurosurgery (#26)
  • Orthopedics (#28)
  • Cancer (#29)
  • Gastroenterology & GI Surgery (#31)
  • Pulmonology (#35)
  • Diabetes & Endocrine Disorders (#43)
  • Neonatal Care (#46)

“Having all 10 specialties ranked for the sixth year is a remarkable achievement when considering only about two dozen children’s hospitals rank in all 10 specialties each year,” said Paul Kempinski, MS, FACHE, president and CEO of Children’s Mercy. “The excellent care given by our entire team is keeping families closer to the communities in which they live and providing a sense of comfort and familiarity, and I think that contributes to the treatment and healing process.”

This year, U.S. News surveyed nearly 200 pediatric centers to gather clinical and operational data. This data was then combined with results from a reputational survey in which board-certified pediatric specialists representing the 10 areas were asked where they would send the sickest children in their specialty.

Those pediatric specialties consist of: cancercardiology and heart surgery; diabetes and endocrinologygastroenterology and GI surgery; neonatologynephrologyneurology and neurosurgeryorthopedicspulmonology; and urology.

The full rankings and methodology are available at www.usnews.com/childrenshospitals.

Original story: https://news.childrensmercy.org/for-the-sixth-year-in-a-row-all-10-childrens-mercy-specialties-ranked-by–us-news-and-world-report/



Grab your running shoes! Hospital Hill Run goes virtual and extends to July

UMKC participants receive discounted registration

by Kelly Edwards

The UMKC-Hospital Hill Run relationship may go back 47 years, but it’s still making history. The 2020 Hospital Hill Run has gone virtual, and participants can run their distance anytime and anywhere they choose before July 1.

This year’s race is sponsored by the UMKC Health Sciences District and UMKC faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends receive a 20% discounted registration using code WPFCUMKC20.

The race, founded in 1973 by School of Medicine founder Dr. E. Grey Dimond, has long been a favorite of runners and walkers nationwide. As in the past, the 2020 virtual race offers three race options – 5K, 10K and half marathon. Participants will receive digital finisher certificates and a swag packet – including t-shirts and medals – in the mail. Here’s how to join the virtual event:

  • Register and run virtual by July 1. Run or walk your distance on roads, tracks, treadmills, or one of many new race routes throughout town and provided on the HHR virtual website.
  • Submit your results. Runners and walkers send in their results online and see how they stack up against other participants.
  • Share your experience. Using the HHR Facebook page and hashtag #HHRVirtual2020, share your run photos, videos and screenshots.

Race organizers have also developed several race challenges (with prizes!), training tip videos and other resources to support participants. Visit https://virtual.hospitalhillrun.com/ for more information.

Original story: https://med.umkc.edu/grab-your-running-shoes-hospital-hill-run-goes-virtual-and-extends-to-july-1/



Pop Up Food Pantry in the UMKC Health Sciences District

Our plans to keep everyone healthy:

  • Harvesters has kindly offered to send additional produce, expecting more residents than a typical distribution.
  • The distribution will mostly be a drive through distribution but we will also serve residents that walk, cycle or ride the bus in a line outdoors with two tables between the volunteers and the residents.
  • We will mark the 6 ft. distance for the line with chalk to keep social distancing measures.
  • Two to three Food Inspectors will patrol the  line to make sure that residents are keeping their distance.
  • All volunteers will have gloves, masks, and goggles.  Under no circumstances will a resident grab their own produce.
  • We will purchase new bags to pack food for residents.
  • We will have touchless antibacterial gel stands at the beginning and end of the line.
  • Residents should wash the produce once home.


COVID-19 Updates for Patients

UMKC School of Dentistry:

  • As of March 17, 2020, in an effort to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in our community, all UMKC School of Dentistry clinics will be seeing PATIENTS OF RECORD FOR EMERGENCY APPOINTMENTS ONLY. If you have an appointment for dental care, your appointment is cancelled and you will be rescheduled at a later date.
  • EMERGENCIES INCLUDE: Injury to the mouth requiring sutures, 2. Swelling of the face or mouth, 3. Uncontrolled bleeding for the mouth, 4. Pain that is not controlled by over-the-counter medications.
  • When calling the on call emergency doctor, please let them know if any of the following apply to you: 1. Any flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, sneezing or shortness of breath, Travel within the last two weeks, 3.  Contact with someone infected with COVID-19.
  • For emergency care for patients of record (seen in the last 12 months)please call 816-235-2100

 

Children’s Mercy Hospital

Children’s Mercy is implementing full visitor restrictions to keep you and your child safe:

  • No visitors, including sibling visitors
  • Parents/guardians are not considered visitors
  • Parents/guardians must be free of respiratory symptoms and fever to be in the hospital

In order to help keep our patients as safe as possible, we are working to reschedule some of our specialty clinic visits, non-urgent imaging procedures and elective surgeries. If your child’s appointment needs to be changed, our team will be reaching out to you directly. We appreciate your understanding as we work to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible from the spread of COVID-19.

Truman Medical Centers
TMC is pre-screening patients for COVID-19 before they arrive at the medical center. When calling with appointment reminders, staff ask patients if they are running a fever, experiencing a cough and experiencing shortness of breath.  Patients also are being asked if they have had contact with anyone with COVID-19 or experiencing symptoms.

If you are feeling ill, running a fever, and have shortness of breath, please call TMC before coming to the medical center. Please call (816) 404-CARE (2273). It is important that you call.



UMKC School of Medicine students show patients how much they care on Valentine’s Day

More than a dozen UMKC School of Medicine students displayed the humanistic side of medicine on Valentine’s Day. The students, members of the school’s Gold Humanism Honor Society, delivered more than 200 roses and hand-made Valentine’s cards to their patients at Truman Medical Center Health Sciences District during their lunch hour.

“This reinforces the idea that our patients are not just patients, they’re also human beings,” said sixth-year student Rmaah Memon.

The fifth- and sixth-year students and their Gold Humanism Honor Society faculty sponsor, Carol Stanford, M.D., have been handing out roses to their patients for Valentine’s Day as part of the organization’s Solidarity Week for Compassionate Patient Care since 2011.

A few years ago, the students began inviting their classmates to join in on the Solidarity Week campaign by getting together during the week to create hundreds of their own hand-made Valentine’s cards to pass out with the roses.

“A lot of these patients are here on Valentine’s Day all alone,” said Athira Jayan, a sixth-year student. “You’re handing them a rose, but you’re also getting a chance to just visit with them, give them some company. A lot of patients here, that’s something that they value, the ability for someone to comfort them and give them someone to talk to.”

Elsa George, another sixth-year student, said this is an opportunity for the students to show their patients that someone cares.

“Sometimes, when we come into their room and just talk to them briefly about their medical conditions, patients think we don’t really care about how they feel as a person,” George said.

Two years ago, the School of Medicine received the Gold Humanism Honor Society’s Distinguished Chapter of the Year. That honor recognized the chapter’s impact, leadership, service activities and humanistic learning environment.

The organization has nearly 180 chapters in medical schools and residency programs throughout the United States.

Original story link: https://med.umkc.edu/umkc-school-of-medicine-students-show-patients-how-much-they-care-on-valentines-day/

 



UMKC pharmacy students do their part to immunize Missouri against influenza

Tis the season for colds and flu. And this fall, UMKC School of Pharmacy students were again busy battling the bug.

Third-year pharmacy students participate each year in a pharmacy practice experience that includes learning to administer immunizations. This year, that experience involved administering 2,676 flu shots to patients at 59 immunization events throughout Missouri.

This is the eighth year the School of Pharmacy has been part of the flu shot initiative. It started in 2011 as a collaborative effort with the University’s Healthy for Life wellness program to administer the shots to faculty and staff.

“We have enjoyed an excellent collaboration with Healthy for Life,” said Val Ruehter, Pharm.D., BCPP, director of experiential learning. “In Kansas City, we also collaborate with Children’s Mercy Hospital, where we participated in flu shot clinics for its ‘Family and Friends’ program.”

The collaborations expanded this year in Kansas City to include Hy-Vee Pharmacies, where students assisted with in-store clinics. In addition, immunization events were held at the John Knox Village retirement community.

Students at the Springfield campus collaborated with Alps Pharmacies and its locations in local businesses, and senior assisted living and nursing care centers; and Walgreen’s and its locations in local businesses, schools, and veterans and homeless charities. Clinics were also held at both Lawrence Drug and Sunshine Health Mart for patients at these pharmacies.

Students from all three UMKC School of Pharmacy campuses participated. In Kansas City, students participated in 14 immunization events and administered 1,453 flu shots. Springfield campus students participated in 44 events and gave 930 shots. And students from the Columbia campus administered 293 immunizations.

“These collaborations engage students in a variety of activities and allow us to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and impact that pharmacists can have on community health and wellness,” Ruehter said. “Our students were well-prepared, engaged and represented themselves as knowledgeable health care professionals.”

All vaccines are administered by students are given under required protocol with oversight by a physician. Certified immunizer faculty members take the lead in managing the protocol and supervising the student training and immunization events.

The regional American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists organization honored the UMKC School of Pharmacy earlier this year with an Operation Immunization chapter award. It recognized the extraordinary contributions pharmacists provide to improving vaccination rates in their communities. The UMKC chapter received the national recognition in 2012, as well.



UMKC Health Professions Students and Coterie Theatre Have Important Message for Kansas City Teens

Gus Frank begins to share his story with a group of Kansas City teenagers. For about 20 minutes, he describes how this local high school basketball player discovered that he is HIV-positive and must now live with consequences.

But the story is not really his own. It is, however, the unnerving and true story of a Kansas City teen whose life has been dramatically changed forever.

Frank is actually a fourth-year medical student at the UMKC School of Medicine acting in the production, “The Dramatic STD/HIV Project.” The partnership brings together health professions students from UMKC, the University of Kansas and Coterie Theatre actors to provide Kansas City teens with the facts about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

“Some of the highest STD rates are among our youth and young adults ages 15 to 24. Education, knowledge and prevention are an important step in changing this risk to our youth.” – Stefanie Ellison, M.D., faculty at the UMKC School of Medicine and medical director on the project

In the roughly hour-long program — a 15- to 20-minute scripted presentation followed by an often-intense question-and-answer period — a professional actor from the Coterie pairs with a medical, pharmacy or nursing student to discuss the dangers of the diseases with audiences from eighth grade through high school.

“We’re there to inform the youth of Kansas City,” said Frank, now in his second year with the project. “We’re not doing this to tell them what they should do, but to inform them of the facts. We want them to be able to make their own informed decisions when the time comes.”

Evolution and impact

Joette Pelster is executive director of the Coterie Theatre and a co-founder of the project. She started the program with the theatre’s artistic director Jeff Church, an adjunct theater instructor at UMKC, and Christine Moranetz, then a faculty member at the University of Kansas Medical Center. That was 26 years ago when the AIDS epidemic was at its height, becoming the one-time leading cause of death among Americans ages of 25 and 44.

Wanting to create an educational program with credibility, Pelster reached out to the local medical community for help. She first enlisted aid from the University of Kansas School of Nursing. The UMKC School of Medicine joined the program in 2004, followed by the UMKC School of Pharmacy in 2008 and the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies in 2015.

“We wanted to do something that would have an impact,” Pelster said. “A lecture wasn’t going to do it. This was a perfect partnership because their weakness was our strength. We brought the acting, they brought the medical content and credibility. That’s why it’s lasted so long.”

“We’re there to inform the youth of Kansas City. We want them to be able to make their own informed decisions when the time comes.” – Gus Frank, a fourth-year medical student at the UMKC School of Medicine in his second year of acting in the program

UMKC faculty members Stefanie Ellison, M.D., at the School of Medicine and Mark Sawkin, Pharm.D., at the School of Pharmacy, serve as medical directors. They provide the actors with training on such things as current trends in infection rates, symptoms, testing and treatment. They also compile and routinely update a huge binder loaded with information to prepare the actors for what might be thrown at them during the question-and-answer portion of the program. Each actor has a copy of the binder that is updated throughout the year and training updates occur at least twice a year so that troupe members have current facts to share with at- risk students.

“UMKC was very influential in our talking about STDs because the incidence rate was rising so high,” Pelster said. “They are integral to the project and training for the question-and-answer periods that are vital to the project.”

“This is still relevant 25 years later,” Ellison said. “Some of the highest STD rates are among our youth and young adults ages 15 to 24. Kansas City has an increased incidence of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Nationally, one in five new HIV diagnoses is in patients ages 13 to 24, and 20 percent of new diagnoses are among patients from ages 14 to 19. Education, knowledge and prevention are an important step in changing this risk to our youth.”

The production

Since 2008, the program has averaged more than 210 presentations a year in junior highs and high schools throughout the Kansas City Metro area. Through last school year, it had been presented 4,495 times, reaching more than 194,000 Kansas City teenagers.

This year’s cast includes 14 UMKC medical students, two UMKC pharmacy students, one UMKC nursing and health studies student, two University of Kansas nursing students and 17 professional Coterie actors, one a graduate of the UMKC theatre program.

“I would share with them that this (prescription) is something you’ll have to take the rest of your life; you’re stuck with it. Just being able to embed that in their memory by telling these kids was really helpful.” – Krista Bricker, a fourth-year UMKC School of Pharmacy student who was among the cast of student actors a year ago

Every presentation pairs one male and one female of different ethnicities, helping to make the team more relatable to its audience. Each actor follows one of six different scripts to present the true story of a Kansas City teen that has contracted an STD or HIV/AIDS.

The productions require little theater other than the actors’ monologues, slides projected on a wall or screen behind them and music to help present each story. They take place in intimate settings of a single classroom of maybe 15-20 students to auditoriums filled with as many as 100 or more students. The actors say the small classroom sessions sometimes produce the most intense interactions because the students in their smaller, tight-knit setting become less inhibited during the Q&A periods.

“It feels like we’re talking student to student,” said Madison Iskierka, also a fourth-year medical student. “It doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in a lecture listening to someone preach about whatever you’re learning. It’s very personal and I like that.”

Frank admits feeling some early awkwardness when talking about such a sensitive subject with a young audience. But that faded after a few presentations.

“It’s something that we need to make not weird,” he said. “We need to destigmatize all the sexual education about HIV and all other STDs. If we could make those things something that is easier to talk about and comes up in conversation more often, it would probably make people more aware and more willing to get tested and get treated if they do have something.”

The actors are trained to hit on a list of key points during the question and answer sessions to highlight abstinence as the only sure way to avoid contracting infections, as well as discussing risky behaviors and sources of transmitting the diseases.

“We wanted to do something that would have an impact. A lecture wasn’t going to do it. This was a perfect partnership…we brought the acting, they brought the medical content and credibility. That’s why it’s lasted so long.” – Joette Pelster, executive director of the Coterie Theatre and co-founder of the project

Krista Bricker, a fourth-year UMKC pharmacy student, was among the cast of student actors a year ago. She said she often leaned on her pharmacy background and honed in on the medications when sharing the hard reality of what is involved for patients living with these diseases.

“I would share with them that this is something you’ll have to take the rest of your life; you’re stuck with it,” she said. “Just being able to embed that in their memory by telling these kids was really helpful.”

Frank reflects on the story of the local teen he portrays. He is determined to get the details as perfect as possible during each presentation because if not, he says, “I’m messing up someone’s personal story.”

And for the young people hearing that story, Frank has one more message: “This could have been anyone. It could have been your classmate. It could have been you.”

Original story link here

Written by: Kelly Edwards



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