LCOM & Department News

Impact on the Community: Class of '19 Launches Public Health Projects

September 8, 2016 by Carolyn Shapiro

When University of Vermont Class of 2019 medical student Jacob Reibel and the six other classmates in his group selected their public health project earlier this year, they wanted to get out of the classroom and into the field – literally – to talk to Vermonters about their health concerns.

Class of 2019 students (L to R) Maia Sakradse '19, Allison Greene '19, and Suven Cooper '19 visit the Burlington Lead Program table at the Public Health Projects "speed-dating" event in June 2016. (Photo: UVM COM Design & Photography)

When University of Vermont Class of 2019 medical student Jacob Reibel and the six other classmates in his group selected their public health project earlier this year, they wanted to get out of the classroom and into the field – literally – to talk to Vermonters about their health concerns.

He and his group will spend the next few months doing just that, meeting with Vermont farm workers to learn how their occupation influences the risk of developing or worsening asthma and other respiratory problems. The students’ project for the American Lung Association in Vermont will provide insight on the impact of farming on lung health.

“Our group was interested in getting out into the community and visiting some farmers and talking to some of these workers,” says Reibel. The students hope “to put a face to the patient population that we’re learning about.”

All UVM College of Medicine second-year students are required to undertake and complete a public health project. In the spring of their first year of medical school, each group of about seven or eight students reviews the project options at a “speed dating” type of event, at which 16 different agencies/organizations showcase their projects that seek to answer a question or solve a problem.

The student groups then rank their top project picks and college faculty “match” the student groups to the projects, attempting to give them their top choices.

“We get a pretty good distribution and a variety of interest among the students, so that the match works out,” says Jan Carney, M.D., M.P.H., UVM senior associate dean for public health and course director for the Public Health Projects. “Different projects resonate with different student groups.”

The Class of 2019’s topics include the Burlington Lead Program’s goal to raise public awareness about lead poisoning prevention; perceptions on health care among newly arriving Vermont refugees for the state’s Department of Health; and an evaluation of the effectiveness of Vermont CARES’ syringe exchange programs for preventing the spread of HIV.

Projects for the American Cancer Society of Vermont and the American Heart Association will focus on public policy advocacy, which is an increasing area of interest for UVM medical students, Carney says.

At her kickoff presentation in late August, Carney explained to the students that their projects are pivotal to the organizations, which use the results to make decisions and create programs that benefit not only communities in Vermont, but across the nation as well.

“The goal is to help you be better doctors,” she told members of the Class of 2019. “These are tough problems, and they need creative solutions.”

It’s a rigorous schedule. The groups have a total of four months to first choose the specific goal or question they will pursue, read literature on the topic, develop a plan of action – either a survey or other assessment tool – conduct that research and report on their findings in the form of a poster. Ten groups from the Class of 2018 will be presenting their posters at the American Public Health Association annual conference in Denver, Colo., October 29 to November 2, 2016.

Each group has a project mentor, a College of Medicine faculty member who guides the students and keeps them on track. Mark Fung, M.D., Ph.D., UVM professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, has overseen the College’s public health projects for the American Red Cross for a decade, helping students tackle many ambitious topics. In 2008, his group completed a randomized, controlled trial on the use of text messaging to remind donors to give blood. A 2010 project that looked at whether 16-year-olds should donate blood resulted in the Vermont legislature lowering the legal donation age from 17 to 16.

“So they walk away with a recipe of how to conduct a study in the future,” Fung says. “You hope they take away the need to ask the best question you can ask that you’re simultaneously interested in and capable of answering.”

Class of ’19 student Katherine Clifford’s group embraced the challenge brought by The Converse Home, an assisted living and memory care center doing its first UVM public health project, to find out whether poetry can stimulate cognition and brain activity for dementia patients the same way music can. The students will spend time with Converse Home residents as they read and write poetry and assess whether that activity improves overall wellbeing and health.

“We really liked the idea of the project in that it was a little more service-oriented,” Clifford says. “It actually involved us going to the site and working with patients.”

That interaction is a key objective of the public health projects, Carney says. “We want the students to learn by doing,” she says. “They have to get out of the building and go out into the community.”

Department Highlights

Please join Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger in congratulating Allison Manuel and Evan Elko

Dr. Allison Manuel is a post-doctoral fellow in our group.  Her abstract to be presented at the American Thoracic Society conference was chosen to receive an Abstract Scholarship . The scholarship includes a full In-Training Registration to the 2019 ATS International Conference in Dallas, Texas.  

Evan Elko is a PhD student. He just received notice that his F31 NIH application entitled: “Role of peroxiredoxin-4 in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis”  will be funded.

Congratulations to Evan and Allison.

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Department alumni, Dr. Bobbi Pritt, M.D. featured in Vermont Medicine Magazine. To read her story click on the photo below.

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Dr's Leonard and HuberA Remarkable Gift from Dr. Sally Huber, Ph.D.

At the end of last week's Research Day, Dr. Leonard gave a surprise announcement: a very generous bequethment of $5 million by research faculty emerita, Dr. Sally Huber! The funds will go toward two endowed professorships for junior investigators in our department. The endowments will be named for her parents, Elmer R. Huber and Blodwen S. Huber, and will support junior research faculty for five years.(9/2018)

This amazing support will allow junior faculty time and funds to gain independence while pursuing the milestone achievement of being awarded their first R01 grant.

Heintz Awarded 2018 Distinguised Graduate Alumni Award

Dr. Nick Heintz, Ph.D. received the 2018 UVM Medical Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award​, which is presented to Larner College of Medicine (LCOM) alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in basic, clinical or applied research; education; industry; public service/humanitarianism; and/or outstanding commitment to the LCOM community.

He accepted his award at the college's Celebrating Research Excellence event at the end of October. (September 2018)

Kida Received Certificate of Commendation

Dr. Kida receives award from the State of Vermont...read more here. (August 2018)

Leonard and Committee Publish Through National Academies Press

Dr. Debra Leonard, along with a committee under the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, ​published "Returning Individual Research Results to Participants: Guidance for a New Research Paradigm" through The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2018 (Committee Member). (August 2018)

Excellence in Education

The Larner College of Medicine’s second year medical students nominate and elect faculty who they want to recognize for their outstanding teaching and support over their first years of the Foundations education. (February 2018)

Pathology nominees (winners in bold):

AMWA Gender Equity Award  - Pamela Gibson; Sharon Mount; Rebecca Wilcox

Dean Warhsaw Integration Award - Rebecca Wilcox

Silver Stethoscope Award - Scott Andreson; Maureen Harmon; John Lunde

Above and Beyond Award - Ronald Bryant; Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Course Director Award -Rebecca Wilcox

Outstanding Foundations Course Award

  • Cardiovascular, Respiratory & Renal Systems: (Ron Bryant; Kelly Butnor; and Pam Gibson are the primary pathologists in each section of the course, respectively)
  • Nutrition, Metabolism & the Gastrointestinal System: Course Director is Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Teaching Award - Ronald Bryant; Pamela Gibson; Rebecca Wilcox; Christina Wojewoda

Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger Receives Patent

Yvonne Janssen-Heinger was awarded a patent on the ​concept that strategies to inhibit GSTP has utility for the treatment of patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Congratulations, Yvonne! (January 2018)

Drs. Bronwyn Bryant and Phillip Munson inducted into the Teaching Academy

Last week Bronwyn and Phillip were inducted into University of Vermont's Teaching Academy. The Teaching Academy sustains and supports an interdisciplinary community of educators who value the scholarship of teaching and learning while facilitating educator development; improve the efficiency and quality of medical education through collaboration and scholarship; and promote an academic environment that increases the value and impact of educators locally, regionally, and nationally. (January 2018)

Dr. Leonard Video Recording Available 

Dr. Leonard gives a series of talks on Genomic Medicine in Vermont for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)​. A video recording of the talk is available here >> (October 2017)

Department Members Took Part in the March For Science

Banner carriers: Dr. Debra Leonard, Sara Kwolek & Dr. Sharon Mount. Also, in view are Doug Taatjes,Ph.D., and Dr. Rebecca Wilcox. (April 2017)

Janssen-Heininger Featured Woman in Science

Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., was chosen as the featured ​Woman in Science by the Society for Redox Biology and Medicine! She got pretty colorful with some of her answers, so definitely worth a read. (March 2017) Read the story >>

Buskiewicz Publishes in Science Signaling

Dr. Iwona Buskiewicz, Ph.D., publishes study in Science Signaling, revealing potential key to alternative Lupus treatment.  (February 2017)

Genomic Medicine Laboratory Grand Opening (January 2017)
Larner College of Medicine Foundations Awards

Pamela Gibson, M.D. won the AMWA Gender Equity Award, which honors a male or female faculty member who promotes a gender-fair environment for the education and training of physicians and gender diversity in the field. Pam is Co-advisor of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. (January 2017)

Rebecca Wilcox, M.D. won the Foundations Course Director Award, and her Nutrition, Metabolism, and Gastrointestinal System (NMGI) course won Outstanding Foundations Course Award. Rebecca was also nominated for the Foundations Teaching Award. (January 2017)

Mark Fung, M.D., Ph.D. and Andy Goodwin, M.D. were also nominated for the Silver Stethoscope awards, which recognizes the faculty member who had few lecture hours, but made a substantial contribution to students’ education. (January 2017)