Thursday, September 28, 2017

USA College of Medicine Implements Wellness Initiative

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine recently created a new wellness initiative, promoting mentorship and enhancing the health and wellbeing among medical students.

The student-led initiative – first introduced at the Class of 2021’s freshman orientation – assigns all first- and second-year students at the USA College of Medicine to one of five wellness ‘houses,’ which they will remain in for the duration of medical school.

“Over the next two years, the houses will grow as the current first- and second-year students move into their third and fourth year,” said Dr. Susan LeDoux, associate dean of medical education and student affairs at USA. “Many of our current third- and fourth-year students have volunteered to serve as upper level mentors in the houses.”

According to Dr. LeDoux, the wellness committee recently hosted two events that gave students, faculty and staff the opportunity to have fun and interact in an informal manner. The mentor and mentee luncheon, which introduced each first-year student to their mentor in the second-year class, was held Sept. 18.  Following the luncheon, the wellness committee hosted the Inaugural USA College of Medicine Fall Cookout where medical students were able to connect with faculty and fellow students.

Dr. LeDoux said the houses – Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley – are named after the five rivers that flow into Mobile Bay, and they represent the mission of the school, which is to provide outstanding health care to the individuals in this region.

According to Dr. LeDoux, one of the primary components of the program is peer-to-peer mentoring. “To enhance peer-to-peer mentoring, each first-year student was paired with a second-year student within the same house who will serve as their mentor throughout medical school,” she said.

“The wellness committee is a new initiative for the 2017-2018 academic year,” said Ben McCormick, a second-year student at the USA College of Medicine. “Several third- and fourth-year students, along with USA College of Medicine faculty members, are also assigned a wellness house. Having representation from both students in their clinical years and from USA faculty members provides us with insight on what we can expect as we progress through medical school, while also cultivating relationships with upperclassmen and physicians in the USA medical community.”

In addition to the wellness houses, students at the USA College of Medicine also have access to individual, couples or group counseling led by a new health and wellness counselor. “Dr. Marjorie Scaffa recently joined the USA College of Medicine and will serve in this roll,” Dr. LeDoux said. “In her new position, Dr. Scaffa will conduct monthly wellness forums covering topics such as managing the transition to medical school, emotional wellbeing, healthy relationships and mindfulness. There will also be a monthly newsletter and wellness blog, along with the opportunity for mental health first aid training.”

McCormick, who also serves as president of the Class of 2020, said the wellness committee is responsible for organizing small group events to promote student wellness throughout the year.

Dr. LeDoux, Dr. Scaffa and Dr. T.J. Hundley, assistant dean of medical education and student affairs, serve as faculty mentors for the student-led initiative, which is being financially supported by Dr. John Marymont, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the USA College of Medicine.

View more photos from the cookout here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dr. Natalie Bauer Awarded Research Grant to Study Pulmonary Hypertension

As a graduate of the University of South Alabama Basic Medical Sciences doctoral program and an assistant professor of pharmacology at the USA College of Medicine, Dr. Natalie Bauer calls South her “home.”

She leads groundbreaking research on pulmonary hypertension, a progressive disease in which high blood pressure in the lungs leads to right heart failure. Recently, her research led to her first R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health. The $1.5 million four-year grant will allow her to study how circulating factors contribute to pulmonary hypertension.

There are currently no curative treatments for pulmonary hypertension, and the disease affects men, women and children of all ages. The grant will allow Dr. Bauer’s lab to continue studies in models of the disease and begin translating findings to patients.

Dr. Bauer said the circulating factors her lab investigates are called microparticles, or extracellular vesicles. “These vesicles are smaller in diameter than the size of a single hair,” she said. “However, they carry a great deal of information about the cells they come from, such as the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels.” This information ultimately can provide clues about the health of the lung vessels.

Dr. Bauer’s research is some of the first to suggest that the microparticles contribute to damage in the lung blood vessels. “If we can understand the mechanisms of this damage, we can then block the injury and prevent pulmonary hypertension progression and heart failure,” she said.

The current gold standard for identifying patients with pulmonary hypertension is an invasive heart catheterization procedure. This test often comes late for the diagnosis because pulmonary hypertension presents with symptoms similar to more common diseases.

“Our models of pulmonary hypertension allow us to follow this progressive disease from significantly earlier states,” Dr. Bauer said. “We are working toward identifying microparticles circulating in blood that can tell us the health and status of the lung blood vessels earlier in the course of the disease and, hopefully, as an alternative to the invasive procedure.”

In addition, the work Dr. Bauer has already done suggests that microparticles can contribute to the worsening of pulmonary hypertension. By understanding the ways in which microparticles impact the pulmonary circulation, new drug targets can be identified – ultimately leading to the development of better therapies.

Dr. Bauer will collaborate with Dr. Karen Fagan, director of the USA Pulmonary Hypertension Center, to collect samples from patients in the clinic and determine whether the findings in the models are corroborated in patients.

Dr. Bauer said the R01 awards are invaluable for the development of research programs. “Although this is an individual award for the work in my laboratory, this award speaks highly of the advanced scientific research in the USA College of Medicine, the USA Department of Pharmacology and the USA Center for Lung Biology,” she said. “I am proud to be a part of this research community.”

Monday, September 25, 2017

Dr. Mary Hulihan to Present Two Lectures at USA College of Medicine

The University of South Alabama Sickle Cell Center is hosting two lectures featuring Dr. Mary M. Hulihan, health scientist in the division of blood disorders with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

Dr. Hulihan will present “Sickle Cell Disease and the CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain” at the USA Department of Internal Medicine Grand Rounds lecture at 8 a.m. in the USA Medical Center second floor conference center.

She will also present “Health Disparity Reports: Should Sickle Cell Disease Be Included?” at the Distinguished Scientist Seminar at 4 p.m. in the first floor auditorium of the Medical Sciences Building on USA’s main campus.

Dr. Hulihan earned her master of public health degree from The George Washington University in Washington D.C. and her doctorate of public health from The University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. She joined the CDC in 2009 and has served as project officer for the Registry and Surveillance System for Hemoglobinopathies and Public Health Research and Surveillance for Hemoglobinopathies.

The DSS lecture series is comprised of distinguished scientists from other academic institutions who are invited to present a seminar showcasing their latest research findings. Faculty, staff and students are strongly encouraged to attend.

Class of 2018 Medical Students Named to Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society

Seven fourth-year medical students at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine were named to the USA chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Honor Medical Society.

The following students were selected: M. Heath Haggard, Richard Huettemann, Adam Powell, David Steadman, Elizabeth Terry, Chandler Van Dyke and Rebecca Young.

AOA, a professional medical organization, recognizes and advocates for excellence in scholarship and the highest ideals in the profession of medicine. Members have a compelling drive to do, to advance the medical profession and to exemplify the highest standards of professionalism.

“Being elected into AOA is one of the highest honors that can be achieved by a medical student,” said Dr. Jon Simmons, USA AOA chapter councilor and a trauma and critical care surgeon with USA Health. “In addition to proving academic excellence, the student must also display humanistic characteristics like honesty, honorable conduct, morality, virtue, unselfishness, ethical ideals, dedication to serving others and leadership.”

The top 25 percent of a medical school class is eligible for nomination to the society, and up to 16 percent may be elected based on leadership, character, community service and professionalism.

Members also may be elected by chapters after demonstrating scholarly achievement and professional contributions and values after medical school and during their careers in medicine.

Six additional medical students in the Class of 2018 were elected into AOA earlier this year. Learn more here.

The AOA motto is “Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering.” To learn more, visit