Monday, December 23, 2019

USA Health chief medical officer chairs national trauma meeting

As chair of the Trauma Quality Improvement Program (TQIP) at the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, Michael Chang, M.D., chief medical officer for USA Health, recently led the group’s national meeting in Dallas where more than 2,000 health care providers from across the United States gathered for continuing education on treating patients with traumatic injuries.

The annual Scientific Meeting and Training, hosted by the ACS, provides education for trauma physicians and others that are involved in trauma care. With a focus on how to deliver the highest quality care to injured patients to optimize outcomes, the meeting is also designed to improve management of trauma centers and  to ensure that each trauma center is compliant with the ACS’s Committee on Trauma’s optimal standards.

“During the meeting, we discussed the complex structure and evolving needs of trauma centers as well as how to improve processes in order to provide the highest quality of care for injured patients,” Chang said.

Chang has served as chair of TQIP for the past four years and is a recognized national expert in quality assessment and performance improvement. As chair, Chang helped to shaped meeting discussion topics and also presented and moderated meeting sessions.

“In my role as chief medical officer, I’m responsible for the quality of the care and the safety of the patients at USA Health,” Chang said. “Participating in in national meetings helps us stay abreast with the state-of-the-art advances nationally in quality and safety for injured patients, as well as share innovative things we are doing in Mobile to improve the quality of care for the population we serve.”


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Register Now: Pediatric Symposium set for Jan. 17

Adolescent bariatric surgery, the long-term needs of child abuse patients and improving the outlook for patients living with cystic fibrosis will be among the topics covered during a pediatric symposium presented by the University of South Alabama department of pediatrics on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.

The all-day event, designed to provide practitioners with timely updates and insights, will be held at the Strada Patient Care Center, 1601 Center Street in Mobile. Registration is $25. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. Continuing education (CME/CEU) and MOC part 2 credits will be available. A reception for attendees is planned from 4 to 6 p.m.

Here’s the lineup of topics and speakers:

  • “Improving the Outlook in Cystic Fibrosis,” presented by Hector Gutierrez, M.D., UAB Health, Pediatric Pulmonology.
  • “Pediatric Urology Update on Evaluation and Management of Cryptorchidism,” presented by Patience Wildenfels, M.D., Oschner Health, Pediatric Urology.
  • “Child Abuse Panel on Acute and Long-Term Needs of Affected Children in Our Community,” moderated by Jessi Kirk, M.D., Child Advocacy Center; Katriea Crummie, assistant district attorney, Child Advocacy Center; Farren Pryoer, M.S.W., Child Protective Services Unit, Mobile County Department of Human Resources; Aimee Lott, L.B.S.W., TBI Care Coordinator, Children’s Rehabilitation Services, Mobile Office; and Rosa Vidal, M.D., Pediatric Intensivist, USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital.
  • “Demystifying Non-IgE Food Allergy,” Jennifer Lightdale, M.D., University of Massachusetts, Pediatric GI Department.
  • “Adolescent Bariatric Surgery,” Katrina Weaver, M.D., USA Health, Pediatric Surgery.
  • “Long-term Survival Issues in Children with Cancer,” Preethi Marri, M.D., USA Health, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

To register, visit the USA Office of Continuing Education website.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

USA College of Medicine teams up with Yale on mosquito research

Dr. Jonathan Rayner, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, and director of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, works in his lab. Researchers at the College of Medicine are collaborating with members of the Yale School of Public Health and its West Nile 4K Project to reconstruct a picture of how the virus has spread and adapted.
To better understand the evolution of mosquito-borne viruses, University of South Alabama College of Medicine researchers are collaborating with members of the Yale School of Public Health and its West Nile 4K Project to reconstruct a picture of how the virus has spread and adapted during the past 20 years in the United States.

The West Nile 4K Project is a partnership between West Nile virus surveillance laboratories and academic institutions across the United States. The University of South Alabama is the first academic institution in the state to take part, said Dr. Nate Grubaugh, assistant professor, epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health.

Collaborations between public health and academic institutions, Grubaugh said, are critical for the project because public health labs are primarily doing the important surveillance activities, and academic institutions have the resources to do the large-scale analyses.

Genetic material taken from infected mosquitoes will be sent to Yale to be sequenced, said Dr. Jonathan Rayner, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, and director of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the USA College of Medicine. “They are looking at how the virus has evolved over time by sequencing genomes.”

A genome is an organism's complete set of genetic material, in this case RNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to propagate and perpetuate that organism.

“Our goal is to use genomics to understand how outbreaks occur and help design targeted control measures,” said Grubaugh. “For this ambitious goal, we are sequencing thousands of West Nile virus genomes from across the country, and are using the genetic relatedness of the viruses to uncover the spatial and temporal patterns of West Nile outbreaks and spread.”

Mosquito-borne viruses containing an RNA genome are known to mutate quickly, Rayner said, which is why studying how a virus such as West Nile adapts over time is vital in figuring out how to develop vaccines and therapeutics to protect or treat people.

The number of West Nile virus cases rose across the United States in 2018, claiming 167 victims, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 2,647 cases of West Nile virus in 2018, the CDC said, 550 more cases than the year before.

West Nile virus was first detected in the U.S. in 1999 in New York. Within a few years the virus spread across the nation. Now, West Nile virus is endemic and has become a serious threat to people and animals in America and Europe. While outbreaks have occurred, little progress has been made in controlling them.

The data generated from the West Nile 4K Project — which now includes 48 institutions in 33 states — is being immediately released to the public via the westnile4K.org website, and along with other entomological data, will be used to uncover local transmission dynamics. Analyses and visualizations also are being made publicly available in real-time as data are produced.

For effective targeted control measures to be developed, there is a critical need to explore the diversity of circulating West Nile viruses and how this may influence the emergence of new virus strains that cause disease outbreaks, according to Grubaugh. Some of the questions that researchers hope to answer with this project include how prevalent the spread of West Nile is, if new virus outbreaks are caused by newly introduced viruses or older ones, and if different strains of West Nile have different outbreak potentials.

For more than 18 months, Rayner has been screening locally captured mosquito samples collected by the Mobile County Health Department for other viruses as well, including Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, dengue, zika and chikungunya. The insects collected are delivered to the Laboratory for Infectious Disease at USA and positive samples will be used in the West Nile 4K Project.

The idea is to provide direction locally on mosquito control efforts. Yet the ultimate goal of the research performed at USA will be to develop life-saving vaccines and therapeutics. There are currently no licensed human vaccines or therapeutics available to prevent or treat infection with any of these viruses, Rayner said.

So far, mosquito pools collected in Mobile County beginning in 2018 have tested positive for West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis viruses.

Identifying viruses in mosquitoes in Mobile County can be a bit of a catch 22, Rayner said: “In this situation it’s exciting to get a positive scientifically, but then it also means that people are at risk of being infected.”

Most commonly spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes, West Nile Virus infection is typically a seasonal epidemic in the U.S. that begins in late spring or early summer and continues into the fall. Most people infected with West Nile experience no adverse impact, with 1 in 5 developing a fever and other side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Serious symptoms can include a high fever, severe headache, nausea, stiff neck, confusion, muscle weakness, paralysis, disorientation and seizures. About 1 in 150 develop a serious or deadly illness such as encephalitis or meningitis.

While most people with the disease recover completely, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for long-term impacts or death. Although an effective veterinary vaccine against West Nile is available, no human vaccine has been approved for commercial use.

Barrington receives grant to develop data on rare lung disease

Robert Barrington, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, works in the lab with medical student Brandon Rivers.
Robert A. Barrington, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, received $49,730 through the 2019 College of Medicine Faculty Intramural Grants Program Research Awards to further investigate a rare lung disease.

“The funds will be instrumental for generating preliminary data on human patient samples with autoimmune pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, an uncommon lung disease,” Barrington said. “Our work is part of a multi-institutional effort with groups at UCLA and Cincinnati Children's Hospital to understand how heterogeneous the disease is, and whether we can determine if gene signatures in individual patients can predict responses to various therapies.”

Raymond J. Langley, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology, and graduate student Grant Daly will analyze the genetic data.

Barrington’s lab has been an innovator in the study of autoimmune pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (ApAP).  In 2016,  Barrington’s laboratory discovered the first model for (ApAP).  Caused by antibodies to a cytokine called GM-CSF, unfortunately, as many as 25 percent of patients with pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP) die within five years of diagnosis.

In an era when federal funding has become more limited, Barrington said, the intramural grants program provides an outstanding mechanism to support cutting-edge research, allowing investigators to expand and strengthen preliminary experimental data to build more competitive extramural proposals.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Gassman awarded 2019 Mayer Mitchell Award for Excellence in Cancer Research

Joy Mitchell Grodnick, left, and Arlene Mitchell congratulate Natalie Gassman, Ph.D., who was awarded the Mayer Mitchell Award for Excellence in Cancer Research at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute on Dec. 3, 2019.
Cancer researcher Natalie R. Gassman, Ph.D., has been named the recipient of the 2019 Mayer Mitchell Award for Excellence in Cancer Research.

The $10,000 award is presented annually to a promising scientist at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute upon the recommendation of a faculty committee. The award was established in 2009 by University of South Alabama Trustee Arlene Mitchell in memory of her late husband, Mayer Mitchell, a Mobile businessman, longtime USA trustee and formative figure in the establishment of MCI.

Gassman, an assistant professor of physiology and cell biology at the USA College of Medicine and a cancer researcher at MCI, focuses her work on characterizing the influence that environmental exposures have on DNA repair and characterizing how DNA repair proteins are altered or modified in the context of cancer.

Gassman has also developed a versatile detection method that helps identify deficiencies in repair mechanisms that give cancer cells a survival edge. She hopes that the results can be applied in a clinical setting to tailor therapies for cancer patients.

“Our team is trying to find the magic formula – how much DNA damage you have and how you will respond to treatment,” she said. “It’s personalized medicine for your genome.”

Rodney Rocconi, M.D., interim director at MCI, praised Gassman’s research and leadership. “She has taken a leading role in transforming cancer research at MCI,” Rocconi said. “She is on a sharp upward trajectory and is a large part of the cancer research momentum here.”

Since joining MCI in July 2015, Gassman has submitted more than 20 scientific articles that have been accepted for publication.

Prior to joining MCI, she held post-doctorate positions at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Gassman earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Michigan State University and a doctoral degree in physical chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles.

First-year medical students meet first patients in virtual clinic

Groups of University of South Alabama College of Medicine second-year medical students work together in the Small Group Learning Center.
On the first Monday of medical school, a team of first-year students are already meeting their first patient, a 29-year-old female specialist in the Alabama National Guard who’s at risk of developing diabetes and hypertension. The professor wants to know: How can she improve her health? He also asks: Will her insurance cover it?

Welcome to the Virtual Continuity Clinic, where first-year students at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine are assigned virtual patients as part of the Foundations of Human Health class. The students will make recommendations based on medical, social and financial information and follow up throughout the academic year as if they were the patients’ primary care providers.

Jeffrey Sosnowski, M.D., Ph.D., assistant dean and professor 
of medical education, talks to a group of medical students 
as they work in the Small Group Learning Center.
“We wanted to start them out with a challenge,” explained Jeffrey Sosnowski, M.D., Ph.D., assistant dean for medical education. Sosnowski developed the virtual patient clinic with David Weber, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of physiology and cell biology. “This curriculum gives them a taste of what’s to come,” Sosnowski said.

The virtual clinic builds upon educational changes made in 2010, when the USA College of Medicine adopted an integrated organ systems-based approach for the first two years of medical school. Professors wanted to broaden the students’ education further, incorporate more active learning and equip them with the tools they need to treat the whole patient.

First-year medical student Jade Kantzler and her team considered the case of a 38-year-old man, an engineer who is married with three children and earns $120,000 a year. He has a family history of diabetes, hypertension and lung cancer. A smoker, he also eats mostly fast food and drinks beer every day.

Kantzler and her team were excited. “I thought this project was a great idea because we were given the opportunity to practice as real doctors,” she said.

Her team recommended nutritional counseling, exercise three to four times a week, support to quit smoking, health screenings and even low-cost day care for his children. “Teams were chosen to present their plans while visiting physicians commented on how to better present plans or pointed out faults,” said Kantzler, of Gadsden. “I have learned that each patient I’ll see will be different in their own way and that the best way to treat them is to take into consideration all of the factors that influence their health.”

Professors tested the concept of virtual patients last year and continue to add nuances. Weber, a certified health coach and personal trainer, developed a grading rubric for students incorporating exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, mental health and social support, and even the impact of military service.

There is no one right answer, the professors say, as long as the teams defend their recommendations effectively. “The teams bring a variety of approaches to the table,” Weber said.

This year, students are choosing health insurance plans for their virtual patients. They use the virtual patient’s budget and health history to select a plan that is affordable and meets the patient’s needs.
This concept is new for most first-year medical students, many of whom are young enough to be covered under their parents’ insurance. “It was eye-opening for them. That was probably the first time they had explored healthcare.gov,” Sosnowski said. “They’re learning what a premium is and what a deductible is.”

The Virtual Continuity Clinic can also incorporate health trends into the mix. One team developed a timeline showing the role of opioid pain medications over years and the impact that decisions by regulators and pharmaceutical companies have played in the national crisis.

“There are all sorts of different ways to go,” Sosnowski said. “It’s endless.”

For instance, second-year medical students were assigned to “see” other students’ patients in the virtual clinic – just as physicians see their colleagues’ patients in a true clinic.

The professors plan to weave the virtual clinic throughout medical curricula, perhaps into the third and fourth years when students are working in hospitals and clinics. “This is just the beginning,” Sosnowski said. “We’re hoping to continue to develop this over time.”

Thursday, December 12, 2019

First- and second-year students explore medical specialties in CLINIC rotations

Jason Valentine, M.D., a family medicine physician, talks with first-year medical student Pooja Revanna. Valentine serves as a CLINIC preceptor for the USA College of Medicine.  
Students at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine have the opportunity to learn early in their medical education what being a family physician entails as part of the Clinically Integrated Introductory Course (CLINIC).

Family medicine is just one field that medical students are exposed to in CLINIC, which provides first- and second-year students with experiences in career exploration as they rotate through various specialties. Traditionally, medical students begin clinical rotations during the third and fourth years of medical school.

“Family practice is great because you get to see a variety of patients with a wide spectrum of symptoms,” said first-year USA medical student Pooja Revanna. “You can see an entire family starting from a child to their grandparent. It’s a long-term relationship you keep with these patients and trust is extremely important.”

Richard Jason Valentine, M.D., is a family medicine physician in private practice in Saraland, Ala. He serves as a CLINIC preceptor for USA medical students. “Being a preceptor gives me a chance to teach students the craft of being a family physician,” he said. “I am able to show them the variety of care that family medicine offers – from inpatient hospital care to acute illness and injury in the clinic through chronic disease management and industrial medicine.”

Valentine said students are welcomed into the office and quickly integrate into the care team, becoming the initial contact with patients on their first day of clinic.

“Dr. Valentine allowed us first go to the patient independently, and then after visiting the patient, we would go together,” said Chris Johnson, another first-year medical student at USA. “It was very much like the standardized patient encounters we practice, just less formal.”

The experience helped Johnson become more comfortable with gathering patient history and relaying that information to the attending physician in a concise manner, he said.

Revanna said she initially thought she would mostly shadow Valentine, “but I realized early on that I would be actually interacting with these patients one on one. I am grateful for that because I learned a great amount about how you talk to patients in the real world and the problems you’ll face.”

Valentine, who graduated from the USA College of Medicine in 2001, said he discovered his love of teaching during his residency at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. After returning to the Mobile area and establishing his practice, he reached out to Allen Perkins, M.D., professor and chair of family medicine, to see if the department needed any preceptors.

“I’ve had a student every block since the class of 2011 and have loved every minute of it, and in a way I have been paying back the opportunity given to me by others,” Valentine said. “The most rewarding aspect has been helping students towards their goal of graduation and into their particular specialty, hopefully instilling them with a respect for the art of medicine, patient relationships, as well as understanding the unique and difficult role that family physicians fill.”

To learn more about CLINIC or becoming a preceptor, contact Candis Patterson at (251) 460-7139 or cpatterson@southalabama.edu, or Elizabeth Minto, M.D., at leminto@health.southalabama.edu.

Cardiology grand rounds to focus on atrial septal defects

Marc Cribbs, M.D., director of the Alabama Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program and director of the Comprehensive Pregnancy & Heart Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will present at an upcoming cardiology grand rounds.

His lecture, "Atrial Septal Defects," is set for noon on Tuesday, Dec. 17, in the cardiology conference room at University Hospital. He will outline the types, review the physiology, and discuss the management of atrial septal defects.

For more information, contact Angela Hunt at arhunt@health.southalabama.edu or (251) 471-7923.

Darbin to discuss age-related Parkinsonism at neurology grand rounds

Olivier Darbin, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, will present at an upcoming neurology grand rounds.

His presentation, "Age-related Parkinsonism," is set for 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, at USA Health University Hospital conference center. Darbin will address atypical Parkinsonism in elderly patients.

Neurology grand rounds take place each Tuesday at 8 a.m. The lectures are open to USA faculty, staff and students. A light breakfast, coffee and beverages are provided.

For more information, call (251) 445-8262 or email scabral@health.southalabama.edu.

Townsley to present at OB/GYN grand rounds

Mary Townsley, Ph.D., senior associate dean at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, will present at the next OB/GYN grand rounds. Her presentation, "Resources and Strategies for Building Scholarship," is set for 7:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 13, in the Atlantis Room at USA Health Children's & Women's Hospital.

In her talk, Townsley will review opportunities to increase scholarly productivity and the utilization of resources for scholarship in the department.

OB/GYN grand rounds take place every Friday at 7:30 a.m. The lectures are open to USA faculty, staff and students.

Contact Nicole Huie at (251) 415-1563 or nhuie@health.southalabama.edu for more information.

Clay to discuss sports injuries at Med School Café

The January Med School Café will feature Brad Clay, M.D., assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon with USA Health. He will discuss sports injuries, surgeries and prevention tips.

The lecture will be held Friday, Jan. 10, in the Strada Patient Care Center first-floor conference room. Lunch is served at 11:30 a.m., and the presentation begins at noon.

The Med School Café lecture and lunch are provided free of charge, but reservations are required. For more information or to make reservations, contact Kim Partridge at (251) 460-7770 or email kepartridge@health.southalabama.edu.

Med School Café is a free community lecture series sponsored by USA Health. Each month, faculty and physicians share their expertise on a specific medical condition, providing insight on the latest treatment available.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Pathology to host Research Seminar Series

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine and the Department of Pathology will host a Research Seminar Series at noon Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Strada Patient Care Center conference room.

Sophia Ran, Ph.D., professor of microbiology, immunology and cell biology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and director of the graduate program at Simmons Cancer Institute, will present “Mechanisms of Generation of Tumor Lymphatic Vessels that Promote Metastasis.”

Lunch will be served. All are welcome, and no reservations are required.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Toldi presents at research conference in Canada

James Toldi, D.O., assistant professor of family medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and sports family medicine physician with USA Health, recently presented on USA Health’s Comprehensive Concussion Awareness and Treatment Program at the 47th annual North American Primary Care Research Group Conference in Toronto.

The Comprehensive Concussion Awareness and Treatment Program, a cognitive and physical initiative designed to decrease the number of missed concussions and accelerate the recovery process for athletes, was chosen for the “Research in Progress” poster project at the conference. Toldi’s poster outlines the research gathered from the educational portion of the program, which includes a pre-test, a video and a post-test about concussions, and how it has significantly increased an athlete’s knowledge about concussions. 

“This conference was a perfect opportunity for USA Health’s research into concussion prevention and treatment to be highlighted,” Toldi said. “The fact that another country is interested in hearing what USA Health is doing to educate athletes and create a safer environment for them shows that the work we are doing is making a difference.”

USA Health’s Comprehensive Concussion Awareness and Treatment Program was established in 2014 by Anthony Martino, M.D., a professor and chair of neurosurgery, and Ashley Marass, pediatric nurse practitioner with USA Health. Martino and Marass created the educational portion of the program. Toldi has since taken over the project, adding in tests for eye movement and vision as well as tests for cognitive and physical changes the athlete may suffer because of a concussion.

Learn more about the Comprehensive Concussion and Treatment Program.

Work by USA College of Medicine researchers selected as ‘editor’s choice’

An article titled “Mitochondrial DNA: Epigenetics and Environment” by USA College of Medicine assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology Aishwarya Prakash, Ph.D., was published in the October 2019 issue of Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis. The article, highlighted on the cover, was also selected as the editor’s choice for the edition.

“Overall, Dr. Prakash’s team has synthesized an important body of work that will inform the research community about the current state of knowledge in the area of influences on mitochondrial DNA as well as critical knowledge gaps,” said Caren Weinhouse, Ph.D., editor of the peer-reviewed journal.

Often referred to as “the powerhouse of the cell,” Weinhouse said, mitochondria are the cellular organelles responsible for generating cellular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Because the ancestral mitochondrion was a bacterial cell that was engulfed by another cell, mitochondria contain their own DNA molecules, distinct from nuclear DNA.

In this review, Weinhouse said, Prakash and co-authors Nidhi Sharma and Monica S. Pasala summarize the existing data on mitochondrial replication, transcription and repair, including highlighting the subset of base excision repair-initiating DNA glycosylases present in mitochondria, which are critical for maintaining the integrity of DNA molecules that are situated so nearby the electron transport chain, which produces significant amounts of reactive oxygen species. Sharma is a postdoctoral fellow in Prakash’s lab while Pasala was a student who previously worked with Prakash at the USA College of Medicine and MCI.

Notably, the authors discuss the controversial detection of covalent modifications to mitochondrial DNA, including 5-methylcytosine, the most common form of DNA methylation in mammalian nuclear DNA, and 6-methyladenine, a common modification of DNA in bacteria, including those ancestral to mitochondria, Weinhouse said.

The research article also details current evidence for other potential epigenetic mechanisms of mitochondrial gene regulation, including those that function via non-coding RNA or post-translational modifications to mitochondrial nucleoids, which are the mitochondrial structural, and perhaps functional, equivalent of nuclear nucleosomes. The review concludes by highlighting open questions on transcriptional regulation in mitochondria, as well as the presence and function of epigenetic modifications to mitochondrial DNA and associated proteins.

Prakash joined the USA College of Medicine and USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute in 2016 as an assistant professor after completing post-doctoral research at the University of Vermont. Her work focuses on DNA repair mechanisms in the mitochondria. She earned a Ph.D. in cancer research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and received specialized training in crystallography at Brookhaven National Labs in Long Island, N.Y.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Medicine grand rounds to address perioperative care

Richard Teplick, M.D., a primary care physician with the Mobile County Health Department, will present "A Potpourri of Perioperative Care" at the upcoming medicine grand rounds. His lecture is set for 8 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at USA Health University Hospital in the second-floor conference center.

In his talk, Teplick will discuss what tests should be obtained postoperatively, whether preoperative hypertension should be controlled before surgery, how long patients should be NPO before surgery, and why context-sensitive half lives matter.

Medicine grand rounds take place Thursdays at 8 a.m. For more information, contact Linda Ching at (251) 471-7900 or lching@health.southalabama.edu.

Traumatic elbow instability topic of orthopaedic surgery grand rounds

Russell Goode, M.D., an orthopaedic traumatologist at Alabama Orthopaedic Clinic, will present at the upcoming orthopaedic surgery grand rounds. His lecture, Traumatic Elbow Instability," is set for 7 a.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at the Strada Patient Care Center conference room.

In his talk, Goode will discuss operative and non-operative treatments for traumatic elbow instability.

Orthopaedic surgery grand rounds takes place weekly on Fridays. For more information, contact Rhonda Smith at (251) 665-8251 or rhondasmith@health.southalabama.edu.

Sugg to discuss cryptogenic stroke treatments at neurology grand rounds

Rebecca Sugg, M.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a neurologist with USA Health, will present at the next neurology grand rounds.

Her lecture, titled "Atrial Cardiopathy and Antithrombotic Drugs in Prevention After Crytogenic Stroke – ARCADIA Protocol Training" is set for 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, at USA Health University Hospital in the second-floor conference center.

Neurology grand rounds take place each Tuesday at 8 a.m. The lectures are open to USA faculty, staff and students. A light breakfast, coffee and beverages are provided.

For more information, call (251) 445-8262 or email scabral@health.southalabama.edu.

Pediatric lecture series to focus on first-time seizures

Isabel Kessler, PA-C, M.P.A.S., physician assistant in neurosciences at USA Health, will present on the evaluation of a first-time seizure, discussing the prognosis and if medication is necessary.

As part of the Pediatric Neurology Lecture Series, Kessler will present “First-time Seizure” on Monday, Dec. 16, at the USA Health Strada Patient Care Center. Lunch is at 11:30 a.m. with the lecture beginning at noon.

Kessler is a graduate of the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, Massachusetts, and is certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. She is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) and the American Academy of Neurology.

The event is free to the community, but please RSVP to cabral@health.southalabama.edu or by calling 251-445-8262.

Med School Café video online: 'Chronic Constipation in Children'

Ananthasekar Ponnambalam, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a pediatric gastroenterologist with USA Health, presented the November Med School Café lecture. He discussed chronic constipation in children.

Watch Med School Café: Chronic Constipation in Children on YouTube or below.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Bassam presents on neuromuscular therapies at national meeting

Bassam Bassam, M.D., professor of neurology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and director of the neuromuscular program at USA Health, recently spoke at the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM) annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

During the event, Bassam was the course chair and faculty for a course titled "Emerging Neuromuscular Therapies and Controversies” and led two faculty workshops. He also serves on the AANEM Neuromuscular Update Committee, is a member of the AAN Neuromuscular Section, and is a AANEM Connect Team member, which means he is part of an expert team that answers EMG or neuromuscular questions raised by AANEM members online.

AANEM is the highest association for the neuromuscular diseases subspecialty. The annual meeting is an educational and scientific meeting providing CME credit courses, poster presentations and so on. Bassam said that this year’s annual meeting was the most successful so far with more than 1,100 physicians attending, which is 20 to 25 percent more than previous years.

Bassam has been a member of the AANEM since 1982 and has also served on the AANEM Neuromuscular Course Review Committee since 2009. He is regularly invited to be a speaker and/or course chair at the annual meetings.

Bassam has been with USA Health since 1985. He completed his training at Wayne State University in Detroit and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in neuromuscular disease and electromyography. Dr. Bassam is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology as well as the American Board of Neuromuscular Disease and Electrodiagnostic Medicine and Diplomate in Neuromuscular Disease Subspecialty.

A fresh perspective: Student appreciates the art and science of medicine

The path to medical school isn’t always a straight line. Sometimes, it’s more like a circle.

Even in high school, Zachary Lazzari anticipated a career in medicine. After graduation, he entered the pre-neuroscience program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"But, 18 years of age turns out to be an odd time to decide on career choices, so I jumped ship," Lazzari said.

He transferred to Auburn University, where he pursued a degree in philosophy. He embarked on adventures around the United States and Europe and surrounded himself with artists and musicians. After earning his Bachelor of Arts, Lazzari spent the next two years in Portland, Oregon.

"Only then did I realize my ‘deviation’ from the path I thought pre-medical students had to take was actually the best preparation for becoming a physician," he said.

Lazzari was accepted to master’s programs in neuroscience and bioethics as well as medical school – all in the same year.

A native of Fairhope, Alabama, Lazzari and his wife, Peyton, decided they wanted to be close to home while Lazzari went to medical school. So, they settled into a little house on his family’s farm on the Eastern Shore, and Lazzari started his medical education at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in 2018.

When Lazzari interviewed at USA, he was impressed with the students’ test scores and achievements, and he appreciated that the small class sizes nurtured close relationships with professors and peers. "With the combination of being near family and enjoying the culture of the USA College of Medicine, I was convinced I made the right choice," he said.

The most rewarding aspect of medical school, Lazzari said, has been progressing as a student, every day getting closer to his goal of becoming a physician. "I am enamored with medical science, so every subject reveals just a little bit more of the mystery of life – that is definitely rewarding," he said.

Like most medical students, Lazzari said it can be hard to find balance. "I try to prioritize spending time with my wife and our dog, making time for running, and taking small trips once in a while to feel like my social life is not paused because of school; but it is still a challenge," he said.

Lazzari combines his liberal arts background, love of the natural world and knack for science, making for a well-rounded medical student. As a member of the USA College of Medicine’s Wellness Committee, Lazzari recently spearheaded an event – Arts in Medicine – that showcased the creative sides of medical students and faculty.

According to Lazzari, art is as fundamental to practicing medicine as science. "A physician is tasked with caring for any human who presents with a complaint, so we must develop culturally, emotionally and socially in order to treat the disease and care for the patient," he said. "I believe art allows one to grow in all these ways and more."

At this point Lazzari said he isn’t sure which specialty he would like to pursue, but his 18-year-old self might have been on to something, after all.

"I know that I enjoy learning about the neurosciences," he said. "I am betting a specialty within that realm will catch my eye."

Monday, November 25, 2019

Simmons completes surgery leadership program at Harvard

Jon Simmons, M.D., associate professor of surgery and pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, recently graduated from the Harvard Medical School Surgical Leadership Program.

The program is a one-year postgraduate certificate program through the Harvard Medical School that consists of three in-person workshops (one week in London, and two weeks in Boston), 40 lectures and online webinars, monthly tests, two team-based projects, a capstone project and a comprehensive final exam.

As trauma medical director and chief of trauma and acute care surgery at USA Health, Simmons leads the team that makes USA the region’s only level 1 trauma center.

“In 2017, I was placed in a role that was very different than my previous positions,” Simmons said. “I immediately realized the importance of our trauma center to the region in terms of treating injured patients, reducing violence, and supporting economic development. I thought this would be an excellent way to learn the most effective methods of adaptive leadership early in my career.”

Simmons said the program provided him with the resources and tools necessary to create institutional and cultural changes that are sustainable. As a scholar in surgical leadership, he learned how important it is for every employee in an organization to be able to exhibit leadership.

“Regardless of personal characteristics, most would agree that effective leadership is much more about creating a vision, aligning employee and institutional values, and maximizing everyone’s potential around you,” he said. “I am certainly more cognizant now that each employee can be a leader by positively influencing people around them to create change or sustain an institutional mission.”

The program also focused on understanding how technology impacts the field of medicine and transforming ideas into intellectual property that can enter the market. Simmons’ capstone project was on a device that measures the thickness of burned skin and predicts the need for surgery and skin grafting  an idea that he has been working on since 2013.

“I was taking classes from the world experts in leadership and business,” he said. “Every class was amazing and the opportunities for a surgeon to learn about leadership and business were unparalleled.”

The application for the program is very competitive and Simmons is thankful for the support he received from William Richards, M.D., professor and chair of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, and hospital administration throughout the process.

“We’re amazingly proud of what Jon Simmons has been able to do,” Richards said. “We’ve invested in him and been rewarded. Leaders just don’t appear. It takes a lot of time and effort and training, so I’m glad he was able to attend the leadership program and strengthen his skills in providing outstanding leadership, developing programs and initiatives, and recruiting faculty and residents for the department of surgery, the health system and for USA. We’re looking forward to seeing improved results in our trauma critical care and acute care surgery division.”

Brooks to discuss flap surgery at grand rounds

Ronald Brooks, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with USA Health, will present at the next surgery grand rounds. His presentation is set for 7 a.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at USA Health University Hospital in the second-floor conference center.

Brooks' objective is to improve the understanding of the flap surgery as an option to improve wound healing or provide reconstruction to various areas of the body and indication of use.

Surgery grand rounds take place every Friday at 7 a.m. The lectures are open to USA faculty, staff and students. A light breakfast, coffee and beverages are provided.

For more information, call (251) 445-8230 or email tmrogers@health.southalabama.edu.

Neurology resident to present on motor neuron disease at grand rounds

Jose Sanchez, M.D., a neurology resident at USA Health University Hospital, will present at the next neurology grand rounds. His lecture, titled "Is There Paraneoplastic Motor Neuron Disease?" is set for 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at USA Health University Hospital in the second-floor conference center.

In his talk, Sanchez will discuss the usefulness of paraneoplastic panels in the presentation of motor neuron disease.

Neurology grand rounds take place each Tuesday at 8 a.m. The lectures are open to USA faculty, staff and students. A light breakfast, coffee and beverages are provided.

For more information, call (251) 445-8262 or email scabral@health.southalabama.edu.

Culpepper to address chronic kidney disease at medicine grand rounds

Michael Culpepper, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a nephrologist with USA Health, will present at the next medicine grand rounds. His lecture, "Management of CKD: Opportunities for the Internist," is set for 8 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at USA Health University Hospital in the second-floor conference center.

Culpepper will identify targets for treatment by internists in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), including drugs for diabetes and hypertension in early CKD that ameliorate progression of CKD, introducing nutritional concepts in early CKD that provide adequate and appropriate protein and energy input, and monitoring for inflammation and other impediments to adequate iron utilization and red blood cell production.

Medicine grand rounds take place Thursdays at 8 a.m. For more information, contact Linda Ching at (251) 471-7900 or lching@health.southalabama.edu.

Boudreaux named associate dean for graduate medical education

Carole Boudreaux, M.D., newly appointed associate dean for graduate medical education, talks with a group of pathology residents.
Carole Boudreaux, M.D., was appointed associate dean for graduate medical education (GME) and designated institutional official for GME at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. She was previously assistant dean for graduate medical education, providing leadership for USA Health’s 12 residency and nine fellowship programs, which includes 274 positions for physicians in training.

“The education of students, residents and fellows is at the core of what we do as an academic health care system,” said John Marymont, M.D., vice president for medical affairs and dean of the USA College of Medicine. “The structures and processes through which residents and fellows are now trained evolves rapidly. To have someone dedicated and fully committed to that role ensures an optimal experience for those we educate.”

Boudreaux previously served as the assistant dean for graduate medical education from April 2011 to May 2013. During that time, she achieved the institution’s five-year cycle of accreditation and was commended for demonstrating substantial compliance with regulations.

USA Health maintains full accreditation as a sponsoring institution by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), with its most recent renewal of accreditation in January 2019. The GME program is tasked with developing the clinical competency, medical knowledge, and professional attributes of physicians, promoting the safe and effective care of patients and advancing the art of healing through quality improvement and medical research. Residents and fellows in the training programs are integrated into USA Health, the region's only academic health system.

“Her attention to detail and genuine enthusiasm for graduate medical education makes her an excellent fit for this new role,” said Mary Townsley, Ph.D., senior associate dean of the USA College of Medicine.

Boudreaux received a medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport. She completed a residency in anatomic and clinical pathology at USA Health and has also served as the pathology residency program director at USA Health. She is certified by the American Board of Pathology with an added certification in cytopathology.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Orthopaedic surgery grand rounds to focus on SLAP tears, shoulder biomechanics

The University of South Alabama Office of Continuing Medical Education will host orthopaedic surgery grand rounds Nov. 22 at the Strada Patient Care Center in room 1206.

Brad Clay, M.D., assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, will present "SLAP Tears" from 7 to 8 a.m. He will discuss diagnosing superior labrum anterior to posterior (SLAP) tears in the glenoid labrum and treatments using operative and nonoperative techniques.

Jonathan D. Gillig, M.D., a resident in orthopaedic surgery, will present "Biomechanics of the Shoulder" from 8 to 9 a.m. He will discuss shoulder biomechanics and treatment options using operative and nonoperative techniques.

For more information, contact Rhonda Smith at (251) 665-8251 or rhondasmith@health.southalabama.edu.

Cardiology fellow to present on heart failure at grand rounds

Siva Chiranjeevi, M.D., a cardiology fellow at USA Health University Hospital, will present "SGLT2 Inhibitors in Management of Heart Failure and Reduced Ejection Fraction: New Horizons" at the next cardiology grand rounds.

The lecture is set for 11:30 a.m. Nov. 22, in the cardiology conference room at University Hospital.

Cardiology grand rounds takes place every Friday of the month. For more information, contact Angela Hunt at arhunt@health.southalabama.edu or (251) 471-7923.

Fonseca to discuss management of pancreatic cancer at surgery grand rounds

Annabelle Fonseca, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, will present at the next surgery grand rounds. Her presentation, "Management of Pancreatic Cancer: A Changing Landscape," is set for 7 a.m. on Nov. 22 at the USA Health University Hospital second-floor conference center.

Fonseca will discuss current recommendations in the management of pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

Surgery grand rounds take place every Friday at 7 a.m. The lectures are open to USA faculty, staff and students. A light breakfast, coffee and beverages are provided.

For more information, contact Tyronda Rogers at (251) 445-8230 or tmrogers@health.southalabama.edu.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Neurosurgery faculty member named to national 20 under 40 list

Richard Menger, M.D., MPA, assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and chief of complex spine surgery at USA Health, has been named to the North American Spine Society (NASS) SpineLine’s 20 under 40 list for 2019.

Honorees are selected by SpineLine to showcase NASS’ bright physicians under the age of 40. A committee selects these physicians based on accomplishments, community service, and philosophy of care. Each has also previously been featured in an article in SpineLine, the journal published by the North American Spine Association.

Menger completed training in an orthopaedic fellowship as a neurosurgeon at Columbia University Medical Center. His unique position at USA Health spans two academic departments and includes a clinical leadership post as chief of complex spine surgery. He is a faculty member in USA’s department of political science and criminal justice and the USA College of Medicine department of neurosurgery. Menger also co-authored a 330-page textbook “The Business, Policy, and Economics of Neurosurgery."

“I was very fortunate to have great mentors at Columbia University, and I am excited to bring some of their training and what they have taught me about complex pediatric and adult spinal deformity reconstruction surgery to USA Health,” Menger said. “I've been lucky to join a great neurosurgery department with supportive partners, and we are all working together to provide the cutting-edge academic care for the region. We hope to grow a regional referral center for complex spine surgery focusing on conservative and surgical care, research, and tracking our outcomes.”

NASS is the leading medical society for healthcare professionals who specialize in spine care. It is the largest organization of spine surgeons in America. This is the second year that SpineLine has chosen a group of 20 under 40 to recognize.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Zha awarded 2019 USA COM Intramural Grant Award

Xiangming Zha, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and cell biology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, works in the lab with Guokun Zhou, a research scholar in physiology and cell biology.
Xiangming Zha, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and cell biology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was one of five faculty members recently awarded the 2019 USA College of Medicine Faculty Intramural Grants Research Award. The award, which provides funds through an annual competition, targets five full-time basic science faculty members.

Zha’s research, titled “Functional importance of GPR4 in brain microvascular endothelial cells,” is still in the early phase, but has potential for impacting clinical care.

“The main goal of this project is to determine whether GPR4 mediates acid signaling in microvascular endothelial cells in the brain,” Zha said.

Zha said this award allows his team to generate critical preliminary data on the underlying molecular mechanism, which will strengthen a full extramural R01-type application.

The USA College of Medicine provides seed funding for basic science or translational research through an annual competitive Intramural Grants Program for faculty to develop new research ideas and  develop new critical preliminary data for revised extramural proposal submissions, or to provide bridge funding to enable sustained research progress between extramural grant funding periods.

Learn more about the Intramural Grants Program.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

New interest group focuses on military medicine

A newly formed interest group at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine aims to support medical students who intend to serve in the military and engage those students in helping veterans throughout the community.

The organization, the USA Military Medicine Interest Group, has already held a network event and is establishing a relationship with Veterans Recovery Resources in Mobile, a nonprofit that provides mental wellness programs to veterans.

“Currently, we host two primary events with the group, the first involves physicians who have previously worked in the military or are currently doing so speaking at our monthly meetings to give us a better picture of what life in the military is like and how to prepare,” said Jesse Stutzman, a first-year medical student and president of the group. “Second, we want to provide the opportunity for students to get engaged in our current community through volunteering with local veterans programs.”

Stutzman and others formed the group with the guidance of Andrew Bright, D.O., assistant professor of surgery at the USA College of Medicine who served as a surgeon in the U.S. Navy.

The USA College of Medicine has more than 20 students, including Stutzman, who are enrolled in the Health Professionals Scholarship Program (HPSP), which offers medical education scholarships in exchange for military service. Stutzman is participating in the program with the U.S. Air Force and plans to serve for four years as a commissioned medical officer following graduation.

“Since joining the military, I am impressed more and more with the sheer magnitude of sacrifice men and women in our country make to protect and defend this nation,” Stutzman said on the weekend before Veterans Day. “Seeing the willingness of those around me to give even their lives to protect our freedom and nation’s values makes me very honored to serve alongside them and proud to be an American.”

Second-year medical student Juan Pardo of Mobile, who serves as vice president of the interest group, was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army in January 2018 shortly before he started medical school on a military scholarship. Pardo said he chose a military career to give back.

“My family and I moved to the states from Colombia in 2000, and this country has given us everything,” he said. “Being a first generation immigrant, I think it’s my responsibility to serve time and pay back as a sign of gratitude. It’s also a huge honor to one day be able to take care of service men and women who fight for our country.”

Pardo intends to enter a military residency after graduation in anesthesia or general surgery. “I love the OR environment and the team aspect when it comes to patient care,” he said.

Other officers for the interest group include these first-year medical students: treasurer Mary Margaret Vansant, Navy; secretary Trista Phelps, Army; and community service chair Meg Lyons, Army.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Networking event to connect female physicians and medical students

With the goal of bringing together local women in medicine, the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, in conjunction with the Medical Society of Mobile County, is hosting the first Women in Medicine Social. The event – open to female physicians, residents and medical students – is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at the Strada Patient Care Center.

"There have been social events for the female physicians in Mobile on a few occasions in recent years, but this is the first that will focus on networking to include medical students and residents," said Elizabeth Minto, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and director of clinical skills at the USA College of Medicine. "An event like this one will help to foster relationships and a culture of support for the women in medicine in Mobile County, and we hope this event will be the first but not the last of its kind."

Megan Hood, a second-year medical student, serves as the president of USA’s chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and initiated the event-planning efforts.

"The women at USA College of Medicine are so lucky to have incredible physicians in every specialty in our community, and having these role models plays a huge part in helping us become the kinds of doctors our communities can be proud of," Hood said. "The social should be a fun way to build relationships between students and the doctors we look to for mentorship."

As the event took shape, Hood reached out to Minto and Lynn Batten, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, for guidance. Minto and Batten, who have both served on the board of the Medical Society of Mobile County, helped to facilitate an event sponsorship from the society. Within a little over a week, the Women in Medicine Social also had the support of the USA Medical Alumni Association, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, and several local businesses.

Minto and Hood said the event will give students the opportunity to ask physicians questions that all medical students have, such as how to choose a specialty and what is involved in the residency interview process. But, more specifically, it will provide a setting where they can feel comfortable discussing these issues as they relate to women.

"Women in medicine often feel fragmented by their need to be dedicated to both their patients as well as to the other roles females frequently serve in society," Minto said. "Nationwide, women are underrepresented in leadership roles in academic and private institutions, with numerous underlying causes being well articulated in scientific and popular literature."

Hood noted that women are often compared to one another, creating a sense of competition. "For this reason, it is critical for women in medicine to understand that there is room for everyone here," she said. "Everyone does better when we take the time to get to know each other and form meaningful connections to the people around us. Having a community of women who support and encourage each other during medical school is the best way to ensure that we are all successful. It is my hope that AMWA can be a starting place for women to find support and connection here at USA College of Medicine."

The Women in Medicine Social will provide food, drinks and live music. Attire is "snazzy professional." To RSVP, call (251) 476-9494 or email frontdesk@msomc.org.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Bauer among faculty awarded 2019 intramural grants

Natalie Bauer, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, talks with a group of graduate students and medical students in her lab.
Natalie Bauer, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, is one of five faculty members to receive the 2019 USA College of Medicine Faculty Intramural Grants Research Award. The award, which provides funds through an annual competition, targets five full-time basic science faculty members.

Bauer’s research, titled “Mechanisms of Extracellular Vesicle Signaling,” seeks to understand how extracellular vesicles interact with target cells and deliver their messages – good or bad.

“In each of us every day, both when we are healthy and when we are sick, we have circulating extracellular vesicles that are released from our cells,” Bauer said. “These tiny vesicles play important roles to keep our blood vessels healthy and functioning. During various diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and pulmonary hypertension, these vesicles change and can cause damage.”

According to Bauer, this research is important as many individuals and companies are attempting to develop extracellular vesicles as drug delivery vehicles, but we don’t yet know how they target certain cells nor how they are processed once they reach the cells. “Without this vital information, we will not be able to use them as valuable resources,” she said. “On the flipside, understanding how they signal inside cells will help us design ways to inhibit the detrimental effects of the dangerous extracellular vesicles.”

The USA College of Medicine provides seed funding for basic science or translational research through an annual competitive Intramural Grants Program for faculty to develop new research ideas and  develop new critical preliminary data for revised extramural proposal submissions, or to provide bridge funding to enable sustained research progress between extramural grant funding periods.

Learn more about the USA College of Medicine Intramural Grants Program.

USA medical student mentors fellow veteran students

“Everybody reacts to trauma differently,” said Zack Aggen. He reacts by helping.

Aggen knows a lot about trauma. As a U.S. Army medic during two combat tours in Iraq, he saw terrible wounds, heard horrifying screams of pain and worked desperately to save the lives of the fellow soldiers who had become, in his word, “family.”

Aggen also remembers a quieter but still agonizing trauma: feeling “lost and hopeless” as he transitioned from the structured intensity of his military career to a baffling civilian life where none of the skills he’d learned seemed of any use.

“When I first got back,” he said, “I went from putting in chest tubes and bandaging amputations to the only job I could find, which was as a patient care tech at St. Vincent’s hospital in Birmingham. I went from saving people’s lives to changing bedpans.”

Now a second-year medical student at the University of South Alabama, Aggen managed to find his way to a future he envisioned on his hardest days. A little guidance from someone who had been where he’d been would have made it a lot easier.

So that’s what he now provides. He tutors and mentors a half-dozen South undergraduates as part of a national program called Peer Advisors for Veteran Education. PAVE, which began as a pilot program in 2012, operates out of the University of Michigan. It now has 46 partner campuses. In September 2019, South became the first in Alabama.

Joshua Missouri, South’s coordinator of veterans affairs (and a Navy veteran himself), runs South’s PAVE program. The University has about 350 students who are veterans or service members. When Missouri proposed that South sign on with PAVE, he said, “We got institutional support almost immediately. We got funding. That shows the commitment from the University to serve veterans.”

PAVE is a low-key, all-volunteer program. Aggen is one of a half-dozen or so peer advisors at South. They’re military veterans who have already experienced at least a year or two of campus life. They’re trained to support incoming veterans who are just starting college.

Aggen tutors in math and science, listens if the undergrads want to talk, gives them tips about campus services and outside organizations that might be a good fit and even recommends babysitters and local schools. Whatever they need.

As a med student, he’s paired with undergraduates in health fields. Two-thirds are women. To them, he represents someone who understands. Even now, 11 years after leaving the Army, “There are very few people I will talk to things about,” he said. “Mostly it’s other service members. It’s hard to open up to people who aren’t service connected in some way.”

He makes sure to check in regularly. “The thing I’m really sensitive to is veteran suicides. I’ve had several friends who have killed themselves. And so being another advocate for guys who may be struggling, that’s what’s important to me.”

Aggen spent four and a half years with the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, which was based in Germany during his service. In 2004-05 and 2006-07, he was deployed to Iraq. In 2007, as part of the increase in troop strength known as “the surge,” his battalion suffered the most combat deaths of any Europe-based U.S. military brigade in Iraq.

After he left the Army in 2008, he lived down the street from a police station in Birmingham. “Every time their siren would kick off, it would make a sound like an incoming mortar,” he said. “I would freeze. It went on for a year before I finally got used to it.”

He started college that year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and graduated in 2011 with a degree in molecular biology. He had already taken a couple of college classes while in the service. He squeezed the rest into three years because GI Bill education benefits end after 36 months.

At UAB, he met the woman who became his wife. Dr. Ashlen Aggen is now a family medicine physician in Bayou La Batre, a half-hour south of the USA campus. The Aggens have three children, boys who are 11 and 5, and a 1-year-old girl.

After Ashlen’s graduation from UAB, South accepted her into medical school and, later, residency. Zack took advantage of an Alabama program that fast-tracks high school teaching certificates for holders of college math or science degrees. He taught for seven years, supporting his wife through her medical training.

Then it was his turn. Aggen, now 34, finally has an opportunity to fulfill a promise he made to himself during his medic days to learn everything he can about medicine. He and his wife would like to work together to meet the medical needs of an underserved community like Bayou La Batre. They haven’t figured out all the details.

“She does family medicine, so she can do the cradle-to-the-grave care,” Zack said. “So things that I might do are obstetrics or general surgery or something else that’s needed out there. I don’t know yet, really.”

Meanwhile, he’s helping with the PAVE program. And organizing rural healthcare initiatives. And carrying out the duties associated with being president of his class. And coaching a special needs baseball team. And helping care for his three kids.

“I’m just one of those people who can’t take his foot off the gas,” he said.

And what keeps him from crashing and burning, like too many other combat veterans? “The honest answer is my wife. She met me when I was still recovering from that experience and chose to stay with me even though I was a mess. She’s still supporting me as I get through my medical training. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

Most veterans don’t have an Ashlen. Most who go to college don’t fit in with students just out of high school. Missouri, South’s veterans affairs coordinator, gives an example: People fresh out of the military tend to speak directly, even bluntly.

“They mean well,” he said. “But it’s not interpreted that way sometimes. So they need help with those soft skills.”

And when they need help with academic skills, Aggen said, “It’s tough to sit there and be tutored by some 19-year-old kid with no life experiences. It’s hard to relate.

“But if you’ve got this gruffer, tatted-up old dude who happens to be good at whatever you’re struggling at, it helps. Then it’s like, I don’t feel so different.”

For information about programs for veterans at South, call 251-460-6230 or email joshuamissouri@southalabama.edu. For information about Peer Advisors for Veteran Education, visit m-span.org/pave.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Pathology to host Research Seminar Series Nov. 14

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine and the Department of Pathology will host a Research Seminar Series at noon Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Strada Patient Care Center conference room.

Manoj K. Bhasin, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and director of the Genomics, Proteomics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology Center at Emory University School of Medicine, will present “Single Cell Multiomics to Study Cellular Heterogeneity and Therapeutic Responses.”

Lunch will be served. All are welcome, and no reservations are required.

Med School Café lecture on men's health issues now online

Christopher Keel, D.O., a urologist with University Urology and adjunct assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, presented at the October Med School Café.

In his talk, Keel discussed men's health issues including hypogonadism, testosterone levels and prostate cancer.

Watch the full lecture on YouTube or below.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Mark Your Calendar: Arts in Medicine event set for Nov. 15

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine’s Wellness Council invites you to attend and showcase your talents and creative sides at Arts in Medicine, an event aspiring to cultivate a culture of vulnerability and inspiration.

Arts In Medicine is set for 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Chaleur Coffee, located at 1714 Dauphin St. in downtown Mobile. Complimentary appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages will be provided.

Zachary Lazzari, a second-year medical student and member of the Wellness Council, is organizing the event. Consisting of medical students and faculty advisers, the Wellness Council at the USA College of Medicine advocates for student wellness by creating initiatives and events for students.

"I recently read an essay by Abraham Verghese – a physician-writer idol of mine – titled 'The Importance of Being' that discusses art’s ability to reshape the world around us," Lazzari said. "Works of art, by their beauty, can broaden our minds, hone our eyes, and expand our hearts. This is the goal and hope of the project."

Creative contributions are welcome from students and faculty. For those contributing:
  • Music: This event will be unplugged, so if you plan to share musical talents just note that it will be acoustic only (keyboards are welcome). 
  • Visual Art: Since there will be limited space, contact zacharylazzari@gmail.com if you plan to contribute a visual piece. 
  • Poetry/Comedy/Other: All other contributions simply need to prepare to read/recite loudly to make sure everyone can hear you.
For questions about the event or to contribute, contact Zachary Lazzari at zacharylazzari@gmail.com.

Simulation lab: the only place in the hospital with a reset button

Medical student Joseph Stahl performs a lumbar puncture on a manikin in the simulation lab at USA Health University Hospital.
USA Health University Hospital recently renovated two simulation labs – a partial-task training room and a multimedia conference room – proving beneficial for medical students.

Students from the University of South Alabama College of Medicine recently attended a simulation lab on neuro lumbar punctures. When the students entered, a mid-section of a manikin was on the examination table. Jose Sanchez, M.D., a second-year neurology resident with USA Health, quizzed the students about the procedure as they entered.

After the questions, Sanchez demonstrated and explained the procedure step by step for the students. One by one, the students approached the table and performed the procedure on the manikin successfully.

Neurology resident Jose Sanchez, M.D., leads a demonstration 
in the simulation lab at USA Health University Hospital.
The renovation of the simulation lab at University Hospital better accommodates the busy schedules of students and clinicians. It allows them to practice on manikins during their down time without having to go far from their real patients.

“Simulation supports learning by immersing learners in the experience. From lumbar punctures to life-saving interventions such as CPR, simulations is a safe environment in which clinicians can practice and hone their skills,” said Alison Rudd, Ed.D, FNP-C, assistant professor and assistant director of the USA Simulation Program. “It provides a safe learning environment in which to practice. If a mistake is made, we simply press the ‘reset’ button.”

In the simulation lab, the students are able to witness scenarios like cardiac and pulmonary resuscitation, emergency childbirth and trauma assessment. They also get to practice procedures such as suturing, lumbar punctures, intubation and IV insertion.

“Medical decision making and interventions are skills that should be practiced," Rudd said. "There is no better place to start than a sim lab."

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Video now online: “Gene Therapy: The Promise of a Cure for Sickle Cell Disease”

Felicia Wilson, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with USA Health, presented at the September Med School Café.

In her talk, “Gene Therapy: The Promise of a Cure for Sickle Cell Disease,” Wilson discussed a new approach to helping sickle cell patients – a new gene therapy that appears to offer the same benefits as a bone marrow transplant, without the risk of rejection.

Watch the full lecture on YouTube or below.