Thursday, September 27, 2012

Final Flu Shot Clinics to be Held Friday

USA Physicians Group is currently providing Seasonal Flu Shot Clinics exclusively for USA Employees.

Family members covered by the USA Health & Dental plan are also eligible for seasonal flu vaccines at these clinic sites free of charge. This applies to children four years old and older.

No appointments are necessary.

The remaining times and locations are:

Springhill Avenue Campus - Family Medicine
1504 Springhill Ave
Suite 1800
(251) 434-3475
September 28 1:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

West Mobile - Knollwood Physicians Group
3301 Knollwood Dr
Med Park 4
(251) 660-5787
September 28 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

USA Medical Center - Our Neighborhood Healthcare Clinic
2451 Fillingim St.
Suite 300
(251) 471-7944
September 28 12:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

After these dates, flu vaccines should still be available, but an appointment will be necessary.

For more information visit If you have any questions, call our appointment and information line at (251) 434-3711.

Dr. Mary Burtnick Receives Research Award

Principal Investigator Dr. Mary Burtnick, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, with Co-principal Investigator Dr. Paul Brett, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology.
Dr. Mary Burtnick, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently awarded funding by the Pacific Southwest Regional Center of Excellence for a research project in biodefense and emerging infectious diseases.

The amount awarded for the first year of funding is $148,328, while the second year of funding is contingent upon the progress of the project during the first year.

Research in Dr. Burtnick’s lab is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms used by bacterial pathogens to cause disease in both humans and animals. The recently funded project is aimed at determining the specific role of a Type VI secretion system (T6SS) expressed by pathogenic Burkholderia species during interactions with host cells.

According to Dr. Burtnick, pathogenic Burkholderia species cause significant morbidity and mortality in human populations, and infections caused by pathogenic Burkholderia are often difficult to diagnose.

In addition, Dr. Burtnick said treatment of the infections is complicated due to the high level of resistance of these organisms to a variety of antibiotics.

“Because we have previously shown that T6SS is important during the intracellular lifestyle of these bacteria, and is required for virulence of these organisms in animals, it represents a promising target for the development of novel vaccines and therapeutics,” Dr. Burtnick said. “By better understanding how this important virulence factor functions at a molecular level, we believe that we will be able to define a role for this system in the pathogenesis of the diseases caused by these organisms.”

Dr. Burtnick said the research will allow her lab to gain valuable insight into targeting the system to inhibit its function, or utilize components of this system for the development of vaccine candidates.

“There are currently no licensed Burkholderia vaccines available for use in either humans or animals,” she said. “We believe our studies will yield important clues toward the future design of therapeutics and vaccine candidates to treat and/or prevent the diseases caused by these organisms.”

The Pacific Southwest Regional Center of Excellence (PSWRCE) is one of 11 centers funded through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. For additional information on the PSWRCE, visit

USMLE Step 1 Results Show USA Medical Students Score Above National Average

The new USA Active Learning Center, pictured above and below, allows students to interact with real-life medical situations and exercise critical thinking skills rather than learning them in a traditional lecture format.

The 2012 United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 results for the University of South Alabama College of Medicine show that the class of 2014 medical students have scored above the national average. The USMLE Step 1 exam is the first of three exams the students take to assess their ability to apply knowledge, concepts and principles, and to demonstrate fundamental patient-centered skills.

According to Dr. Susan LeDoux, associate dean for medical education and student affairs and professor and vice chair of the department of cell biology and neuroscience at USA, the national average score last year was 224, and USA’s medical students scored an average of 226 on this year’s exam. “Last year's national average pass rate for first time takers was 94 percent,” she said. “We have a 97 percent pass rate this year, which is above the national average.”

According to Dr. LeDoux, the official breakdown of statistics will not be available until March of 2013. “What we do know is that we are above the national average for last year in both the mean score and pass rate,” she said.

Dr. LeDoux says that the USA College of Medicine’s curriculum is moving more toward active learning exercises and has incorporated a new Integrated Case Studies course that helps the students prepare for the Step 1 exam. In this approach, students utilize team-based learning exercises using clinical vignette questions similar to those they will be given on the exam.

“The students like the integrated case studies approach,” said Dr. LeDoux. “They discuss and teach each other through exercises completed in groups.”

Much of this new curriculum is being conducted in a new College of Medicine Active Learning Center that was completed last spring. “This was the first class that was able to use the Active Learning Center, and it probably contributed to better scores,” said Dr. LeDoux. “The new facility allows students to interact with real-life medical situations and exercise critical thinking skills rather than just learning them in a traditional lecture format.”

According to Dr. Abu-Bakr-Al-Mehdi, associate professor of pharmacology at USA, the new curriculum is now more integrated. Traditional discipline-based basic science courses will be replaced with a two-year sequence of modules devoted to different organ systems.

Dr. Jeffrey Sosnowski, assistant dean of medical education and assistant professor of cell biology and neuroscience at USA, says that the scores indicate that active learning can be used to boost USMLE scores. “The purpose of the Integrated Case Studies course is to pull different organ systems together and discuss diseases that may cross different organ systems and work through them,” he said.  “The combination of students being more active and participating in different types of learning exercises keeps them more engaged.”

Dr. Al-Mehdi says one of the formats of this course included team-based learning where the students are given problem solving exercises that require group answers to questions unfamiliar to them. The group then answers the questions together and afterward it is discussed and explained to them as a class.

Another change in this year's first-year curriculum is the opportunity for students to have interaction with patients during their first semester. “This new curriculum gives our students a much broader patient interaction in their first year, which we did not have before,” he said.

Dr. Al-Mehdi said that the majority of students responded very well to this technique, and the ongoing curriculum changes incorporate more active learning, moving to systems and competency-based curriculum. This method of teaching focuses more on the aspects of being a physician, including professionalism and developing strong communication skills.

“They liked the format, and most students say this really helped them. I hope we can keep up the momentum,” said Dr. Al-Mehdi. “This method of teaching shows them real clinical problems, and I think all of these methods are helping.”

Tailgating for Autism This Weekend

The third annual "Tailgating for Autism" event will be held Sept. 29, 2012, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Ladd Stadium - prior to the University of South Alabama vs. Troy football game.

The event is co-sponsored by three separate organizations that serve families affected by autism spectrum disorders: the USA Autism Diagnostic Clinic; Learning Tree, Inc; and the Autism Society of Alabama.

"Although the event is a fund raiser for all three sponsoring agencies, our primary goal is to provide an afternoon of fun and relaxation for the families we serve and to give them an opportunity to interact with people from our area who provide much-needed services and support," said Amy Mitchell, speech therapist at the USA Behavior & Developmental Clinic. "We also aim to increase awareness of the resources that are available in our community to families affected by autism spectrum disorders."

Hamburgers and hot dogs will be served, and music will be provided by USA's own Bordello Rhythm.

Tickets are $15 for the tailgate and a game ticket and $10 for admission to the tailgate only. Children 10 and under are admitted free to the tailgate. You can also sponsor a family affected by autism - and receive a ticket to the event - for $150. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at (251) 331-2633.

All proceeds benefit the Autism Society of Alabama, the USA Autism Diagnostic Clinic, and The Learning Tree, Inc.

Next Week's DSS - Dr. Roger Simon

The next Distinguished Scientist Seminar at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine will be presented by Dr. Roger Simon, director of translational programs in stroke and professor of medicine and neurobiology at Morehouse School of Medicine.

The lecture, titled “Epigenetic modulation of gene expression governs the brain’s response to injury,” will take place Oct. 4, 2012, at 4 p.m. in the Medical Sciences Building auditorium on USA's main campus.

Dr. Simon’s primary area of research interest is endogenous neuroprotective mechanisms in the brain. The overall goal of his research is the effective treatment of stroke.

Dr. Simon has a B.S. in Zoology and an M.S. in Entomology from Pennsylvania State University. He has an M.D. from Cornell University School of Medicine. He is a member of various associations including the American Academy of Neurology, The Society of Neuroscience, American Heart Association: Stroke Council, and American Epilepsy Society.

For more information on Dr. Simon’s research, click here.

Drs. Franks, Perkins Featured on Local News

Dr. Ronald Franks, vice president for health sciences at the University of South Alabama, was recently featured in Fox10's series, The Interview. Click here to view the full story.

Dr. Allen Perkins, chair of family medicine at the USA College of Medicine, was interviewed by WKRG for a story about salt intake in children. To see the full story, click here.