Thursday, September 5, 2019

USA Health resident receives scholarship to attend national surgery meeting

Fourth-year surgery resident Dr. Ashley Williams, left, and a member of the Project Inspire mentorship program prepare to go into surgery. Project Inspire is a three-week, hospital-based injury-prevention program that uses exposure and mentorship to inspire participant to become the best version of themselves. 
Ashley Williams, M.D., chief resident of surgery at USA Health, was recently awarded an American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST) Research and Education Foundation Scholarship to attend the 78th Annual Meeting of AAST and Clinical Congress of Acute Care Surgery. The meeting will be held from Sept. 18-21 in Dallas.

This year, Williams received one of the 19 scholarships awarded to medical students, residents and in-training fellows across the country to attend the annual meeting. Awardees are selected by a committee of well-respected trauma surgeons from within the AAST.

“The AAST Resident Scholarship is a very prestigious scholarship,” Williams said. “It is an honor and a privilege to be amongst the current leaders and innovators in the field of acute care surgery. This is a place to learn and network.”

She said that she is looking forward to the learning experiences from the meeting. Her interests include injury prevention and reduction in recidivism and experts with these same interests will be presenting at the meeting.

Jon Simmons, M.D., trauma medical director and chief of trauma and acute care surgery at USA Health, wrote the letter of recommendation for Williams’ scholarship application.

“The AAST is the premier trauma organization and having Dr. Williams receive this scholarship speaks to the quality of our trauma center and the outstanding surgical residency program at USA Health,” he said. “I have no doubt that Dr. Williams will be a future leader in our field by giving a voice to those without access to healthcare and by reducing trauma recidivism via programs like Project Inspire.”

Menger joins neurosurgery at USA Health

Growing up in a family of doctors and having his fair share of sports injuries, the newest addition to the USA Health neurosurgery team was exposed to medicine early in life. He once thought he might pursue a career as an orthopedic or trauma surgeon but shifted towards neurosurgery during medical school as he became fascinated with the brain and spine.

“I gravitated towards complex spinal deformity, especially pediatric spinal deformity, because the surgeries are challenging and can completely change someone's life,” said Richard Menger, M.D., chief of complex spine surgery and assistant professor of neurosurgery. “I enjoy treating complex problems with direct solutions that can really help someone.”

Menger is originally from Garden City, New York, and earned his medical degree from the Georgetown University School of Medicine. He completed a residency in neurosurgery at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, Louisiana, followed by a formal orthopedic spinal deformity fellowship at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. He received a Master in Public Administration for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Menger now joins USA Health, saying that he appreciates being a part of the culture of progress found here.

“I wanted to join an academic practice and help advance the field of complex spine surgery,” he said. “We want to build on the excellent work that's being done and leverage all the assets of an academic health system to provide leading-edge spine care in Mobile.”

His goal is for USA Health’s Center for Complex Spine Surgery to create an academic referral center for both pediatric and adult complex spine surgery.

This progress mindset falls in line his personal care philosophy: “Do the right thing at the right time because it’s the right thing to do.” Menger takes this to heart as a surgeon working to be his absolute best every single day.

“To me, this means learning the cutting edge surgical techniques, performing research, tracking patient outcomes, openly discussing cases with peers, and critically evaluating my performance with every case,” he said.  “In other words, ‘What kind of doctor would I want my daughter to have?’”

Menger is also an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of South Alabama and hopes to continue to grow his research.  His work focuses on operative techniques, clinical outcomes, and the intersection of policy and economics on the delivery of spine surgery. He has authored numerous scientific papers in academic journals and is the lead editor of the textbook The Business, Policy, and Economics of Neurosurgery.

He and his wife, Beth Ann, and three daughters are excited to jump into all of the things that Mobile has to offer, including its proximity to the beach, sailing, and love of college football.

USA College of Medicine programs encourage diversity in physician workforce

Alana Fortune of Dillard University and Trentyn Shaw of Alabama State University are participants in the USA College of Medicine's SouthMed Prep Scholars and D.R.E.A.M programs, respectively.
For some people of color, getting into medical school may seem like an impossible dream. Leaders at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion are committed to ensuring that all feel welcome. The group has created programs to address the documented lack of diversity among physicians.

Two programs, the Diversity Recruitment and Enrichment for Admissions into Medicine (D.R.E.A.M.) and the SouthMed Prep Scholars, are exceeding that goal in an effort to show them they have a future in medicine.

Two students, in particular, are feeling the impact of the programs. Trentyn Shaw of Alabama State and Alana Fortune of Dillard University, in D.R.E.A.M and SouthMed Prep Scholars respectively, are taking advantage of the opportunities the initiatives provide.

The undergraduate seniors, both biology majors, said research is what led them to South Alabama. Rave reviews from other students drew them to the programs and made it an easy choice for them to take part.

“I knew with the D.R.E.A.M program, I would have a pipeline into the university and get help with my Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT),” said Shaw. “I’ve always felt like South wanted me to come here versus just being another applicant.”

Jeffrey Sosnowski, M.D., Ph.D., D.R.E.A.M program director and assistant dean and professor for medical education, said the program reflects the medical school’s commitment to a diverse student body. “African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans make up 20 percent of the incoming class of 2023,” he said. “It’s only six percent in other programs across the country.”

According to Sosnowski, 12 percent of the class of 2023 are students who have graduated from the D.R.E.A.M and SouthMed Prep Scholars programs, the largest combined group ever to enter the USA College of Medicine.

The SouthMed Prep Scholars program exclusively partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), which is why Fortune chose it. “I like that SouthMed Prep is giving black students a space here,” she said. “When I came to South, I knew this was the place for me.”

The SouthMed Prep Scholars program is led by Johnson Haynes Jr., M.D., assistant dean of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, professor of internal medicine and a pulmonologist with USA Health. Fortune credits Haynes for pushing her to never give up.

According to Haynes, choosing a name for his program was tough but ended up being something that defined his students. “‘Scholars’ - all of these students have known academic excellence throughout their lives and they should not let anyone tell them different,” he said.

For Shaw and Fortune, the road to a medical education started when they were children. Both admit to never being treated by minority physicians and wanted to see change. However, the aspiring medical students said family history is what initially sparked their interest.

“When I was a child, my dad had a defective heart valve and he wasn’t supposed to make it to 24,” said Shaw. “Money for my dad’s surgery was the biggest worry, but he finally got it. After the surgery, the doctor paid my father’s medical bills and that really stuck with me. What that doctor did for my dad not only saved his life but mine as well. I want to help others in the same way.”

For Fortune, it’s her parents’ roots that guided her to medicine. “I’m a first generation American. My parents are from the country Grenada. When I go back, I see many people there who don’t have access to healthcare. I want to go to third world countries and help for free,” she said.

After the students complete their programs, a ceremony is held in their honor. During this year’s event, the room was filled with laughter, joy and hugs as they celebrated their accomplishments. Sosnowski spoke at the event and left his students with an important message. “Diversity among colleagues in medical school produces better doctors, which produces greater care for patients. The sense of feeling like you belong is critical in healthcare,” he said.

As for Shaw and Fortune, their next steps are to graduate from college, gain high scores on the MCAT and become medical students at USA. The advice they want future students to know before entering the programs is to never give up even through the difficult times.

“Prepare yourself for the hard days, this is not an easy program,” Shaw said. “Always be prepared to bounce back.”

“Be resilient,” is the advice Fortune gives. “It’s okay to not be perfect and struggle. Just know this all a part of the journey. And start studying now!”

To learn more about the D.R.E.A.M. and SouthMed Prep Scholars programs, contact the USA College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion at (251) 341-4072.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Medical student secures more than 2,000 pairs of socks to help vulnerable population

University of South Alabama College of Medicine medical student Corey Phillis gives a pair of socks to Paul Brown at the USA Student-Run Free Clinic.
Corey Phillis, a student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, applied to the Bombas Sock Giving Program in an effort to make sure patients who are cared for at the USA Student-Run Free Clinic (SRFC) could leave their visit on a solid footing with a new pair of socks.

It was actually Phillis’ mother who let her know about Bombas’ commitment to charity, specifically their pledge to donate socks to homeless people. Following their conversation, Phillis, who serves as the student government association liaison for the clinic, applied on the company’s website on behalf of SRFC.  Recently, she received notice that Bombas was donating 2,250 pairs of socks to the clinic valued at approximately $25,000.

USA’s student-run clinic is located at the Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama in Mobile. Every Friday afternoon, patients are seen at no charge by students who are enrolled in USA’s healthcare professions.

“We work to cover the patients’ immediate medical needs in a comprehensive way through the cooperation of all of the health programs at South,” Phillis said. “Student volunteers are training in different disciplines, and they bring their backgrounds from different medical specialties into the clinical care setting. The collaboration gives the students a great chance to work as a team as they grow as healthcare providers in an authentic clinical setting. It also provides the patient with access to just about every facet of their care in one location at no cost.”

Alison Rudd, director of the USA SRFC, explained the significance of Bombas’ donation. “Many of our patients are homeless, and it can be a challenge for them to maintain proper foot care,” Rudd said. “Our patients may walk several miles or more each day. High-quality socks are a highly successful way to prevent health conditions – from bacterial infections and frostbite to blisters and diabetic complications.”

Founded in 2013 in response to the need of socks in homeless shelters, the founders of Bombas designed a sock specifically for those who aren’t able to wash their socks often or put on a new pair every day. For every pair of socks bought, Bombas donates a pair to a local shelter or another one of their 1,500 giving partners. With their giving partners across the United States, Bombas has been able to donate more than 23 million pairs of socks since their launch.

To volunteer or donate to USA’s SRFC, visit For more information about Bombas, visit

USA Health welcomes new trauma surgeon

While completing a fellowship in acute care surgery in Baltimore, Larry Lee, M.D., made a decision on the next step in his medical career. Lee, who trained at USA Health - both as a medical student and a resident physician - decided to return to the organization where he started.

“The culture at USA Health has allowed it to find and hold onto people that work well together and love what they do - be it patient care, education, or research,” said Lee, who is now an assistant professor in the department of surgery and works in the division of trauma and acute care surgery.

Lee was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and grew up in Auburn, Alabama. He studied biomedical engineering and biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University before completing his medical degree at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. He also completed a residency in general surgery and a surgical research fellowship at USA Health. Most recently, he completed a critical care fellowship at Johns Hopkins University.

Heading into medical school, Lee was planning to pursue immunology when a trauma surgery case in his third year at USA took him in a new direction. He described the case where he was part of a team that completed open cardiac massage and internal defibrillation. As an early third-year medical student, this was the “benchmark” that he measured the rest of his year against and nothing else compared. Now, he returns to USA Health University Hospital to pursue an academic career in surgery with a team he knows well.

“The job is exactly what I was looking for - ample research time balanced with clinical duties, senior colleagues invested in my professional success, and a mission of being academically successful,” he said.

Griffin Wright receives Edwin R. Hughes Memorial Award

Mary Townsley, Ph.D., senior associate dean of the
USA College of Medicine, presents the award to 
Griffin Wright.
Griffin Wright, a second-year student in the Basic Medical Sciences Graduate Program at the University Of South Alabama, is the recipient of the Edwin R. Hughes Memorial Award for the 2018-2019 academic award year. Mary Townsley, Ph.D., senior associate dean of the USA College of Medicine, presented a plaque and cash award to Wright on Aug. 15, 2019, at the new student orientation.

Wright graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Auburn University College of Agriculture in 2017. He is now concentrating on cancer biology in the Basic Medical Sciences Program at USA and is currently working under Dr. Natalie Gassman at the Mitchell Cancer Institute studying the response of DNA repair pathways following environmental exposures.

The award is named in memory of Edwin R. Hughes, who served as director of the Basic Medical Sciences Graduate Program at the USA College of Medicine from its inception in 1978 until 1990. The award recognizes the student with the best academic performance in the program’s core curriculum.