University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health Celebrates National Public Health Week

NPHW Scavenger Hunt

Public Health Community Advisory – The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health (UNMC-COPH) Student Association conducted activities on each day of National Public Health Week (NPHW), April 1-5, 2013, to celebrate the achievements and raise awareness of the field.

The college kicked off the week’s events with a This is Public Health Scavenger Hunt. Teams of three to four people that included students, faculty, and staff ventured across campus taking pictures of items that represented public health.  Extra points were given for photos that demonstrated the NPHW daily themes, as well as for getting people from outside the team to participate (after educating them about public health!).  The portfolios of photos were then posted to the Student Association blog and members of the campus were invited to vote for the collection that best represented public health in a creative and fun way.

On Tuesday, the Student Association offered healthy breakfast items to the rest of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, raising awareness about public health and recruiting participants for the activities during the rest of the week, which included educational, community, and social events.

Two educational grand rounds sessions were featured over lunch during the week.  In the first, Dr. Jim Beavers, Dr. Kathy Northrop, and Dr. MeLissa Butler of the Nebraska Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (NE-EHDI) Program in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services highlighted the ROI of their program’s efforts in improving hearing outcomes among children in our state.  The second Grand Rounds featured the ROI of preparedness through a fun lens.  “Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse or Other Events Slightly More Likely,” presented by Dr. Shawn Gibbs, associate dean of student affairs and associate professor of environmental and agricultural health, was given to a standing-room-only campus-wide audience and viewed across the state through online streaming offered by the Great Plains Public Health Training Center (GPPHTC).  Recordings of these grand rounds sessions are still available online from the GPPHTC at

Reaching out to the community was also important to the Student Association during this week.  On Tuesday, a group of COPH students visited Saratoga Elementary School during their afterschool program and talked to a K-6 audience about what public health is, why it’s important, and what kind of jobs people do in the field.  The students will be returning to the school in a week to provide hands-on activities for the children, including learning to make healthy, delicious snacks and do a few simple yoga poses.   On Thursday, in partnership with community partner ModeShift Omaha, participants screened Taken for a Ride, a documentary that discussed the history of public transportation and the growth of the car culture in the United States. After the viewing, a panel of representatives from the city’s Planning Department, the city’s Metro system and Activate Omaha talked to the audience about Omaha’s efforts to diversify transportation options to benefit the public’s health.

Students gathered on Wednesday for the annual NPHW student leadership workshop.  This year, the COPH director of career services, Brenda Nickol, MPH, worked with students on effective networking and provided helpful tips on both in-person and online networking using social media.  Afterwards, the Student Association welcomed students to practice their new skills at a social event with alumni, faculty, and staff.

Finally, on Friday, April 5, the Student Association closed out NPHW with the second annual PHamily PHeud game. Teams made up of students, faculty, and staff competed to predict the answers to a range of public health related questions, asked not only of those with public health expertise, but of the general public as well.  Competition was fierce and fun. Winners of both the PHeud and the Scavenger Hunt were provided with new, long-sleeved COPH t-shirts with the “Top Ten Ways You Know You’re in Public Health” listed on the back.  The week concluded on this high note and the college looks forward to next year’s NPHW and the chance once again to highlight and celebrate all we do!

This article was written by Claudine McCarthy, research assistant in the COPH Office of Public Health Practice.

Health: The Barometer of Climate Change



Public Health in the National News – Public health, fasten your seatbelts! Climate change is going to be a bumpy ride!

The earth is heating up at an unprecedented rate due to the atmospheric accumulation of waste gases from modern industry and agriculture. As the earth heats up, the lives of people everywhere are gradually and bumpily becoming more chaotic and less healthy.

Globally, urban heat waves are growing hotter, more frequent, and longer. Water for agriculture, drinking, and industry is becoming scarcer as key glaciers melt away and the atmosphere becomes more humid. Americans are learning from such storms as Sandy and the Joplin tornado that extreme weather events are increasingly injuring people, animals, livelihoods, and communities. More frequent droughts, dust storms, forest fires, and crop failures are beginning to dog the heels of public health aspirations and economic growth.

The World Health Organization has begun to monitor climate-related health problems. Most evident so far are air pollution issues—asthmas, allergies, COPD, etc. Heat will cause more heart disease and stroke as time goes by. Tropical and vector borne diseases—such as malaria, dengue fever, protozoa, encephalitis, and enteric viruses—are climbing in latitude and altitude. As the climate heats up, fresh movements to lead healthier lives—exercising outside, bicycling, and urban gardening—will be challenged by scorching summer days.

Health care will become harder to deliver—during Sandy, 53 health care institutions were evacuated. Rising food and fuel prices will challenge the ability of families to eat healthy diets, buy goods, commute to work, and keep their homes at comfortable and healthy temperatures. And, these health problems will be all the more severe for the poor, elders, children, and the disabled.

Public health professionals and planners are beginning to realize that if the United States is to maintain a healthy society, economic and health policies will need to adapt to rapid change. Health care agencies, schools, and government bodies are beginning to respond. The CDC is partnering with over a dozen states and cities in organizing heat emergency plans and cooling centers. Hospitals are beginning to secure their back-up generators and to prepare for surges and evacuations.

As decades pass, around 2050 or so, global temperatures are likely to blow past the two degree Centigrade Plimsoll Line that climate scientists have warned will prove catastrophic. In the last half of this century, barring an immediate global emergency response, conditions will worsen steeply. Ocean levels will rise; people will move northward out of overheated tropical zones; nations may go to war over scarce freshwater; and drought, extreme weather, and changing seasons will trigger major agriculture failures accompanied by widespread famine.

Scientists and engineers know of only one realistic solution to this problem: On average the world as a whole must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80%—by fossil fuel reductions, solar and wind energy, economic efficiency, and healthy lifestyles requiring little energy. The world must move quickly, since greenhouse gases are already determining the climate well into the future.

Public health, however, can help us all muster the resolve to act. Everyone cares about personal health, and even more so, about the health of children and grandchildren. The younger generations will bear the brunt of the problem more than adults and the old now do. Out of love for them, we may find the power to act with imagination and dispatch.

This article was written by Andrew Jameton, PhD, professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.

Influenza Hits Early And Hard


Public Health in the National News – Why is the influenza (flu) season so severe this year? It should not surprise us, since this virus is very unpredictable. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on the “match” between the influenza viruses in the vaccine and those spreading in the community. The 2012-2013 influenza vaccine contains most of the influenza strains circulating in the community, including the 2009 epidemic strain. The vaccine is estimated to be about 62% effective at preventing the flu, and if a vaccinated person gets the flu it is usually milder.

The influenza vaccine is an extremely safe vaccine, and it may be life-saving for those with weakened defenses, such as cancer patients, the elderly, and pregnant women. There is enough vaccine for everyone, and yet many people have not gotten the vaccine; it is not too late to get the vaccine even now. As more people get vaccinated, the influenza outbreak should be contained.

The flu is contagious, and can spread to others up to about 6 feet away, usually by droplets when people cough, sneeze, or talk. Sometimes environmental surfaces transmit the flu, and they are very important in spreading other respiratory and intestinal illnesses. To cut down the spread of influenza and other viruses, it is important to wash hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand hygiene agents frequently.

Remember to “cover your cough” by coughing into your sleeve (see photo, above). Try to avoid close contact with others, and avoid shaking hands and touching others. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first.

If you have the flu, stay home until you have gone 24 hours without fever. The person with flu is most contagious during the first 1-2 days of illness. Staying at home when ill involves a change of behavior, since many want to “tough it out” by working ill. However, nobody appreciates sitting next to a coughing co-worker, much less catching an unpleasant illness from that person.

The vaccine is the most important protection, but following common sense infection control measures further improves your chances of avoiding the flu.

This article was written by Philip W. Smith, MD, co-director of the Center for Preparedness Education, a joint endeavor between Creighton University Medical Center and The Nebraska Medical Center that resides in the UNMC COPH. Dr. Smith is a professor in the UNMC College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine, in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and a professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology.

Health Information Exchange Important to Public Health?

Public Health in the National News – The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) recently announced that two Nebraska health information exchange (HIE) initiatives are recognized as national leaders for their efforts to enhance the safety and quality of health care by embracing the use of health information technology. Why is the federal government interested in HIE and what’s happening in Nebraska?

Federal Government Interest in HIE
The ONC was created by Executive Order in 2009 and legislatively mandated by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. ONC is charged with coordinating the adoption of advanced health information technology and promoting HIE. A few of the benefits that are expected are more informed medical decisions at the time and place of care; improved coordination of care among hospitals, providers, and labs; and early identification and rapid response to public health emergencies. On a long-term basis, HIE is expected to improve the delivery of quality health care and reduce costs.

What’s Happening in Nebraska?
The Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NeHII) is the state designated HIE and statewide integrator of electronic health information. Information is exchanged by participating providers to make available more complete information at the point of patient care. Individual patients may opt out of participation if they do not want their information shared. The Electronic Behavioral Health Information Network (eBHIN) currently connects behavioral health providers in southeast Nebraska and the Panhandle region, with plans to expand to additional regions as funding permits. Patient information is only available in eBHIN with the written consent of the patient. As of December 2012, more than 2.2 million patients, 1,100 physician providers, and 1,400 health care providers participate in NeHII.

Why is HIE Important to You?
As a patient, HIE allows your health information to be transferred to your providers securely and confidentially when you seek care in many different systems and locations. Typical information exchanged includes demographic information, laboratory results, medications prescribed, and transcribed reports such as results of x-rays. HIE reduces the need for you to transport your own records when seeking consultations outside your primary health care system and may also lessen repeat procedures requested when results are not available to your consulting provider. When seconds count in emergencies and you are taken to the closest emergency department, reliable information is instantly available to providers, eliminating the need to have documents faxed. As a provider, you can confidentially access and share information no matter where your patients are seeking care. As a public health professional, HIE can provide a gateway to share vaccination information and reportable disease laboratory results. The information has secondary use for study of health outcomes and comparative effectiveness of treatments after appropriate policies are in place to de-identify and safeguard individual patient data.

This article was written by Marsha Morien, MSBA, FHFMA, FACHE, instructor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration, and chief administrative officer in UNMC Business and Finance. She is co-chair of the eHealth Council of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission.

The Role of Public Health Training Centers in Public Health

Public Health in the National News – In October 2011, the College of Public Health (COPH) was awarded funding to launch the Great Plains Public Health Training Center (Great Plains PHTC). The purpose of the PHTC program nationally is to improve the nation’s public health system by strengthening the technical, scientific, managerial, and leadership competence of the current and future public health workforce. The program is funded through the Affordable Care Act Prevention and Public Health Fund, and is administered through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Bureau of Health Professions via a cooperative agreement. Currently, there are 37 PHTCs across the country (

The Great Plains PHTC at the COPH is unique in its efforts to address the needs of not only the governmental public health workforce, but also tribal entities and public health care providers (such as Federally Qualified Health Centers) in the state.

Opportunities through the Great Plains PHTC include the following:

  • Field Placements for undergraduate and graduate level students in local and tribal health departments across the state of Nebraska
  • Collaborative Project Stipends for trio teams of faculty, students, and local health departments to address an unmet need of the community
  • Leadership Speaker Series to showcase leaders in the field for practice-centered grand rounds
  • Support and subsidy to the Great Plains Public Health Leadership Institute, providing a year-long leadership development experience to public health leaders in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota
  • Online Learning Modules and additional Education and Training Events tailored to the workforce needs in Nebraska

After just one year, the Great Plains PHTC has collected stories of how these programs benefit public health in Nebraska. For example, field placements have had great impact on the students and the local health agencies. The competitive paid fellowship program places students in health departments for the summer (11 students were placed in rural and tribal health departments in summer 2012). One student placed in a rural health department was the first ever bilingual Spanish-English speaking staff member. As part of her activities, she planned a Hispanic Family Health Night. The purpose of the event was to uncover health concerns of the Latino community. Through the event, the health department learned that economic help, tornado preparedness, and basic prevention knowledge were unmet needs. After the field placement experience the student said, “My feelings about forwarding my education in public health are stronger than ever now. The time that I spent at the health department opened my eyes about how important it is to promote health, teach individuals how to prevent sickness, and how to protect themselves from possible hazards.” The student’s commitment to this work has led her to volunteer for the health department as a translator . . . even though it is a four-hour drive round trip.

For more information on the Great Plains PHTC, contact Brandon Grimm:, 402-559-5645.

This article was written by Brandon Grimm, PhD, director of the UNMC COPH Office of Public Health Practice, and Katie Brandert, MPH, CHES, workforce and leadership development manager in the COPH Office of Public Health Practice.

New Developments in the Fight to End HIV Infection


Public Health in the National News – The Food and Drug Administration approval of a pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is an exciting development in the fight to end HIV infection. The public health community working to prevent new infections now has another in a wide array of tools with which to prevent HIV transmission.

Clinical studies have shown those who start a PrEP regimen do not engage in behaviors that transmit HIV with any greater frequency than before using the drug. Despite this, some public health officials are concerned that some may engage in those behaviors more often if they are on a PrEP. Changing behavior is difficult; if someone is engaging in activities that have high potential for transmission of HIV and he or she is not likely to reduce or stop those behaviors in the near future, PrEP could be a life-saving option. For these reasons, it is important that anyone beginning a PrEP regimen also receive counseling and education around HIV prevention and be tested for HIV on a regular basis. A comprehensive approach to HIV prevention is the best scientifically justified prevention method recommended.

As with many newly approved treatments for HIV, PrEP regimens are not cheap—some estimate costs of up to $13,000 a year. It is unclear yet how insurance companies will handle the newly approved on-label use of the drug. While PrEP may be a great new tool in the HIV prevention specialist’s toolkit, it will likely not be available to many of those who most need it because of the cost. Policymakers and drug company marketers will need to take costs of the drug into account when determining how best to implement PrEP as part of a multipronged approach to HIV prevention in the United States.

For those who are good candidates for PrEP and can afford it, the once-a-day pill is not a magic bullet. PrEP doesn’t work for everyone and is not 100% effective, even when taken every day as directed. In addition, numerous side effects can interfere with daily quality of life. In addition, some major side effects could be life-threatening. It is important that those who are considering using PrEP get all the facts and be presented with all prevention options to determine what works best for them.

While we may soon be saying “HIV?! There’s a pill to prevent that,” we need to remember that prevention has never come in a magic bullet. We still need to carry out the multipronged approach to HIV prevention as outlined in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. We need to ensure that EVERYONE is included in our prevention efforts, not just those who can afford a pill and have the sociocultural support to take it every day.

This article was written by Christopher Fisher, PhD, assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. Dr. Fisher is also director of the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative and chair of the APHA HIV/AIDS Section.

Online Education and the College of Public Health


Public Health in the National News – The College of Public Health announces the launch of new online programs at the University of Nebraska. These programs will address a growing workforce demand for more public health professionals. A master of science in emergency preparedness and professional certificates in public health and emergency preparedness can now be obtained fully online through the University of Nebraska’s Online Worldwide website. All are graduate-level programs offered by the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The programs aim to strengthen the public health workforce in order to meet the health needs of the U.S. and global populations. The Association of Schools of Public Health estimates that 250,000 more public health workers will be needed by 2020. Compounding this challenge is the fact that 23% of the current U.S. public health workforce—almost 110,000 workers—are eligible to retire this year.

The certificate in public health includes 18 credit hours (six courses) focused on the core areas of health behavior, environmental health, biostatistics, epidemiology, administration, and global health. Students may be able to apply the coursework toward a master’s degree in public health.

The certificate in emergency preparedness is also an 18-credit hour program. The federal Department of Homeland Security’s core focus areas—prevent, protect, respond, and recover—form the structural basis for the program. The master of science in emergency preparedness, a 36-credit hour program, is designed to teach professionals how to plan for and respond to events such as natural and man-made disasters, terrorist attacks, or infectious disease threats.

The College of Public Health recognizes that working professionals have many commitments in their lives. While the academic rigor of our online courses is the same as our on-campus versions, the convenience and flexibility of online learning is appealing to many working professionals. “Learning online is very convenient. You can collaborate and communicate in groups, exchange files, discuss topics with the class, track your progress in the course, and access electronic resources. I particularly like the use of multimedia in my classes,” said Junmin Zhou, a student taking a core course online. Courses are divided into weekly modules where students access learning materials and complete assignments by specific dates. Everything that the student needs is located in one place and accessible through an Internet connection from anywhere in the world.

This article was written by Sergio Costa, PhD, director of distance learning in the UNMC COPH Office of the Dean. Adapted with permission from Online WorldWide, University of Nebraska.