Jill Hughes

Jill Hughes

Jill Hughes

Student Highlight – Jill Hughes is an MPH student studying Environmental, Occupational and Agricultural Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Public Health (COPH). Originally from Springview, a rural community in north central Nebraska, Jill chose to return to Nebraska upon completing her undergraduate degree at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico, to further her education.

After studying and conducting research in forensic biology at the undergraduate level, Jill wanted to find a way to marry her skills from her forensic background to disease investigation. With recent advances in the field of forensic science, a newer area of forensic epidemiology has come to the forefront as a method of investigating weaponized toxins and diseases, poisonings, and bioterrorism. The environmental health curriculum and elective courses in emergency management through the COPH have provided Jill with a broad range of knowledge to prepare her as a member of an investigative team, and as a responder to multiple forms of health threats.

Hughes’ career and research interests involve working with, and constructing universal protocols for, multi-department response teams to biochemical incidents and investigations. Her first year at the COPH has allowed her the opportunity to work with one of these agencies, as a work study student with the Nebraska Department of Public Health Lab. She has gained knowledge in handling various types of samples, learning and understanding protocol, and departmental roles and responsibilities. In addition, she has gained great knowledge and experience in the field as a volunteer and board member of the Do juSTIce program, collecting STD/STI data from the Douglas County Department of Corrections and assisting with treatment of the inmates.

Jill’s favorite aspect of UNMC is the continued and varied volunteer efforts in the local community and worldwide. She feels that her volunteer work, paired with the resources the university offers and the overwhelming support from her instructors, career advisor, and personal academic advisor, will fully prepare her for a career in the public health field upon her graduation.

Douglas Perin, MPH

Douglas Perin, MPH

Douglas Perin, MPH

Alumni Highlight – Doug Perin graduated from the COPH with a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology in August 2013.

Hometown: Porto Alegre, Brazil

Current career position:  As of October 2013, I’m an ASPPH/CDC Public Health Fellow working with the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the CDC, in Atlanta, Georgia. I am involved in international projects analyzing cancer prevention practices and outcomes, especially focused in Brazil. I am currently planning a trip to meet with partners from various Brazilian governmental agencies.

What you value most about your time in our program: I value the international character of UNMC’s faculty and students. The opportunity to work in the Center for Global Health and Development helped me develop the skills I needed to effectively work in an international context. In addition, I was afforded the opportunity to work at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, as part of my Service Learning/Capstone project.

Advice for current students: Take advantage of the experience of our faculty and the opportunity to interact with people from other countries and cultures. This will help you develop a broader perspective of public health and hopefully create opportunities for hands-on experience and future employment.

Lina Lander, ScD: Assessing Perspectives on Health Information Exchange in Nebraska

source: dhhs.ne.gov

source: dhhs.ne.gov

Spotlight on Research at COPH – The Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NeHII) is Nebraska’s state-designated Health Information Exchange (HIE) and the statewide integrator of electronic health information. Participating providers can exchange health information to make more complete information available at the point of patient care. As of February 2014, more than 2.7 million patients, 1,388 physician providers, and 2,186 health care providers participate in NeHII. Dr. Lina Lander and colleagues have recently completed a comprehensive assessment of Nebraska health care providers’ and consumers’ perspectives on HIE.

What do health care providers think about HIE?

Dr. Lander and her colleagues surveyed 5,618 Nebraska physicians, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses in 2013 and received 615 completed questionnaires (11% participation).

Providers who have used HIE reported that it improved patient care and facilitated receiving and sending information in the referral network. Respondents indicated that cost and loss of productivity were the major barriers to HIE adoption. HIE features important to those surveyed included accessing comprehensive lists of patients’ medications and allergies, and viewing lab results and clinical notes.

The survey findings led the research team to conclude that streamlining HIE access through integration with electronic medical records to minimize workflow interruption, and keeping costs reasonably low for providers, may increase participation, as would emphasizing more efficient access to laboratory values and medication information.

What do consumers think about HIE?

Consumer satisfaction is a crucial component of HIE utilization, as high satisfaction is expected to increase HIE utilization among providers and allow consumers to become full participants in their own health care management. The research team conducted 8 focus groups with a total of 67 participants in 7 towns and cities across Nebraska to identify consumer perspectives and concerns about HIE.

Participants expressed concern about privacy and security of medical information, decreases in quality of care, inconsistent provider participation, and potential cost. Participants gave positive feedback regarding accuracy and completeness of information, and improved communication, coordination, and access to information among health care providers.

Focus group findings revealed both significant perceived barriers and benefits to consumer adoption of HIE and related services. Improvements in patient care were expected due to easy physician access to consolidated information across providers as well as speed of sharing and availability of information in an emergency. In addition, participants were optimistic about patient empowerment in convenient access to and control of personal health data.


HIE gives providers quick access to patient information, allows providers to share patient information confidentially, and may be especially beneficial to patients seeking care in different locations. In emergency situations, immediate access to health information may eliminate the need to fax necessary documents. For public health professionals, HIE can become a platform to share vaccination and laboratory results. Once privacy and security guards are in place, quick and efficient access to health information can allow comparative effectiveness research to identify practices that will best serve Nebraska residents.


1. Morien M. Health information exchange important to public health? The GroundBreaker, Public Health in the National News. 2013;3(1). http://blog.unmc.edu/publichealth/2013/01/15/health-information-exchange-important-to-public-health/

2. http://www.connectnebraska.net/

Lina Lander, ScD, is an associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology.

Wellness at Work

2013 Wellness Fair

2013 Wellness Fair

Public Health Community Advisory – In September of 2012, the College of Public Health (COPH) established the COPH Wellness Council (WC) in response to the college-wide strategic planning retreat. The WC consists of volunteer faculty, staff, and students who meet monthly to plan and promote wellness activities that are aligned with the COPH mission “to create an environment to promote optimal health and well-being.”

Wellness can be characterized as an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Based on these concepts, the WCl provides monthly presentations or events aimed at engaging faculty, staff, and students in making healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to providing wellness opportunities within the COPH, the WC also promotes and encourages COPH members to participate in University of Nebraska Medical Center campus-sponsored wellness events such as the Walking Works Corporate Challenge, Fitness Fridays, the Decathlon, etc.

Recently the WC held the second annual COPH Wellness Fair. Approximately 50 fairgoers visited more than a dozen booths to learn about wellness issues, including hearing health, emergency preparedness, nutrition, smoking cessation, lactation, fitness, herbal supplements, women’s health, the employee assistance program, and the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In addition, chair massages, mini-tai chi classes, and blood pressure/blood glucose screenings were also offered. Based on feedback and evaluations, this is a favorite WC event among COPH members.

Other popular events have been Tai-Chi on the Green, March Madness Badminton Tournament, the Annual Chili and Soup Cook-Off, an Apple a Day, Fall Tailgate, and stress reduction for the holidays with alternative medicine and yoga/stress relief. Each event has met one or more of the WC strategic goals set forth in the 2012 strategic plan formulated by COPH members.  Success is measured by asking all attendees to complete an evaluation to determine if the events are meeting the expectations of COPH members and fulfilling the goals of the council. In the spring of 2014, the council will be sending out a college-wide survey to determine how the WC may best provide our members opportunities  to incorporate wellness while at work.

In addition to the benefits of having monthly wellness events, long-term, sustainable activities have resulted from the WC, such as the lunch-hour walking group and the CSA program designed to promote consumption of locally produced, farm-fresh produce.

The COPH WC believes that a healthy workforce is essential in creating a productive workforce. Having a work environment that reinforces a wellness strategy can keep employees motivated and engaged in the work environment. The WC believes that the COPH can best foster healthy populations and environments by providing opportunities for wellness education and activities as well as modeling wellness behaviors and attitudes within the college.

This article was written by Mary Morris, office associate I in the UNMC COPH Department of Biostatistics, and by Analisa McMillan, MSEd, Instructional Designer in the UNMC COPH.

Helping Create a Safe and Healthy Agricultural Sector

source: www.osha.gov

source: www.osha.gov

Public Health Practice – The burden of agricultural injuries and fatalities weighs heavily on rural communities and the families of those who have been injured or killed.  Agriculture is a dangerous occupation, accounting for one of the highest fatality rates in the United States, with 475 deaths reported in 2012, and an estimated 243 agricultural workers suffering a lost-work-time injury every day. Five percent of these injuries result in permanent impairment. To address these unacceptably high rates, the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH) was established as one of nine Agricultural Safety and Health Centers in the United States that receive funding from the National Institutes of Safety and Health.  . The vision of the center is to assist in maintaining a vibrant agricultural sector in our region and the United States, where health and safety is highly valued and work-related injuries and illnesses are rare.

Located at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Public Health, in Omaha, Nebraska, CS-CASH serves a seven-state region including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. The center’s mission is to work with the agricultural community in the Central States and beyond, conducting research, intervention, education, and outreach activities, which aim to discover the mechanisms of injury and illness, and to develop, implement, and evaluate prevention strategies that measurably improve the health and safety of members of the agricultural community. Center investigators collaborate with the neighboring agricultural centers, based out of Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Texas.

Each center has unique projects and focus areas. CS-CASH focuses primarily on respiratory disease research, injury surveillance, hearing protection, mental health concerns, and educational needs of farmers, including non-traditional farmers, migrant farm workers, and farm family members. To address emerging issues in agricultural safety and health and to provide funding for novel research, CS-CASH awards pilot grants each year. These grants provide funding that lays the groundwork for development of innovative prevention, education, and research strategies. The center’s goal is to serve the farming community by discovering causes of injury and illness, and communicating information about prevention in ways that reach as many farmers as possible.  For more information on the specific core projects, please visit the CS-CASH website at: http://www.unmc.edu/publichealth/cscash/.

This article was written by Ellen G. Duysen, Coordinator in the UNMC COPH Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.

KM Monirul Islam, MD, PhD

KM Monirul Islam, MD, PhD

KM Monirul Islam, MD, PhD

Education Highlight – KM Monirul Islam, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology. His teaching focuses on clinical outcomes research, infectious disease epidemiology and pathophysiology of diseases; research of diseases, particularly infectious diseases; and clinical outcomes research of cancer. Dr. Islam regularly teaches CPH 623 / EPI 825 Infectious Disease Epidemiology and CPH 624 / EPI 825 Advanced Infectious Disease Epidemiology. He also teaches a special topics course in epidemiology focusing on infectious disease and cancer and has taught EPI 820 Theory and Applications in Epidemiology. Dr. Islam has been with the department for seven years.

Dr. Islam’s teaching philosophy is driven by the need to create an interactive learning environment, and he sees himself as a “guide.” He moves away from heavily didactic, one-way teaching toward a more engaged model where the teacher learns as well. This interactive, multi-way communication and learning is at the core of all his courses. Dr. Islam says, “Teaching itself is part of a learning process. As an instructor, I try to break down theory and method application so students can learn in a friendlier environment rather than through traditional, imposing one-way means. Communication has to be two ways. I am constantly learning from my students.” His teaching style also makes frequent use of examples to demonstrate concepts. “I find that students understand the material best when they see it for real—see it in real life examples. I make efforts to use examples everywhere I can. Public health students typically don’t have the solid biology background. Particularly in my courses where the biology of disease or pathophysiology are so critical to understanding infectious disease epidemiology, the uses of examples and demonstrations are all the more important,” says Dr. Islam. His best moments in the classroom have occurred when students with limited knowledge of biology and pathophysiology were able to properly understand the terminology and apply the tools of epidemiology appropriately.

Dr. Islam attributes the success of his courses to the use of high standard course materials and fostering a positive learning environment. “Public health work is in large part group or team work. I try to set a standard in the classroom that hopefully extends beyond it to a future workplace.” Dr. Islam uses a mixed approach to assessments, such as presentations, homework exercises, and quizzes. “Combination is good. It gives me a more complete picture of how they are learning than through large exams alone.” Asked why his courses are so important, Dr. Islam says, “You can apply these principles and methods [in my courses] to understand disease characteristics, risk behavior, the agents involved, and so on. You need to understand the transmission mode or immunological responses before you think about prevention and intervention for any infectious disease.” Dr. Islam says most students who focus on infectious disease epidemiology go on to careers in local health departments or to national and international organizations with epidemiological services. Globally, a career specialty in infectious diseases epidemiology is in high demand.

Alejandro Hughes

Alejandro Hughes

Alejandro Hughes

Student Highlight – Alejandro Hughes is a first year MPH student (Health Promotion) at the UNMC College of Public Health.  He grew up in beautiful Cedar Falls, Iowa, before attending Iowa State University, where he received a degree in Community/Public Health Education. The prevention-focused, wide-reaching nature of public health is what led Alejandro to gravitate toward the field.  Since then, he was fortunate to have some great experiences as an AmeriCorps member at a non-profit in Council Bluffs, and most recently he worked for a county health department in Waterloo, Iowa.  Those practical, real-world experiences cemented his interest in public health and his desire to obtain an MPH.

In his time so far at the COPH, Alejandro has most enjoyed building relationships with faculty and other students.  He has found that the COPH has a great deal to offer students in terms of research opportunities, educational quality, and practical experiences.  Aside from studying and homework, Alejandro spends much of his time as a work-study student in Sponsored Programs Administration and is also working as an intern for the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition.

Alejandro’s professional interests include chronic disease prevention and intervention, the effects of the built environment on human health, cancer prevention, and nutrition education—particularly in youth.  His career goals after graduation are constantly being refined.  He truly enjoyed his experience working for a local health department and entered the COPH with the intention of returning in a health educator/program manager capacity. However, Alejandro has also developed an interest in chronic disease epidemiology.  Alejandro is excited to continue expanding his public health knowledge here at the COPH.