Melissa Tibbits, PhD

Melissa Tibbits, PhD

Faculty Highlight – Dr. Melissa Tibbits received her PhD in human development and family studies from the Pennsylvania State University. She joined the College of Public Health (COPH) faculty in 2009 as an assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.

Dr. Tibbits currently teaches Public Health Program Evaluation, a concentration course for the Health Promotion MPH track, and Child and Adolescent Growth and Development, a concentration course for the Maternal and Child Health MPH track. She also provides guest lectures on these topics to other courses and centers within the COPH. Additionally, she serves as academic advisor for half a dozen students and as committee chair and committee member for several MPH capstone and doctoral students.

Dr. Tibbits’ research focuses on understanding the reasons children and adolescents develop in healthy and unhealthy ways, and utilizing that information to inform the development of preventive interventions focused on outcomes such as substance abuse, sexual health, and obesity. Additionally, she enjoys collaborating with community partners to evaluate existing interventions. She currently works with colleagues in the Departments of Health Promotion, Health Services Research and Administration, and Epidemiology to evaluate projects for the Nebraska Office of Probation Administration (Nebraska Juvenile Service Delivery Project), Building Healthy Futures (School-Based Health Centers), and the Douglas County Health Department (Community Transformation Grant and Lead Education Program).

Dr. Tibbits currently serves as a member of the COPH’s Evaluation and Research and Development committees. Outside of the COPH, she is a Project Extra Mile board member and a TeamMates mentor. Through her work, Dr. Tibbits aims to improve the lives of children and adolescents so that they are able to achieve mental and physical health and to make positive contributions to society.

Melissa Tibbits, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.

Brenda Thompson, MPH Director of Career Services

Brenda Thompson, MPH

Student Highlight – Though she is not a student, Brenda Thompson recently joined the College of Public Health (COPH) as director of career services, to serve the needs of students, as well as alumni. Here, Brenda gives us some insight into her role in the COPH.

What services are available?
I’m available to meet with students and alumni to discuss any aspect of their career development, including resume review and mock interviews; interests, strengths, and weaknesses; and action steps for career development.

In 2013, we will launch an online job listing for COPH students and alumni. I encourage everyone to keep an eye on our webpage , which will feature more information on these services, a link to the job opportunities list, and additional career development resources.

When should students connect with you?
Students can connect with me at any point during their time at the COPH. For example,
When students begin their graduate studies, I can guide students to organizations, individuals, and experiences that will help them be more marketable upon graduation.
Three to six months before graduation (earlier if you are considering fellowships) we can discuss job search strategies and how to identify professional references, and review tips for resumes and cover letters.
When preparing to apply or interview for a job, I can do a resume and cover letter review, and then a mock interview. I can offer suggestions on how to frame student experiences in ways that will be relevant and meaningful to employers.
While some things require an appointment so that I have time to prepare, I welcome students to stop by my office (COPH 3054) anytime to chat about their public health career!

What do you want COPH students to know about their career development?
Be confident, proactive, and creative. This is a wonderful time to be entering the field of public health! The evidence base has never been stronger for our field. However, many employers are facing reduced budgets, so students need to be strategic about their professional development. I would encourage students to connect with as many COPH faculty and public health research and practice opportunities as possible. Supplementing your classroom learning can really make the difference when it comes time to apply for jobs.

Why Omaha and why the COPH?
I first came to Omaha in 2006 as a field assignee with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with every intention of returning to Atlanta after the two year assignment was completed. I fell in love with Omaha, and as I saw the COPH starting to take shape, I realized that there would be wonderful opportunities in public health here. It has been exciting to see the fast growth in the college, and I couldn’t be more pleased to now be a part of it all! I have always been drawn to the academic environment because it is inspiring to be surrounded by students, staff, and faculty who are dedicated to learning, asking questions, and finding innovative solutions to improving health.

Anything else we should know about you?
I have my MPH in global health, from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta. I have dabbled in quite a few areas of public health, from health impact assessments to operating a needle exchange; from ethnographic research in rural Mexico to urban maternal and child health in the United States; from local health departments to Federally Qualified Health Centers to the CDC. While these experiences have left me an expert in very little, they have positioned me well for this job! If I don’t have information related to a student’s interests, there is a good chance that someone in my network will, and I look forward to making those connections.

Li-Wu Chen, MHSA, PhD, Research on Public Health Services and Systems

Li-Wu Chen, MHSA, PhD

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Li-Wu Chen’s main research interest is in public health services and systems research (PHSSR). He has directed and conducted several PHSSR projects that were funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). As the co-principal investigator of the RWJF-funded Nebraska Public Health Practice-Based Research Network, Dr. Chen has actively engaged various stakeholders from Nebraska’s public health practice and policy communities in the development, implementation, dissemination, and translation of PHSSR.

Dr. Chen has systematically studied the regional public health agency model in Nebraska. His research suggests that variation in macro contextual variables (e.g., demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic variables) among counties within a regional public health district is negatively associated with the performance of public health practice in regional local health departments (LHDs). For instance, the greater the variation in socioeconomic characteristics among a regional LHD’s member counties, the greater the challenge for the LHD to appropriately develop its public health policies and allocate resources equitably across its district. In addition, Dr. Chen’s research found that a regional public health partnership is most effective in optimizing the involvement of its partners because it is better able to leverage the partners’ strength and resources, and least effective in the domain of management because of challenges resulting from greater geographic distance and limited funding. In general, more effort is needed to maximize the collaborative potential of regional public health partnerships in Nebraska. Dr. Chen’s research has also shown that regional LHDs make resource allocation decisions on the basis of community needs, not on a formula or on individual county population size. The research findings also identified inadequacy and instability of funding as the two main funding challenges encountered by regional LHDs in Nebraska. These challenges may negatively impact the workforce capacity and long-term sustainability of an LHD’s programs.

Dr. Chen’s research uses an innovative approach (i.e., a programmatic area perspective rather than an occupational perspective typically used by researchers and policy makers across the nation) to assess the workforce capacity of Nebraska’s LHDs. This approach led to the finding that a significant proportion of Nebraska’s LHDs do not have staff dedicated to cover the areas of mental health, sexually transmitted diseases, and occupational safety. Using a shortage index estimation approach, his research also suggests that Nebraska’s LHDs experience the greatest workforce shortage in environmental health, followed by chronic diseases, health disparities, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Li-Wu Chen, MHSA, PhD, is a professor in, and the chair of, the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration.

Feeling the blues lately?

Public Health Community Advisory – The faculty and staff at the College of Public Health (COPH) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center are working with community members to explore ways to collaborate on mental health issues. Community collaborations include working with community mental health treatment professionals, community liaisons in the COPH Center for Reducing Health Disparities, and faculty involved in research opportunities such as the NIH-funded project, “A Systems Approach for Community-Linked Health Research Across the ‘Plaza.’” One area of interest includes research on maternal depression, especially for women before, during, and after delivery of a baby, particularly with the Latino community. That is just one kind of depression, but others affect a greater segment of the general population as well. Here is one example to be aware of:

“Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter. SAD may begin during the teen years or in adulthood. Like other forms of depression, it occurs more often in women than in men. People who live in places with long winter nights are at greater risk for SAD. A less common form of the disorder involves depression during the summer months.”1 (

SAD symptoms usually build up slowly in the late autumn and winter months. Symptoms are usually the same as with other forms of depression:

  • Hopelessness
  • Increased appetite with weight gain (weight loss is more common with other forms of depression)
  • Increased sleep (too little sleep is more common with other forms of depression)
  • Less energy and ability to concentrate
  • Loss of interest in work or other activities
  • Sluggish movements
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unhappiness and irritability

SAD can sometimes become long-term depression. Bipolar disorder or thoughts of suicide are also possible. As with other types of depression, antidepressant medications and talk therapy can be effective.
To manage your symptoms at home:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Take medicines the right way. Learn how to manage side effects.
  • Learn to watch for early signs that your depression is getting worse. Have a plan if it does get worse.
  • Try to exercise more often. Look for activities that make you happy.
  • Practice good sleep habits.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. These can make depression worse over time. They may also affect your judgment about suicide.

When you are struggling with depression, talk about how you’re feeling to someone you trust. Try to be around people who are caring and positive. Volunteer or get involved in group activities.
Light therapy using a special lamp with a very bright light (10,000 lux) that mimics light from the sun may also be helpful. Call your health care provider for details on how to use light therapy effectively.

1PubMed Health and the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia retrieved on January 2, 2013, from

This article was compiled by Denise Britigan, MA, PhD, CHES, assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.

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.