Shawn Gibbs, PhD

Shawn Gibbs, PhD

Faculty Highlight –  Dr. Shawn Gibbs serves as the College of Public Health’s associate dean for student affairs. He previously served as the College of Public Health’s director of master’s programs and chair of the Curriculum Committee.
Dr. Gibbs currently teaches Foundations of Public Health, a required core course for all students in the College of Public Health. He also provides guest lectures on environmental health, water treatment, and waste management to several other courses. Dr. Gibbs serves as the academic adviser for many students and has served on over a dozen capstone committees and several doctoral dissertation committees. He was the 2012 recipient of the College of Public Health’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and a 2011 recipient of a UNMC Silver “U” Award.

Dr. Gibbs’s research area is environmental exposure assessment, focusing on environmental microbiology. Primary research interests are on environmental bioaerosols (bacterial, antibiotic resistant bacteria, fungal, viral) from both the indoor and ambient environments, and water exposures. This includes source evaluation, source tracking, and methods to reduce exposure. Additional current research includes work on the decontamination of highly infectious microorganisms. Dr. Gibbs is the author of more than 40 peer reviewed articles. He has served as a reviewer for over a dozen peer reviewed journals and has served as a grant reviewer for multiple organizations, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Fulbright Commission. His currently funded projects are in the areas of infection control, water reuse, and industrial hygiene.
Dr. Gibbs received a BS in biology from the Ohio State University, and both an MS in environmental engineering and a PhD in environmental science from the University of Cincinnati. He became a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) in 2009. Dr. Gibbs was a US Fulbright Scholar to Egypt in 2006. His previous work experience includes three years as a contract biologist/toxicologist for the USEPA, working on environmental water quality programs. Dr. Gibbs joined the College of Public Health in 2007 from the University of Texas Houston School of Public Health, where he was an assistant professor for five years. While in Texas, his research included water quality and quantity issues along the US-Mexico border, including issues associated with confined animal feeding operations.

Shawn Gibbs, PhD, is the UNMC COPH associate dean for student affairs and an associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health.

Sheetal Sawant

Sheetal Sawant

Student Highlight – Sheetal Sawant is a second-year MPH student in biostatistics. She was born in Mumbai (still known as Bombay to many), the biggest city in India, and went to school in a scenic suburb on the outskirts of Mumbai. Her journey in the field of health care began when her sister joined the School of Medicine to pursue bachelor’s degrees in Ayurvedic medicine and surgery. Four years later Sheetal followed her sister into the world of medicine and health care and joined the School of Dentistry. She completed her bachelor’s in dental surgery from the prestigious Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, and practiced dentistry for about three and a half years in Mumbai.

 The preventive and community dentistry experiences that Sheetal gained during her bachelor’s internship at St. George Government Dental College, Mumbai, along with her firsthand experience serving the community under the guidance of an experienced dental surgeon in Mumbai, further strengthened her interest in the field of dental public health. She moved to Omaha in 2009, and was accepted into the College of Public Health (COPH) MPH program at UNMC in fall 2010. She has been a graduate assistant in the COPH Department of Biostatistics since spring 2011.

 The warm and welcoming atmosphere is what Sheetal admires most about the COPH. The key features that attracted her to consider pursuing her MPH were the friendly and helpful nature of the faculty and staff and the funding opportunities that are provided to the students. According to Sheetal, the opportunity to work on real-life projects related to her field of interest via the service-learning/capstone experience and internship opportunities are the highlights of the program. She is currently working on two projects, one with the Omaha District Dental Society and another with the Office of Oral Health and Dentistry, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Sheetal believes that her coursework and her work on real-life projects have helped her get a better taste of and be well prepared to further her interest in the field of dental public health.

Preethy Nayar, MD, MPhil, PhD, Health Services Research

Preethy Nayar, MD, MPhil, PhD

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Nayar’s research interests focus on performance evaluation and quality improvement in health care organizations; clinical outcomes research, including care of the chronic critically ill patient and pancreatic and head and neck cancer outcomes and costs; access to and outcomes of care for rural and frontier underserved populations; and health workforce planning. She was the principal investigator for several quality improvement projects funded by the Mid West Mountain Veterans Engineering Resource Center that aimed to improve the quality of care provided to veterans. Dr. Nayar received the UNMC Distinguished Scientist New Investigator Award in 2011. She has presented her research at national and international meetings. In May 2012, she was invited to chair the health workforce/ nursing services work group at Health Vision 2050, Oman’s national health planning conference in Muscat, Oman.

Dr. Nayar was the project director of a two year health workforce planning project for Nebraska, “A Critical Match,” that was funded by the University of Nebraska Larsen’s Medical Research Fund, and was completed in 2009. She currently leads the needs assessment for the Great Plains Public Health Training Center, which is a training grant awarded to the College of Public Health, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration. She is also the evaluator for a dental pre-doctoral training grant awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration to the College of Dentistry, Lincoln.

Dr. Nayar joined the faculty of the College of Public Health in August 2007. She is a physician health services researcher who did her surgical residency in otorhinolaryngology (ENT) in India in 1986. She practiced clinical medicine for 15 years in Oman and then completed her master’s degree in hospital and health systems management. She then obtained her PhD in health services organization and research from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Preethy Nayar, MD, MPhil, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration.

The Health Challenges of Community Gardening (part 2 of 2)


Public Health Community Advisory – Although community gardening is a wonderful way to promote healthy eating, exercise, nutrition education, and social capital, there are challenges we in public health should recognize.

Most urban gardening takes place on lots that have had prior uses that may have contaminated the soil. Possible contaminants include lead, mercury, arsenic, pesticides, and hormonally active breakdown products of plastics. For the most part, vegetables absorb very little of these chemicals. But roots and leaves may be coated with dirt containing these. Moreover, gardeners may be exposed to dust while working in the garden. Using raised beds and amending the soil with safe, new soil can help. However, in the long run, inputs to the garden, especially compost, need to be monitored for possible toxic content. Above all, gardeners, especially children, should be cautioned to wash their hands and vegetables before eating anything, and to wash themselves and take off their clothes upon entering the house. Masks can be helpful when handling friable mulch and dusty soil. Ample information on safe gardening is available on the web, largely from universities that assist and monitor community gardens.

Mid-summer is often hot and dry (and the world is getting hotter and drier). In hot periods, the best time of the day to work in the garden is early morning, although evenings are often cool.

Gardeners with health vulnerabilities, such as elders or those with heart or vascular conditions, should be strongly cautioned against working during hot mid-days. And gardeners must remember to wear sun screen and to stay hydrated. Community gardens should provide sun screen and water.

Although gardening work is healthy, it involves stooping, lifting, reaching out, and handling tools, brush, and dirt. All these have risks. In some of our gardening programs, we conduct stretching and yoga exercises. For aerobic exercise, we built a small basketball court right by the garden. And a first aid kit for scratches should be handy.

Conducting public health research about gardening is not easy. It’s not handy for gardeners to fill out a questionnaire while working in the garden with dirty hands and no pencil. It is hard to weigh out how much produce people are taking home. And do gardeners eat their vegetables once they are in the fridge? Do we really apply what we learn in nutrition classes?

Despite these and other challenges, community gardening is a growing social and health movement that is winning support in cities and rural areas all around the nation.

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

Part one-The Positive Effects of Gardening

Do I need antibiotics before going to the dentist?

Public Health in the National News – For the past 60 years, millions of individuals with certain heart or joint conditions have received antibiotic prophylaxis (premedication) before dental treatment. Antibiotic prophylaxis typically consists of taking a few antibiotic pills 30-60 minutes before the dental visit, regardless of any dental infections.

This clinical practice is based on the theory that antibiotics could reduce heart and joint infections by blocking bacteria that travel from the mouth to the heart or joint through the bloodstream. However, is there good evidence that antibiotic prophylaxis actually prevents heart and joint infections, or is this practice more harmful than helpful?

To provide some direction, in 1955 medical organizations began to publish guidelines. Since that time, guidelines have evolved as more evidence has accumulated. The American Dental Association posts a summary of current recommendations at

However, research standards are higher today than they were in the past. Studies that might have been sufficient to produce a guideline in the past would no longer be acceptable today. In recent years, when scientists reviewed all prior research studies using modern standards, they noticed that some guidelines lacked strong supporting evidence and eliminated them. For example, the once popular use of antibiotic prophylaxis in individuals with a heart murmur is no longer recommended.

The use of antibiotic prophylaxis for individuals with total joint replacement is now under scrutiny. However, once guidelines are officially adopted and implemented on a national scale, they do not easily or quickly change. Until there is a resolution, guidelines not based on strong evidence create profound ethical and legal dilemmas. Health professionals are eager to follow rules, but they also wish to provide the best care for their patients and do no harm. Should a patient be advised to take antibiotics even though there may not be strong evidence that the antibiotic will do more good than harm? Intermittent use of antibiotics can lead to bacterial resistance (the antibiotic may no longer work the next time it is used), medication costs, trips to the pharmacy, delayed or cancelled dental visits, adverse events, and even death from a sudden allergic reaction. These risks should be balanced against potential benefits in individual patients.

Individuals who take antibiotics before dental treatment should continue to discuss possible benefits and harm with their dentist, and they should monitor any changes in guidelines. Regardless of where the body of evidence leads us, maintaining good oral hygiene remains an effective way to reduce oral bacteria.

This article was written by Lorena Baccaglini, DDS, PhD, associate professor in the UNMC COPH