Susanna Von Essen, MD, MPH

Susanna Von Essen, MD, MPH

Faculty Highlight – Dr. Susanna Von Essen has played a vital role in the growth of the College of Public Health (COPH). She was chair of the Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health committee responsible for establishing the blueprint for the department in 2007. She contributed to the development of courses and curriculum for the Master of Public Health concentration in Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH), serving as the department’s representative on the Graduate Program Committee, the precursor to the current COPH Curriculum Committee. She is currently the chair of the EOH concentration curriculum committee.

Dr. Von Essen considers teaching to be a very important part of her career as a faculty member. She currently teaches two courses, “Public Health, Environment, and Society,” and “Principles of Occupational and Environmental Health.” She also provides guest lectures on environmental, agricultural, and occupational health topics to other COPH courses. Over the years, Dr. Von Essen has served as an academic advisor to many students and been a member of numerous capstone and dissertation committees.

Dr. Susanna Von Essen grew up on a farm in northeast Nebraska, near the town of Pender. She attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a Regents Scholar. Her interest in public health developed during that time, when she took a human parasitology class. She went on to study parasitology for a year in Germany as a Fulbright scholar. She received her Doctor of Medicine from Washington University Medical School. She completed her Internal Medicine residency and her Pulmonary fellowship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She received her Master of Public Health in Occupational Medicine from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Dr. Von Essen has helped to recruit a number of faculty who are now doing research in agricultural health. She continues to collaborate with colleagues in developing their research ideas. Dr. Von Essen is an established and respected researcher in her own right, having served as PI or co-investigator for over 20 research grants in her career. Funding agencies include the National Institutes of Health and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, among others. Her research focuses on agricultural lung disease and other aspects of occupational lung disease, collaborating within the University of Nebraska, with colleagues at other universities in the United States and in Europe, and with state and federal agencies. While she has reported her research findings at national and international meetings, she values the opportunity to share information gained from her research and that of others with the agricultural community and rural primary care providers for the prevention of lung disease. She has published nearly 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals, close to 20 chapters in scientific textbooks, and was associate editor for both a book and a journal.

Dr. Von Essen was the winner of the 2009 Robert D. Sparks, MD, Award in Public Health and Preventive Medicine. The COPH gives this award on behalf of Dr. Sparks to recognize outstanding innovation and impact on preventing disease and promoting health through public health education, research, and practice, with particular attention to the needs of Nebraska and its citizens.

Susanna Von Essen, MD, MPH, is a professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, and a professor of Internal Medicine in the UNMC College of Medicine Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep, and Allergy.

Sarbinaz Bekmuratova

Sarbinaz Bekmuratova

Student Highlight – Sarbinaz Bekmuratova is a doctoral student in the Department of Health Services Research and Administration in the College of Public Health (COPH). Sarbinaz is from Nukus, Uzbekistan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in philology at Karakalpak State University in 2005. She received an Edmund Muskie Fellowship funded by the US State Department to pursue her master’s degree in community health at Minnesota State University, where she graduated in the summer of 2012. She started her COPH PhD program in the fall of 2012.

The northwest region of Uzbekistan where Sarbinaz was born and raised is the area that witnessed the largest man-made ecological disaster of the 20th century: the evaporation of the Aral Sea. The sea has been the main water source in the region and dramatically affected the livelihood of residents around it. Seeing the adverse health effects of this disaster in her country and in her own community, she became increasingly concerned about the health of individuals. Her concern and her curiosity led her involvement in local and international organizations integrating public health activities in Nukus. During her participation in projects for organizations such as Counterpart International, the Uzbekistan Association of Reproductive Health, the United Nations Development Program, and Doctors without Borders, she developed a passion for the field of public health. Public health gives Sarbinaz an opportunity to make positive differences in people’s lives, to work with communities, to initiate new ideas, to learn about diverse cultures, and most importantly, to feel that she is a global citizen. As a public health professional, Sarbinaz aims to establish public health systems in developing countries.

Ozgur Araz, PhD: Developing System Simulation Models to Inform Public Health Policy Decisions

Ozgur Araz, PhD

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Araz’s research focuses on developing system simulation models to analyze and understand the behaviors of complex systems and to inform policy decision making about complex public health issues. Simulation gives policy makers the ability to see the real-time impact of their decisions. As an industrial engineer trained in systems simulation and computational methods, Dr. Araz participates in various research projects in the College of Public Health (COPH) and collaborates with faculty from other colleges on campus. His recent work includes developing natural history models for prostate cancer, STDs, influenza, and obesity, in order to evaluate different public health strategies. Dr. Araz was also part of a research team with other faculty in the COPH and at UNL that addressed the health needs of a neighborhood in the urban Chicago area for sustainable development. That project was funded by the HDR company.

Dr. Araz also collaborates with the MIDAS (the NIH Modeling Infectious Disease Agents Study) research group at the University of Texas at Austin on developing decision support models for mitigating influenza pandemics and developing predictive models to forecast future epidemics. For example, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic forced school closures around the globe. Such actions can have negative economic and social effects. Dr. Araz and his research collaborators used a decision analytic approach and a mathematical model to estimate the effects of school closures in terms of epidemiological and financial costs. The findings from this research project highlight the importance of obtaining early estimates of pandemic severity and give public health decision makers guidance for effective school closure strategies in response to a flu pandemic. In another research project, Dr. Araz and his research team used a decision-making framework to evaluate and predict the most effective vaccine distribution policies during an influenza pandemic. His research articles have appeared in peer review journals, including Decision Support Systems, Healthcare Management Science, BMC Public Health, and Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

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

February is American Heart Month


Public Health Community Advisory – February is a time to promote optimal nutrition and a heart-healthy lifestyle in our community. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. A balanced, nutritious diet is a cornerstone to decrease blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, the major causes of heart disease. A key to a heart-healthy diet is consuming food low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium, and high in fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.

Simple changes practiced every day make a big difference in the long run. When shopping for groceries, consumers should focus on buying fruits and vegetables (varying the colors of dark-green to red/orange vegetables) and beans and peas. Choosing lean meat and poultry, trimming the fat, enjoying plant proteins, selecting low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and reducing intake of trans fat in margarine and baked goods are all healthy choices. Also, select food low in salt and sodium to decrease chances of developing high blood pressure, especially if there is a family history of the disease. Read the food label to recognize the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium in the product, and make healthy selections accordingly. Substitute healthy oils for margarine, butter, or shortening when cooking. To help decrease blood cholesterol, choose whole grains such as whole-grain bread and pasta or brown rice. Reduce intake of added sugar, solid fat, and refined grains such as white bread and rice. Eat a variety of seafood including fish and shellfish at least twice a week; it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce heart disease, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And always follow the food safety principles (Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill).

Leading a healthy lifestyle also means engaging in moderate physical activity, managing stress, maintaining healthy weight, and avoiding smoking. Take advantage of the free healthy-heart screenings offered periodically at health fairs for blood cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, and blood glucose, and follow your doctor’s instructions.

A healthy heart starts with picking one simple change to practice. Also look for the Heart-Check Mark icon , indicating that a product has been certified by the American Heart Association.

This article was written by Ghada Soliman, MD, PhD, RD, LMNT, an associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. Her research includes effects of dietary fat saturation, carbohydrate, and fiber intakes on blood cholesterol and heart disease.

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.