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.


Erica Colbert, MPH (Environmental and Occupational Health, 2010)

Erica Colbert, MPH

Erica Colbert, MPH

Alumni Highlight – Erica Colbert graduated from the COPH with a Master of Public Health in Environmental and Occupational Health in 2010.

Hometown: Cheyenne, Wyoming

Current Career Position: Environmental health specialist at Douglas County Health Department, studying and training to become a nationally registered environmental health specialist. Upon starting my position at the Health Department, I was placed in the Sanitary Engineering and Sanitation Control section in the Environmental Health Division. The department received a complaint of unsanitary conditions. Upon arrival at the residence, my supervisor and I were greeted with an animal hoarding situation and possible elder abuse case. It was at this moment that I realized that my role in environmental public health not only meant enforcing compliance with environmental health rules and regulations but also encompassed protecting the health of vulnerable individuals.

What did you value most about your time in our program? As a teaching assistant for the Introduction to Environmental Public Health course, I was able to develop skills in relaying environmental health principles, rules, and regulations, and scientific data to students of varying backgrounds and experiences. I also served as a research assistant in my last semester in the program. My communication skills improved as a teaching assistant, and I developed my organizational skills and time management working in a laboratory setting.  Being a research assistant gave me the opportunity to participate in field research and interact with the public, experience which has been vital in my role at the Health Department. I am constantly in the “field” interacting with swimming pool operators, restaurant managers, disgruntled tenants, etc., and must convey rules and regulations, results of inspection reports, and methods for remediation of unhealthy situations in a clear and concise manner.

Advice for current students: Become involved in the community you serve. Develop a relationship not only with individuals from various agencies and community advocacy groups that you are working with, but also with individuals in the community.

Research Improves Health Outcomes of Agricultural Workers

Source: CS-CASH

Source: CS-CASH

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Improving health outcomes, reducing injuries, and reducing deaths in the agricultural sector are all aims of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH). CS-CASH supports research, intervention, education, and outreach activities in the Midwest region and beyond as a part of the Department of Environmental, Agricultural, Occupational Health in the UNMC College of Public Health. Each year, CS-CASH funds pilot projects that address emerging issues or that propose novel approaches to solving the problems of high fatality, injury, and chronic condition rates in agriculture. Two pilot projects that address these concerns are the Migrant Farmworker Health Survey led by Athena Ramos and a project led by Dr. Tricia Levan that examines the types of bacteria present in the lungs of patients who have been exposed to agricultural dust.

The purpose of the Migrant Farmworker Health Survey is to develop baseline information on the health of Latino migrant farmworkers in Nebraska and to understand the migratory pattern of Latino migrant farmworkers. Migrant farmworkers are an extremely vulnerable population as they are constantly on the move, exposed to harsh weather conditions, socially isolated due to language and location, economically disadvantaged, lacking formal education, and lacking a consistent source of health care. There is no recent information regarding the migrant farmworker experience in Nebraska. The research team collected information from 200 participants across five central Nebraska counties over the summer of 2013. The team found high levels of stress and depression. In fact, 30.5% of participants had high levels of stress and 45.8% were depressed. Creating more welcoming communities and enhancing health outreach services for workers may help in combating feelings of social isolation and depression. Addressing mental health issues is a significant factor for worker health and safety as well as the well-being of rural, agricultural communities in Nebraska.

Dr. Tricia Levan’s project examines the type (diversity) of bacteria present in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A comparison of the bacteria will be made between COPD patients who have had exposure to agricultural dust versus those who have not been exposed as well as comparison with subjects who do not have COPD. Analysis of the bacteria is currently underway. Breakthroughs in understanding the types of bacteria that infect the lungs of farmers and ranchers after exposure to agricultural dust will lead to better treatments and outcomes.

Athena Ramos, MS, MBA, CPM, is the program coordinator of the UNMC COPH Center for Reducing Health Disparities. Tricia Levan, PhD, is an associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology.

Million Hearts Aims to Improve the Cardiovascular Health of the Nation


Public Health Community Advisory – The burden of cardiovascular disease in the United States is large and expensive, and the opportunity to improve the heart health of the nation is before us. Million Hearts  aims to bridge the gap between public health and clinical practice through effective public policy, organizational systems change, focused clinical quality measurement, and the implementation of a wide breadth of complementary evidence- and practice-based interventions.

Million Hearts is a population-health initiative, jointly led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Million Hearts is committed to improving the cardiovascular health of the nation through policy and systems-level changes that impact both community and clinical practice interventions. Doing so will require a common agenda from which all partners can work, and focused outcomes by which all progress can be measured. It is a time-limited, concerted effort from public health, clinical, community, and advocacy stakeholders to improve risk factors for and subsequent outcomes of cardiovascular disease.

Million Hearts complements a number of existing public and private initiatives, including Healthy People 2020, Let’s Move! and Life’s Simple 7. The initiatives’ community-based interventions will focus on tobacco cessation, sodium reduction, and artificial trans fat elimination. These community interventions will be carried out in conjunction with a network of public health practitioners, including state and local departments of health, advocacy groups, and community-based organizations. Clinical practice policy and systems changes will improve performance on the delivery of underused clinical preventive services, specifically, aspirin use for those at risk for cardiovascular events, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation, which will in turn improve cardiovascular health. It is our intention to present here the rationale behind the clinical intervention focus areas of Million Hearts and to outline the value of this integrated approach of public health and clinical practice.

Challenges arise in clinical practice that clinicians and the health care system alone cannot control. These include aspects of patient self-management, health literacy, and social determinants of health. Public health efforts, like Million Hearts, can assist with broad-reaching policy and systems changes that complement health care—efforts like payment models that align reimbursement with outcomes, full deployment of health information technology, team-based care, and accessible community services. Such overarching solutions can result in the provision of much-needed counseling or therapeutic services, help generate culturally and linguistically tailored health education materials, bring a skilled team together to help meet patient and caregiver needs, and give providers and patients tools to better manage risk factors or chronic conditions. Additional community-based population health efforts, such as sodium reduction in processed and restaurant foods, smoke-free laws, or public education, can make the communities in which we live, work, and play more supportive of health for all.

Only collective and complementary action will successfully tackle the big problem of preventing a million heart attacks and strokes. In these early months of Million Hearts, we are witnessing the formation of a network of networks as state and local partners, professional societies, advocacy organizations, organizations focused on quality improvement, and health information technology experts extend their work to develop synergies with others. Many are beginning to partner with each other in creative and effective ways. Million Hearts serves as a stimulus, a forum, and a celebrant of this work: a conduit for identifying effective practice-based strategies and evidence-based interventions, scaling solutions to maximize population reach, and translating them into tools and resources tailored to various audiences.

This article was written by Jamie K. Hahn, program manager, and Kari Majors, community health educator, for the Nebraska Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention Program with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Center for Preparedness Education Trains Nebraska’s Disaster Response Community

Center for Preparedness Education

Center for Preparedness Education

Public Health Practice – The Center for Preparedness Education’s mission is to enhance preparedness skills and knowledge through affordable, needs-based training; customized organizational assistance with disaster exercises; and comprehensive preparedness related resources. The Center for Preparedness Education is a joint endeavor between Creighton University School of Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center and is a part of the Center for Biosecurity, Biopreparedness and Emerging Infectious Disease that is housed within the UNMC College of Public Health.

The center conducts both live and web-based trainings for public health professionals, health care professionals, first responders, and emergency management. In addition we assist with developing, conducting, and evaluating disaster preparedness exercises across Nebraska. In any given year we interact with 600+ individuals at more than 30 events.

Over the last three to four years the importance of disaster exercises has been highlighted through such events as the Boston Marathon bombing. Boston area hospitals, emergency medical services, and law enforcement credit practicing their joint response as a key to their actions in this tragic event. The Center for Preparedness Education has addressed this need by providing trained disaster exercise practitioners to help develop, conduct, and evaluate exercises for Nebraska’s response community. Our exercise team has conducted annual functional exercises with three of Nebraska’s six Medical Response Systems. These exercises have involved hospitals, public health departments, EMS, law enforcement, and emergency management working together to practice responding to the type of incidents seen often in Nebraska. In addition the team has conducted numerous smaller exercises for hospitals and public health.

In response to the changing educational needs of our audiences, the center is now offering more training opportunities using distance technologies. In addition to webinars, we also offer a comprehensive library of videos from past educational sessions that are available for in-house educational sessions or for individuals to review on an as needed basis.

This article was written by Keith Hansen, MBA, assistant director of the Center for Preparedness Education, and by Sharon Medcalf, PhD, associate director of the Center for Preparedness Education and an instructor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.