TAG: "Students"

High school students help grow ‘genetically engineered machine’


UCSF researchers help high school students dive into growing field of synthetic biology.

In addition to their prize-winning science project, the 2014 UCSF iGEM team morphed into superheroes as a creative way to teach synthetic biology to visitors at The Exploratorium.

By Kathleen Masterson, UC San Francisco

Taking molecular parts from living organisms to engineer biological systems sounds a bit like science fiction, but with the help of UCSF researchers, high school students are diving into this growing field of synthetic biology.

It’s all part of a global synthetic biology competition called iGEM.

The international competition aims to engage students in the constantly evolving world of synthetic biology, which is part molecular biology, part systems biology and part genetic engineering. While the “Giant Jamboree” is a fun, lively event, the lab work and presentation preparation are serious work – and real science findings come out of the competition.

This year UCSF’s team won “Best Presentation,” competing against 225 teams hailing from across the globe. Of the two UCSF presenters, one was Eleanor Amidei, who was 17 years old at the time.

To prepare for the competition, the students spend all summer designing their experiments, running them, building a website, developing a presentation and a few other requirements, including submitting a genetic fragment to the synthetic biology bank at MIT.

“At first it was really overwhelming,” said Amidei, who is now a freshmen at UC Berkeley. “It was just scary to be thrown into lab environment. But you kind of just pick up the work as you’re going; you go with it, you read articles, you study more about what you’re doing and it becomes easy, it becomes second nature.”

Bringing high schoolers into the lab

When Wendell Lim, Ph.D., formed the first UCSF team eight years ago, he needed to include participants younger than graduate students to meet the iGEM contest eligibility requirement. Instead of bringing in college students, he partnered with high school teacher George Cachianes who teaches a two-year biotechnology program at Lincoln High School in San Francisco. Every year, a few of the top high school students are invited to join the iGEM team.

This year’s team also partnered with two UC Berkeley undergrads who bring additional programming and graphic design elements to the team skill set.

Lim said the experience benefits both the high school students and the Ph.D. students, who learn to be better mentors.

“What is really unique about this experience is that most of the time, when you do an internship in a lab, you’re assigned to one person who tells you what to do, who gives you instructions,” he said.

But here the group is really a team, said Lim. There’s a lot of brainstorming, and the students, few undergrads, postdocs, all really work together to shape the project. “We’ve defined the sandbox we’ll play in, but exactly what we do and how we do it – they’re a part of defining.”

Real science findings

This year the “sandbox” focused on testing yeast cells to determine if they exhibit collective behavior. That’s a loose term for the “group think” behavior exhibited by seemingly choreographed flocks of birds or tightly synchronized schools of fish swirling in a flash. This kind of group response also occurs in some cells and even electrons – and in tiny yeast cells.

The team discovered that the presence of the group actually influences the behavior of the yeast cells. Though the cells are genetically the same, they respond differently when isolated and respond in synchronized manner when together as a group.

This behavior hadn’t been shown in yeast, said Kara Helmke, the education and outreach coordinator for UCSF’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology who works with the iGEM teams.

“The findings were something we didn’t even realize would be possible,” Helmke said. “It was great we could demonstrate it.”

Beyond getting results in the lab, the UCSF team is producing new scientists: Of the more than 60 high school alumni of the program, all are pursuing or have completed science degrees.

“Biotechnology is really a unique aspect of San Francisco and important part of the economy, and it’s exciting to help train the next generation of people,” said Helmke.

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Eat.Think.Design: A public health course for the startup generation


UC Berkeley course feeds need for rethinking problems of food and nutrition.

By Tamara Straus, UC Berkeley

For the creators of the UC Berkeley course Eat.Think.Design, two things are certain.

First, the United States is facing a food and nutrition crisis, with rocketing rates of diabetes, hunger and health disparity.

Second, graduate students today — from fields as different as public health, business, information technology and engineering — want their education to be more hands-on, more interdisciplinary and more “impactful” to society at large.

In the case of the Eat.Think.Design course, they want to spend class time not just learning about food and nutrition problems, they want to devise actual food and nutrition solutions.

This may sound grand, but for the course’s three instructors — Jaspal Sandhu, a UC Berkeley lecturer in design and innovation; Nap Hosang, a longtime Kaiser Permanente medical doctor and UC Berkeley School of Public Health instructor; and Kristine Madsen, an associate professor in the Joint Medical Program and Public Health Nutrition at Cal’s School of Public Health — there is nothing grand or inappropriate about letting students attempt societal solutions while in graduate school.

“The reason we emphasize experiential learning is because it has proved to be more effective,” says Sandhu, who is also a partner at the Gobee Group, a consulting firm he runs with two other multilingual Fulbright scholars with UC Berkeley roots. Sandhu speaks Punjabi, Spanish, Mongolian and English, and prior to Gobee worked with the Mongolian Ministry of Health designing mobile health information systems.

Sandhu emphasizes that his students’ backgrounds demand more than lecturing. Among the 25 people enrolled in Eat.Think.Design this spring, many have relevant work experience. At least three have started their own companies, several have worked for big companies like IBM, Deloitte and Eli Lilly, and most have about five years under their belts working for government agencies or large nonprofits. “To keep the attention of such students,” says Sandhu, “we need to give them actual problems to focus on.”

Working in interdisciplinary teams of three under an instructor, Eat.Think.Design students spend the bulk of the semester on one project, conducting ethnographic and market research, investigating models and constantly devising and then revising potential solutions. Members of last year’s class, for example, streamlined SNAP federal nutrition benefits payments at San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmer’s Market, worked with the Kossoye Development Program in Ethiopia on strategies to make home gardening more accessible and built a pilot program with Partners In Health: Navajo Nation to test a pop-up grocery store in areas that are one hour’s drive from fresh food. Although the project in the Navajo Nation helped COPE to receive a three-year, $3 million REACH grant from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to pursue healthy eating programs in the vast American Indian territory — Hosang argues that the course is not designed to incubate social innovations per se.

“Our goal is to incubate innovative people — people who can be influencers in the public health sector,” he says.

Hosang, who has served as head of the interdisciplinary online MPH degree program for the past 15 years and executive director of the Interdisciplinary MPH degree program since 2010, is not subtle in his criticism of public health teaching.

“Most academics are in a silo,” he said, “and their silo has driven them more and more into their specialist thinking.”

Yet this specialist thinking, Hosang argues, is running counter to the view that public health is enmeshed in almost every field — from architecture and transportation, to product design and education.

“We need to change the way public health professionals approach problems,” said Hosang, “and we need them to be in touch with people from other disciplines to inform their problem-solving processes.”

Hosang and Sandhu started working on their public health course in October 2010, after Hosang read Sandhu’s dissertation on public health design research in rural Mongolia and was impressed by the combination of grassroots and trial-and-error learning. In the spring of 2011, they launched their course, with financial support from the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which seeds interdisciplinary, social impact courses on campus. Madsen joined the course in 2014 when the focus narrowed from designing innovative public health solutions to designing innovative food solutions. In a forthcoming article in the American Journal of Public Health titled “Solutions That Stick: Activating Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration in a Graduate-Level Public Health Innovations Course at the University of California,” the three instructors describe how their approach is part of a much-needed pedagogical shift. They write:

A Lancet Commission, convened to discuss the education of health professionals in the 21st century, argued that educational transformation is critical to meet the public health problems we face in this century. Specifically, the commission called for a higher level of learning, moving beyond informative learning, which transmits knowledge to create experts, to transformative learning, which transmits leadership attributes to create agents who can successfully implement change.”

Sandhu explained that when he and Hosang came up with the idea for the course, not only was this “change agent” approach novel but no one was applying design thinking or human-centered design approaches at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. (He describes those approaches as ones that enable teams to systematically develop novel, effective solutions to complex problems.) Yet Sandhu says it is clear there’s a demand for this kind of problem solving.

Sandhu’s proof is the continual over-enrollment in and rave reviews of his course. This year, 60 students applied for 25 spots. And for the past four years, 40 percent of students indicated it was the “best course” they took at UC Berkeley, with the other 40 percent stating it was in the “top 10 percent” and the rest saying it was in the “top 25 percent.”

Christine Hamann, an M.B.A./M.P.H. candidate who took Eat.Think.Design in 2014, confirmed that “the teaching team is phenomenal — both in terms of the academic leadership and the mentoring of graduate students.”

She also confirmed that she and her fellow students want “practical challenges in graduate school,” adding, “we are tired of theory.”

Hamann is one of the many students who has brought past work into the classroom. Before grad school, she worked for seven years at Partners In Health, most recently on the nonprofit’s COPE Project in the Navajo Nation. She said the course forced her to look at Navajo Nation residents’ consumer needs around food and nutrition — and to see food less as a supply issue and more of a demand issue.

“Traditional public health approaches focus on supply, but that is why you see programs that don’t meet the needs of the community,” she said.

Hamann and the three other graduate students opted not to focus on the best truck routes to bring fresh produce into the 27,000 square mile territory — and instead focused on seeing what citizens there want to consume and what can last in what is a food (and actual) desert. During the summer of 2014, with funding from the Blum Center, Hamann created pop-up grocery stores in Navajo, to determine which food items were most in demand and could help reduce chronic diseases like diabetes, which affects 20 percent of residents. This exploration helped lead to the aforementioned $3 million CDC grant for COPE.

As to why so many Cal students are so focused on food and nutrition, Hamann has this to say: “From a public health perspective, I think we’re seeing the ramifications of the American diet play out in really scary chronic disease indicators.” She also noted that there is a general heightened awareness of food systems — “of where food is coming from, the corporations that own it, and the detrimental effects those relationships can have on both health outcomes and business models.” Third, Hamann said a growing number of students want to see tech innovation applied to less wealthy and less urban populations—“the people,” she said, “who need it.”

Then, there are the galling statistics: Americans throw out an estimated 40 percent of food grown per year. An estimated 50 million Americans do not have access to enough food. As of 2012, about half of all adults — 117 million people — have one or more chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis. And childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

Sandhu is aware that a course on food innovation is well timed at UC Berkeley. In 2013, UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate School of Journalism, Berkeley Law and the School of Public Health joined forces to create the Berkeley Food Institute to improve food systems locally and globally. A year later, UC President Janet Napolitano launched the UC Global Food Initiative — to prompt all 10 campuses, UC’s Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and a consortium of faculty, researchers and students to address food security, nutrition and sustainability issues. Even BigIdeas@Berkeley, the annual student innovation prize, has a contest category on food systems innovation.

“Our timing is either well forecasted or extremely lucky,” said Sandhu.

Eat.Think.Design may be a popular course — and may inspire copycats — but both students and instructors are quick to point out that the course cannot serve as a model for every graduate-level class.

“It is difficult to take more than one experiential class per semester,” said Hamann. “The time commitment with fellow students and with our client is just too big.”

Amy Regan, who took the course in 2013 and now works with the San Francisco Unified School District’s Future Dining Experience program, agrees that “compromising and agreeing on the best approach among a group takes time.”

For instructors, professor Madsen estimates the course requires one and a half to two times more time than an average School of Public Health offering, because she, Sandhu and Hosang each mentor three student groups during and after class time. The three instructors also spend time cultivating their connections to bring in student projects from nonprofits and government agencies. During the class on Feb. 4, 16 pitches were made by representatives of various organizations, including California Farm to Fork, San Quentin State Prison and Project Open Hand.

“Much more work goes into creating the class because of all the connections to be made,” said Madsen.

And very little is scripted. This gives the course the feeling of a kind of pedagogical startup, exciting but uncertain. Madsen said this atmosphere comes with a distinct disadvantage for professors.

“You have to admit you don’t know as much,” she said. “If your identity is wrapped up in being an academic expert, this won’t work; you’ll always default to the more narrow but comfortable path.”

For Sandhu and Hosang, who are adjuncts, there is less face to lose.

“I think over the last seven years, since the start of the Great Recession, there’s been a transformative energy happening in higher education,” said Hosang. “It’s coming from the younger generation who see the world has changed and who no longer see college as a ticket to success. That’s where this move toward an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach is coming from.”

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UC Davis student diagnosed with meningococcal disease


Student is receiving medical care and treatment at a local hospital.

(Updated Feb. 25: University and Yolo County Public Health officials say the student with meningococcal disease is recovering. The officials added that they had contacted people who had been in close contact with the student, so that they could arrange preventive medication for them. Read more, including the strain of meningococcal bacteria in this case.)

By Andy Fell, UC Davis

A student who attends the University of California, Davis, has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection that can cause bloodstream infections and meningitis, the university and public health officials said today (Feb. 23).

The student is receiving medical care and treatment at a local hospital.

UC Davis and Yolo County Public Health teams are investigating the case, providing preventive antibiotics to contacts where indicated, and educating the university community about meningococcal disease. Close contacts of meningococcal cases who are recommended to receive preventive antibiotics include people who were exposed to the ill person’s respiratory and throat secretions through living in close quarters, or kissing or other prolonged close contact.

University and county health officials are identifying people who had close contact with the student and recommending antibiotics to protect them from becoming ill. Officials are not recommending antibiotic prophylaxis for community members or UC Davis students in general. Prophylaxis is recommended for people specifically identified as close contacts of the ill student.

Meningococcal disease signs and symptoms, which are sometimes mistaken for those of flu early in the course of illness, can include:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Rash
  • Body aches/joint pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Confusion

Anyone with the signs or symptoms of meningococcal disease should seek medical care immediately. Early treatment of meningococcal disease is critical as the infection can quickly become life threatening.

Students with questions or any of the above symptoms should contact: UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services’ Advice Nurse Line, (530) 752-2349.

Parents, family members and the general public with questions or concerns should contact: Student Health and Counseling Services’ Directors Office, (530) 752-2333.

Covering coughs, keeping hands clean and being up to date with recommended vaccines, especially flu vaccine this time of year, are actions everyone can take to stay healthy, protect themselves from illness and prevent the spread of infections to others.

Media contacts:
Beth Gabor
Public affairs manager
Yolo County
(530) 666-8042
beth.gabor@yolocounty.org

Andy Fell
UC Davis News Service
(530) 752-4533
ahfell@ucdavis.edu

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UCSF receives $100M gift to advance health sciences mission


Landmark gift cements Chuck Feeney’s role as UC system’s top philanthropist.

Chuck Feeney

By Jennifer O’Brien, UC San Francisco

UC San Francisco has received a $100 million gift from visionary philanthropist Charles F. “Chuck” Feeney to support its new Mission Bay hospitals, world-class faculty and students, and research programs focused on the neurosciences and aging.

This donation brings the longtime supporter’s total UCSF giving to more than $394 million, making Feeney the single largest contributor to the University of California system.

“I get my gratification from knowing that my investments in medical research, education, and the delivery of health care at UCSF will provide lifelong benefits to millions of people not only in the Bay Area but also around the world,” said Feeney, who, despite his global presence as a successful entrepreneur and discerning philanthropist, prefers remaining out of the limelight. “I can’t imagine a more effective way to distribute my undeserved wealth.”

Reflecting on Feeney’s contributions, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, M.B.B.S., said, “As we celebrate UCSF’s 150th anniversary this year, it is only fitting that we acknowledge the unique role Chuck has played in our history. While his impact has been felt most profoundly during this past decade, his generosity will carry on forever at our university, in the San Francisco community, throughout the Bay Area and globally, as our faculty and students advance knowledge and provide the finest clinical care. We are honored that he has decided to invest again in UCSF.”

Feeney’s gifts to UCSF are most visible at the university’s Mission Bay campus, where he has provided indispensable support to create advanced facilities and foster the environment for the biomedical research and patient care that goes on within them.

Before the latest funding, Feeney’s most recent gift to the campus was to UCSF Global Health Sciences, enabling the October 2014 opening of Mission Hall, which houses global health researchers, scientists and students under the same roof for the first time. Feeney, who coined the term “giving while living,” also generously supported the building of the Smith Cardiovascular Research Building and the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building.

“Chuck Feeney has been our partner at Mission Bay for more than 10 years,” added Hawgood. “He immediately embraced the Mission Bay concept, and he has enthusiastically helped us shape a larger vision for the campus and finance its development because he knew that our research and clinical programs could not flourish without state-of-the-art buildings.”

Gift to support four primary areas

The Campaign for the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay
Funds will support the $600 million philanthropy goal of the $1.5 billion hospitals project. The latest donation builds upon the transformative $125 million matching gift Feeney made to support the hospitals complex and its programs in 2009, the largest gift received toward the campaign.

The opening of the 289-bed hospital complex – which includes UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, UCSF Betty Irene Moore Women’s Hospital, UCSF Bakar Cancer Hospital, and the UCSF Ron Conway Family Gateway Medical Building – was the culmination of more than 10 years of planning and construction. Strategically located adjacent to UCSF’s renowned Mission Bay biomedical research campus, the new medical center places UCSF physicians in close proximity to UCSF researchers and nearby bioscience companies who are working to understand and treat a range of diseases, from cancer to neurological disorders.

“It’s been thrilling to see the reactions of our patients and their families as they encounter the amazing care offered at our new UCSF Mission Bay hospitals,” said Mark Laret, CEO of UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. “This world-class experience would never have been possible without the support of Chuck Feeney who, as the largest contributor to the project, helped us create the hospitals of our dreams. Every patient cured, every breakthrough discovered at Mission Bay, will be thanks in part to Chuck. His legacy is unparalleled.”

Neuroscience and aging
The gift also supports UCSF’s pre-eminent neuroscience enterprise, including its Sandler Neurosciences Center and neurology programs at Mission Bay.

The center, a five-story, 237,000-square-foot building that opened in 2012, brings under one roof several of the world’s leading clinical and basic research programs in a collaborative environment. UCSF’s neurology and aging efforts are focused on finding new diagnostics, treatments, and cures for a number of intractable disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, migraine, epilepsy and autism. The programs also seek to integrate neuroscience and clinical disciplines with public health initiatives in order to disseminate and implement novel findings from research centers of excellence, as well as conduct community outreach to raise awareness about the diseases of aging.

“Chuck Feeney has taken a keen interest in the challenges of aging,” said Hawgood. “In turn, he has recognized UCSF’s extraordinary talent in the neurosciences, among both basic researchers and those who translate research into clinical care and public policy. This gift will build on UCSF’s strengths while encouraging strong partnerships at other research institutions around the world where Chuck also has made important investments.”

Student scholarships and housing
Even with its extraordinary academic firepower, UCSF has extremely limited funds to support scholarships for professional students in its schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy. Part of the gift will provide scholarship support, bolstering UCSF’s ability to recruit the best and brightest students, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Recent decreases in state funding led to tuition increases and higher demand for scholarships. This, in turn, increased student debt. Combined with Bay Area housing prices that are among the highest in the nation – from 2011 to 2013, the median rent increased by 24 percent – the prospect of overwhelming debt can deter economically vulnerable students as well as those from middle-class backgrounds from attending UCSF. By minimizing debt upon graduation, the scholarships will help ensure that a UCSF education remains in reach for students from underserved populations, as well as for those students who choose to become health care leaders in underserved communities.

“Scholarships give our students the gift of freedom: to make career choices based on purpose and passion, rather than the price of education; to use time to study, explore science, and volunteer to help others, rather than working to make ends meet; and to succeed because someone who never met them saw enough potential to invest in their dreams,” said Catherine Lucey, M.D., vice dean for education at UCSF’s School of Medicine. “These scholarships catalyze our schools’ ability to find, recruit, educate and nurture the workforce our country needs: talented professionals whose life experiences enable them to provide compassionate care to today’s diverse communities and advance science to improve the health of future communities.”

Faculty recruitment
The donation also will help UCSF recruit the next generation of promising faculty in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

New funding will attract junior faculty – who frequently find it more challenging to secure research funding – and provide initial startup funds as they launch their research careers and clinical practices. With decreasing federal support for young investigators, this gift will underwrite a new generation of brilliant upcoming faculty.

“While Chuck’s unprecedented generosity has been focused primarily on Mission Bay, he understands the power of the entire UCSF enterprise, from our cutting-edge stem cell research at Parnassus to our innovative cancer programs at Mount Zion,” Hawgood said. “We’re thrilled that Chuck has inspired other philanthropists to join him in creating one of the most vibrant life science communities in the world, where progress will ripple far beyond Mission Bay and the campus for generations to come.”

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Doctorate program will study substance abuse, its consequences


Collaboration between UC San Diego, SDSU among first in nation.

By Scott LaFee, UC San Diego

A new Joint Doctoral Program (JDP) in Interdisciplinary Research on Substance Use has been launched by the Division of Global Public Health in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and San Diego State University’s School of Social Work. The program will emphasize research devoted to studying the use and misuse of alcohol and drugs – and related social and health consequences.

“This program is the first of its kind,” said JDP co-director Steffanie Strathdee, Ph.D., professor and head of the UC San Diego Global Health Initiative. “Given that substance use has a growing health and societal impact in the U.S. and globally, this program could not come at a better time.”

The JDP will focus on research designed to identify and assess substance use risk and create intervention programs for preventing or ameliorating high‐risk behaviors related to substance use. It will include training to craft and evaluate disease prevention and health promotion recommendations and help guide public health policies.

María Luisa Zúñiga, Ph.D., JDP co-director and associate professor in SDSU’s School of Social Work, said “SDSU and UC San Diego have a long history of jointly offering cutting edge, high-demand programs. This new doctoral program is designed to train the next generation of researchers to lead interdisciplinary research efforts that will meaningfully address substance use issues of national and global impact. Our graduates will be highly sought after in fields including medicine, social work and public health, as well as research firms and governmental health departments.”

The new JDP is the 14th such program offered by UC San Diego and SDSU. Others include highly acclaimed programs in public health and clinical psychology.

Funding from SDSU Division of Academic Affairs and College of Health and Human Services will cover tuition fees and a teaching associate stipend for four students per year for up to four years. Students will spend the first year of study at SDSU, the second at UC San Diego and subsequent years working with faculty from both campuses.

For more information on the joint doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Substance Use Studies, visit socialwork.sdsu.edu/degrees-programs/graduate-programs/phd-substance-use-studies/phd-overview.

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Student projects dig deep into campus, community food issues


UCLA expands gardens, films documentaries as part of UC Global Food Initiative fellowships.

UCLA student Ian Davies (in the foreground) is working with three other students to install two new campus community gardens. Their project was funded by the UC Global Food Initiative, which was announced by UC President Janet Napolitano during a visit to UCLA last July.

By Rebecca Kendall, UCLA

Vanessa Moreno knows what it’s like to feed a family on a tight budget. The fourth-year international development studies major watched her own mother, a single parent, do it when she was temporarily unemployed. Moreno is now chronicling on video the story of a single mother of five as she struggles to meet the same challenge.

Fellow UCLA senior Sanna Alas, a human biology and society major, knows the value that urban gardening can bring to a community. She is helping students at Jordan High School in Watts tell their story through film as they turn an abandoned plot of land into a community garden for their school.

Alas and Moreno, who started these projects in the fall quarter when they were taking a class on filmmaking for social change, are now expanding their documentaries, thanks to a $2,500 fellowship that each student received from the UC Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program.

“This fellowship supports our project beyond the classroom,” said Alas. “We want to build upon it, make it bigger and include the voices of more people.”

The University of California Global Food Initiative, launched in July 2014, is a systemwide commitment to harness UC resources to sustainably and nutritiously feed the world’s population by 2025. Moreno and Alas are two of 16 UCLA undergraduate and graduate students to receive funding from this initiative to support four projects.

Other funded UCLA ventures include a research project to evaluate the impact and sustainability of farmer hubs in California that sell to large institutions — such as school districts and universities — and the creation of two new student-run vegetable gardens at UCLA that will be used to educate others about the benefits of a campus garden. A raised bed garden is scheduled to be built at Hershey Hall this winter, with an amphitheater garden to be installed at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center in the spring.

Additionally, matching funds for two of these projects — the documentary being produced by Moreno’s group and the community garden project — were provided by the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, which is funded by generous support from Jane and Terry Semel.

“I want to congratulate the inaugural class of Global Food Initiative student fellows,” said UC President Janet Napolitano in a statement. “These are outstanding students who are passionate about this important global topic and will be able to make valuable contributions to this initiative through these fellowships. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of their projects.”

As a member of Mentors for Academic and Peer Support, one of 29 organizations operated through the UCLA Community Programs Office, Alas, along with two other UCLA students, is making a short documentary to tell the story of the Jordan High students and that of other urban gardeners in L.A.

“We chose to work on urban gardening because we believe that it strongly connects with current issues regarding health, food access and social justice throughout L.A.,” said Alas.

Alas’ documentary will also feature a weekend gardener at Wattles Farm community garden in Hollywood and a Native-American woman who incorporates her ancestral beliefs into a gardening class she teaches at the Autry Museum’s Southwest Museum. In the next phase of production, Alas plans to allow the Jordan High students to shoot their own footage as they turn neighborhood blight into a neighborhood asset.

“We want to put the camera into the students’ hands and have them take ownership,” Alas said. “We want them to tell the story of their own community.”

Health, food access and social justice are also at the root of the documentary being produced by Moreno and her team of four. The film, which draws attention to the relationship between food advertising and childhood obesity, follows single mother Stefani Gilmore as she tries to feed her family of six nutritionally, using the federal Special Supplement Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Moreno’s team hopes to raise awareness of the issues faced by low-income and single parents and help motivate policymakers tighten up restrictions on advertising that markets food to children.

“I know what it’s like to be constrained monetarily and nutritionally,”` said Moreno. “It surprises me that more people are not aware of the realities faced by people in their own neighborhoods.” It’s not true that poor people eat fast food because they’re lazy and don’t want to cook for themselves, she said.

“They eat fast food because it’s the cheapest thing they can afford, and it’s readily available,” Moreno said. “When you’re working more than 40 hours a week, or not working at all, and taking care of a large family, you don’t have that much time to think about what’s for dinner. You’re just trying to survive.”

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Dozens of UC students awarded Global Food Initiative fellowships

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UC Davis increases efforts to train nursing students to serve in underserved areas


Grant will further develop integrative case-based learning programs for clinical grad students.

By Jennette Carrick, UC Davis

The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis has received a $150,000 grant from the Office of Statewide Health and Planning to continue developing an integrative case-based learning curriculum for its clinical programs. The school also received an additional $103,650 in one-time, special program funds to provide housing and travel funds for students doing clinical training in underserved areas of central and Northern California.

The granting program, part of the Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Act Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant Training Program, encourages universities and primary care health professionals to provide health care in medically underserved areas and provides financial support for programs like the School of Nursing’s family nurse practitioner and physician assistant curricula. The School of Nursing’s application ranked first out of thousands of public and private in California that applied for support.

“We were only a handful of schools that focused on the social determinants of health. It tells us that we’re on track with the types of initiatives that are important for the state of California,” said Debra Bakerjian, senior director for the School of Nursing’s nurse practitioner and physician assistant clinical programs. “Providing high quality primary care to the medically underserved are both goals of the office and consistent with the core values of our school.”

In addition to studying health-care concepts, conditions or diagnoses, School of Nursing faculty use case scenarios from real case examples of people living with real conditions that impact their health. The cases are developed so that none of the people are identifiable, yet the details of specific events in a context or situation promote an authentic learning experience. Professors incorporate family relations, regional geography, cultural competence and sociodemographic details, with the hope that students will better appreciate the impact of multiple systems on individual health and well-being.

“By seeing past the chronic condition to explore the bigger picture, students acquire a unique set of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable them to administer care effectively and lead a team of caregivers,” added Mark Christiansen, director of physician assistant studies. “These cases serve as curricular threads that decrease course isolation and facilitate learning across the curriculum.”

Over the past 40 years, UC Davis graduated 1,800 nurse practitioners and physician assistants, with 67 percent of graduates working in underserved areas. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of graduates work in primary care, compared with significantly lower national averages of between 30 and 40 percent. The new grants will enable faculty to make current integrative case-based curriculum more interactive and more interesting.

“Our philosophy of team-based learning and a flipped classroom creates an environment where our students retain more of what they learn,” explained Virginia Hass, director for the nurse practitioner program. “If we can incorporate videos, short tests and avatars into the program, we can make it more real and more engaging for the students.”

School of Nursing faculty also will use the funding to implement a requirement into clinical rotations mandating students follow people throughout the continuum of care — from office, to hospital, to skilled nursing facility and back to office again.

The Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Act was established in 1973 to increase the number of family physicians to provide needed health-care services to the people of California. The program encourages universities and primary-care health professionals to provide health care in medically underserved areas, and provides financial support to family nurse practitioner, physician assistant and registered nurse education programs, as well as family medicine, internal medicine, OB/GYN, and pediatric residency programs throughout California.

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UC plans to require vaccinations for incoming students


The plan is being phased in over three years.

Credit: iStock

By Alec Rosenberg

The University of California will require incoming students to be screened for tuberculosis and vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, meningococcus, tetanus and whooping cough, under a plan set to take effect in 2017.

Currently, the UC system only requires students to be vaccinated against hepatitis B, though several campuses have additional requirements.

The plan — designed to help protect the health of students and campus communities — has been in the works for a year. But the need is more pressing than ever, given the current multistate measles outbreak and the re-emergence of other vaccine-preventable diseases among those not completely immunized.

“I’m really excited that there’s support and momentum for this new immunization plan,” said Dr. Gina Fleming, medical director for the UC Student Health Insurance Plan. “We know that these preventive measures are effective.”

Three-year phase-in

The plan is being phased in over three years. The first phase focuses on building awareness among students about the upcoming requirement, with all fall 2015 incoming UC students receiving notification of the recommended vaccines and the process for making them mandatory. The intent of the plan is to set a baseline for all of UC, but does not prevent individual campuses from setting immunization standards for all students, or implementing the plan more rapidly.

It was developed based on recommendations from the California Department of Public Health, and in consultation with UC’s student health center directors, vice chancellors for student affairs and the UC system senior vice president for health sciences and services.

It will require that by 2017 all incoming students show documentation not only for hepatitis B vaccination but also for TB screening and four more vaccines: measles, mumps and rubella; meningococcus; varicella (chicken pox); and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).

“The University of California is committed to protecting the health and well-being of our students,” said Mary Knudtson, executive director of the UC Santa Cruz Student Health Center and chair of the UC Immunization Policy Committee. “Therefore, all of the UC campuses are implementing procedures to ensure that students are educated about, and receive, vaccinations to prevent potentially dangerous illnesses and undergo screening to identify those who may have infectious tuberculosis.”

Starting in fall 2016, all incoming UC students will be expected to have their required vaccines and enter the data into the university’s electronic medical record platform. But the plan is not to enforce the requirement until the following year. Starting in fall 2017, UC students who do not meet the vaccination requirement will have a hold put on their registration. The rationale for the phased approach is to ensure that the process runs smoothly before potentially impacting students’ ability to register for classes.

All UC campuses have experienced cases of vaccine-preventable diseases in recent years — something not unique among college campuses, which have varying vaccination requirements. For example, only about half of states have laws requiring all college students to be vaccinated against measles, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database.

“Despite the fact that many people receive the recommended vaccines, there are still documented cases of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in California and on the campuses each year amongst those who were not properly immunized,” Knudtson said. “All students are strongly encouraged to obtain the vaccines recommended by the California Department of Public Health prior to starting classes.”

Breaking down barriers

While getting such vaccines has long been considered a good public health practice, the cost of vaccines and the difficulty for student health staff to obtain and verify the information have been barriers to implementation.

Two developments have broken down those barriers, Fleming said. Now that the Affordable Care Act provides insurance coverage for vaccines, the cost of vaccination is less of a problem. Also, a new electronic medical record platform soon will allow UC students to directly enter their vaccination date. Four campuses will be piloting the module for entering vaccination data this fall, and the remaining campuses anticipate being able to use it by fall 2016.

The issue of immunization has evolved into a hot topic of discussion in California and across the nation in recent weeks after a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland. On Wednesday, state Senators Richard Pan and Ben Allen announced they will introduce legislation that would eliminate the ability for parents of school children to opt out of vaccinating their kids based on a personal belief.

UC’s plan will allow exemptions for medical or religious purposes, Fleming said. In the coming months, officials will discuss how to handle requests for other exemptions and how to validate the vaccination information.

“We need to be mindful of the population we’re serving,” Fleming said.

UC’s plan might be extended to already enrolled students and additional vaccines could be added later, such as meningococcus B, Fleming said. Vaccines recommended for preventive care include vaccines for hepatitis A, HPV, influenza, polio and pneumococcal pneumonia.

Officials are determining whether additional approvals are needed to adopt the plan, Fleming said, even as they move forward with implementation.

Meanwhile, leadership in student affairs and student health centers are working with other campus departments to inform students about the plan.

“That’s really a critical piece,” Fleming said. “We can’t expect students to adhere to a requirement that they haven’t heard about. They need to know what the plan is.”

Related link:
Associated Press: Los Alamos National Lab creates website for measles fight

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Researchers to report progress on video game for vets with hearing loss


Pizza party for potential donors Feb. 9 as crowdfunding effort to support research continues.

Alison Smith, a disabled veteran and UCR graduate student, is part of a research team that is developing a brain-training game to help veterans suffering combat-related hearing loss.

By Bettye Miller, UC Riverside

A video game Wisp that guides players through a dark cave may lead combat veterans suffering blast wave damage to better hearing. The innovative brain-training game under development at UC Riverside will begin testing on university students this month, and may be ready for testing on veterans this summer.

UCR researchers will update potential donors on their progress at a pizza party on Monday, Feb. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Getaway, 3615 Canyon Crest Drive, Riverside. Free pizza and soda will be available to the first 100 people who register for the event. RSVP here. The event is sponsored by Experiment.com, a crowdfunding website the researchers are using to raise money to fund the project.

The team is seeking public support to raise the estimated $100,000 needed to fund the research and development of a computer game they believe will improve the brain’s ability to process and distinguish sounds. Funding generated so far through Experiment.com and the UCR Brain Game Center has supported the development of sounds the research team believes will revive auditory processing systems damaged by blast waves.

Tax-deductible donations may be given to the UCR Brain Game Center through UCR Online Giving; use the “special instructions” field to designate the gift for the “Can brain training help soldiers with brain injury regain hearing?” project.

Many combat veterans suffer hearing loss from blast waves that makes it difficult to understand speech in noisy environments – a condition called auditory dysfunction – which may lead to isolation and depression. There is no known treatment.

Building on promising brain-training research at UC Riverside related to improving vision, researchers at UCR and the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research are developing a novel approach to treat auditory dysfunction by training the auditory cortex to better process complex sounds.

“This is exploratory research, which is extremely hard to fund,” said Aaron Seitz, UCR professor of neuropsychology. “Most grants fund basic science research. We are creating a brain-training game based on our best understanding of auditory dysfunction. There’s enough research out there to tell us that this is a solvable problem. These disabled veterans are a patient population that has no other resource.”

Seitz said the research team is committed to the project regardless of funding, but donations will accelerate development of the brain-training game by UCR graduate and undergraduate students in computer science and neuroscience; pilot studies on UCR students with normal hearing; testing the game with veterans; and refining the game to the point that it can be released for public use.

Auditory dysfunction is progressive, said Alison Smith, a graduate student in neuroscience studying hearing loss in combat vets who is a disabled veteran. Nearly 8 percent of combat veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from traumatic brain injury, she said. Of those, a significant number complain about difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, even though they show no external hearing loss.

“Approximately 10 percent of the civilian population is at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, and there have been more than 20,000 significant cases of hearing loss per year since 2004,” added Smith, who served in the Army National Guard as a combat medic for five years.

This research also may help many other hearing-impaired populations, including musicians, mechanics and machinists; reduce the effects of age-related hearing loss; and aid individuals with hearing aids and cochlear implants.

This month the team will begin testing on UCR students to determine if the sounds developed for the brain-training game are relevant to speech perception, said Dominique Simmons, a cognitive psychology graduate student studying audiovisual speech perception. Testing will continue through late March.

If these sounds test well, they will be incorporated into a video game in which players move through a cave guided by a Wisp whose route is determined by the volume and direction of these sounds.

In addition to Seitz, Smith and Simmons, team members include Frederick J. Gallun, a researcher at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research and associate professor in otolaryngology and the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Oregon Health and Science University; and Victor Zordan, UCR associate professor of computer science who specializes in video game design and intelligent systems.

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Cuba opens doors to its health care system for visiting nursing students


Cubans embrace UCLA visitors after news of closer ties between two countries.

Students and faculty from the UCLA School of Nursing visit Casa de Maternidad, a maternity home for women with high-risk pregnancies.

By Laura Perry, UCLA

The timing couldn’t have been better for 18 UCLA School of Nursing graduate students and two faculty members headed for Cuba on an educational mission. As they were boarding a flight to Havana from Miami on Dec. 17, big news was breaking: The U.S. was re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, mending a break that has lasted more than 50 years.

One hour later, the UCLA group arrived in Havana, where they were greeted with exuberant hugs, kisses and tears of joy by an excited group of Cuban health leaders over the historic turn of events.

That was the auspicious beginning of a five-day, action-packed visit for the UCLA group. To learn about Cuba’s health care system, they met with physician-nurse teams, engaged in Pan American Health Organization-based discussions on major causes of illness and death, among other topics; and visited community-based consultorios, polyclinics and sex education centers as well as nursing and medical schools.

Eager to see different health care settings, they spent time at a home for seniors and a residence where women with high-risk pregnancies went to live to receive special care.

Ties between Westwood and Havana

This was not the first time that UCLA nurses have connected with their counterparts in Cuba. In 2011, Maria Elena Ruiz, assistant adjunct professor at the school, attended an International Health Conference in Cuba as a member of the American Public Health Association. Through those meetings, she saw firsthand how a first-world, prevention-focused primary health care system functions with third-world economics.

When she returned to UCLA, Ruiz, together with Adey Nyamathi, associate dean for international research and scholarly activities, developed a program that would provide similar experiences for nursing students, who would receive partial credit for a public health course, complete required readings, participate in pre- and post- conferences, and write daily reflective papers.

How do they do it?

Cuba, the UCLA nurses learned during their visit last December, is a third-world country with some impressive health outcomes, including an overall life expectancy that rivals that in the U.S. (78.4 years for Cubans versus 78.6 years for Americans), immunization rates that are nearly 100 percent and low infant mortality. Yet their health care costs per capita are nearly 15 times lower than that of the United States.

Primary care and an emphasis on prevention are key to the success of the Cuban health care system.

“Their system shows how primary care really does work,” said student Vladimir Camarce.  “And when implemented correctly, you can see great outcomes. Historically, the U.S. system has been focused on acute and tertiary care, but we are now starting to see a shift with the Affordable Care Act.”

In Cuba, public service announcements about health are shown daily on television. “They don’t have traditional television commercials like we do here, so the government uses the opportunity to deliver messages about hygiene or reminders on vaccines,” observed student Stephanie Phan.

Another reason for Cuba’s success is its focus on personalized, community-based care. Doctors and nurses work as a team and live in the communities they serve.  They might see patients in a clinic in the morning, said graduate student John Scholtz, and then visit patients who can’t get to the clinic at home “to ensure that they are receiving their checkups and following through with the recommendations.”

The students also noted the personal nature of health care in Cuba. “Patients are referred to by name,” said Phan, “not by ‘the patient in room 11′ …  They told us, ‘They’re not patients, they’re people.”

There is also a strong integration of traditional, herbal and western medicine. It’s all considered good health care. “I believe we should find a way to incorporate that integration into our practices because we do get a lot of patients who use complementary therapies,” said Camarce.

What amazed the students was that the Cubans achieve all this with a scarcity of equipment and health resources. “They don’t have the equipment we have, the technology we have or the pharmaceutical industry,” noted student Jacqueline Marroquin. “They make do with so little, but they are able to accomplish so much.”

“What medical equipment is available resembles a scene from the old MASH television series,” said Ruiz. “And yet we were overwhelmed with the kindness and eagerness of our hosts to share their health experiences with us.”

Also surprising: On average, nurses and doctors make only $20-$30 a month.  But their education and housing are free or subsidized, and they don’t have student loans to pay off.

“In the U.S., you wouldn’t have a lot of people pursuing these professions for that kind of pay,” said Scholtz. “But in Cuba, you have a lot of people interested in being doctors or nurses. They go into it because they want to make a difference in their community.”

Part of the reason why the Cuban system works is the collectivist-based culture and the population perspective, the students said. Many things that have been adapted in Cuba, however, wouldn’t work in the U.S.  “We might be able to integrate some of the ideas in a micro-community,” suggested Marroquin.

Leaving behind impressions — and hand sanitizers

While the students were there to learn, they also taught Cubans something about Americans.  “Our interactions showed them that we were open to ideas and willing to learn from them,” said Scholtz. On a more tangible note, the group left behind hand sanitizers.  And pens. Lots of them.  “There is a real need for basic hygienic supplies, everything we take for granted,” added Ruiz.

But more importantly, the UCLA visitors came away with a new resolve. “As nursing students, as nurses, we really need to understand what is going on across our borders,” said Marroquin.

Nyamathi added:  “These students are now motivated to make a difference, to learn more about other countries and to question our health system, health care costs, disparities, and what we can learn from others to improve health and health care in the U.S.”

It’s also a hope that, with the dawning of warmer relationships with Cuba, the U. S. health care community may be able to learn a lot more from their neighbor, they said.

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Student-led project explores healing benefits of live music


Mindful Music is part of the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, promoting healthy living.

Student musicians perform in a courtyard at the Center for Health Sciences as part of the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative’s Mindful Music program. (Photo by Dalida Arakelian)

By Rebecca Kendall, UCLA

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, what might a daily dose of Mozart or Thelonious Monk do for one’s health and well-being?

A cross-disciplinary group of UCLA students is hoping to find out. Presenting a series of weekly 30-minute concerts, Mindful Music, a new community project featuring some of UCLA’s most talented music students, aims to shed light on how music impacts personal stress levels.

Mindful Music is part of the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, a program envisioned and funded by philanthropists Terry and Jane Semel. The initiative draws upon UCLA’s world-renowned research and teaching to find new and innovative ways to promote healthy living on the UCLA campus, and shares what is learned with other communities locally and beyond.

Mindful Music performances are held Wednesdays between 12:15-12:45 p.m. Throughout January the weekly concerts will be held in a courtyard outside Cafe Med, located in the Center for Health Sciences (CHS). In February, the concerts will be held in the Powell Library rotunda. In March they will move to the UCLA School of Law.

“The Healthy Campus Initiative aligns very well with what we’re trying to do, which is help people feel emotionally better,” said Sean Dreyer, a second-year medical student who serves as the project’s research director. Dreyer is one of seven student directors working on the project.

The goals of Mindful Music, said program founder Dalida Arakelian, who graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics and public health last spring, are to lower stress levels; improve listeners’ mood and alleviate anxiety; provide a positive, shared experience among UCLA students, staff, faculty and visitors; and be the basis of a community research project that links music to scientific research.

“We spend a lot of time studying, and we’re very overworked,” said Dreyer, referring to students who are  pursuing degrees in medicine, dentistry, nursing and public health. They currently make up a large portion of the audiences attending the CHS-based concerts.

“You always feel that there’s more you can be doing. There’s never that satisfaction that you’re done for the day,” he added.

Second-year medical student Laura Obler has already been to several Mindful Music events. For her, it’s the perfect break in the day, allowing her the freedom to slow down, not think about classes and just enjoy some great free live music with friends.

“I enjoy musical performances, but, given my busy schedule and student budget, it is difficult for me to attend shows regularly,” said Obler. “Mindful Music is a wonderful thing because it brings those performances to me. I get the chance to spend my lunch listening to music performed by talented members of our Bruin community at no cost. By the end of lunch, I feel happier, refreshed and ready to take on my afternoon courses.”

Obler also said that she appreciates the sense of community the noon-hour concerts provide. “There are not many events that bring students, staff, faculty and visitors of CHS together, and this provides the setting for us to get to know each other better.”

To date, the program, which launched at the beginning of fall quarter, has featured classical, jazz and bluegrass groups.

Following each performance, audience members are asked to complete a short six-question stress survey that asks questions about their feelings over the past month and about their mood before and after the musical performance.

“We hope to see lower reported stress on days when we’re there,” said Dreyer, who hopes to start examining the data once he receives about 1,000 surveys or more.

Dreyer said he hopes that the research will help determine the impact that a program like this can have on people and their moods. Should it prove a positive link, he and Arakelian will explore how the program can be expanded across campus and possibly launched by other postsecondary institutions and communities as a low-cost public health intervention program.

Dreyer said the connection between mind and body is a strong one, and that psychology can play an important role in preventing illness and alleviating symptoms.

“Beyond just treating patients, it’s important to address psychological factors that may contribute to physical ailments and the stresses that go along with being sick or having a disease,” said Dreyer. “There have been a lot of studies that have shown that music can have an impact on stress, anxiety and depression — a lot of things related to mood.”

Learn more here.

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Act of courage: Life after the ‘die-in’


UCSF med students sparked a national movement with #whitecoats4blacklives; what’s next?

UC San Francisco professional students led a national movement via social media that examined how racial disparities impact health care. (Photo by Leland Kim, UC San Francisco)

By Leland Kim and Laura Kurtzman, UC San Francisco

A group of UCSF medical students gathered in a closed meeting last month to talk about race, racism and racial disparities.

They were troubled by recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers who were involved in the deaths of two unarmed African American men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City, and wanted to channel their frustration into something constructive.

The students, including many from the UCSF Underrepresented In Medicine (UIM) mentoring program, decided to hold a “die-in” at UCSF while wearing their white coats, symbolic of those in the health profession. They and their peers of all ethnic backgrounds tapped into student networks across the country.

In just five days, a national movement called #whitecoats4blacklives was born.

It catalyzed thousands of students, faculty and staff in more than 80 colleges across the country. At UCSF, students from all professional schools (dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy) and the Graduate Division participated, as well as some faculty and staff members.

The hashtag dominated social media on Dec. 10, garnering widespread media attention and sparking a much-needed national conversation about racism being more than a just criminal justice issue.

Organizers of the student #whitecoats4blacklives die-in were invited to participate in the School of Medicine leadership retreat to share their experiences. (From left) Frederick Jamison, Angela Broad, Faby Molina, Adali Martinez, Donald Richards, Stephen Villa, Sidra Bonner and Nicolás Barceló. (Photo by Elisabeth Fall)

“As students, we were able to use the momentum from the #whitecoats4blacklives movement to demonstrate the urgency of dealing with the issues of race, micro-aggressions and inequality that affects UCSF faculty, staff, students and most importantly the patients we all serve,” said student organizer Sidra Bonner, a second-year student in the School of Medicine. “It is my hope that this movement leads to improvement of the social medicine curriculum, specifically continued learning and skill development around this issue of bias, creation of a robust mentorship/advising system for all students, as well as commitment to strengthening the pipeline for underrepresented students in medicine by increased availability of scholarships and administrative support.”

A priority for the university

The die-in had a ripple effect across UCSF.

A student-initiated town hall held two days after attracted faculty members, deans and many of the University’s top leaders, who talked openly with students about the UCSF’s ongoing challenge with diversity.

Chancellor Sam Hawgood, M.B.B.S., has made race and racial inequities a priority in his administration.

“This is an issue that goes beyond any one school or department; this is a campus issue,” he said. “Diversity is going to be an important priority for the entire UCSF community. I thank our students for initiating this conversation.”

And organizers of the School of Medicine’s annual leadership retreat this month decided to change the event’s agenda to discuss the enduring question of race in America – and how racial dynamics play out at UCSF.

“Our students are asking us to acknowledge, to think and to do something about the problem of racial and ethnic injustices,” said Bruce Wintroub, M.D., interim dean of the School of Medicine, introducing a daylong colloquy that was rich in both data and personal stories about what it means to be black and brown in America.

“It is very easy to talk about racial disparities at other places,” he said. “It is much harder for us to take an honest look at the problems we have at UCSF.”

Groundbreaking discussion of race

The leadership retreat, which took place on Jan. 8 and 9, was the first one ever to focus solely on race/ethnicity and health disparities. It came as the School of Medicine has launched a six-year, $9.6 million effort to hold its departments accountable for achieving diversity, provide the resources to recruit and retain a more diverse faculty, create a culture of diversity and inclusion and expand the pool of scientific talent, which gets smaller at each level of training.

“This retreat was the first time in my 32 years at UCSF that I feel we have started to have an authentic conversation about race and the impact of racism and unconscious bias on our students, faculty and patients,” said Renee Navarro, M.D., Pharm.D., vice chancellor of diversity and outreach. “I applaud the students who organized and implemented the #whitecoats4blacklives movement. They were the spark that led to this event.”

Some of those students were invited to participate in the leadership retreat and share their experiences with the group to help facilitate organizational change.

At times, nervous energy was palpable as students recalled instances of racism on campus. Some community members, participants noted, have accused UCSF being an “elitist ivory tower.”

White faculty members listened attentively, and some were candid enough to admit that they hadn’t really thought about racism and its impact on students and patients in a meaningful way.

“Being on the panel and speaking to an audience of accomplished and powerful people at UCSF were terrifying,” said Angela Broad, a second-year medical student. “It was really difficult sharing those experiences but the informal conversations I had throughout the day were very heartening. So many faculty, deans and staff thanked me for sharing my story.”

Compelling presentations and anecdotes by faculty of color helped shape the day’s conversation.

Neal Powe, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., vice chair of the Department of Medicine and chief of medical services at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, shared a story about being pulled over by the police in North Carolina while in town to give a lecture. A police officer suspiciously questioned Powe about his destination, instructed him to keep his hands on the steering wheel and asked him if he had drugs in the car.

Guest speaker Denise Rodgers, M.D., focused on the impact of race and racism on health and health care in her talk, helping the audience to understand how a climate of violence affects their patients and their health.

“When we teach about homicide, do we reinforce the stereotype of violent, lawless black men who should be feared and for whom there is little hope for change?” asked Rodgers, vice chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. “When we teach about homicide, do we talk about poverty, unemployment, poorly-performing schools, inadequate access to social and mental health services as contributors to the homicide rates we see?”

Nurturing a pipeline of UCSF talent

This year, one-third of first-year medical students are underserved minorities (black, Latino, Native American or Pacific Islander), the highest percentage of any medical school in California.

Despite having one of the most diverse student populations in the nation, a recent survey found that nearly one-third of students who are black, Latino and Native American reported feeling shunned or ignored or having experienced behavior they found intimidating, offensive or hostile, and 21 percent said it interfered with their ability to learn. That was double the percentage reported by whites and a third higher than reported by Asians.

Talmadge King, M.D., chair of the Department of Medicine, said the medical school is doing well at recruiting students, but many are not staying for their residency training.

Retention drops more at the fellowship training level and then essentially stops at the faculty level. Similar statistics also apply to the other professional schools and the Graduate Division.

King believes the best long-term strategy is for UCSF to build its own pipeline of talent, beginning with middle and high school, so students learn to love science and have an association to UCSF. “Places that have really focused on that are beginning to have success,” he said. ”It takes a long time, but it actually works.”

Turning words into action

UCSF leadership will review and evaluate ideas that were generated by the retreat participants and determine the priorities and tactics to move them forward. This effort is aligned with the campus obligation to the University of California Office of the President to identify initiatives in the UC-wide Climate Survey. Those initiatives will include one that is focused on establishing a “climate of inclusion.”

Meanwhile, the students who organized the #whitecoats4blacklives event have formalized the creation of the national White Coats for Black Lives organization that was born out of the movement. They are connected with 83 representatives of various medical schools throughout the country and are in the process of creating a national board for their student organization.

They will also be actively involved in working with faculty and leadership to achieve the goals identified during the leadership retreat.

“I have never felt so inspired by UCSF – what it is and what it can be,” said student organizer Nicolás Barceló, a fourth-year medical student who attended the retreat. “My decision to attend UCSF was motivated by the belief that its capacity to effectively address the social determinants of health, it stands alone. No other institution can bring together the resources, talent and dedication to social justice that you see at UCSF. No one.”

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