With a growing need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals, Penn State is fostering an interest in these fields among high school students through the Epidemiology Challenge, a program within the Department of Public Health Sciences at the College of Medicine.
Through a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, Penn State’s Early Preparation and Inspiration for Careers in the Biomedical Sciences (EPIC) program’s Epi Challenge offers area high school students a look into the world of epidemiology, used in biomedical and public health research. At the same time, Penn State Hershey researchers are tracking the students’ interest, progress and aptitude for science careers.
“There’s a decrease in people pursuing these careers and majors,” said Andrea L. Stennett, Penn State coach for the Epi Challenge teams at Middletown Area High School.
EPIC is the product of a collaboration of experts in epidemiology, secondary education, and career development, representing Penn State, Montclair State University, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Educators and administrators at five area high schools have been instrumental in shaping the EPIC program, including Middletown, Cedar Cliff, Lower Dauphin, John Harris and Sci Tech.
According to the National Science Foundation, the country may face a crisis due to an eventual deficit of epidemiologists – specialists who study the causes and effects of public health issues.
Through the course of the Epi Challenge, teams of students from the five area high schools identify an important health-related topic, develop a hypothesis, create a research proposal, gather and analyze data, and draw conclusions regarding their study results.
After enjoying several years of continued growth, Penn State Hershey is facing challenges it hasn’t seen before. Health care reform is changing the industry at a remarkable pace, upending the business model that has helped fund the College of Medicine since its beginning.
A tight funding environment requires its researchers to find new resources to complete cutting-edge basic and health science. In addition to evolving educational models and technology, new curriculum must be developed and implemented to train the next generation of health care providers for a rapidly changing industry.
Leading the campus during a unique time of transition is Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, named the seventh dean of Penn State College of Medicine, as well as Medical Center and Health System chief executive officer, and senior vice president for health affairs in July. He replaces Dr. Harold Paz, who had led Penn State Hershey since 2006.
Hillemeier is no stranger to the organization. He arrived in October of 2001 to serve as chair of pediatrics and medical director for the Children’s Hospital, became vice dean for clinical affairs in 2006 and chief operating officer of the Medical Group at its inception in 2008. Hillemeier also served as interim executive director and chief operating officer of the Medical Center in 2006.
“I really have a good feeling about the role that this organization can play in providing care to central Pennsylvania, educating health care providers, doing good research and providing service to the community,” Hillemeier said. “Having been here for 13 years, I’m very passionate about helping this institution succeed in its missions. The opportunity to lead this organization during a time when there are so many challenges in the health care environment is exciting.”
A critical priority for Hillemeier is helping the clinical enterprise thrive so that the College of Medicine can continue its important missions.
“The success of our clinical enterprise is essential to supporting our College of Medicine,” Hillemeier said. “However, the business model that has been the foundation of so much of our success is threatened with the growing consolidation that is occurring in the market, as well as the changing payment models like population health. Our longtime strategy of caring for small numbers of high-risk patients from across central Pennsylvania is threatened by the creation of health care systems that will inevitably try to manage the care of those patients within their own health systems. So the patients who come to us for care will likely diminish in the absence of any other strategy.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 14, Penn State Hershey held a ceremonial groundbreaking for a 46,000-square-foot, $54-million data center on the Medical Center and College of Medicine campus. The construction of the University Technology Center is the next step to enabling Penn State Hershey to utilize “big data” to enhance patient care through disease modeling and predictors for disease by more efficiently processing and analyzing clinical information.
The new center will provide centralized space and enhanced security for patient, research and educational data for the Medical Center and College of Medicine, as well as powerful computers and main frames for analyzing the information.
“Building this new data center is every bit as crucial for improving the health outcomes of people in central Pennsylvania as building a new hospital or institute,” said Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, chief executive officer, Medical Center, Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs and dean, College of Medicine. “Two of the biggest factors in modern health care are personalized medicine and population health, and the common denominator with both is the ability to gather and analyze large volumes of rich health data.”
Ebola ranked dead last on most hospitals’ lists of “things to worry about” in early 2014. While Penn State Hershey’s infection control committee worked on a policy when the outbreak started in Africa, a patient’s arrival at a Texas hospital with the disease in late September kicked its emergency preparedness team into high gear.
“Most health care providers in the United States recognized that something like Ebola may not just stay in West Africa but could affect us here,” said Dr. Cindy Whitener, professor of medicine and hospital epidemiologist at Penn State Hershey.
Now, the hospital has been named one of 50 planned Ebola treatment centers in the nation.
“What began as a meeting and subcommittee has grown into something huge,” Whitener said.
Whether or not an Ebola patient ever shows up in Hershey, the preparation process has left the hospital more prepared than ever for future health emergencies.
Scott Mickalonis, emergency preparedness program manager at Penn State Hershey, said the hospital completes a hazard vulnerability analysis each year to determine which health, weather and infrastructure issues present the biggest risks. His team stays abreast of trends and news of what is going on elsewhere in the nation and world.
Tweety Bird, Olaf, Popeye and The Grinch are keeping an eye on patients and staff in the critical and progressive care Heart and Vascular inpatient units at Penn State Hershey this month. Each character hangs out on its own sliding glass door, which — at this time of year — provides both privacy and a canvas for spreading holiday cheer.
This December is the fourth year that critical care unit staff has painted holiday scenes and symbols on the entrances to each of its 30 patient rooms, offering a boost to morale for both employees and patients alike. The progressive care unit next door is in on the fun as well. Glass doors are decked out with snowmen, Santa Claus, elves — even a minion from the popular movie “Despicable Me.”
Across the hall, rooms with wooden doors have been wrapped like gifts. One door displays snowflakes and photographs of the nursing staff, with mustaches drawn on their pictures and the title “Staching through the Snow.” Another has become a penguin, using the standard-issue yellow socks as mittens.
“It’s ingenious how they incorporate things around here,” says Nikki Clutton, a patient care secretary who works night shift in the Heart and Vascular Critical Care Unit (HVCCU). Clutton is responsible for a good part of the art in her unit, together with registered nurse Ron Long.
“I have always been into art and I love to draw, so it was really cool that they let us have this fun and freedom,” Clutton says.
During this season of thanks, and in honor of National Philanthropy Day (officially celebrated on Nov. 15), Penn State College of Medicine recognizes a group of individuals who have affected the institution in countless ways—our alumni.
Since the first medical class graduated from the College of Medicine in 1971, alumni have been making important contributions to advance scientific inquiry and shape the practice of healthcare. They have:
Pioneered advances in artificial heart technology, cancer care and treatment, primary care practice, pediatric cardiac care and neonatology;
Practiced medicine in rural communities, major metropolitan areas and developing nations around the world; and
Published their research in the most prestigious scientific journals and have been recognized among the Best Doctors in America.
However, our distinguished alumni do not just pay it forward for the communities they serve, they also give back to inspire, mentor and support current students—learners who want to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps but also forge their own unique paths. (more…)
When Patricia Greene learned she would need a stem cell transplant and probably lose her hair, she remembered signs she had seen around the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute about a wig program where patients could get fitted for a free wig.
The Palmyra woman stopped by the Wig Salon — located inside the first floor infusion room– to chat with volunteer and breast cancer survivor Linda Breniser. Together, they tried different colors and styles until they found one suitable for Greene.
“I wanted to be prepared for when I lost my hair, but I wouldn’t have had time to go elsewhere and look for a wig,” Greene said. “It is such an awesome program. To lose your hair is really hard on a woman and they were so considerate and kind and patient… it made me feel so much better.”
Earlier this week, representatives from the American Cancer Society came to Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Wig Salon’s opening, and the fact that Salon volunteers have fitted 228 women with free wigs since then – more than any other Wig Salon in Pennsylvania and Ohio.