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The Big Picture: Science of health systems class prepares next generation of doctors

Dr. Craig Hillemeier speaks in front of a class of Penn State College of Medicine students. He is wearing a suit, tie and glasses. Behind him is a screen with a PowerPoint slide of a map. The students are seated in stadium seats. A row of empty chairs is in front of Dr. Hillemeier. On the wall is a large monitor. A gray rectangle is mounted on a brick wall behind the students.

Dr. Craig Hillemeier discusses why health systems must change to meet the goals of improving the health of the individual and the community’s population at a reduced cost.

By Carolyn Kimmel

When Dennis Madden decided to become a doctor, he didn’t realize that practicing medicine in the 21st century would entail negotiating a health system that includes much more than treating patients.

“This generation of medical student is expected to do a lot more,” said the first-year Penn State College of Medicine student. “We’re expected to think socially, medically and globally, to be drivers of research and to think about the finances behind the health system, too.”

The challenge, Madden said, is overwhelming and exciting—a sentiment shared by many of the students who are in a College of Medicine class called Science of Health Systems, where they are studying ramifications of an emerging model of health system and how it will impact the way they will practice medicine.

The class is meant to prepare them to become something that their professor, Dr. Jed Gonzalo, associate dean of health systems education at the College of Medicine, calls a “system citizen.”


October 17, 2018 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

“Every day is a gift:” 500th heart transplant patient celebrates milestone with gratitude

Dr. John Boehmer, left, touches David Wheeler’s neck. Boehmer is wearing a white lab coat with the Hershey Medical Center logo on it. Wheeler is propped up on a hospital bed and is wearing a hospital gown and surgical mask. Behind them is a shelf with medical equipment and cables.

Dr. John Boehmer, a cardiologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, examines David Wheeler before performing a biopsy on his heart.

By Carolyn Kimmel

Not a day goes by that David Wheeler doesn’t think about the fact that the heart beating in his chest isn’t the one he began life with 56 years ago.

A former self-described workaholic, the Williamsport resident sounds almost poetic as he describes a new outlook on life.

“I lie in bed every morning and hear the birds chirping, the wind blowing, the smell of grass being cut,” said Wheeler, a maintenance man at a local container company for 23 years. “I think people take life for granted. I know I did. I thank God for every day I wake up.”

  • Watch a video of Penn State Health heart transplant recipients “Sharing their Heart Stories.”

Wheeler’s heart transplant, which took place on June 23, marks the 500th heart transplant since Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center began doing the transplants in 1984. It’s the only hospital between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that performs heart transplant surgery.

“It’s a significant milestone for us,” said Dr. Behzad Soleimani, surgical director of heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute. “Our longevity speaks to the quality of the work we do. Our one-year survival rate is more than 90 percent, which is among the best in the nation.”


October 11, 2018 at 10:02 am Leave a comment

Penn State College of Medicine leads transformation of medical education

A young woman medical student stretches out her arm while smiling. Two other woman students listen to her. They are seated at a round table. Behind them are other students at round tables.

Amarpreet Ahluwalia, a medical student at Penn State College of Medicine, smiles during a small group session at the American Medical Association conference.

By Katherine Brind’Amour

Being selected to host the American Medical Association’s (AMA) “Accelerating Change in Medical Education” conference both acknowledged Penn State College of Medicine’s hard-won expertise in health systems science and enabled its leaders to share strategies for revolutionizing medical education.

More than 120 medical students, residents, physicians and educators from 27 schools across the U.S. attended the student-led consortium Aug. 3-4 in Hershey.

The College of Medicine has emerged as a leader in the field since receiving a $1 million, five-year grant from the AMA in 2013 to develop and implement curriculum changes supporting health systems science and medical education transformation.

“To me, health systems science is essentially good care. It’s not a separate entity—it’s being cognizant of all facets of your patient’s life, putting the patient at the center of your work and understanding how to make the system work for that patient,” says Amarpreet Ahluwalia, the College of Medicine student chosen to co-lead the planning of the AMA conference.


October 4, 2018 at 11:11 am Leave a comment

Team research reveals how cells “eat and sleep” may impact several cancer types

Katherine Aird, center, talks to two members of her research team about their latest work. All three are wearing white lab coats and smiling. Behind them is lab equipment and a refrigerator.

Katherine Aird, center, talks to members of her research team, Kelly Leon and Erika Dahl.

By Katherine Brind’Amour

From aging to cancer—with quite a bit in between—Katherine Aird, assistant professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Penn State College of Medicine, and her team have a whole world of research opportunities in front of them. This is not just because they have a lot yet to discover, as Aird insists they do, but because the progress they have made has incredibly broad potential impact.

The team’s latest research reveals that skin, pancreatic, bladder, ovarian and colorectal tumor cells may share a common target for new therapy approaches. In each cancer type, forcing a particular change in the cell’s metabolism (how it uses nutrients) may shut off or suppress its growth, essentially putting it to sleep.

This forced sleep state is known as senescence, and together with cell metabolism, it makes up the heart of Aird’s research.


September 25, 2018 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

From preemie to premed: former NICU baby all grown up, ready for career in medicine

Dr. Charles Palmer, a neonatologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital, and Tiffany Seibert, an intern at the Penn State ALS Clinic, smile as they look at a photo album of baby photos of Tiffany when she born prematurely 21 years ago. Dr. Palmer is wearing a suit and tie, and Tiffany is wearing a dress. They are standing in a conference room with a whiteboard, cabinet and clock behind them.

Dr. Charles Palmer, left, a neonatologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital, and Tiffany Seibert look at baby photos of Tiffany when she born prematurely 21 years ago.

By Lisa Maresca

One recent August morning on the seventh floor of Penn State Children’s Hospital, Tiffany Seibert shares an embrace with Dr. Charles Palmer, 21 years after they first met.

“Things have changed,” said Palmer. “You look amazing!”

“Thanks to you,” replied Tiffany.

Tiffany, a young woman with curly hair and an infectious smile, returned to the Penn State Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with her parents, Annette and David, for the first time since being discharged more than two decades ago.


September 18, 2018 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

A career for the ages: Eyster revolutionizes understanding of HIV and hepatitis C

An older woman wearing a white lab with the Hershey Medical Center logo on it sits next to a microscope in a research lab. Behind her is a man at a computer, lab equipment and binders on a shelf.

Dr. Elaine Eyster’s work revolutionized the world’s understanding of the natural history of HIV infection in individuals with hemophilia.

By Katherine Brind’Amour

It’s not every day you meet someone who changed the way the world understood the development of HIV and hepatitis C or any other infectious disease. But that is precisely the accomplishment of Dr. Elaine Eyster, distinguished professor of medicine and pathology at Penn State College of Medicine and the 2018 recipient of Penn State Alumni Association’s Honorary Alumni Award.

“In the early 1980s, it became apparent to us that our patients with hemophilia were coming down with unexpected infections,” says Dr. James Ballard, professor of medicine, pathology and humanities at the College of Medicine, who was hired as a hematology fellow by Eyster in 1975 and has worked with her ever since. “Although we didn’t know at the time what it was, we suspected something pretty bad was happening.”

By a stroke of either serendipity or genius, Eyster had stored plasma from her hemophilia patients for years, and as co-founder and long-time director of the Hemophilia Center of Central Pennsylvania, she and fellow clinician-researchers were able to use those samples to research the epidemiology of the emerging infection: HIV.

“She was at the right place at the right time with the right ideas, and that is something that doesn’t happen very often,” says Ballard.


September 11, 2018 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Bringing ‘Stigma People’ into focus

A man wearing a baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans sits in front of a camera on a tripod and an umbrella lamp. In the background is a table, a stool and a timer.

“If you’ve been that way for so long, you don’t know you’re that way,” said Dan DiFava Jr. about suffering from depression for most of his life. “A fish doesn’t know he’s wet. He’s been in water his whole life.”

By Carolyn Kimmel

For 30 years, Dan DiFava Jr. wore depression like a lead blanket that at times became too heavy to carry.

“You don’t really want to die, but it’s so heavy, and you just don’t want to carry it anymore,” said the Penn State Health Environmental Health Services employee who has attempted suicide five times. “People don’t understand, so they stay away, and then you feel like no one can even help you.”

  • Watch a video about Dan and his photo exhibit featuring people who have been affected by the tragedy of suicide.

DiFava traces his depression to childhood taunts about his small stature—always at least six inches shorter than his peers due to a growth hormone deficiency—and an unstable home life. Low self-esteem and loneliness were his constant companions.

When his last suicide attempt finally led to the medical help and therapy he needed, DiFava found inspiration for living in a surprising place—behind the lens of a camera.


September 4, 2018 at 12:08 pm Leave a comment

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