Category Archives: Health Sciences

Social determinants of obesity, diabetes addressed at ECU symposium

Does where you live or your level of education make you more prone to obesity and diabetes?

These and other social determinants of obesity and diabetes, which are disproportionally affecting eastern North Carolina, were addressed during the 14th annual Jean Mills Health Symposium at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU on Friday.

ECU student discusses her project

ECU senior kinesiology student Mackenzie Brown discusses her project during the 14th annual Jean Mills Health Symposium at ECU on Feb. 2. (Photos by Rob Spahr)

During the event, local, regional and national experts in obesity and diabetes, as well as community leaders and ECU faculty, staff and students, were challenged to address the social causes of the diseases.

The social factors discussed included cultural beliefs, gender roles, access to health care and patient-provider communications, economic stability, community infrastructure, educational attainment and role models.

Dr. Leandris Liburd speaks

Dr. Leandris Liburd, associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during the symposium.

This year’s featured speaker was Dr. Leandris Liburd, associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Liburd is an expert on the social determinants of health and has been successful in identifying intervention strategies to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

“Our health is our greatest resource, it affects everything. … (But) it’s something that I think we typically take for granted until we don’t have it anymore. And then we get up and say ‘OK, now I need to pay attention,’” Liburd said. “In public health, we try to get to people in the front end of that. And while we can’t prevent everything, there are things that we can delay and that we can minimize.”

Liburd said physicians come with high levels of authority and respect, which they can lend to help sway public policies and make significant positive impacts in leveling out some of the social health discrepancies.

“We don’t expect that doctors will go out and take on all of these issues. But we do think that it’s reasonable, as a beginning, that they will lend their influence to the efforts that others are trying to put forth to help make them successful,” Liburd said. “We have to find our place in this and where we can contribute the most.”

The symposia are presented by the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences in collaboration with ECU’s Department of Public Health, the Brody School of Medicine and the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation.

“Over the past decade and a half, the Mills symposium has invited distinguished national and international experts to address the health and health care issues that affect minority populations, especially our communities right here in eastern North Carolina,” said Robert Orlikoff, dean of ECU’s College of Allied Health Sciences.

“This is not an academic seminar and this is not a town meeting,” Orlikoff added. “It’s a rare opportunity for us to come together, educate ourselves and work together to reach real and long-standing solutions.”

Jean Mills, who died from breast cancer in October 2000, was an ECU alumna with a passion for community health and health equity. Her brother, Amos T. Mills III, established the symposium in her honor.


-by Rob Spahr, University Communications

ECU Health Sciences Vice Chancellor honored by alma mater

East Carolina University’s vice chancellor for health sciences was recently honored by her alma mater for her leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship that has advanced nursing on both state and national levels.

Dr. Phyllis Horns was presented the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award, the most prestigious alumni award the school bestows.

“It is an honor to count Dr. Horns as an alumna of the UAB School of Nursing and celebrate her contributions to nursing and health care,” said Dr. Doreen Harper, dean. “She has had a long and distinguished career in nursing and health care leadership, and is an exemplar among our alumnae nursing leaders across the globe… [her] collaborative leadership transcends discipline-specific boundaries, a hallmark of the UAB School of Nursing’s mission and vision.”

Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor, ECU health sciences. (contributed photo)

Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor, ECU health sciences. (contributed photo)

Horns earned a bachelor’s in nursing at ECU, a master’s in public health at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and a pediatric nurse practitioner certificate at the University of Rochester.

In 1980 she completed her Ph.D. in nursing at UAB – Birmingham, where she joined the graduate faculty and was later named assistant dean for undergraduate programs.

Horns came to ECU in 1988 as professor and chair of the Department of Parent-Child Nursing and was named dean of the School of Nursing two years later. Under her leadership the school experienced tremendous growth, with overall enrollment increasing by 50 percent and graduate class sizes expanding from 93 to 377 students.

With Horns at the helm, the school’s doctoral program was established in 2002, and the school officially became the College of Nursing in 2007.

Appointed ECU’s vice chancellor for health sciences in 2009, Horns now oversees the education and patient care programs of the Brody School of Medicine, the College of Allied Health Sciences, the College of Nursing, the William E. Laupus Health Sciences Library, the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU and the School of Dental Medicine – the latter of which was launched under her leadership.

She played a key role in planning for the clinical integration of ECU Physicians and Vidant Medical Group, slated for completion in 2018. And she’s spearheading efforts to expand ECU’s Department of Public Health into a School of Public Health.

Over her career Horns has been president of the Council on Collegiate Education for Nursing and the Southeastern Regional Education Board, a member of the National League for Nursing board of directors, and chair of the NLN Accrediting Commission.

Her many accolades include the 2010 UAB School of Nursing Visionary Leader award, the 2011 ECU College of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award and the North Carolina Hospital Association 2016 Meritorious Service Award. In 2001 she was inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Nursing.

“Attending UAB was a privilege and I treasure the impact it has had on my career,” Horns said. “This award means so much to me, and I see it as a highlight of my life’s work. I look forward to continuing that work and to the bright future of ECU’s health sciences.”


-by Angela Todd, University Communications

ECU faculty members inducted as FAANS

College of Nursing faculty members Dr. Sonya Hardin, left, and Dr. Donna Lake, right, were inducted as Fellows in the American Academy of Nursing. They are pictured at the induction ceremony with Dr. Susan Kennerly, a professor in the College of Nursing who was inducted as a Fellow in 2016. (Contributed photos)

College of Nursing faculty members Dr. Sonya Hardin, left, and Dr. Donna Lake, right, were inducted as Fellows in the American Academy of Nursing. They are pictured at the induction ceremony with Dr. Susan Kennerly, a professor in the College of Nursing who was inducted as a Fellow in 2016. (Contributed photos)

Two East Carolina University (ECU) faculty members were recently inducted as fellows in the American Academy of Nursing. The College of Nursing’s Dr. Sonya Hardin and Dr. Donna Lake were honored during a ceremony at the academy’s annual conference Oct. 5-7, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

“I am proud to welcome this talented cohort of nurses as they join the ranks of the nation’s foremost health care thought leaders,” said Academy President Bobbie Berkowitz. “They bring a rich variety of expertise to the table, and we look forward to recognizing their accomplishments at our policy conference, and then working with them to transform health policy, practice, and research by applying our collective nursing knowledge.”

Selection criteria include evidence of significant contributions to nursing and health care, and sponsorship by two current Academy fellows. Applicants are reviewed by a panel comprised of elected and appointed fellows, and selection is based, in part, on the extent the nominee’s nursing career has influenced health policies and the health and wellbeing of all.

Dr. Sonya Hardin

Dr. Sonya Hardin

Hardin is a professor and the associate dean of Graduate Nursing Programs in the College of Nursing. She leads an interdisciplinary team as the program director for a $2.5 million Health Resources & Services Administration-funded Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program grant.

With extensive national service with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses setting national standards and developing the AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, Hardin has impacted more than 80,000 acute and critical care nurses currently certified worldwide in adult, pediatric and neonatal critical care. She has disseminated the model through consulting at hospitals across the United States. She is certified in critical care and as an Adult Nurse Practitioner. She received her nurse practitioner training from ECU, a PhD from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and post-doctoral fellowships at UNC-Chapel Hill and Stanford University.

“It is an honor to be selected as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing,” Hardin said. “My goal has been to make a difference in the outcomes of patient care and to strengthen the profession through patient advocacy. I am excited to have an opportunity to work with leaders within the US and from around the world to advance health policy and clinical practice.”

Lake is a clinical associate professor of advanced nursing practice and education. She has extensive international experience leading healthcare and academic teams within the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and Africa. Prior to ECU, she spent 25 years in various executive and clinical nursing roles culminating as Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. She has also played an instrumental role in the improvement of corporate quality policies, health promotion and primary care for 68 medical facilities worldwide.

Dr. Donna Lake

Dr. Donna Lake

Lake is the only nurse representative on the $11 million American Medical Association grant-funded initiative Redesigning Education to Accelerate Change in Healthcare (REACH), creating the first of its kind “Teachers in Quality Academy.” She received her BSN from Stony Brook University of New York, a Master’s of Education from the University of Oklahoma and a PhD from Touro University.

“Being inducted as a Fellow into the American Academy of Nursing is a very exciting and a prestigious honor,” Lake said. “Having met many of the Fellows during the induction and conference, it was incredible to learn of their expansive clinical, research, and global and national leadership impacts to the profession of nursing and healthcare delivery systems.

“I am more energized and look forward to my Fellow responsibilities and ECU faculty role to continue my work in engaging with other health leaders in transforming American’s health system, strengthening nursing and health delivery systems, nationally and internationally.”

Hardin and Lake are among 11 inductees from the state of North Carolina this year. They join five other current ECU College of Nursing faculty members as FAANs.

The academy is comprised of more than 2,500 nurse leaders in education, management, practice, policy and research. Fellows include hospital and government administrators, college deans and renowned scientific researchers.


-by Natalie Sayewich, University Communications

Webinar series helps nurses grow

Nurses in eastern North Carolina will have an innovative way to develop as leaders, thanks in part to a new webinar program starting this month.

The Emerging Leaders Institute Webinar Series, developed by the East Carolina Consortium for Nursing Leadership (ECCNL) and Eastern Area Health Education Center, offers six monthly webinars for nurses currently serving or aspiring to serve in leadership roles. These live one-hour webinars will cover various topics such as leadership competencies, communication and collaboration, mentoring and coaching, multigenerational workforce, patient safety and quality improvements, and emotional intelligence. The first webinar is Oct. 18; the deadline to register is Oct. 11.

Dr. Gina Woody, College of Nursing faculty member. (contributed photo)

Dr. Gina Woody, College of Nursing faculty member. (contributed photo)

“Participants will develop leadership skills that will enable them to grow personally and professionally and serve as leaders and change agents in promoting and shaping the future of health care,” said ECCNL Director Dr. Gina Woody, clinical professor in the College of Nursing at East Carolina University.

This program is open to nurses across the region in any practice setting. Nurses can register individually for any combination of webinars up to a week before each event. A discount is available on all six webinars through Oct. 11.

An agency subscription rate, which was available for employers who wished to make the webinars available to all their staff, allows teams to gather together and hear from content experts, according to Donna Moses, director of nursing and allied health education at Eastern AHEC. “It is our hope that the conversation continues after the webinar, where participants share their leadership insights and mentor new leaders and access further resources within their own organization,” Moses said.

“This innovative project is but one example of the consortium’s ongoing commitment to mobilize nurses to be influential leaders in promoting healthier communities,” Woody said. “The consortium promotes the personal and professional development of nurse executives, managers, clinicians, educators and other related health care professionals employed in all types of settings. At the end of this series the participant will be able to synthesize concepts of leadership, management, change, teamwork and communication as they relate to the role of the nurse leader.”

The Consortium for Nursing Leadership was established by the ECU College of Nursing in 2006 to promote leadership development for both students and practicing nurses through education, research and scholarship.

“We look forward to working with Eastern AHEC to help the people of eastern North Carolina by increasing educational opportunities for all nurses,” Woody said.

Moses added, “Leadership is the most desired and difficult skill set to develop. It has been said that it is lonely at the top. It doesn’t have to be when teams realize that leadership is a shared responsibility.”

Nurses who wish to register should first check with their chief nursing officer or chief administrator to see if a series subscription was purchased by their agency.

For more information on this program, contact the Eastern AHEC Department of Nursing and Allied Health Education at 252-744-5220 or visit

All webinars will be held 12-1 p.m.

Webinar schedule

October 18: Identify and Develop Your Leadership Competencies

November 15: Communication and Collaboration: The Importance of Nurses and Physician Relationship in Leading Patient Care

December 13: Modeling the Way: Mentoring and Coaching

January 17: Cultivating Leaders Across Generations

February 21: Improving Patient Safety and Quality Improvements within Health Systems

March 21: Building Emotional Intelligence


-by Jackie Drake, Eastern AHEC

Laupus Library’s exhibited woodcarvings showcase a lifetime of love

Laupus Library opened the art exhibit “Visions in Wood: Carved Creations,” during an Oct. 3 reception in the Evelyn Fike Laupus Gallery on the fourth floor of the library. On display through Dec. 9, the exhibit showcases a collection of relief carvings by Dr. Leonard “Leo” Trujillo, professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Allied Health Sciences at East Carolina University.

The 2017 fall semester exhibit is part of the library’s ongoing “Art as Avocation” series that showcases and celebrates the artistic talents and self-expression of faculty, staff and students from the Division of Health Sciences.

Dr. Leonard Trujillo (Photos by Michelle Messer)

Dr. Leonard Trujillo (Photos by Michelle Messer)

“Our work as professionals in the health sciences is so demanding and often overwhelming in terms of meeting the demands and expectations for teaching, research and community,” said Trujillo. “But we do all this because we want to meet the needs of our students, almost to the point of not taking time to respect our own. Avocations like mine are truly healing and allows us to give another part of ourselves to others.”

“Laupus is really proud to champion cultural enrichment and the arts on our health sciences campus and so we’re delighted to host Leo’s newest works in our gallery space,” said Laupus Library director Beth Ketterman. “It is clear that between his work as a professor in occupational therapy and as a teacher of carving in his free time, Leo has a commitment to education and sharing his talents with others. We hope that all who come to view his pieces will be inspired by his work.”

Trujillo’s 57-piece exhibition reflects a lifetime of learning the art of carving and love for nature. Each piece represents a personal story of places he’s lived and seen.

Beginning with a solid plank of wood, Trujillo uses mallets and a multitude of gouges, chisels, riffles and sandpaper leaves to transform the wood into lifelike images of trees, old barns, nature scenes and people.

His desire to carve began at an early age. “My dad found this old keepsake oak box that was broken and tossed out,” he said. “On the outside was an applique of two scrolls, one of which had broken off. With a pocket knife I watched him recreate the broken scroll. My mom always talked about how special that box was because he had saved it. From then I felt I should learn how to do that.”

Years later while serving as second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, he continued carving and started to desire more carving tools, although he lacked the funds to pay for them. Old army boots and wooden pipe carvings were in demand among his fellow airmen so he sold them for about $25 each until he made enough money to buy his first set of chisels. Only then would he realize he had to buy something to help sharpen them.

Hunter's lodge art piece. (Photos by Michelle Messer)

Hunter’s lodge art piece. (Photos by Michelle Messer)

Now he has all the tools he could ever need, including a dental tool with actual dental bits used for small detailed carving work. “I had a friend who was a dental hygienist, and they offered me some tools saying these might get into those hard to reach places,” he joked. “If it cuts, I have it or want it.”

When asked how long a piece takes him to carve, he answers with two words. A lifetime. “It takes me a lifetime to finish each one in the sense that every piece is carved with an accumulation of what I’ve learned throughout my life, and I apply all of that to each piece.”

Time is relative, he says, since he begins each morning with a familiar routine which includes almost an hour of carving time just before going to work. When he returns home at the end of the day, every spare moment is filled with more carving. “Carving time is just a part of my day,” he said. “If I ever felt like it was work I’d probably stop doing it.”

Trujillo’s plans for the future as an artist includes auctioning some of his work to raise money for ACES for Autism and developing a web page to share options for commissioned work that will surely broaden his list of admirers.

“This series means so much to me because it recognizes my carvings as “Works of Art” and me as an artisan, not a hobbyist,” he said. “I am honored beyond words.”

Laupus Library also wishes to thank the Friends of Laupus Library for their continued support of the Art as Avocation series and opening reception.

Laupus Library is currently seeking artists for both 2018 exhibitions. To learn more about the series or to showcase your work, visit or contact Kelly Rogers Dilda at or 252-744-2232.


-by Kelly R. Dilda, University Communications 

ECU’s College of Nursing offers new Master of Nursing Science concentration

A new online program launched this semester by ECU’s College of Nursing is poised to help the region address its shortage of mental health care professionals. Graduates of the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program will earn a Master of Nursing Science (MSN) degree or a post-master’s certificate as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, of the nearly 234,000 nurse practitioners in the United States, only 1.8 percent are certified in psychiatric and mental health care. In 2012, the North Carolina Medical Journal reported that 95 percent of all North Carolina counties had an unmet need for medical providers who can prescribe psychiatric medications — a deficit that psychiatric nurse practitioners are able to fill.

For patients enrolled in government sponsored health insurance programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, it can be even harder to access mental health care. The National Council for Behavioral Health reported in March that 40 percent of psychiatrists do not accept third-party reimbursements.

“I was in private practice for 20 years, so I can appreciate that,” said Wanda Lancaster, the director of the new program. “But we know this special population struggles with issues such as substance abuse or schizophrenia and tend to not have insurance. And nurse practitioners are more likely to be in clinics that accept Medicaid and Medicare.”

Lancaster said the program will have a special emphasis in treating patients that suffer from substance abuse, severe and persistent mental illness, and PTSD. Several of the students will be placed in Veterans Affairs hospitals to complete their clinical hours as well as area state psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, and detox centers.

“This is going to help the people of eastern North Carolina and across the state,” said Lancaster. “Because right now psychiatric beds are limited due to a great staffing shortage. This is causing issues for local emergency rooms with mental health patients spending days waiting on bed availability.”

Lancaster said completing ECU’s new program gives students an opportunity to gain an in-depth education and clinical experience in psychiatric care that “elevates the scope and standard of practice.” This will enable students to take the national certification exam, which ensures quality and competence and is now required for reimbursement in this specialty.

The program is only open to residents of North Carolina and admission preference is given to those currently practicing in mental health settings or who plan to deliver direct mental health care upon graduation. Currently, there are 13 post master’s certificate students and nine MSN students enrolled in the program.

For more information about the program visit


-by Angela Todd, University Communications

College of Nursing welcomes 125 new students

More than 100 ECU students were officially introduced to the nursing profession during the College of Nursing’s twice-annual Lamp of Learning ceremony on Aug. 31.

The ceremony, held in the Brody School of Medicine auditorium, recognized 125 new students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program as family and friends looked on.

Meaghan Brown receives her lamp pin from a classmate at the College of Nursing’s Lamp of Learning ceremony on Aug. 31. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Meaghan Brown receives her lamp pin from a classmate at the College of Nursing’s Lamp of Learning ceremony on Aug. 31. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

During the ceremony Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the college, reminded students of the university’s dedication to service, a value shared by the college and the nursing profession. She emphasized Gallup Poll data that has consistently pointed to nursing as the most trusted profession among all professions, and urged new students to remain honest and ethical in order to preserve that trust.

“That is a wonderful characteristic that we want to maintain and instill in our nursing students,” she said.

Dr. Annette Peery, associate dean for undergraduate programs, introduced each student on stage as Brown presented him or her with a gold lamp pin representing Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. The lamp symbol signifies service and light, and is also featured on the College of Nursing pin that students receive at graduation.

“As you wear that pin, think of these symbols and what they mean, particularly your orientation to service as part of the profession,” Brown said.

Nursing student Taylor Harrison recites the College of Nursing pledge at the Lamp of Learning ceremony at the Brody School of Medicine on Aug. 31.

Nursing student Taylor Harrison recites the College of Nursing pledge at the Lamp of Learning ceremony at the Brody School of Medicine on Aug. 31.

Krista Whitley, a nursing student from Kinston, was among those having pins affixed to their purple scrubs.

“It’s really special,” she said. “It makes me want to work even harder. Ever since high school I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. I job shadowed in high school and observed a couple of surgeries. It really pumped me up and made me want to be a nurse.”

Admission to the College of Nursing’s BSN program is very competitive. In addition to meeting the university and college requirements, students’ scores on a required national pre-admission exam are taken into account along with their GPA, enrollment status and other factors. Students accepted into the program this year had an average GPA of 3.7.

Phyllis Burt attended the ceremony to watch her daughter Heavenlee Burt receive her pin.

“She worked hard for this and I love her. I am very proud of her,” Burt said. “I came a long way just to catch her in this moment. I think the world is going to be a better place.”


-by Natalie Sayewich, University Communication

Student collaboration addresses fall risk for seniors

Three departments within East Carolina University’s College of Allied Health Sciences recently spent a day helping local seniors while teaching students the importance of collaborating with other disciplines.

The unique interprofessional senior fall risk assessment training exercise took place at the Black Jack Free Will Baptist Church on July 14. Students from the Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Physician’s Assistant (PA) programs were placed into groups composed of at least one student from each department and assigned patients. Senior citizens who volunteered to participate were evaluated to determine any unknown factors they may have that put them at a higher risk for falling.

Students assist a volunteer as she takes an eye exam during the College of Allied Health Sciences’ senior fall risk assessment training exercise on July 14.(Photo by Alyssa De Santis Figiel)

Students assist a volunteer as she takes an eye exam during the College of Allied Health Sciences’ senior fall risk assessment training exercise on July 14.(Photo by Alyssa De Santis Figiel)

“As seniors, they’ll have different health conditions that could result in an increase for fall risk. So by participating in this free activity, they’re learning about what those potential risks are and also how to address them to reduce their chances for falling,” said Dr. Jennifer Radloff, an assistant professor for the Department of Occupational Therapy at ECU and one of the event organizers.

Evaluations included PA students studying the seniors’ medical history to look for potential fall indicators, such as medications that may cause dizziness; PT students administering a mini balance assessment and OT students doing a vision assessment. Students also analyzed the seniors’ ability to use stairs, transition from sitting to standing, and turn quickly when walking. Those who were found to have greater chances of falling were provided with resources to continue their care and fall prevention.

The training exercise is noteworthy as it combines community service with education and gives students an opportunity to speak with others in different professions to discuss and compare each discipline’s responsibilities.

“I learned a lot of things I could incorporate into my own practice even though it’s not directly part of our assessment as a physician’s assistant,” said Kasey Briggs, a PA student who participated in the fall assessments.

Radloff praised the event as an excellent pre-emptive learning experience before students begin their required internships. Students expressed their appreciation for being given the opportunity to work collaboratively with other professions in a non-simulated experience.

“It helps solidify the fact that for patient care, it’s a team approach. Each person has skills to contribute,” said PT student Josh Schiemann.

PA student Sydney Pilgrim connected the experience to her previous work in healthcare.

“I actually worked in an ICU before I came here, and it was really cool because we did actually have PTs, OTs and PAs working together in the same unit. So it was nice to incorporate that into our studies because it really is like that in the real world,” Pilgrim said.

A third-year PT student who participated last year, Amalia Kondyles, returned to observe this year’s event and reflect on the value of the experience.

“I got to see the students learn things they didn’t learn in the classroom,” Kondyles said. “We’ve learned how to conduct these tests, but to actually do it on a real patient that doesn’t know how the test works, you start to realize the certain cues that don’t make sense. You see the students learn how to be PTs.”

If you would like to volunteer as a patient in next year’s event, please contact Dr. Jennifer Radloff at or Dr. Kim Stokes at


-by Angela Todd, University Communications

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