Category Archives: Medicine

Retired professor reflects on changes in medical education, research

Dr. Phillip Pekala, recently retired chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, said he saw many changes in medical education during his 33-year career with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

Pekala

Pekala

The biggest: “Technology entered the classroom,” he said. “When I began teaching, I wrote lectures on a blackboard. Now students have the PowerPoint presentations two weeks before the lectures begin.”

The world of medical research also changed dramatically during that time, according to Pekala. During the three decades he spent studying the manipulation of fat cell metabolism, he said he witnessed “molecular medicine coming into vogue.

“There have been more advances in the past 30 years than there were in the previous 200 years,” he said. “When students in the current medical class graduate, they will look at patients’ DNA to diagnose them. It’s exciting to have been a part of that.”

Pekala joined Brody’s faculty in 1981 and served as chair of the biochemistry department from 2006 until his retirement in December 2014. During his tenure at ECU, he was the recipient of many teaching recognition awards, including the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Pekala employed a Socratic teaching style, favoring small groups and interactive experiences in both the classroom and the laboratory.

“My method was to provide a wealth of background information to my students, then allow them to pull out individual facts by giving them the right set of questions to get the bigger picture,” he said. “I wanted them to think on their feet.”

Pekala said he also learned from his medical and graduate students. “They taught me to appreciate and enjoy the privilege of figuring out how nature works,” he said.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pekala earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania, his master’s in chemistry from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and his doctorate in biochemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biological chemistry at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1981 before coming to Brody “for the chance to build something new and exciting.”

His immediate retirement plans include spending time with family and lots of skiing, he said.

“With Dr. Pekala’s retirement, the Brody School of Medicine has reached another milestone in its maturity,” said Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean and senior associate vice chancellor for medical affairs at Brody. “He faithfully served the mission of the Brody School for over thirty years. His contributions have been nothing less than outstanding.”

Dr. Joseph Chalovich, who has been with Brody’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology since 1984, will serve as interim chair.

– Amy Adam Ellis

Forum addresses hypertension

American Heart Association volunteer Tiffany King shares nutrition information with forum attendees. (Photo by Gretchen Baugh)

American Heart Association volunteer Tiffany King shares nutrition information with forum attendees. (Photo by Gretchen Baugh)

By Marla Vacek Broadfoot
Freelance science writer, NC TraCS

Hypertension – and the need to take action to prevent, treat, and control it, especially among those most vulnerable – was the subject of a day-long event held at the East Carolina Heart Institute at East Carolina University Dec. 12. The Evidence Academy on Hypertension brought together over 100 researchers, health professionals and community leaders to discuss ways to address the number one risk factor for premature death worldwide.

Throughout the day, clinicians, practitioners, researchers, community leaders and local officials discussed a broad set of evidence-based approaches to the issue, always with an eye on their possible impacts on local communities. The schedule included a series of large-group and smaller breakout scientific presentations in policy, treatment and practice tracks, with extended opportunities for participants to discuss research findings and model programs.

Following the Evidence Academy, a small group of 8 to 12 individuals known as the Action Learning Cohort will take what was gained from the meeting and collectively identify and develop ways to engage in action to address hypertension from policy, practice and research perspectives. The effort will be led by Lori Carter-Edwards, principal investigator of the Evidence Academy on Hypertension. The ALC group will meet for approximately six months, with the end goal of producing a product such as updated policy recommendations or a new pilot grant, which can then be shared with the wider community.

“My hope is that we can use the synergy and momentum from the Evidence Academy to promote efforts that help improve hypertension prevention and management in Eastern North Carolina,” said Carter-Edwards, who is also evaluator for the Public Health Leadership Program and a research associate professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The event was sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, and the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute. Additional support came from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, and Vidant Health. Partners included the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, Eastern Area Health Education Center (EAHEC), the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

Medical students assist with Belhaven health clinic

Several students from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University spent a recent Saturday providing free health screenings and services to Beaufort County residents.

First year medical student Ismail Kassim works with a patient at the Belhaven health clinic. (Contributed photos)

First year medical student Ismail Kassim works with a patient at the Belhaven health clinic. (Contributed photos)

Dr. Ari Mwachofi, a professor in the Department of Public Health, coordinated their involvement in the Belhaven Community Health Fair, which took place Oct. 25.

“I am a strong believer in experiential learning,” Mwachofi said. “The students will understand health issues of poor, underserved communities better by getting involved in such communities. I am meeting with the students to do a debriefing about their experience, perceptions and what they learned.”

The students assisted by assessing blood pressure, measuring blood glucose, administering rapid HIV testing, cholesterol screening, giving flu vaccines, and distributing literature on various health topics.

The students also interpreted for Spanish-speaking patients and translated health brochures into Spanish.

Mwachofi hopes the involvement of Brody medical students in this health fair will become an annual occurrence.

The participating first-year medical students were (pictured below, left to right) Mary Ashleigh Craver, Lily Trout and Daiysha Smith, and Zachary Sutton, Alexander Almeida Larrea, Wooten Jones and Ismail Kassim. Austin Rice, a candidate for a master’s in public health from Brody, also assisted with the event.

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ECU hosts statewide research conference

Paul DeVita, a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology, speaks with a fellow researcher(s) at the North Carolina Cartilage & Arthritis Research Alliance conference, held Oct. 3 at ECU. (Photo by Gretchen Baugh)

Paul DeVita, a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology, speaks with a fellow researcher(s) at the North Carolina Cartilage & Arthritis Research Alliance conference, held Oct. 3 at ECU. (Photo by Gretchen Baugh)

 

The North Carolina Cartilage & Arthritis Research Alliance held a conference Oct. 3 at East Carolina University.

“It is a gathering to enhance our regional discussion of current research advances in basic and clinical sciences with a variety of experimental approaches/techniques, give young investigators the opportunity to present, and to hear established researchers from North Carolina speak,” said Dr. Cheryl B. Knudson, chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Brody School of Medicine.

Knudson chaired the event organizing team, which included Warren Knudson and Emily Askew – also faculty in Anatomy and Cell Biology – and Paul DeVita and Zac Domire, both of the Department of Kinesiology.

The approximately 100 attendees represented Duke University, Wake Forest University, N.C. State University, UNC Chapel Hill and ECU. In addition, more than 25 academic posters were presented. Topics covered included different scaffolds (including silk) for drug delivery and osteochondral implants, how the forces generated by walking are transmitted to the nucleus of cells, epigenetic changes in adipose stem cells from mice on high fat diets, chondrocyte signaling, pain, animal models and clinical trials for osteoarthritis management.

“These have been great meetings with excellent science and good networking opportunities,” Knudson said of past NC-CARA events.

ECU leaders helping to reshape American medical education

On Sept. 22 and 23, leaders from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University are joining leaders from 10 other top medical schools at Vanderbilt University to discuss next steps in preparing medical students for the changing health care landscape.

The 11 medical schools were awarded $1 million each by the American Medical Association last fall to participate in their Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative to reshape the way medical students are educated in this country.

“There has been a universal call to shift the focus of medical education toward real-world practice and competency assessment,” said Robert M. Wah, M.D., president of the AMA, the national organization dedicated to empowering the nation’s physicians to continually provide safer, higher quality, and more efficient care to patients and communities.

“The AMA is proud to be leading the charge to answer this call,” Wah said. “Over the last year, we have made significant progress in transforming curriculum at these medical schools that will help close the gaps that currently exist between how medical students are trained and the way health care is delivered in this country now and in the future.”

Wah said the Brody School of Medicine was selected for the grant based on their bold and innovative ideas, including their new comprehensive Longitudinal Core Curriculum in patient safety, which was implemented in fall 2014 for all medical students. The project aims to foster inter-pro­fessional skills and prepare students to successfully lead multidisciplinary health care teams.

Brody also established a new academy to provide faculty development in patient safety, quality improvement and team-based care. And beginning in spring 2015, they will enroll 10 medical students per year in advanced course work and experiential activities that will earn them a Certificate in Healthcare Transformation and Leadership along with their M.D. degrees.

“More and more in medical education and higher education, it’s not about lecture-based education; it’s how do you design a more meaningful learning experience,” said Libby Baxley, M.D., senior associate dean for academic affairs at Brody.

Over the next four years, the AMA will continue to track the progress of the 11 medical schools’ collective work in order to identify and disseminate the best models for transformative educational change.

Other schools’ projects include a curriculum that gives students with prior health care experience an opportunity to progress through medical school based on individual competency, and courses that ensure medical students are trained on the use of electronic health records. Each school’s grant project can be tracked at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/strategic-focus/accelerating-change-in-medical-education.page.

Golden Living Center donates to Brody School of Medicine

Hal Garland, executive director of the Golden Living Center, presents a check for $123,000 to Dr. Chelley Alexander, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, to support the medical school’s Teaching Nursing Home Project. Pictured (from left) are Dr. Kenneth Steinweg, director of the geriatric division for the Department of Family Medicine; Garland; Alexander; Maria Knupp, family nurse practitioner with the project; and Dr. Renee Banaszak, the project’s director. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Hal Garland, executive director of the Golden Living Center, presents a check for $123,000 to Dr. Chelley Alexander, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, to support the medical school’s Teaching Nursing Home Project. Pictured (from left) are Dr. Kenneth Steinweg, director of the geriatric division for the Department of Family Medicine; Garland; Alexander; Maria Knupp, family nurse practitioner with the project; and Dr. Renee Banaszak, the project’s director. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Golden Living Center has donated  $123,000 to the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University to support a nursing home teaching project.

Brody’s Department of Family Medicine provides primary medical care for the residents of the local Golden Living Center on MacGregor Downs Road. The 72,000-square-foot facility houses 152 residents.

Hal Garland, executive director of the local Golden Living Center, presented the donation to Dr. Chelley Alexander, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Brody; Dr. Kenneth Steinweg, director of the geriatrics division for the Department of Family Medicine; Maria Knupp, family nurse practitioner with the project; and Dr. Renee Banaszak, the project’s director.

The money will be used to support the instruction of resident physicians and geriatric fellows, faculty salaries and teaching materials. Medical, pharmacy and physician assistant students also go to Golden Living Center for clinical learning.

This year is the 33rd the center has supported the teaching project with cumulative support totaling more than $2.5 million.

Congressman discusses health care legislation at ECHI event

Members of the ECU health care community gathered for a health care forum entitled "Federal Issues Facing the Medical Community" hosted by Congressman Walter Jones (NC). Congressman Tom Price, MD (GA), pictured here, was the keynote speaker for the event. (Photos by Jay Clark)

Members of the ECU health care community gathered for a health care forum entitled “Federal Issues Facing the Medical Community” hosted by Congressman Walter Jones (NC). Congressman Tom Price, MD (GA), pictured here, was the keynote speaker for the event. (Photos by Jay Clark)

ECU News Services

A Georgia congressman was the featured speaker during a discussion of “Federal Issues Facing the Medical Community,” organized by U.S. Rep Walter Jones’ office and held Aug. 12 at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU.

Chancellor Steve Ballard welcomed Jones, who then turned the floor over to Rep. Tom Price – a Republican who worked as an orthopedic surgeon and taught medicine at Emory University before taking office.

“To physicians, nurses and others in the health care arena – thank you for what you do,” Price began. “I know sometimes we (politicians) make what you do more difficult with what we do.”

He expressed what he described as principles of a good health care system held by all Americans – accessibility, affordability and high quality. He added that any system should also be responsive to patient needs, innovative and offer choices in care.

Price expressed his opinion on the federal Affordable Care Act and endorsed an alternate bill (HR 2300) to address health care and insurance challenges nationwide. He also issued challenges to those in attendance: Keep patients at the center, don’t give up and engage in the political process.

“Our system only works if you’re involved,” he said. “Don’t assume that we know (what you’re thinking).”

Vidant Medical Center CEO Steve Lawler closed the event. He applauded local physicians for always being engaged and putting patients first.

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Mark Your Calendars: TEDMED is coming to ECU on Sept. 13

TEDMED is an annual, three-day gathering that unites extraordinary people and ideas from all disciplines inside and outside of medicine. The unusual and provocative program features short talks and artistic performances to reframe our mental models and inspire new possibilities.

On Saturday, Sept. 13, TEDMED is coming to the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU.

Attendees to the ECU Live event will be able to view the best of this year’s TEDMED sessions free of charge, and can also attend live sessions presented by a crop of homegrown, inspiring speakers from ECU.

The ECU event will also feature another traditional component of TEDMED: “The Hive.” There, attendees can informally converse with individuals and groups who have invigorating ideas or projects that are changing health and medicine. It’s not a poster session, but a way to creatively connect.

Register to attend TEDMED Live at ECU at http://tedmedliveecu.org/.

Brody names new chair of Family Medicine

The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University has announced that Dr. Chelley Kaye Alexander has been hired to chair the Department of Family Medicine, effective August 11.

Alexander

Alexander

Alexander brings with her a wealth of teaching, clinical, administrative and research experience. She comes to Brody from the Department of Family Medicine in the College of Community Health Sciences at the University of Alabama, where she has served as department chair since 2006 and as assistant dean for Graduate Medical Education since 2005.

She earned her undergraduate degree in neuroscience from Davidson College in 1990 and completed her medical degree in 1996 at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Her residency training was with Tuscaloosa Family Practice Residency in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Additional faculty development pursuits include a Rural Health Research Junior Investigator Program (2003-2004) and a National Institute Program Director Development Fellowship (2004-2005).

Alexander’s numerous academic and administrative appointments include serving as the Designated Institution Official, serving on the Board of Visitors Resident Education Committee and as the director of the Sports Medicine Clinic at the University of Alabama. Included among her teaching innovations and clinical work is the development of seven separate hands-on procedure workshops for residents to improve procedural training, and a medical home designed to reduce cost and improve quality of care for 30,000 Medicaid patients.

Her research efforts include several peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, national presentations and completed clinical trials.  In addition, she has a special interest in asthma, patient-centered medical homes, quality improvement and clinical teaching methodology.

Alexander will replace Dr. Kenneth Steinweg as leader of ECU’s Department of Family Medicine. Appointed chair in June 2009, Steinweg played a critical role in the department’s smooth transition into the new Family Medicine Center in 2011. Fully accredited programs in geriatrics and sports medicine were developed under his leadership and the Family Medicine residency program grew from 30 to 36 residents.

Steinweg will return full-time this fall to the department’s Division of Geriatrics. He called Alexander “a great fit for Brody.”

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