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UTHealth students receive Excellence in Public Health Award from US Public Health Service

Steven Blake Baker

Steven Blake Baker

HOUSTON – (June 17, 2014) – Three students from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have received the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2014 Excellence in Public Health award from the United States Public Health Service for their innovative work on integrating public health in clinical settings.

The award is given to medical students who are involved in public health issues in their communities and who increase awareness of the U.S. Public Health Service’s mission to protect, promote and advance the health and safety of the nation. Students Steven Blake Baker, Chetna Pande and Andy Billnitzer are all pursuing Doctor of Medicine/Master of Public Health degrees at UTHealth institutions.

“We are so proud of our students for the work they are doing to create better solutions to public health problems,” said Roberta Ness, M.D., dean of the UTHealth School of Public Health.

Baker, a second-year student, received his award for a research project examining the use of therapeutic hypothermia on patients who experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.  “We wanted to bring public health practices to real-time clinical decisions,” said Baker, who is getting his medical degree at the UTHealth Medical School and his Master of Public Health at the UTHealth School of Public Health.

Chetna Pande and Andy Billnitzer

Chetna Pande and Andy Billnitzer

Baker and his mentor, Pratik Doshi, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at the UTHealth Medical School, used the Houston Fire Department’s Cardiac Arrest Database to study whether it was beneficial to use therapeutic hypothermia on patients who experienced cardiac arrest.

Therapeutic hypothermia is used to keep blood flowing to the brain during a ventricular fibrillation heart attack. However, this practice has not been shown to affect more deadly kinds of heart attacks, such as non-shock heart attacks. Baker studied the data provided by this database, which is the largest of its kind, and is expected to publish results of the study later this year.

Pande and Billnitzer are pursuing their Master of Public Health degrees at the UTHealth School of Public Health El Paso Regional Campus and their Doctor of Medicine degrees at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. The students are responsible for establishing the first and only medical student-run free clinic in Sparks, a small community in El Paso.

The rate of uninsured people in El Paso is 34 percent and there is a significant shortage of physicians in the region. “The need was clear and we were ready to contribute,” said Pande and Billnitzer, who worked for over a year to open the clinic in October 2013. “Support poured in from the school, faculty, classmates and community.”

The clinic has already provided free primary health care to hundreds of patients, improved preventative health care through patient education and health care screenings and has provided a venue for managing chronic disease. Medical students manage clinic operations, from registration and triage to patient care and discharge, all under the supervision of volunteer physicians.

The presence of the clinic has helped minimize preventable acute incidents by allowing patients to address their health issues in the appropriate community setting, rather than being taken to the emergency room.

Pande and Billnitzer received their awards during a ceremony on May 16 and Baker will receive his award during a ceremony at the UTHealth Medical School on June 30.

Hannah Rhodes
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