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ATSU-CGHS DHSc alumna honored as 2022 Distinguished Educator by SDMS

An A.T. Still University-College of Graduate Health Studies (ATSU-CGHS) Doctor of Health Sciences (DHSc) program graduate has been named the 2022 Distinguished Educator by the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS).

Yosefa Pessin, DHSc, ’19, MS, RDMS, RDCS, RVT, received her doctor of health sciences from ATSU-CGHS in 2019. She is currently the program chair and director, as well as an associate professor, of the Diagnostic Medical Imaging program at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn, New York.

The Distinguished Educator award honors exceptional diagnostic medical sonography educators who exhibit dedication to teaching, innovation in education, and support of their students through mentorship, research, and volunteerism.

Dr. Pessin has worked as a sonographer for 25 years and has experience in both outpatient and private practice settings. As a researcher, Dr. Pessin’s work focuses on infection control prevention, educational technology, and simulation.

Throughout her career, Dr. Pessin has received many recognitions for her work, including the SDMS Kenneth R. Gottesfeld Award and the SUNY Downstate Dr. Donald Scherl Faculty Excellence Award. Dr. Pessin is also a senior member of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM).

The A.T. Still University-Arizona School of Health Sciences (ATSU-ASHS) Physician Assistant (PA) department was recently awarded the 2022 Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Excellence Through Diversity award.

This national award honors PA programs committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all elements of PA education. 

“This award is a team effort and validates all the hard work we accomplish every year,” said Michelle DiBaise, DHSc, PA-C, DFAAPA, PA program director and department chair.

“From recruiting Still Scholars, Hometown Scholars and P2P Scholars, to promoting care to the underserved through outreach events in the didactic and clinical year, our PA team not only lives the mission of the PA program and ATSU, but seeks to accept into the program students who also embrace our mission.”

This award demonstrates ATSU’s commitment to serving the underserved and creating a culturally rich community where students can become instruments of change to help improve health outcomes and enhance workforce diversity.

Through numerous partnerships, scholarships, programs, and grants, the PA program has worked diligently to be a leader in diversity throughout the past year.

Outreach programs and partnerships with organizations such as the Be a Leader Foundation, Dreamline career pathways, and Med-Start have demonstrated the PA program’s dedication to underserved student populations.

Recently, the PA program received a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) grant. This grant will provide $30,000 in scholarships annually for 10 students per cohort, totaling $600,000.

Many PA faculty have also received grants to address health disparities this past year. 

Kim Kochanoff, MS, PA-C, director of clinical education and assistant professor, received a $1.48 million HRSA grant titled “Addressing Rural Health Disparities: Transformative Primary Care PA Education and Preceptor Development.”

Two faculty members received grants from the nccPA Health Foundation that aim to help foster more equitable care and expand practice pipelines in the PA field. Thomas Hartman, DMSc, PA-C, ’08, assistant professor, received a “PAs Step Up Grant,” while Tessa Tibben, DHSc, MSPAS, PA-C ’08, assistant professor, received a “Be the Change Grant.”

Throughout the past year, numerous PA faculty, adjunct faculty, and students have also presented at conferences around the country to raise awareness of diversity and healthcare disparities.

In March 2022, alumna Raven Burrell, PA-C, ’20, MSPAS, MPH, CPH, and Dr. Tibben presented at both the Arizona State Association of Physician Assistants (ASAPA) spring conference and the Beyond Flexner conference on disparities in the field of dermatology. 

In August, a number of graduates presented their capstone projects on access to care for underserved populations at the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) Community Health Institute and Expo.

The PA program continues to see an increasingly diverse class each year, and a growing number of students are going on to practice in rural and underserved communities across the country.

“I have spent my whole career as an educator encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to consider a career in the health sciences and in particular the PA profession,” Dr. DiBaise said.

“I completed my doctoral work examining the barriers to recruitment and retention for historically underrepresented groups. I have worked with the ATSU-ASHS PA team to break down these barriers and provide a holistic admissions process and to provide a culture of compassion, equity, and inclusion. This award validates all that we have all been doing as a team.”

Students and faculty from A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM) raised $1,500 for the Adair County YMCA during the 2022 Max Gutensohn Golf Classic on Aug. 29, 2022.

More than 70 students and faculty participated in the annual tournament at the Kirksville Country Club. In addition to 18 holes of golf, a longest drive competition and closest to the pin challenge were held. Numerous faculty members also made donations. 

Organized by ATSU-KCOM’s Sports Medicine Club, all proceeds earned are donated to the YMCA to help fund after-school programs, sports programs, and more.

“This event would not have had the same impact without receiving the support from the Kirksville community as well as a majority of faculty at ATSU-KCOM,” said Spencer Newell, OMS II. 

“A huge thank you to all who provided sponsorships and donations. A popular part of the event was the friendly competition between students and faculty that built on relationships outside of the academic setting.”

A.T. Still University-College of Graduate Health Studies’ (ATSU-CGHS) Doctor of Education in Health Professions (EdD) online program is preparing healthcare professionals to become the next generation of innovative health professions educators. 

“The goal of the program is to prepare healthcare professionals in higher education curriculum and instruction…You’re teaching them how to most efficiently and most effectively educate and train the next generation of healthcare professionals,” Erin Breitenbach, PhD, MEd, associate professor and program chair, said.   

The 55-credit-hour, fully-online program is designed for practicing clinicians, healthcare educators, leaders, and directors who are passionate about healthcare education and teaching others. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the health education sector is rapidly growing, with demand for qualified health educators projected to rise 17% by 2030. In addition, the college faculty profession is predicted to grow 9% from 2019 to 2029.

“Students do learn leadership and how to do research because it is a doctorate program, but the focus in terms of a discipline is on curriculum and instruction in the health professions,” Dr. Breitenbach said.

Students are required to complete a Doctoral Research Project (DRP), which consists of five five-hour courses and is similar to a dissertation. The aim of this project is for students to learn how to develop a research project from the stages of proposal to dissemination.

“I always like to explain it as it’s almost like going from working for someone to becoming an entrepreneur,” Dr. Breitenbach said. “They’re implementing all of the knowledge they’ve gained through their core courses, and identifying a topic that interests them or is somehow related to their own work.”

After completion of the project, students have the opportunity to submit their project to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. Although they are not required to be published, many students do, which provides them with a critical edge in networking.

Because the program is 100% online, students also have the flexibility and freedom to maintain their professional careers while in school. Students are required to have a master’s degree or higher before entering the program. 

Upon graduation, students are prepared to excel as leaders in health education, finding career opportunities such as a director of community health services, a health professions clinical educator, or a professor in a multitude of health professions. 

An essential part of the program focuses on innovating new ways to educate others on their roles and responsibilities within healthcare delivery. 

“It’s important for us to try to be trendsetters, or at least trend followers. What are the latest innovative teaching and learning strategies? It’s about staying on the cutting edge,” Dr. Breitenbach said. 

The program is constantly looking for new ways to develop teaching strategies, and Dr. Breitenbach is looking forward to how the program will continue to grow and evolve as more healthcare professionals pursue their passion for teaching. 

November is National American Indian Heritage month, and A.T. Still University (ATSU) students, faculty, and staff are celebrating throughout the month with events, giveaways, educational sessions, and more.

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Dougherty Tsalabutie, MS, director of the National Center for American Indian Health Professions (NCAIHP), organized a traditional Pueblo giveaway on the Mesa, Arizona, campus. Students were given candy, snacks, fruit, and vegetables, as well as essential items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

The NCAIHP was established to provide healthcare career advising, assistance with admissions applications, financial advising, and academic support to prospective American Indian and Alaska Native ATSU students. The NCAIHP also aims to spark an interest in healthcare careers, and offers a mentor program connecting high school and college students to ATSU alumni.

National American Indian Heritage month celebrates the cultures, traditions, and achievements of indigenous peoples in the United States.

On Tuesday, Nov. 22, join the NCAIHP from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. for Three Sisters Stew in Bucky’s Cafe on the Mesa, Arizona, campus.

A.T. Still University-Arizona School of Health Sciences’ (ATSU-ASHS) Speech-Language Pathology program director and associate professor has been featured on the latest episode of the “Disfagia Máster” podcast.

María A. Centeno-Vázquez, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, spoke on episode eight of the Spanish-language podcast, which is hosted by Johanna Pino, MS, CCC-SLP.

Each episode features experts in the area of swallowing disorders, also known as ​​dysphagia. These experts share their knowledge in order to help raise awareness and improve quality of life for patients and caregivers. 

Listen to Dr. Centeno-Vázquez’s podcast episode here.

Tamara Valovich McLeod, PhD, ATC, FNATA, chair and director of A.T. Still University-Arizona School of Health Sciences’ (ATSU-ASHS) Athletic Training department, was recently featured on an episode of Newsy’s primetime news program “The Why”, where she spoke on concussions, specifically in youth sports.

Dr. McLeod, a fellow of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), was interviewed for the episode on Nov. 14, where she shared her expertise and helped answer the question of, “Why are we still mishandling concussions?” 

Dr. McLeod is also a professor of athletic training, a research professor in ATSU-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA), and is the John P. Wood, DO, endowed chair for sports medicine.

Hosted by journalist Tatevik Aprikyan, “The Why” aims to provide a “deep dive into the big social, cultural and political topics of the day,” according to Newsy’s website. Newsy is a free 24/7 broadcast news network.

Watch Dr. McLeod’s full episode here.

A.T. Still University-College of Graduate Health Studies’ (ATSU-CGHS) Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program may be one of ATSU’s newest programs, but its graduates will soon be making their mark as nurse leaders in healthcare. 

“What these students will be learning are real skills to apply to the workforce,” said Karin Polifko, PhD, RN, CNE, NEA-BC, and department chair. “How can we best improve patient care delivery and outcomes? That’s the bottom line.”

The DNP program is designed to prepare nurses to become skilled leaders and successful decision-makers in the healthcare industry while helping to advance science and effect positive change.

Students learn the foundations of becoming influential nursing leaders through seven online courses and four culminating practicum project courses which contain clinical practice hours. 

“Education in the DNP program will give you the opportunity to problem solve for your workplace and community with the guidance of our amazing faculty, who are scholar-practitioners in the nursing world,” said Marisa Hastie, MS, EdD, ACSM EP-C, PN-1, FACSM, associate professor and dean of ATSU-CGHS.

The curriculum consists of student-centric teaching-learning methods, in which students learn how to apply tools necessary in the quality improvement and design process, such as using SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, Gannt and Pareto charts and budget variance tables. 

As a doctoral program, students are required to have a master of science in nursing degree from an accredited program before beginning their doctoral coursework, as well as an unencumbered current RN license. ATSU-CGHS’ online program provides students with flexibility, allowing them to continue their nursing careers while enrolled in classes.

Although there is no on-site residency, DNP students must complete up to 1,000 clinical practice hours. Students are encouraged to find clinical sites in their communities, which aligns with the University’s mission of focusing on community health. Many students choose to conduct their clinical practice hours where they work.

Students must also complete a DNP Project, which is similar to a capstone project. Each project, which a faculty mentor supervises, has a quality improvement, practice innovation, or policy change focus.

“It is an interactive and iterative process, where students identify a particular issue or problem relevant to a healthcare practice site, resulting in a practice-application-oriented product,” Dr. Polifko said. 

After graduating from the program, students are equipped to enter advanced clinical practice and healthcare leadership roles. Specific career opportunities can include chief nursing officer, leader in a healthcare system, a university administrator or a faculty member. 

With a nursing doctorate, graduates can also find opportunities for work as or as health policy advisors or consultants, within not-for-profit healthcare agencies, and in community-based medical practices.

“We are committed to acknowledging the care of the whole person, including those who are underserved, using evidence-based practice as a foundation for change,” Dr. Polifko said. 

An A.T. Still University-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA) student is bringing together students from different colleges and cohorts with one goal in mind – service.  

Ashley Lau, OMS IV, is currently based at ATSU’s Santa Maria, California campus. Along with students from her own cohort, Lau organized students from different backgrounds to volunteer together, creating the first demonstration of interprofessional service between ATSU students and the Mixteco Indigena Community Outreach Project (MICOP).

“Because we’re all learning from the community and we’re all a part of this community, I wanted to reach out to other colleges within the University. We recruited physician assistant (PA) students at ATSU-College for Healthy Communities (ATSU-CHC), and we’re also looking for more pre-med students,” Lau said

“We’re trying to partner with everybody so that we’re creating a community service organization of people that are in different places and wanting to help,” she explained.

MICOP is a community outreach program that aims to support, organize, and empower indigenous migrant communities in California’s Central Coast. Over 170,000 indigenous migrants from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán are estimated to live in California. 

Many indigenous migrants face a myriad of challenges, specifically language barriers.

“The Mixtec community mostly communicates in Mixteco and other indigenous languages, but there’s a limited number of speakers in our area that speak both Mixteco and Spanish. By us doing the behind-the-scenes labor, it helps free them up to be able to communicate more effectively with the community,” Lau said. 

For this last volunteer project, several ATSU-SOMA students, one ATSU-CHC PA student, and two local pre-med students who are planning on applying to ATSU-CHC in the future, helped direct lines and distribute food and diapers to hundreds of local families. 

Not only does interprofessional volunteering help those in need, but it also helps the students form closer relationships and strengthen their teamwork skills.

“I think we all have a shared mission, which is generally to support the health and happiness of our communities. I think we do this really well in the clinic setting, but we don’t often get to meet each other outside of the clinic and get to bond with each other,” Lau said.

“I feel like community service is really a good way for us to show our shared commitment to the community and also learn about each other and spend time with each other outside of the clinic setting.”

Lau explained she hopes to grow the size of the group so they can get involved with larger and more frequent food distributions and ensure the project continues after graduation. She also said there are a number of organizations in the Central Coast area the group hopes to get involved with in the future.

“The reason why I volunteer specifically is when you’re going through your education or you’re working, then it’s really easy to become complacent about why you’re pursuing a long term goal. I think by frequently connecting with the community, you realize that your passion for doing this is to help people, and that allows you to stay focused on what matters,” she said.

Growing up, Mary-Katherine McNatt, DrPH, MPH, MCHES, CPH, COI, chair of and professor in the A.T. Still University-College of Graduate Health Studies’ (ATSU-CGHS) Public Health department, loved visiting her Uncle Mike in his adobe house on the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo reservation in El Paso, Texas.

“He was always talking about water and the earth and nature, but it wasn’t until I got older that I understood and appreciated what he was saying,” said Dr. McNatt, who is a member of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo tribe. 

Uncle Mike’s full name was Miguel Pedraza, Sr., and he was the governor of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, also known as the Tigua tribe, for many years. 

“He was instrumental in the federal recognition of our tribe. Texas was a Confederate state when tribal nations first received federal recognition, so our tribe was not recognized then. Uncle Mike fought for our tribal rights and he was a pioneer in public health,” she explained.

“He fought to get our water rights back, which was unheard of back then. ‘What I ask you is to give my people back their water. They have no water,’ he said,” Dr. McNatt added.

Uncle Mike was just one of the influences that helped spark Dr. McNatt’s passion for public health and indigenous health advocacy. Along with her grandfather and mother’s passion for helping others, she also credits being raised in a military family and being exposed to different cultures around the world. 

Dr. McNatt’s Uncle Mike, Miguel Pedraza, Sr., with a Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo ceremonial drum.

“It’s sort of in my genes,” she said. “I’m following the spirit of my ancestors. I know I’m where I’m meant to be.”  

Dr. McNatt is currently the only tribal department chair and full professor of public health in the U.S. She began her teaching career at ATSU in 2006, and became chair of the Public Health department in 2014. 

“I really feel connected to ATSU. ATSU has an altruistic mission, vision, and values, and to me is a very spiritual place that emphasizes the connection between body, mind, and spirit,” she said.

“To me, that’s also what our tribal culture is about. We take care of each other, of those who are in need, and of our elders and our children. It’s all very much in line with my goals in life and with my ancestors. It’s always been a really good fit for me,” she added. 

Dr. McNatt said ATSU also provides a platform for her work towards health equity and to address disparities in indigenous communities through health research and advocacy. 

American Indians and Alaska Natives face overwhelming health disparities in the U.S. According to the Indian Health Service, indigenous people in the U.S. have a life expectancy that is five and a half years lower than the country’s average. 

Not only that, American Indians and Alaska Natives are at a higher risk than other Americans of dying from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes, homicide, suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.

“There are so many tribal health issues, but many indigenous populations mistrust government services. Having that trust, as a tribal member, allows us to better tackle these issues,” Dr. McNatt said. 

Recently, Dr. McNatt helped facilitate a partnership between ATSU-CGHS and the Urban Inter-Tribal Center of Texas (UITCT), now known as Texas Native Health, a Dallas-based Urban Indian Health Clinic and nonprofit dedicated to strengthening health and socio-economic outcomes for indigenous communities in Texas. The center provides culturally-sensitive, community-based services such as dental care, primary care, and behavioral health counseling. 

This partnership led to the development of a 15-week online diabetes intervention course for tribal members, with a focus on cultural connectedness. 

Dr. McNatt explained that not only do indigenous communities need access to health resources, they also crucially need to have access to education and cultural connections so they may provide care in their own communities.

Culture and spirituality support wellness in indigenous populations, and when it is lacking, health deteriorates. Tribal connections are difficult to maintain, especially among those living in urban areas.

“I hope we can continue to form partnerships. There is such a need for indigenous members all over the country to have education in the various health sciences, so I hope that we can form more partnerships to bring more indigenous individuals into our programs,” she said.

“I would love to not only improve the health of the communities but improve the number of indigenous members delivering the healthcare to their communities as well,” Dr. McNatt added. 

“I am honored and humbled for ATSU to be a trusted partner among indigenous communities.”

Top photo: Dr. McNatt with her family hiking in Hueco Tanks, where they visited last summer to honor her grandfather, who was Tigua. Hueco Tanks is part of Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo’s tribal lands, and is a sacred place that is used for ceremonial purposes. 

Bottom left: Dr. McNatt’s grandfather who was honored at Hueco Tanks. “Ironically we called him ‘Opa’ which is grandfather in German. My uncle was stationed in Germany when the first grandchild was born and the name stuck,” she said.

Bottom right: A photo of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo’s tribal symbol at the Hueco Tanks. The tribe is also known as the “People of the Sun.”
Dr. McNatt with ATSU-CGHS staff Marsha Presley, PhD, MPH, and Susan Thomas, MSEd, at the National Rural Health Equity Conference in May 2022, where they spoke on how climate change affects rural tribal nations.