MUSC researchers using genetics to tackle health disparities see more
Quenton Tompkins’ family tree is deeply rooted in rural McCormick County, South Carolina.
His grandfather was a sharecropper in McCormick. His mother, who turns 88 this month, grew up as the youngest of 24 children. Branches of aunts, uncles, and cousins now stretch from Florida to Chicago.
And although 48-year-old Tompkins has heard plenty of stories, his family holds its secrets, too.
He didn’t know until he was an adult that his grandfather died of leukemia. And he’s still unsure if his father’s bout with prostate cancer runs in the family. Tompkins’ mother and her siblings have dealt with a range of health issues, including diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes, but he still doesn’t know what killed his grandmother more than 70 years ago.
“Those are questions I go through personally,” said Tompkins, a lobbyist for the Medical University of South Carolina. “There’s another side to knowing where you come from.”
Twenty-two years ago, President Bill Clinton announced the completion of a “draft version” of the Human Genome Project, a breakthrough he described as “the language in which God created life.” He predicted that scientists, armed with genetic discoveries, would find cures for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes in the coming years.
Clinton’s prediction, of course, hasn’t yet come to pass. But researchers in Charleston are hopeful that a large genetics research project underway across South Carolina may help scientists address some of the state’s persistent health disparities, which disproportionately impact its Black residents and regularly rank among the nation’s worst. Enjoy the rest of this article compliments of Kaiser Health News.
Informatics and data science in serving specific populations who are experiencing health inequities see more
With $1.2 million in funding from the National Library of Medicine, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Clemson University will establish a new training program that aims to make future data scientists more aware of health inequities. It will also build career development pipelines in biomedical data science for students from underrepresented minorities. The program will place special emphasis on using data science to address the toll chronic illness takes on rural communities.
South Carolina is the ideal location for a training program focused on addressing health inequities. Forty-three of its 46 counties, many of them rural, are designated as completely or partially medically underserved by the Health Resource and Services Agency (HRSA). South Carolina ranks 42nd for life expectancy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), due in part to its high levels of chronic disease. The state has the eighth highest rate of diabetes (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control) and sixth highest rate of stroke deaths (CDC) in the nation.
The leaders of the SC BIDS4HEALTH training program believe that harnessing big data could help to change that. Click to continue reading the full story, compliments of MUSC Catalyst News.
More mentoring, better healthcare access for students on teh way see more
In collaboration with the South Carolina Technical College System, Spartanburg Community College (SCC), and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College (OCTech), Lauren Gellar, Ph.D., division director for Health Care studies at the MUSC College of Health Professions, developed new pre-health professions transfer tracks, specialized academic advising and a mentorship program to support students applying for the online BS in Healthcare Studies program. The institutions are working together to strengthen local communities in South Carolina by providing opportunities for students to live and work within their community while earning a bachelor’s degree. This is the first year that students have been able to register for one of these tracks and between SCC and OCtech, and there are nearly 60 students enrolled.
“I think the keywords are accessibility, opportunity, and affordability,” explains Jenny Williams, dean of Arts and Sciences at SCC. “Our Applied Associates of Science pre-health professions tracks are going to help them be better students while getting them where they need to be much sooner.”
The bachelor’s in science in Healthcare Studies program was created to increase access to the health professions higher education for rural, first-generation and underrepresented minority students across South Carolina. The program allows students to continue working and supporting their families while advancing their education at the only comprehensive academic health sciences center in the state. Many students that apply to the Healthcare Studies program have already earned an associate degree or completed the prerequisite courses at one of 16 two-year colleges within the South Carolina Technical College System.
The new pre-health professions tracks at SCC and OCtech enable students to complete the prerequisite coursework for health professions graduate programs while completing their associate degree. When they’re ready to transfer, they can complete their BS in Healthcare Studies degree at MUSC online and apply to the graduate program of their choice without completing additional coursework. Transfer partnerships like this reduce credit loss and save students money and time. The tracks also help increase awareness of the many career options in the health professions while providing structured support and academic advising. The first tracks developed are Pre-Medicine, Pre-Dental, Pre-Physical Therapy, Pre-Physician Assistant Studies, Pre-Occupational Therapy and Pre-Healthcare Administration.
OCtech’s, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Donna Elmore is thrilled about the collaborative effort. “The opportunity to open so many more doors for our students is very meaningful and exciting,” said Elmore. “The way these tracks and the Healthcare Studies program embrace and value the 2-year professional degree students already have is such an added value for the state of South Carolina.”
Stefanie Gadson Brown, dean of Pre-Health Professions and Workforce Development, believes the way they’ve designed their advising models at OCtech will be a game changer for students. “We want students to make sound decisions on what they want to do and explore that, so when they leave us, they’re not going into a program they don’t really know anything about,” Brown said. “Students gain exposure to what they might be interested in, both clinical and real-world job experience that allows them to earn an income and build a resume while they go to school.”
Many students enroll with a general idea of what they want to do – for example, working with children – but they don’t know what avenues are available. The advising models help students explore their options and find their dream job. Students who are considering more than one pathway can work with their advisor to select the courses that will provide them with insight and experience in each profession so they can make an informed decision on their future.
“Our AAS program gives students the empowerment and connections they need to move along efficiently, achieve their dreams and get to work in a much quicker fashion,” explained Williams. “The paths don’t guarantee admission, but if students do well, they’re going to solidify their own path.”
Gellar has always viewed mentorship as an integral part of the academic experience; she also enjoys it. In addition to the transfer tracks and specialized academic advising, she initiated an MUSC faculty mentorship program for SCTC students and alumni.
This past year Gellar received 15 applicants for the program and is now working directly with five students. They meet monthly to check in on their progress and she guides each student through the college application process. They work on topics including goal setting, academic advisement, career advisement, and soft skills training.
“To me, the mentorship program really speaks volumes to how far MUSC is willing to go to help our students and our community,” says Brown. “MUSC has really simplified the process, and Dr. Gellar goes above and beyond. Sometimes I forget that we don’t work at the same college. Any time I ask, Dr. Gellar is there. That’s how easy and consistent the working relationship is. I can’t say enough good things about the faculty, student services, and admission staff at MUSC.”
Brown has already noticed the impact that partnering with MUSC has had on OCtech and their students. “We always tried to have pathways set up for students, but I think what was really missing was MUSC,” she said.