SPH news

Posted Date: October 19, 2016

Kshitiz Rakesh, MPH

When Kshitiz Rakesh (MPH ’15 Biostatistics) transferred to the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH), he was seeking a program that would challenge him beyond the coursework, involve him in real-world health problems and solutions, and push him to advanced levels of statistical programming and data analysis. What he found was a place that gave him the experience and credentials to land a job at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital.

Rakesh, who has recently begun a new position as statistical programmer in the hospital’s Division of Neurology and Epilepsy, credits the UNTHSC research projects he worked on, as well as the guidance of SPH faculty, in helping him reach this point in his career.

“The SPH does a phenomenal job to ensure students are proficient and ready for the roles they will take on in their careers,” he said. “I worked with different researchers on projects related to pharmacology, community health, preconception peer education and disability in Hispanic elderly populations during my degree program, giving me the equivalent of two to three years of practical experience I could list on my resume as a fresh, new graduate. That really helped make the difference for me.”

“Being involved in research in addition to my coursework and internship was so valuable, and professors like Dr. Sumi Suzuki, Dr. Subhash Aryal, Dr. Brad Cannell and Dr. Marcy Paul helped me to learn so much more,” Rakesh said. “The experiences encouraged me to take the initiative and push myself beyond, to look at public health issues in different ways. I grew so much in terms of my knowledge, proficiencies and critical thinking.”

While at UNTHSC, Rakesh also pursued Advanced Certification in his field, encouraged by his professors to take that extra step.

“The SPH really moves you in a direction where you are prepared and ‘good to go’ when applying for jobs. There was such a varied mix of faculty and students from different professional and social/cultural backgrounds that it helped me think beyond my own world as I completed my degree,” he said.

In his new position at Boston Children’s, Rakesh will be working on statistical development, programming and analysis of patient data for various research studies.

Posted Date: October 12, 2016

zoonotic_diseaseScientists have long recognized the connection of diseases spread between animals and people, through viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. This is so common, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that an estimated six out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals.

On November 9, 2016, UNTHSC public health students will host an informational “World War Z – Zoonotic Disease Awareness” fair to help educate students, faculty, staff, health professionals and the general public about this crucial global public health concern.

The free event will be held on the UNTHSC campus from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., featuring guest speakers, activities and entertainment, door prizes, food and refreshments.

UNTHSC Epidemiology alum Conner Carlsen, MPH (’16), has been selected as keynote speaker for the event.

Ms. Carlsen, with professor Katherine Fogelberg, DVM, PhD, and two other students, traveled to Uganda earlier this year to assist with international zoonotic disease testing and prevention efforts. Their work opened a new partnership with the international Veterinarians Without Borders organization, the University of Georgia, University of California-Davis and Makerere University-Uganda.  Ms. Carlsen currently works for the Department of State Health Services Region 7 in Temple, Texas, as a vaccine preventable disease investigator.

Other November 9 event speakers will include Dr. Joon Lee, on the topic of West Nile Virus (WNV); Dr. Fogelberg, addressing Neglected Zoonotic Diseases (NZD), One Health; Dr. Michael S. Allen, speaking on Tick-Borne Diseases; Dr. Guy Dixon, discussing Zika Virus; and Dr. Maya Nair, on the subject of Bioterrorism.

Students from the UNTHSC “Diseases from Animals to Humans” class are hosting the event.

For more information, contact: MGMTWWZ@GMAIL.COM

Posted Date: October 3, 2016

Casie Stoughton, RN, MPH

Caring for 250,00 people in addition to your own family can be a challenging job.

So when Casie Stoughton, RN, MPH, decided to pursue a public health graduate degree, she knew the best option would be through online study (SPH Master of Public Health Professional Option).

At the time, Stoughton was serving as Assistant Director for the City of Amarillo Department of Public Health. She has since been promoted to the Director position and credits her advanced degree from the UNTHSC School of Public Health as being important in helping her career move forward.

“One of my mentors is our former Director Matt Richardson, who received his MPH and DrPH degrees through the UNTHSC School of Public Health and is now the Denton County Health Director,” Stoughton said. “Matt is a big supporter of the school and encouraged me to take the next step. Being in Amarillo, I live a great distance away from schools of public health, so finding the online option was perfect for me.”

Stoughton manages a staff of 35 public health workers, with responsibility for TB clinics and immunizations, refugee health, public health preparedness, surveillance and prevention of communicable diseases, and epidemiology study/analysis related to patterns, causes and effects of local population health.

“Having a background of 10-plus years in public health really made the degree come alive for me,” she said. “I was able to apply my ‘boots on the ground’ field experiences toward the class work – not only has it broadened my horizons, it also validates what we do each day in our jobs and why.”

Stoughton’s favorite part of the job is when she’s out in the community, working directly with local residents or solving a problem.

“Being able to ‘touch’ our clients personally is important. And of course, there are many meetings, and I also work closely with the media, as they are key to helping us get our messages to the community,” she said.

Stoughton said she “absolutely recommends” the UNTHSC School of Public Health and encourages her staff to pursue advanced degrees for further career development.

“We’ve been fortunate that the city allows me to budget for staff education, to help our people become even stronger in their roles, as the team taking care of the health and welfare of our community,” she said.

Posted Date: September 28, 2016
ipe_7 ipe_3 ipe_5

“In any field, it’s important to know how to work together with people who are different and come from backgrounds other than our own. Especially in community health, we find solutions in unique ways through collaboration with others. Each perspective brings something important to the table,” said Karen Bell, PhD, Assistant Professor and Director of the UNTHSC Department of Behavioral and Community Health.

Dr. Bell recently co-presented an Interprofessional Education (IPE) event for incoming School of Public Health graduate students with Assistant Professor Marcy Paul, PhD, to address beliefs, questions and myths about different public health concentrations and the overall field.

Prior to attending, the 47 new students were asked to complete a survey of their own backgrounds, academic concentrations, how they would rank statements about common public health assumptions, and to write words and phrases that they felt best described different types of public health practitioners.

“Warm, inviting, jovial, loving, prevention-oriented, focused on a healthy society, approachable, good listeners, casual dressers, fun and big picture people” were all how students thought of Behavioral and Community Health professionals, while “serious, strict, technical, intelligent, math wizards, nerds, critical thinkers, research focused and people with tedious jobs” were some assessments of biostatisticians.

Epidemiologists were viewed as “science-oriented,” people who work “overtime,” and those involved in “the disease process, data analysis/collection, surveillance investigations and working closely with physicians.” Some students noted “exotic international locations” when describing an epidemiologist, and also saw them as “inquisitive, pioneers in public health and first responders.”

Students described Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences professionals as being “hippies, outdoorsy, tree huggers and one with nature,” focusing on environmental issues like air quality, pollution, infectious disease, healthy drinking water, “messy” landfills, workforce hazards and occupational health. They were seen as “not so great at math” and “protectors of humans, animals and trees.”

Health Management and Policy professionals, on the other hand, were labeled as “well dressed, leaders, change agents, business and policy oriented,” sometimes as “bossy” and as people who “love health records.” One comment described them as having the “largest form of control over public health.”

SPH faculty also weighed in on the conversations, including Assistant Professor Doug Livingston, PhD, a Biostatistics and Epidemiology researcher.

“Epidemiology is hard to pin down. What people do really varies.  Some are out in the field. As for me, I stay out of jungles. Much of my work is in front of a computer,” he said.

Importantly, the event pushed students to think beyond their initial perceptions and look at public health in a broader way.

“When you graduate, you’ll be working with many people across professions and within communities – even the word community can have different applications, whether it’s a neighborhood, city, county or state, even a country,” said Dr. Paul.

“So think on a larger scale than your own ‘world,’ because people representing varied backgrounds, experiences, even cultures, are all part of the larger public health community that it takes to recognize assets and challenges, solve a problem or create change.”

Posted Date: August 15, 2016


In a study of 1.2 million patients treated at 292 Texas hospitals over a one year time period during 2013, Liam O’Neill, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Management and Policy at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, and a student cohort have found that hospitals with mostly private rooms had a lower risk for central-line patient infections, acquired through tubes or catheters used for testing or to carry nutrients or medicine through the bloodstream.

Dr. O’Neill recently presented this data at the Service System Engineering Conference at the School of Economics and Management at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, where local media covered his talk.

“The findings showed that regardless of whether patients were assigned to a private room,” Dr. O’Neill said, “those who were cared for at hospitals that offered a higher percentage of private rooms overall measured lower in hospital acquired infections.”

“This supports using the ‘percentage of private rooms’ ratio as a structural measure of hospital quality,” he said.

Dr. O’Neill also recently shared these findings at the AcademyHealth Conference in Boston, a national organization for health services and policy research professionals.

SPH Health Management and Policy doctoral student Sae-Hwan Park has been a partner in this study.

Posted Date: August 11, 2016

UNTHSC School of Public Health Interim Dean Dennis Thombs, PhD“Our graduates are doing incredible things to make the world a better, safer, healthier place,” said Dennis Thombs, PhD, newly-named Dean of the UNTHSC School of Public Health.

After serving for the last year as Interim Dean, Dr. Thombs was selected from among a pool of national candidates as the leader who will move the SPH forward.

“It’s an exciting time to be in public health,” he said. “We have many opportunities ahead, and so many ways we can impact quality education and outcomes for students, the community and our research partners. As we continue to build our ties locally, we also seek to expand the national and global reach of the SPH.”

Over the last year, Dr. Thombs has met with community leaders and stakeholders, advisory boards, alumni, students, faculty and staff, university leadership, employers and industry colleagues, listening and sharing ideas.

“What we learned from employers is that they need well-rounded public health professionals, leaders who can take on big challenges and wear a lot of ‘different hats’ to help solve some of the most pressing public health concerns facing our world today,” he said.

“When you think about all the career opportunities available – roles addressing health disparities in disadvantaged communities, community-based research, health care access, the environmental and social determinants of population health, health policy and law, as examples – it’s easy to see why public health is so critical today,” Dr. Thombs said. “Here in North Texas, we see public health in action every day, working on Zika and West Nile virus surveillance, infant mortality and health disparities, disease and injury  prevention, environmental issues like air and water quality, social and behavioral interventions to improve people’s lives … and those are just a few of the ways public health makes an impact.”

Dr. Thombs said he also sees new opportunities coming for MHA graduates in this presidential election year, as they will likely be called on to help shape policy and delivery of programs in a rapidly changing health care environment.

“We also look forward to working with the new allopathic medical school opening in 2017, as well as with our colleagues in TCOM, the School of Pharmacy, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and School of Health Professions,” he said.

Community partners, such as Tarrant County Public Health and the JPS Health System, are crucial in providing students with real-world learning and research opportunities, and Dr. Thombs looks forward to strengthening these local partnerships.

“Our mission is to keep building those relationships, to make them even stronger,” he said.

Dr. Thombs has been with the School of Public Health since 2010, having served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health; Acting Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Director of the school’s MPH community health program; and Acting Director for the Texas Prevention Institute.

His career was shaped early on by an interest in substance abuse and addictive behaviors, and he has made major research contributions over the years to the study of alcohol and drug use in the adolescent and young adult population. He has authored more than 85 articles in peer-reviewed national and international journals, and is the author of one of the leading textbooks on addiction, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors, published by the Guilford Press, and now in its fourth edition.  His research has been supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Education.

Posted Date: August 8, 2016

UNTHSC School of Public Health Interim Dean Dennis Thombs, PhDDr. Dennis Thombs has been named as the new dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth.

Dr. Thombs has been serving as interim dean since August 2015 and was selected for the position from among a nationwide search of candidates.

He has been with UNT Health Science Center since 2010 and has previously served as professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health; acting associate dean for academic affairs; director of the school’s MPH community health program; and acting director for the Texas Prevention Institute.

“We welcome Dr. Thombs to this new position and look forward to his leadership in moving the School of Public Health to prominence,” said Dr. Thomas Yorio, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and research.

During his career, Dr. Thombs has served on the faculty at the University of Florida, Kent State University and the State University of New York at Brockport.

Dr. Thombs has made major research contributions to the study of alcohol and drug use in the adolescent and young adulthood population. Over the last 25 years, his work has examined the role of peer norms in facilitating heavy, episodic drinking and impaired driving; identified specific pharmacologic, genetic, economic and site risk factors that contribute to unsafe patron intoxication levels in the on premise setting; and developed evidence-based, mental health first aid strategies to connect persons in need with professional mental health treatment resources.

Dr. Thombs’ research has been supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Education. He has authored more than 85 articles in peer-reviewed national and international journals, and is the author of one of the leading textbooks on addiction, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors, published by the Guilford Press, and now in its fourth edition.

Dr. Thombs was named as a Fellow in the American Academy of Health Behavior in 2005, and served as president of the Academy from 2009 to 2010.

Posted Date: August 3, 2016


2016 graduation was an “all in the family” celebration for Neda Moayad, DrPH, Adjunct Assistant Behavioral and Community Health Professor in the UNTHSC School of Public Health, when her daughter May received her medical degree from TCOM. Husband and proud dad, DFW-area neurologist Hamid Moayad, is a TCOM class of ’87 graduate, and Neda is a 2004 UNTHSC School of Public Health graduate. May is now pursuing a pediatric residency at Tulane, her dream since she was 14. Sister Mona, pictured at far right, is a CUNY Law School graduate who works with Deutsche Bank’s anti-financial crimes team in New York City.

Posted Date: July 27, 2016

SPH student Dominique Pean (left) with brothers Christian and Alan and their parents.


Dominique Pean remembers the night his older brother Alan was shot in a hospital emergency room.

With a history of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, Alan, a 26-year-old college student, had become increasingly paranoid and delusional leading up to the night he sped to the ER seeking help.

Nearly totaling his car on the hospital parking lot and crashing into other parked vehicles around him, Alan was injured and confused as he screamed out for help from aliens he believed were chasing him.

Sometime between assessment of his injuries and further observation that was expected to lead to a psychiatric evaluation, Alan’s behavior turned even more bizarre and dangerous. Two off-duty police officers moonlighting as hospital security responded, and as they fought to restrain him, he was shocked by a Taser and ultimately, sadly shot in the chest by a bullet.

As Alan’s life hung in the balance, his family struggled to understand the series of events that had led to such trauma, in a place that Alan had run to for safety and help.

Alan is a survivor, having come through the worst and moved his life forward, and today his family is on a mission to help change perceptions of mental illness, especially within health care settings.

Alan’s brother Dominique, a UNTHSC School of Public Health MPH student, recently brought this story to campus as part of an Interprofessional Education (IPE) event, to help students explore misconceptions about mental health and areas where gaps in the health care system may fail patients and their families.

Since the shooting, Dominique and his family (his father is an internal medicine physician, his mother works in health care administration, and his older brother Christian recently completed his medical degree and is pursuing an orthopedic surgery residency at NYU) have been on a mission to share their experience and help champion change, appearing in the New York Times, Huffington Post, This American Life podcasts, and television shows like Dr. Oz (“Why Americans Need to Talk about Mental Health”).

During the campus IPE event, attendees split into groups to play different roles – as hospital CEO, nurse, physician, security, legal counsel and patient advocate staff – to analyze the case and recommend alternate solutions.  During a panel discussion, Pean family members took questions and helped students look at some of the far-reaching issues related to mental health, racial inequity, security and protocol, patient safety, communications and administrative/legal response.

“The system broke down for Alan, and my brother’s case isn’t an isolated one,” Dominique said. “We see situations like this occurring in other cities and communities around the country, and it’s our hope that by sharing this personal story, my family can help champion change around improved care, management and policy for mental health patients.”

“Those in health care and public health professions are in a good place to make change,” Dominique said. “We want to help make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone ever again.”

Posted Date: July 26, 2016


Jennifer Cole, MPH, UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health graduate, has been named by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) as one of 16 new fellows to engage in an intensive one-year assignment at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cole’s fellowship placement will be with the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention, in Atlanta.