Dallas physician finds special relevancy in MPH training during the pandemic

By Sally Crocker

Cheruku, Sreekanth Unthsc Sm

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a definite toll on healthcare providers. Months of working long hours under endless challenges to protect patients and comfort their families while looking after their own health and the health of their loved ones at home has not been easy.

HSC alumnus Sreekanth R. Cheruku, MD, an Assistant Professor in the  Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, has worked on the front lines since the pandemic first hit Texas last March.

Dr. Cheruku specializes in cardiothoracic anesthesiology and critical care medicine and serves as Principal Investigator of the UT Southwestern site of the VIRUS study, an international, multi-center study of COVID-19 patients. He completed his MPH through the HSC School of Public Health in December 2020. His research focuses on identifying and mitigating risk factors for adverse outcomes after cardiac surgery, and his special interests include global health, economics, health politics and policy, and finance.

The balance of career and graduate school has been an up and down journey, he said, especially during the pandemic.

Dr. Cheruku was assigned to Southwestern’s COVID-19 ICU at the beginning of March. Along with 11 other intensive care physicians, both anesthesiologists and pulmonologists, he treated patients suffering from the most severe effects of the disease, often requiring mechanical ventilation or an emergency procedure called ECMO, which serves as an artificial lung, pumping blood through an oxygenator to sustain a critically ill patient.

“While this was a departure from my normal work with post-cardiothoracic surgical patients, I have been able to adapt some of the tools from previous clinical experiences to take care of COVID-19 patients,” he said.

Tough conversations with family members have been part of the journey as well.

“For our patients and families, the biggest challenge has been not being able to see each other during COVID isolation, adding significant hardship to what is already a difficult experience,” he said. “We were fortunate though, in that we already had video conferencing capabilities in the ICU, which helped them stay connected.”

Along the way, there have also been the types of conversations no one wants to have, regarding healthcare wishes of the patient and end-of-life decisions. Pain, grief and saying goodbye are heavy burdens to manage through those very sad times.

“In our COVID-19 ICU, every single provider — physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists and other professionals — managed their job admirably despite the personal risks and possible exposures to their families. The hospital system was well prepared with medical supplies as well as resources for counseling and other provider support,” he said.

As with other communities around the world, Dr. Cheruku said, North Texas pandemic experiences have been greatly affected by health disparities and access to care among disproportionately represented populations.

“COVID’s impact on communities has significantly differed based on socioeconomic factors. Among those able to work from home and isolate effectively, the impact may be psychological, but within communities where members have jobs that cannot be performed remotely, people have faced the choice between exposing themselves to the disease or losing their livelihood.”

For individuals in these populations with chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension and others, Dr. Cheruku said, effects of the virus have been considerably more severe.

“It will take comprehensive changes to reduce these disparities for future infectious epidemics,” he added. “It should be expected that other novel viruses will arise over time, and preparedness is very important for all communities,” he said.

Adding the MPH degree to his credentials was important to Dr. Cheruku for several reasons. He was inspired by his mentor, Dr. Amanda Fox, a fellow cardiothoracic anesthesiologist with an MPH who leads an NIH-funded study involving cardiac surgery patients. He hopes to lead similar studies in the future.

The skills he gained through HSC’s curriculum – in epidemiology, biostatistics, ethics and informatics – are leading the physician toward “the kind of future” he sees for himself. Already, he has applied learnings from the Public Health Ethics course toward a recently-published paper on “Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in ICU patients with COVID-19.”

“Now more than ever, I think every physician should at least have a basic understanding of public health practice, to better educate patients and provide optimal care,” he said.

“The perceived distance between medical practice and public health has vanished as a result of the pandemic. Those of us on the front lines of COVID-19 have relied daily on public health tools including testing, surveillance, isolation and community outreach to contain spread of the virus, manage patient care and address prevention.”

Recent News

Screenshot 2024 06 20 At 3.45.01 pm
  • Our People
|Jun 20, 2024

From sacrifice to success: a journey through physical therapy school

Ancelmo Mojarro came to Fort Worth to study. The Tyler native knew he wanted to be a physical therapist early on his undergraduate days. He embarked on his path to physical therapy a decade ago, inspired by a friend's suggestion amidst his quest to find his calling in the medical field. “I starte...
Garciarosanski
  • Our People
|Jun 20, 2024

HSC pro bono physical therapy program offers hope

For 70-year-old Beverly Rozanski, the journey to improved health has been long and challenging. Raised in Michigan, Rozanski spent her childhood and early adult years struggling with physical challenges that made even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. However, her discovery of a pro bono p...
Mills John
  • Our People
|Jun 20, 2024

Team of HSC experts develops national position statement for NCCHC on care for aging patients in correctional facilities

Addressing an overlooked and sometimes neglected patient population, a group of experts from The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth partnered with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to write a “Care for Aging Patients in the Correctional Setting” posit...
Jennifer Fix 2 Purple
  • Education
|Jun 18, 2024

Pharmacy technician shortage driving force behind new, online prep course

A self-paced, online Pharmacy Technician Preparation Course is now being offered through The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth as a way to help combat the shortage of pharmacy technicians at hospitals, health systems and retail pharmacies. Recognized by the Pharmacy Tech...