School of Public Health

SPH news

Ywanda Carter
Posted Date: December 9, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Ywanda Carter43 years ago, a young girl left Alabama for Fort Worth, anxious to meet up with her Texas cousins to find a meaningful career and a new place to call home.

Ywanda Carter’s mother believed that an education was good to have, as long as a girl backed it up with useful skills she could “do with her hands.”

So in addition to completing a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, Carter followed mom’s advice, taking night courses in shorthand, dictation and business support services.

She was fast on the keys, striking out 60 to 65 words per minute on her typing test, made challenging by the heavy return carriage that required a manual slap at the end of each line.

“You tried to be perfect,” Carter said, laughing, “because fixing an error with correction ribbon could be a real mess.”

Carter had plans to become a teacher, but life, as it turned out, had other ideas.

She applied with the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) but instead found her way to administrative work at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, long before there was a UNT Health Science Center on the horizon.

Camp Bowie Boulevard, Montgomery, Seventh Street, University Drive and surrounding neighborhoods looked quite different in 1976.

A renovated bowling alley on Camp Bowie housed the early TCOM classrooms, basic science laboratories and related administrative offices.

Carter’s office, too, was in a renovated space, on the site of a previous hotel at the Camp Bowie and Montgomery intersection.

That location is now the UNTHSC Education and Administration (EAD) building, where she still works.

Many transformations have taken place over the last four decades, including Carter’s move to the UNTHSC School of Public Health around 2004, where she will celebrate her upcoming retirement at the end of this year as the university’s longest-serving staff member.

As SPH Senior Administrative Associate, Carter has worked with faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members, and in the early days before the School of Public Health, she also interacted with physicians, nurses and others who served patients at the old Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital.

Doing her job is a lot easier today, thanks to computers, email, voicemail, internet and other modern conveniences.

“Back then, you had to walk to different offices for signatures on a memo. There were no fax machines or scanners. We worked with carbon paper for copies and typed envelopes one by one,” Carter said. “I remember being in absolute heaven when liquid paper came out in different colors.”

Carter With Supervisor 1978 Yearbook

            Carter and her supervisor in 1978

In those days, Carter said, if you needed to know something, you had to look it up in an old-school dictionary or make a trip to the library. She liked spending time there, ultimately deciding to pursue a master’s degree in information science at UNT Denton.

“I did my practicum here at the Gibson D. Lewis Library in the late 90s as a part- time indexer for a grant project of the American Osteopathic Association,” she said, “developing a database of osteopathic books and articles going back to the 1940s and 50s.”

The mind of a teacher is always inquisitive, which may explain why Carter was drawn to library research and why she finds it so interesting nowadays to “be able to look up just about anything online.”

Has she ever missed teaching?

“About a year after I started working for UNTHSC, the FWISD called about another opportunity, but by then I had found that I really liked the people here, the 8-to-5 work schedule and not having to take papers home to grade on weekends,” Carter said.

So she has stayed the course at UNTHSC for 43 years, finding different ways to mentor young minds through her volunteer service with the FWISD Reading Partnership Program and other organizations.

With retirement coming soon, she’s excited about moving into a new chapter of life with her husband and family.

While she calls herself “essentially a homebody who plans to enjoy doing nothing for a while,” Carter will be continuing her volunteer work with the schools, her church and the Center for Transforming Lives, a local organization providing hope, help and homes to families in crisis.

“The longer I live, the happier I am. I’m in a good place right now,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be 20 again, or 30, 40 or 50. At this moment, things feel very good.”






Unt Health Science Center Immunization Team Web
Posted Date: December 2, 2019

By Sally Crocker

SWe are all in this together

It’s early morning when a fleet of vans rolls out from Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH), ready to immunize children and keep them safe from the dangerous, sometimes deadly effects of infectious diseases like measles, polio, chickenpox and others.

Across town, the UNT Health Science Center Pediatric Mobile Clinic hits the streets on a similar mission, and the Pediatric Clinic on the UNTHSC campus opens for another day of service to local families.

A lot has changed over the last 30 years, from a time when children as near as Dallas County were dying from a measles outbreak that threatened the entire U.S.

More community resources are available today than ever before to protect the health of children, often at low or no cost and provided at convenient locations all around the community.

Hard lessons have been learned from the country’s battles over the last century against polio, influenza, smallpox, tuberculosis, whooping cough, pertussis, mumps, Rubella, scarlet fever and other causes of childhood deaths or harm.

Given current science, the developed world should suffer less from infectious disease, yet news reports shout headlines every day about the growing anti-vaccination sentiment in Texas and across the country, and measles made another comeback this year as a major public health concern.

“There is an incredible amount of misinformation to be found on social media and internet sites,” said Terri Andrews, President of the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County (ICTC), a non-profit that partners with organizations like UNTHSC, TCPH, health care providers and concerned citizens to educate, advocate, support and inform efforts on behalf of healthy children.

As a grandmother who remembers receiving her own vaccinations at school back in the days when they were required for all children almost without exception, Andrews attributes today’s growing vaccine hesitancy to a number of reasons, including some very vocal opposition groups, such as the locally based Texans for Vaccine Choice.

“Take a stand for liberty,” “preserve our rights” and “parents call the shots” are the types of messages found on these websites. What’s missing is the science and a public health perspective on why children’s vaccinations are so critical to the health of communities.

Proven protections

The benefits of vaccinations are twofold.

First, they provide long-term, sometimes lifelong protection against a particular disease.

They also keep other people safe in a very interesting way.

“It’s called ‘herd immunity,’ in that vaccines protect not just the individuals who receive them, but others around them as well,” said Anita Colbert, LVN, TCPH Immunization Outreach Supervisor. “When enough people in a community are vaccinated, it’s harder for a disease to spread and it’s safer for all.”

Since 1990, in the days when she was first hired by TCPH and loaded up the trunk of her own car to take immunizations to schools, churches, community centers, neighborhood events and anywhere kids could be found, Colbert has engaged with parents to provide information and the scientifically based facts they need to make sound decisions.

“There is now a whole new generation of parents who have never known polio, never seen people die from measles,” she said. “As a child, I remember throwing an absolute fit over my own polio immunizations, until my mom took me to see children in iron lungs. The experience is still with me today, and I do believe this led to my interest in public health and working to keep kids safe.”

Erika Thompson, PhD, UNTHSC School of Public Health Assistant Professor of Maternal and Child Health, who works with Colbert and Andrews on ICTC efforts and conducts research on the HPV vaccine for adolescents and young adults, says vaccine hesitancy can come from fear of chemicals or harmful ingredients, concerns over side effects and opposition to so-called government “interference” in personal choices. It also stems from conspiracy theories, distrust in pharmaceutical companies,  and uninformed influences from friends, family and peer groups.

There are even disinformation campaigns from sources like Twitter bots and Russian trolls. For example, recently published research in the American Journal of Public Health found internet trolling from Russian sources relied on propaganda to spread false information about vaccines on the social media of Americans.

“Additionally, many states, Texas included, have made it easy for families to opt out of the school-required children’s immunization schedule,” Dr. Thompson said. “All it takes is going online to complete a simple form with your contact information and the names of your children.”

In recent years, anti-vaxxer groups have been known to go to great lengths to convince parents to opt out, even showing up at back-to-school health fairs and community immunization events to tell families how “easy and timesaving” it is to file the form and get a vaccine exemption for their kids.

The number of opt outs is rising nationwide, experts say, and is of great concern in many communities, including Tarrant County, which is now considered a “hot spot” because of its alarming increase.

Nationwide, there is a movement among physician groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, to opt out of serving families who refuse to vaccinate.

The Academy’s stand is that families who do not vaccinate their children are jeopardizing the health of the overall community by creating unnecessary risks for the children of other families, persons with weakened immunity systems and pregnant women.

Vaccine hesitancy

As someone who was among the first age group eligible for the HPV vaccine when it was introduced in 2006, Dr. Thompson said she wishes more people recognized credible sources of information endorsing vaccines, rather than the misinformation online.

Her research focuses on the HPV vaccine, and it was her experience as an “early adopter” to get protected herself while in college that helped lead her to graduate studies and a career in public health.

UNT Health Pediatric Clinic Medical Director Sarah Matches, DO, also is seeing a significant rise in parents with vaccine hesitancy. During the last 25 years she has been with UNTHSC, she says, the last five have been the most concerning.

“Word of mouth and the internet do seem to be doing the most harm, and there are even campaigns that try to discredit reliable information sources like the CDC,” Dr. Matches said. “There are those who don’t trust organizations like the CDC because they are government sources.”

Still, she says, most patients do want to vaccinate and understand the importance, as evidenced by the more than 10,000 immunizations administered through the UNTHSC Pediatric Clinic annually. Add to that the tens of thousands of doses of vaccines given each year through the public health department, partners like ICTC and other organizations and health care providers, and there is hope that the majority of children will be protected.

“The important thing to know is that vaccines are very safe in all but a few rare cases,” said Christina Robinson, MD, UNTHSC Assistant Professor, Pediatrics, and Pediatric Mobile Clinic Medical Director. “For parents with questions, concerns or anxieties, the best place to start is by having a conversation with your health care provider. We are all in partnership together, all looking for the best outcome for your child, and we are here to provide the answers you need to feel more comfortable.”

Finding reliable answers

Dr. Robinson also recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website as a good resource for credible vaccine information.

“The facts are presented in easy-to-follow layman’s terms, like a grandmother’s good, solid advice,” she said.

Other resources Drs. Robinson and Matches suggest include the national Immunization Action Coalition, the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Tarrant County’s own Public Health department and ICTC website.

These organizations are also active on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, so parents can connect that way as well.

Guarding children’s health really does take a village, and Tarrant County is fortunate to have so many resources available to families.

“We can all count on the fact that vaccines have a long history of saving lives and still remain as one of the best and safest ways to protect your kids,” Andrews said. “We are all in this together.”

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.
Posted Date: November 15, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.

The 2019-20 academic year marks the 20th anniversary of the UNTHSC School of Public Health, with various celebrations going on throughout the fall and spring semesters.

Recently, the SPH hosted a Founders Luncheon for faculty, students and staff to hear from some of the early community leaders, faculty members and employees who were a part of the school’s early history.

Five panelists were on hand to talk about the early days and some of the successes and challenges the school faced 20 years ago.

Joining the program was Dr. Tom Yorio, UNT Health Science Center faculty and former Provost, who was instrumental in starting the School of Public Health back in the days when he served as Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Libby Watson, a strong supporter and benefactor of UNTHSC and the School of Public Health and one of the early community leaders who advocated for establishing a school of public health in Fort Worth, also participated in the event to look back at the history of the SPH and share reflections from the early days.

Watson served as Fort Worth’s Assistant City Manager at that time and was instrumental in helping to recruit local leaders to support the launch of the SPH.

Also on the program was SPH Senior Administrative Associate Ywanda Carter, who is believed to be the longest serving UNTHSC employee. Carter has lived the University’s history over the last 43 years and shared interesting stories about both UNTHSC and the School of Public Health from the 1970s forward.

Retired SPH faculty member Dr. Terry Gratton came on board in 2000 after a long career with the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, where he spent 18 years with the Indian Health Service in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona, and five years with the Bureau of Prisons in Fort Worth. His experiences helped inform his teaching, both in the classroom and in the field, and in the early years with the SPH, he taught a special, cross-disciplinary Border Health course that took students to Laredo for Spring Break.

Another panelist was Dr. Karan Singh, former Chair of the SPH Department of Biostatistics, who served in many roles during his time with UNTHSC. Currently, Dr. Singh is Professor and Founding Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Community and Rural Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

“We express appreciation to the panelists who joined the event, as well as those who attended,” said Dr. Dennis Thombs, School of Public Health Dean. “It’s so interesting to look back over the last 20 years to see how far we’ve come, and exciting to consider where we will go from here.”

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.From the beginning, the UNTHSC School of Public Health has been committed to public health education, research, service and community partnerships.

The idea of developing a public health program in Fort Worth started with collaboration between UNTHSC, North Texas community leaders and public health officials. Their hard work culminated in July 1995, when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the institution’s request to offer a Master of Public Health Degree (MPH) in collaboration with the University of North Texas, Denton.

After several years of offering this degree, the Board of Regents authorized UNTHSC to submit a proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create a School of Public Health and to request funds from the Texas Legislature to fund the School and its corresponding programs.

On December 1, 1997, the Association of Schools of Public Health (now ASPPH, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health) accepted UNTHSC’s Public Health Program as an affiliate member.

Five years later, in June 2002, the UNTHSC School of Public Health was accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

The needs of communities are always changing, impacting the work of public health researchers and professionals in the field. The goal of the UNTHSC School of Public Health is to help find solutions for healthier communities, which includes a focus on the following critical public health issues of today:

The opioid crisisDr. Scott Walters is Steering Committee Chair for an aggressive, National Institutes of Health (NIH) effort to speed scientific solutions to the nation’s opioid crisis. More than $350 million is supporting this multi-year study to reduce opioid deaths by at least 40% over a three-year period in nearly 70 communities hard hit by the opioid crisis across Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

Alcohol use among teens and young adultsDr. Melissa A. Lewis and Dr. Dana M. Litt are involved in studies addressing risky alcohol use and behaviors among teens, young adults and college freshmen in age groups 15-25. The research team hopes to better understand motivations and influences for drinking, to develop prevention and intervention recommendations to reach these groups when they are most apt to make risky drinking decisions. Recently, the researchers received a new, three-year $630,000 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to develop a parent-based intervention addressing the impact of social networking sites on teen and young adult alcohol use.

Tuberculosis preventionDr. Thad Miller and colleagues are focused on eliminating tuberculosis. Dr. Miller is leader of the CDC’s Tuberculosis Epidemiologic Studies Consortium (TBESC) site at UNTHSC – one of 10 funded TBESC sites across the country – and the North Texas TB Trials Consortium.

Vaping, e-cigarettesDr. Tracey Barnett is concerned about the dramatic rise in high school and college students, even middle schoolers, who have tried or might try vapes or electronic cigarettes, which have been cleverly marketed to youth by tobacco and e-cig companies eager to lock in a new generation of consumers. She’s doing all she can to educate and inform the community about the dangers.

Interpersonal violence – Every year, more than 10 million people in the U.S. become victims of interpersonal violence. TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) is a program led by Dr. Emily Spence and colleagues, supported by the State of Texas, Office of the Governor, Criminal Justice Division, that collaborates with healthcare providers and community resources to give a voice to victims and help them connect with the care they need and feel physically and emotionally safe, noticed and listened to. This program recently received $1 million in new funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (USDHHS) Office on Women’s Health to further expand domestic violence support services in Tarrant County, Texas.

Mosquito monitoring and other insect-borne infectious diseasesDr. Joon Lee leads a team that partners with the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Public Health on West Nile virus surveillance and response to protect local citizens.

Vaccines, immunizationsDr. Erika Thompson is involved in research and advocacy for the HPV vaccine and others, and is active with the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County.

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.

Kids Social Media 1
Posted Date: November 1, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Kids Social Media 1


Parents can be one of the best deterrents to underage drinking by having knowledge of and talking to their kids about alcohol content presented on social networking sites, say two UNT Health Science Center public health researchers who are leading a new National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) study focused on teen and young adult alcohol interventions.

Dana M. Litt, PhD, Associate Professor at the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH), and UNTHSC SPH Professor Melissa A. Lewis, PhD, recently received a three-year, $630,000 NIAAA grant through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This project continues the work their teams have previously been involved with to combat drinking among youth ages 15-20.

In their previous work, the two researchers found that social media can have a tremendous impact on teens’ and young adults’ perceptions and behaviors regarding alcohol.

This new project is significant and innovative in that it involves the first parent-based intervention to be developed focusing on the role of social networking sites in teen and young adult alcohol use.

“Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and others can present messages encouraging drinking and making it look cool and fun,” Dr. Litt said. “Emojis, slang terms, even pictures of friends, peers or acquaintances sipping what appears to be alcoholic beverages at parties can all make drinking seem like the thing to do.”

“Online posts by celebrities and social media influencers that kids might admire and follow can also reflect and encourage drinking,” Dr. Litt said. “Parents may not necessarily get the implications or speak that language, but those who have that awareness can be very important in shaping the ways their kids interpret alcohol-related posts they see on social media.”

The UNTHSC research team has engaged with Penn State Professor Rob Turrisi, PhD, as a consultant on the project. Dr. Turrisi’s groundbreaking work in creating parent-based interventions for young adult drinking helped set the stage for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) programs on the power of parents in influencing their kids not to drink.

“Believe it or not, teens and young adults list their parents as playing a major role in their decisions to not drink alcohol before age 21,” Dr. Lewis said. “The conversations that families have together can make a big difference, which is why we are focusing on this crucial area of early intervention.”

The UNTHSC team will begin conducting parent focus groups to learn about the types of conversations they are already having with their kids about alcohol content they see on social media, areas where they may have questions or need more information, their levels of social media literacy and their skills in interpreting the messages found on popular social media sites frequented by teens and young adults.

The researchers will also conduct focus groups among those ages 15-20, to gain their perspectives on how parents can best talk to their kids about alcohol and social media use.

The final phase of the project will use the data gathered to develop and test a set of online, parent-based interventions and talking points that families can use as a guide to discussing alcohol-related content on social media.  Once put into place, the interventions will be tracked, to evaluate their preliminary impact on youth drinking perceptions and behaviors.

“Even though there are many influences on kids ages 15-20, we know that what parents say and the examples they set matter a lot,” Dr. Litt said. “Our goal through this project is to give parents the tools they need to open up those crucial conversations about alcohol and social media with their kids.”

Tessa Logo
Posted Date: October 28, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Tessa LogoAcross the U.S. and at home in North Texas, the rates of domestic violence and abuse are as steady as the beat of a heart, the tick of a clock.

Every minute across the country, approximately 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner.

Nearly three out of four Americans, in fact, personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

UNT Health Science Center researchers and North Texas-area community partners are working hard to help local domestic violence victims and are now expanding services to include a focus on HIV transmission, thanks to $1 million in new funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (USDHHS) Office on Women’s Health.

The UNTHSC-led TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) program was established in 2015 with USDHHS funding and is now also supported by the Texas Governor’s Office, Criminal Justice Division.

TESSA is designed to give a voice to victims of interpersonal violence and help them feel physically and emotionally safe, noticed and listened to.

The program brings area health providers, community resources, agencies and advocate services together to screen for, identify and address these individuals’ physical and emotional needs.

“Interpersonal violence affects not just a person’s physical and emotional safety but also long-term health,” said Emily Spence, PhD, UNTHSC School of Public Health Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity and Principal Investigator on the TESSA project.

“Interpersonal violence has been linked to higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior, as well as a 50-70% higher likelihood of future chronic health conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, gynecological issues, gastrointestinal disorders, behavioral health illnesses and stress-related conditions,” Dr. Spence said.

Victims of interpersonal violence are also at increased risk of HIV infection, Dr. Spence said, due to forced sexual encounters, barriers to negotiating safer sex strategies and the sexual risk behaviors of abusive partners.

The new grant funding will help healthcare providers in reaching victims at key points in time, through primary care settings and emergency medical visits, to add HIV prevention and care services to the other assistance programs currently provided through the TESSA network.

TESSA partners include the UNT Health system and JPS Health Network, with health advocates at One Safe Place and Safe Haven providing trauma support services that include safety planning, health coaching, health navigation assistance, motivational interviewing and stress management programs. These community locations also link to resources for interim housing, children’s services, legal counseling, work training and job placement programs.

Healthcare utilization for interpersonal violence victims is 92% higher than for other patients, underscoring the important role of health providers in this collaborative effort.

Additionally, statistics show that individuals who talk to their medical provider about abuse are four times more likely to use an intervention and are 2.6 times more likely to leave an abusive relationship.

“Being able to add HIV-related services to this domestic violence safety network in our community is an important next step for the TESSA program and for those who need assistance,” Dr. Spence said. “TESSA is able to expand and serve more people in more ways because of the continued support of USDHHS, the Texas Governor’s Office and those working locally on this important public health concern that impacts so many lives.”


Special recognition goes to all those who helped achieve the program’s latest grant funding, including Co-Investigators Erika Thompson, PhD, and Jessica Grace, LMSW, from the UNTHSC School of Public Health, and Manza Agovi, PhD, and MaryAnn Contreras, RN, from JPS Health Network.


K Fair
Posted Date: October 24, 2019

By Sally Crocker

K Fair

Dr. Kayla Fair

The School of Public Health welcomes Kayla N. Fair, DrPH, MPH, BSN, RN, who has joined UNTHSC this semester.

This fall, she is teaching Theoretical Foundations for Individual and Community Health (PHED 5300) and Public Health Practice Experience (PHED 5297).

During her career, Dr. Fair has taught public health concepts in clinical, community, academic and organizational settings. As a registered nurse, public health educator and researcher, her experience includes more than 15 years in communicating complex information in scientific/medical environments and among other groups.

She has developed and facilitated health promotion trainings on a variety of topics with children as young as 4 and with adults at every stage of life, and she has trained and mentored nursing graduates and high school students, as well as undergraduate and graduate students with interests in healthcare, public health and research careers.

Dr. Fair’s own early career path as a registered nurse working in different clinical settings, including pediatrics, orthopedics and critical care, helped lead her to public health.

“As a nurse, I witnessed the devastating effects that chronic medical conditions could have on patients and their families, especially among uninsured and other vulnerable populations,” she said.

These experiences led Dr. Fair to research interests in the ways that organizations can effectively deliver health promotion strategies addressing the social determinants of health.

“Specifically, I am interested in how organizational culture facilitates or hinders the adoption, implementation and institutionalization of health promotion programs,” she said.

Along those lines, Dr. Fair has been involved with research initiatives relating to childhood obesity prevention projects in Title 1 Texas schools; multi-level interventions to promote physical activity among breast cancer survivors; the implementation of an electronic health risk assessment in Federally Qualified Health Centers; exercise and treatment outcomes among patients being treated for Major Depressive Disorder; and community-focused projects to reduce health disparities among the underinsured and uninsured in North Texas.

She is a member of the American Public Health Association (APHA), American Nurses Association (ANA), Texas Nurses Association (TNA) and the Delta Omega Honor Society in Public Health.

Dr. Fair holds a DrPH degree from Texas A&M University, an MPH degree from the University of Arizona, and a BSN degree from Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

While at Texas A&M, she also earned a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management with emphasis on Fiscal and Performance Management from the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

Dr. Fair completed a postdoctoral fellowship at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s nationally recognized Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC).

The UNTHSC School of Public Health is pleased to welcome Dr. Fair to the faculty!



Dshs Img 8249
Posted Date: October 22, 2019
Dshs Img 8249


The School of Public Health recently hosted the Texas Department of State Health Services (TXDSHS) Center for Health Statistics in bringing a Data Discovery Workshop to the UNT Health Science Center campus.

Dr. Lisa Wyman, Director, Center for Health Statistics, and other presenters provided an orientation for UNTHSC faculty and students regarding available data at the TXDSHS.  The program covered how to request data, how to manage it, how to analyze data and discovering potential uses of data for faculty projects and thesis.

The program was attended by more than 30 SPH faculty and students, other UNTHSC faculty and faculty from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

Dshs Img 8247


Heads Up
Posted Date: October 14, 2019

By Kerry Gunnels

Hcawards19 Winner ArticleSally Crocker, Communications Manager in UNTHSC’s School of Public Health, is a top winner in the national Ragan Communications Health Care PR and Marketing Awards.

Crocker, who has worked in the School of Public Health for 10 years, won first prize in the article category of the national awards program sponsored by Lawrence Ragan Communications, Inc., a PR and corporate communication training company.

Ragan’s Health Care PR and Marketing Awards celebrate organizations and individuals who have redefined the field with their groundbreaking work. Crocker’s story, “Domestic violence’s painful legacy,” ran in the October 2018 issue of Solutions magazine, produced by the UNTHSC Office of Brand and Communication.

Heads Up

Sally Crocker

“Working on this story was especially meaningful for me as a writer, not only to talk about a public health problem that affects more people than most of us might think, but also to be trusted to share one family’s very personal story of loss, sorrow and action to hopefully help others,” Crocker said.

The article tells the story of Emily Spence-Almaguer, PhD, SPH’s Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity, who learned that the sister of her future husband had been murdered in an act of domestic violence. The article explored both the trauma the family suffered and the work Dr. Spence-Almaguer undertook, inspired by joining a family that had been through the experience.

In addition to telling the tale of Dr. Spence-Almaguer and her connection to domestic violence, the story positioned UNTHSC public health researchers as leaders in tackling critical public health problems. It also sought to build support for the institution’s work in research and advocacy about a variety of community health issues, including domestic violence.

“Sally set herself apart from an outstanding field of applicants. Her work was exceptional. We look forward to her continued success,” said Brendan Gannon, Marketing Manager for Awards Programs at Ragan Communications.


Dshs Joel Massey
Posted Date: October 10, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Dshs Joel MasseyJoel G. Massey, MD, MPH, CPH, C-TropMed, is Regional Medical Director for the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Public Health Region 2/3. He is a Spring 2019 graduate of the UNT Health Science Center MPH Professional Option degree program.

Dr. Massey began his career as a family physician in the U.S. Air Force.  After his military service, he became interested in public health and joined the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.

He followed up this experience with a preventive medicine residency at the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin, where he concurrently completed his MPH at UNTHSC.  That training led Dr. Massey to his current role with the Texas DSHS PHR 2/3 office, based in Arlington.

The Texas DSHS Public Health Region 2/3 includes 49 counties in North Texas. Texas DSHS provides public health services for 37 of these counties that do not have their own local health department.

Dr. Massey directs services in several field offices, overseeing areas like case management for persons with specialized health service needs, epidemiologic surveillance, child and adult immunizations, maternal-child health and safety programs, restaurant sanitation, sexually transmitted infection treatment and prevention, tuberculosis control and tobacco prevention. He also collaborates with stakeholders to build community partnerships and promote a “health-in-all-policies” strategy toward the vision of a healthy Texas.

What did Dr. Massey find most valuable about his experience at the UNTHSC School of Public Health?

“Through the online curriculum I studied theories of behavior change that underpin evidence-based public health interventions, and I also learned how public health policy can limit or create health care access, make the healthy choice the default choice, and shape the built environment to promote desirable health outcomes,” he says. “Inter-action with my colleagues, professors and students throughout the courses provided perspective on how to collaborate and develop health strategies that address equity and inclusion of diverse community health needs.”

Dr. Massey says he became interested in a public health degree and decided on UNTHSC because he “wanted to practice medicine outside the four walls of an exam room,” to have a larger impact on the health of his community.

“Preventive medicine, epidemiology and policy are cornerstones of the practice of public health. The flexibility of UNTHSC’s online professional curriculum was an ideal match for my training and education goals, and afforded me opportunities to network with colleagues who would eventually be partners in public health practice in North Texas,” he says. “The path I took toward my present position included a calculated trajectory though the UNT system in order to be an effective local public health leader in North Texas.”

What does Dr. Massey find most challenging and most exciting about the work he is doing now?

“Preparing communities for health threats and navigating disparate views on prevention activities (like immunizations) requires an unflagging optimism and respectful but firm commitment to the principles of evidence-based public health practice,” he says. “Professionally, it is very rewarding to work together with stakeholders who passionately share this commitment, but can be draining personally.  I like to recharge by enjoying healthy outdoor activity with my family, which motivates me to prescribe the same energizing medicine for the population in the communities I serve.”

His advice for current public health students preparing for their own careers?

“I encourage students to look for local opportunities to be involved in public health.  Advocate for a ‘health-in-all-policies’ approach among your community leaders,” he says. “Whether you are promoting physical activity among older adults, researching effective youth anti-nicotine messaging, or lowering barriers for persons with disabilities in your community to be prepared for a disaster, you can make a difference and discover a passion for public health even before you achieve your degree. Don’t neglect the opportunity to build your professional network along the way—public health is a team effort, and we are more effective through collaboration than we are in silos of distinct disciplines.”

Posted Date: September 19, 2019

By Sally Crocker

VapingWith currently 530 CDC-confirmed cases across the U.S., and seven deaths linked to severe breathing illnesses and lung injury from vaping, the time is now for parents to have a heart-to-heart conversation with their kids about this public health crisis, says a UNT Health Science Center researcher with experience in this area.

“For parents who know their kids are vaping, or who might not be sure if their kids do, it’s critical to sit down right away, to talk honestly about the life-threatening health risks these products can pose, and to help these kids stop vaping now,” said Tracey Barnett, PhD, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health, who has published articles on the topic and is active with parent groups and the community to share facts and warnings about e-cigarette use.

Just this week, the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) activated its Emergency Operations Center to provide increased resources and support to this outbreak, which has so far reached across 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The crisis is primarily impacting teenagers and young adults.

Currently, the CDC estimates, about 4.7 million middle and high school-age students use at least one tobacco product, with vapes and e-cigarettes the most often used.

“Adding to the dangers of vaping posed by nicotine, there is very little known at this time about the long-term effects of inhaling the chemicals and ingredients used in vape flavor juices and mixes,” Dr. Barnett said. “Flavors that might be approved for ingestion through foods aren’t necessarily safe to take into the lungs.”

One of the most deadly examples of this involves Popcorn Lung Disease, or Popcorn Workers Lung, a serious condition discovered over a decade ago among employees in a microwave popcorn factory who died or became ill from breathing in diacetyl, one of the chemicals used to create buttery flavors.

Some companies stopped using diacetyl, but the American Lung Association says it is still found today in many popular e-cigarette flavor juices like vanilla, coconut, maple and others.

“Previous studies into vapes and e-cigs have also found particles of metals like nickel, tin and lead, as well as carcinogens like formaldehyde and certain cancer-causing toxins,” said Dr. Barnett. “What’s most frightening is that we really don’t know the full extent of vaping dangers yet.”

Patients seeking medical treatment across the U.S. have reported symptoms of cough, chest or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, fever, nausea and vomiting, among others. The CDC recommends that people with these or other unusual symptoms who have used e-cigarette or vape products contact their healthcare provider.

“Over the last several years, tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturers have worked hard to market their products to kids, through the avenues they used for advertising, as well as the obvious flavor juice names like gummy bear, jelly bean, razzle dazzle and even the more daring ones like cheap thrill,” Dr. Barnett said. “Parents need to know there are resources to help them talk with their children about the health risks.”

Schools and school counselors are good resources, she said, as well as healthcare providers, the CDC and the Truth Initiative tobacco-free public health website. All can be helpful in providing facts and offering talking points for parents.

“We all know kids will do risky things, test boundaries and try the latest popular fads,” Dr. Barnett said, “but kids need to know that vaping is not cool, it can be deadly.”