School of Public Health

SPH news

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.”


Posted Date: September 17, 2019

By Sally Crocker


Dr. Arthur Mora

What do public health, healthcare, academics and a Six Sigma Green Belt have in common?

They all share synergies for learning, progress, quality improvement and collaboration, says Arthur M. Mora, PhD, new UNTHSC School of Public Health Chair of Health Behavior and Health Systems.

Dr. Mora, who joined UNT Health Science Center this fall, chairs a department that trains future healthcare and public health leaders through the MHA program, the MPH-Maternal and Child Health concentration, the MPH in Public Health Practice and the MS/PhD in Health Behavior Research, along with a new MHA Online degree program soon to be launched.

Achieving Six Sigma leadership certification involves people, performance, perseverance and passion.

The tools and techniques for process improvement that are central to the program were first introduced by a Motorola engineer in 1980 and made famous by author and General Electric Chairman and CEO Jack Welch in the 1990s.

Early in his career, Dr. Mora was confronted with tough management challenges that taught some important leadership lessons he still relies on today.

As an academic medical center manager overseeing 185 full-time employees in departments critical to care delivery and the overall patient experience, he found himself in a turbulent time.

A majority stake of the organization had been sold to a for-profit company, with major consequences. The organization suffered from multiple layoffs and management changes, and within the span of just three years, he ended up working for five different bosses.

“Through it all, my charge was to calm fears and keep employees focused on their roles,” he said. “This really demonstrated the necessity and importance of clear expectations, frequent and earnest communication, and the benefit of providing for team members’ professional development.”

This experience ultimately led Dr. Mora into healthcare consulting for a pharmaceutical corporation, leading a team of nurses and pharmacists helping hospitals develop protocols to decrease avoidable deaths across their systems.

Achieving Six Sigma Green Belt status along the way reflects only part of his desire to learn and do more; pursuing a PhD in Health Services Research followed, which later took Dr. Mora to the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, where he served as Clinical Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management and MHA Program Director before joining UNTHSC.

“Through it all, I gained perspective on how teams composed of members from different backgrounds can have an impact on service and quality, and as I found myself drawn more and more to teaching, I saw how the concepts relate to the academic environment as well,” Dr. Mora said.

UNT Health Science Center’s mission to create solutions for healthier communities and its commitment to quality improvement helped attract Dr. Mora to Fort Worth.

“I first visited UNTHSC in 2017 as a site reviewer for the SPH CAHME (Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education) re-accreditation visit and was impressed by the faculty, staff, leadership and students I met,” he said.

“Quality improvement never rests. It is always about incorporating small changes to make things better and pushing the envelope. For all of us at UNTHSC, that translates in the long run to people and communities that are healthier because of the work we do,” Dr. Mora said.







Nguyen Facultyphoto
Posted Date: September 10, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Nguyen FacultyphotoUyen-Sa D. T. Nguyen, DSc, MPH, joins the UNTHSC School of Public Health this fall as Associate Professor, Biostatistics & Epidemiology.

Dr. Nguyen holds a Doctor of Science degree in Epidemiology from the Boston University School of Public Health, where she also completed her MPH in Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and prior to joining UNTHSC, was a faculty member in the Clinical Epidemiology Research and Training Unit at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Department of Orthopedics and Physical Rehabilitation at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Over the years, Dr. Nguyen has taught courses in clinical epidemiology and population health for medical and dental students, and epidemiology and clinical research methods for surgical and research fellows. She has also supervised and mentored students in their CAPSTONE research projects.

Dr. Nguyen has experience conducting or collaborating on epidemiologic studies on topics ranging from perinatal to geriatric epidemiology, both within the U.S. and at international institutions.

Her current areas of research include examining pain, function and quality of life related to rheumatic diseases and the utilization of joint replacement. She also seeks to understand socioeconomic and racial disparities in chronic health conditions and healthcare utilization, and is interested in working with underrepresented populations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Dr. Nguyen’s research focus also involves the application of advanced research and analytic methods to assess and control for selection bias and confounding, including the use of marginal structural models for causal mediation analysis, simultaneous multiple data imputation and propensity methods.

She is a member of the American College of Rheumatology, the Gerontological Society of America and the Society for Epidemiologic Research.

She has served as a volunteer for several professional societies, reviewing abstracts for annual scientific meetings and serving on various committees and subcommittees, including annual scientific meeting planning committees and committees for peer-reviewed journals.

Posted Date: September 5, 2019

By Sally Crocker

AryalDr. Subhash Aryal, Associate Professor, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, has been awarded the Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB)/American Academy of Ophthalmology Award for IRIS® Registry Research.

Dr. Aryal is one of four clinical researchers in the U.S. selected for this big data grant in ophthalmology and blindness prevention.

The Academy and RPB created this funding opportunity to help clinical researchers use the Academy’s IRIS Registry comprehensive eye disease database to investigate the causes of both rare and common eye diseases and uncover innovative approaches to prevention and treatment. The IRIS Registry is the world’s largest medical specialty clinical database, with data on 60 million patients.

Dr. Aryal will be studying the causes and best treatment options for central serous chorioretinopathy, a condition that forms under the retina, leading to vision loss in primarily young and middle-aged adults. While most people regain their vision without treatment, the Academy reports, about 5 percent suffer permanent vision loss. Dr. Aryal will use IRIS Registry data to learn which of the three main treatment options offer the best results for this blinding condition.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, with a global community of 32,000 medical doctors committed to protecting sight, setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for patients and the public.

Research to Prevent Blindness supports eye research directed at the prevention, treatment or eradication of all diseases that damage and destroy sight. Since it was founded in 1960, RPB has awarded more than $368 million in research grants, resulting in major breakthroughs in the understanding and treatment of vision loss over the last 50 years.

Dr. Barnett
Posted Date: August 30, 2019

By Sally Crocker

BarnettLike the significant impact seen with age 21 drinking laws, states like Texas now have an opportunity to make a big difference in keeping other harmful substances out of the hands of teens, says a UNT Health Science Center public health researcher, who sees all positives in the new Texas Senate Bill 21 taking effect September 1, raising the minimum legal age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products.

Tracey Barnett, PhD, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, has long been involved in tobacco research and educating the community about the dangers of smoking, vaping and e-cigarette use. The new Texas SB21 will be an important step in moving tobacco-related products out of high schools, she said.

“In just two months recently, from late June to late August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 193 hospitalizations across the country and one death from mysterious lung illnesses related to vaping,” she said. “Far too many younger high-school, and even middle-school age students have found access to vape products through older students who were able to buy them legally. This law will be important in helping to protect our kids from harm.”

The CDC cites tobacco use as a leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States, with about 4.7 million middle and high school students using at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.

With the new law, people who attempt to buy these products for someone underage can face charges and a fine up to $500.

“Most likely, though, the focus won’t be as much on individuals as the places and outlets doing the selling,” Dr. Barnett said. “The biggest challenge will be holding online retailers accountable and strengthening internet protections around these types of sales to minors.”

While there might be a quick uptick in sales related to stocking up and hoarding products, Texas over time should see a drop in underage cigarette and e-cigarette use, Dr. Barnett predicts, along with the benefits of a healthier population that never starts or develops tobacco addictions.

“States saw significant declines in alcohol-related deaths, illness, motor vehicle accidents, crimes and related consequences when the drinking age changed from 18 to 21, and the new smoking ban should similarly help Texas achieve positive results with tobacco-related public health concerns,” Dr. Barnett said.

Is the new plan perfect?

“Just like with most public health problems, there is often no single solution,” Dr. Barnett said. “Determined underage kids have always found ways, through friends and other means, to get illegal substances, but with time to take effect, the new law should definitely help Texas make progress in the right direction.”

Shlesma Chhetri
Posted Date: August 26, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Shlesma Chhetri PhotoThe UNTHSC School of Public Health is pleased to welcome Shlesma Chhetri, PhD, MPH, as new Assistant Professor, Health Behavior and Health Systems.

Dr. Chhetri is a UNTHSC graduate, having received both her PhD and MPH in Behavioral and Community Health from the UNTHSC School of Public Health.

During the final year of her UNTHSC PhD program, she worked as a Project Coordinator with the Texas Center for Health Disparities – one of 12 health disparities centers in the United States, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – and managed the SHE Tribe program – a social network-based healthy lifestyle intervention program for women – and the Community Engagement Core, both funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Dr. Chhetri has been involved in community health since 2013. During her PhD program, she worked on a variety of community projects related to homelessness, community re-entry of incarcerated women, intimate partner violence, financial stability and women’s wellness.

Since 2018, she has continued to work on public health projects funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. She recently started working on latent tuberculosis prevention and treatment funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  She is also involved in strengthening community engagement in research within the UNTHSC community.

Her UNTHSC graduate program also provided opportunities to teach and mentor students, and she taught a master’s-level course on program evaluation as a Teaching Fellow, and provided teaching assistance for other graduate-level courses. She also supervised service-learning projects and helped students build partnerships with community organizations.

As a UNTHSC doctoral student, Dr. Chhetri was recognized for Outstanding Student Oral Presentation by the Texas Public Health Association in 2015 and 2017, and was presented with the UNTHSC School of Public Health Dean’s Award for Scholarly Excellence in Research in 2018 and 2019.


Erica Spears
Posted Date: August 20, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Erica SpearsErica C. Spears, PhD, MA, joins the UNTHSC School of Public Health this fall as Assistant Professor, Health Behavior and Health Systems.

Her educational background includes a postdoctoral fellowship, focused on social epidemiology, from the Center for Health Ecology and Equity Research at Auburn University, and a Doctorate in Health Education from the College of Education and Human Development, with Advanced Research Methods Certification for Social Sciences, from Texas A&M University.

Her Master’s degree is in Speech Communication, with emphasis in Health Communication, from the University of Houston.

As an undergraduate, Dr. Spears earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication, with an emphasis in Public Relations, from Louisiana State University.

Before returning to school to pursue a doctoral degree in 2013, she worked in public health practice. Her experiences as a practitioner range from adolescent health educator to maternal and child health program manager.

Dr. Spears currently teaches Injury and Violence Prevention, Health Communication and Public Health Practice Experience for the SPH. Her teaching focuses on the social determinants of health and health disparities.

She began her career as an educator by developing a course on eHealth and Telemedicine, and she has also taught Race, Ethnicity and Health and Social Determinants of Health.

As a practitioner, one of her primary responsibilities was to train practitioners on public health tenants and various evidence-based practices, and she brings these experiences to the classroom today, working to ensure students understand the implications of their work on the wellbeing of the communities they are called to serve, regardless of their area of expertise.

Dr. Spears’ research is focused on addressing health disparities observed in preventable chronic conditions within communities of color. The majority of her work focuses on health knowledge, health communication and social constructs that may serve as barriers to health promoting behaviors, and she also explores the roles of built environment, socioeconomic positioning and psychosocial stressors on negative health outcomes in marginalized communities.

She is a member of the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM).

Recently, Dr. Spears was a selected scholar for Robert Wood Johnson’s final New Connections cohort, the Intersectional Qualitative Research Methods Institute (IQRMI), and the Collaborative Center for Health Equity’s Health Equity Leadership Institute (HELI).


Stacey Griner
Posted Date: August 15, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Stacey GrinerStacey Griner, PhD, MPH, CPH, RDH, joins the UNTHSC School of Public Health this fall as Assistant Professor, Health Behavior and Health Systems, and Program Director for the Public Health Practice MPH degree.  

 Her educational background includes a PhD in Public Health, along with a Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies, from the University of South Florida, Tampa.  She completed her MPH degree, concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences, at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Dr. Griner also holds a bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene Education from St. Petersburg College, Florida, and before entering academia, was in clinical dental hygiene practice for more than 10 years.

As she begins her first semester as UNTHSC faculty, Dr. Griner will be mentoring and advising Maternal and Child Health MPH students and teaching courses including “Introduction to Maternal and Child Health,” “Maternal and Child Health Across the Life Course” and “Human Sexuality and Reproductive Health.”

With a focus on health behavior, sexual and reproductive health and community health, she has experience teaching both in-class and online, and has mentored students over the years who have gone on to pursue careers as clinicians, researchers and public health experts.

Drawing from the social determinants of health and the ecological perspective to encourage students to examine health disparities and their ultimate causes from multiple levels, Dr. Griner is committed to serving others first through her mentoring, teaching and collaborations.

Her primary goal for students, she says, is to “encourage personal and professional growth, well-being and success, and actively strive to promote each student’s individual potential.”

Dr. Griner’s research focuses on maternal and child health and risk behaviors among adolescents and young adults, primarily related to risky sexual health behaviors and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening and prevention, oral health, condom use, contraceptive use, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, alcohol and drug use, violence prevention, the relationship between HPV and oral cancers, and HPV prevention programming for dental providers.

Dr. Griner is a member of the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American College Health Association (ACHA), the National Coalition for STD Directors (NCSD), and the Association of Teachers of Maternal and Child Health (ATMCH). She serves as an ad hoc manuscript reviewer for the American Journal of Sexuality EducationJournal of American College HealthSexually Transmitted DiseasesJournal of Interpersonal ViolenceAmerican Journal of Health Behavior and the Journal of Cancer Education.