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USU Team Wins Prestigious National Academy of Medicine Competition

 

Students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) accept their award after winning the annual DC Public Health Case Challenge grand prize in late October. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Weyinshet Gossa)

By Ian Neligh

For the first time, students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) won the prestigious DC Public Health Case Challenge grand prize.

The annual competition, hosted by the National Academy of Medicine, has drawn teams for the past eight years from DC-area universities such as Georgetown University, American University, Howard University, and USU.  In 2018, USU’s team won the Harrison C. Spencer Interprofessional Prize for their “Community Empowerment and Advocacy for Smoke-Free Environments” project. In 2016, the university’s team also won the challenge’s Practicality Prize for “Addressing the Mental Health Needs
of and Developing Coping Skills in D.C. Elementary School Children Affected by Homelessness.”

The USU team members stand side by side for a photo.
This year's USU team members included Remle Scott, Tonay Flattum-Reimers,
Elizabeth Graydon, Air Force 2nd Lt. Amanda Dao, Army 2nd Lt. Jaime
Mencke, and team-lead Navy Ensign Patricia Theard. (Photo credit:
Weyinshet Gossa)
Students are asked to tackle a complex problem over two weeks with a hypothetical $2.5 million budget before finally presenting their solution to a group of judges.

This year’s challenge, held in late October, was titled “Addressing Infectious Diseases Using a Population Health Approach: Prevention and Control of Bacterial Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Young Adults 18–24.”

The student teams were judged on their response, creativity, practicality, implementation, and the feasibility of their solutions.

This year’s USU team members included graduate students Remle Scott, Tonay Flattum-Riemers and Elizabeth Graydon; second-year medical students Air Force 2nd Lt. Amanda Dao, Army 2nd Lt. Jaime Mencke, and team-lead Navy Ensign Patricia Theard.

The USU team’s winning proposal was an intervention designed to address the underutilization of existing resources and reaching groups inadequately served by existing systems of care, such as the inmate population in the D.C. Department of Corrections. The team also highlighted the need for shifting stigmatizing language and narratives about STIs, hence the proposal’s name “DSTIGMA.” The intervention also focused on training 18- to 24-year-olds from these wards to become community health workers to improve communication and cultural competence surrounding STI and help reinvest into the community.


“The fact that they competed against five other teams and won is a reflection of their dedication and hard work.” - Dr. Weyinshet Gossa, faculty adviser for the USU team


“The USU team this year worked well together, met frequently in a hybrid format, and communicated with each other well every step of the way,” says one of the team’s faculty advisers Dr. Weyinshet Gossa. “Their team leader, Patricia Theard, did a great job keeping the team organized and on track. They practiced their presentation multiple times, both with each other and in front of the faculty. They were receptive to feedback and made necessary changes to their proposed solution.”

Theard, a sixth-year MD/Ph.D. student in the Molecular and Cell Biology doctoral and School of Medicine MD programs, says she was eager to take part in USU’s DC Public Health Case Challenge team to learn more about public health policy and interventions.

“Washington, D.C. is one such place where we have a diversity of populations and health disparities that are distinguished by district,” Theard says. “You can figure out which Ward is going to have the highest health disparities based on the availability of resources found there. I think it takes people who care, who have some expertise and knowledge, and who have a creative outlet to provide a solution.”

Theard says at the beginning of the challenge it was difficult to identify a solution that would solve the problem at every level of the socio-economic model.

“I was asking, ‘what are our resources?’ ‘Who can we talk to?’ ‘What are people doing in the community already?’ Let’s not reinvent the wheel.,” Theard says.  “As team members went out and researched and went down rabbit holes, we figured that our solution needed to be immediate and needed to evolve into something that was long term.”

USU students present their grand prize award-winning proposal at the DC Public Health Case Challenge. (Photo credit: Weyinshet Gossa)
USU students present their grand prize award-winning proposal at the DC Public Health Case Challenge. (Photo credit: Weyinshet Gossa)  

Gossa says the team winning the grand prize is a huge achievement given all the students who participated were also busy with their individual academic programs and participating in the challenge required an enormous time commitment over the two-week period.

“Despite this, all the team members gave it their all and worked really hard on developing a comprehensive solution,” Gossa says. “The fact that they competed against five other teams and won is a reflection of their dedication and hard work.”

Theard says the most important factors to their success included support from the professors and their ability to work together. In addition to Gossa, Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Carolyn Reimann, and Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr) Christopher Snitchler served as faculty advisers to the team.

“Everyone put in 100 percent…” says Theard. “We were enthusiastic, we broke the problem into smaller pieces, we practiced, we listened to each other and we gave feedback to each other.”

Theard says the judges echoed how well the group of USU students worked together.

“We made the problem into a story and in the context of that story, we provided a solution,” Theard says. “I think that was the magic of our intervention, much like our team, we took unconnected resources and made it work together. I think that’s what came through in the final product and why we won.”