West Virginia University Health Sciences tackles important health issues plaguing the Mountain State through academics, research, clinics and partnerships extending to communities across West Virginia and the region.
In collaboration with its research centers and institutes, Health Sciences’ five schools — Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health — embody the University’s mission to serve with purpose.
Cancer prevention and control
Beyond the flagship Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center where patients receive specialized care, the Cancer Institute works to increase breast and cervical cancer screenings in communities as part of the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program. Free or low-cost services, including clinical breast exams, Pap tests, pelvic exams and mammograms, are available for West Virginia residents meeting certain guidelines.
The Institute’s Cancer Prevention and Control unit operates the West Virginia Program to Increase Colorectal Cancer Screening aimed for people ages 55-75. In partnership with primary clinics, the program screened an additional 100,000 West Virginians for colorectal cancer between 2015-2020.
WVU is also addressing pancreatic cancer, the state’s third-leading cause of cancer deaths, as one of only a few in the country to offer robotic Whipple procedures, a minimally invasive approach that allows for removal of a pancreatic tumor in the early stages.
And as one of only seven in the United States, a new onsite oncologic physical therapy residency program will provide immersive training in cancer care. Megan Burkart, residency program coordinator, said she hopes to increase the number of trained therapists so patients have more access to cancer-specific care.
“This residency will provide an opportunity for physical therapists to gain hands-on experience working with these complex patients to improve their quality of life with cancer in West Virginia and across the nation,” Burkart said.
Healthy hearts and minds
Scientists don’t fully understand why women in their 20s, 30s and 40s tend to develop cardiovascular-disease risk factors faster than men of similar ages.
Bethany Barone Gibbs, who chairs the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health, is exploring what role adverse pregnancy outcomes play in that disparity and whether physical activity can reduce or eliminate it.
At the Heart and Vascular Institute, with locations in Morgantown, Parkersburg and Martinsburg, teams consist of pioneers in robotic operations of the heart, lungs and esophagus. Robotics requires only a small opening as opposed to a traditional open-heart incision. WVU surgeons developed the robotic aortic valve replacement technique in 2020 and routinely perform robotic cardiac operations on multiple valves.
Elsewhere, the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute has garnered international attention in brain research and patient care.
RNI helped lead a 2020 study demonstrating the opening of the blood-brain barrier in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex using focused ultrasound to treat patients with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
RNI also launched a first-in-the-U.S. clinical trial using deep brain stimulation for patients battling treatment-resistant opioid use disorder.
To further combat the opioid epidemic, the School of Pharmacy and its Rational Drug Therapy Program partnered with the state Department of Health and Human Resources to implement the WV Safe and Effective Management of Pain Guidelines.
“Some phenomenal efforts to address the opioid crisis are originating in our state, and they are gaining recognition among healthcare professionals in the U.S. and across the globe,” said Mark Garofoli, School of Pharmacy assistant professor and director of experiential learning. “There is terminology out there referring to these efforts as the ‘West Virginia Way’.”
Health Sciences recently launched a website dedicated to information about substance use and the WVU vision for a path forward.
Community engagement and outreach
West Virginia is home to high numbers of motor vehicle and ATV-related deaths, fatal occupational injuries and accidental poisoning deaths. The Critical Care and Trauma Institute aims to reverse these trends.
Among the efforts is Stop the Bleed, a national program linking professionals with communities to teach and train teachers, law enforcement staff and first responders in using tourniquets, pressure dressing and other methods to give people who would otherwise bleed to death a chance to survive.
The Celebrating Healthy West Virginia project pairs the School of Public Health’s West Virginia Prevention Research Center with the Bureau of Public Health to evaluate communities’ quality of life. Participants learn from advisers, experts and past participants who offer actionable advice on building healthier communities.
The Healthy Harrison initiative, a nonprofit coalition supported by WVU and WVU Medicine, works to change the health and well-being of local residents and make the community more vibrant, safe and healthy. Through its Health Games project competition, the program developed and implemented an app emphasizing micro goals to improve individuals’ overall health. In 2021, 214 Health Games participants lost 2,728 pounds.
At the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute at WVU, researchers are part of a national study examining the effects of “long COVID-19” in populations traditionally underrepresented in clinical studies.
Outreach to benefit rural communities is a WVU hallmark, and the School of Medicine presents HOPE Awards to faculty members who have developed or expanded programs.
“Anything we can do to support people who really want to do some good is important,” said Dr. Bill Ramsey, associate vice president for coordination and logistics and chief collaboration officer at Health Sciences. “Efforts such as these HOPE awards can often make a big difference in communities who need them.”
Children and families
WVU Medicine Children’s is home to the state’s largest — and most experienced — group of pediatric physicians and specialists. In 2022, it opened its new 150-bed, $215 million hospital in Morgantown to further accommodate children and their health.
Meanwhile, pediatric telemedicine reduces barriers to care for young patients by allowing them to visit advanced practice providers and virtually meet with subspecialists.
The first multi-specialty telemedicine clinic opened in 2018. The program includes clinics in Martinsburg, Wheeling, Vienna, Summersville, Princeton and Weirton, and LaVale, Maryland.
Each year, the School of Dentistry participates in the national dental access program “Give Kids A Smile” to provide underserved children with a free oral health care visit.
“We continue to see an increase in the volume of pediatric patients who need emergency and comprehensive oral care,” said Dr. Gina Graziani, pediatric dentist and department chair. “Providing additional opportunities for early exams and interventions can help decrease the dental disease burden in our children.”
In one day, DDS and dental hygiene students treat more than 100 patients from ages 1 to 17. The free visit includes exams, cleanings, appropriate X-rays and fluoride treatments. For many children, it’s their first dental clinic visit.
Network for care and education
For students pursuing health sciences degrees, choices exist throughout the region.
The Morgantown campus is the largest concentration of health care, research and health professions resources in the state. Across its schools, Health Sciences offers 47 degree and certificate programs and 50 medical, dental and public health residency and fellowship programs. A major occupational health research facility, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, serves as a partner.
On the Charleston campus, medical students complete training through an affiliation with Charleston Area Medical Center and in partnership with the Schools of Nursing and Pharmacy.
The Eastern campus in Martinsburg maintains a clinical partnership with WVU Medicine’s Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg and Jefferson Medical Center in Ranson. The campus offers a focus on rural health including the state’s burden of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke through the WVU Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Health.
As they pursue careers focused on caring and compassion, the inaugural School of Nursing student ambassadors demonstrate their dedication by sharing personal experiences and expertise with the next generation of students.
At the Keyser and Beckley campuses, students can earn a traditional BSN. In a unique partnership, a new wing of WVU Medicine United Hospital Center in Bridgeport houses an accelerated BS/BA to BSN nursing program. Mirroring Morgantown’s program, it provides entry into the nursing profession for students already holding a bachelor’s degree in another field.
“At West Virginia University, we are unified in our purpose to discover innovative solutions to West Virginia’s most difficult health problems,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, chancellor and executive dean for Health Sciences. “On our campuses and through clinical partnerships around the state, we are conducting groundbreaking research, providing experiential learning opportunities and focusing on the health, wellness and well-being of our communities.”
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WVU Health Sciences
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