USUHS Grads, Experts Step Into COVID-19 Fight With ‘Can-Do Attitude’

USUHS Grads, Experts Step Into COVID-19 Fight With ‘Can-Do Attitude’
Camille Alba, lead associate for the Genetic Determinants of Susceptibility to Severe COVID-19 Infection project for the Uniformed Services University's American Genome Center, monitors the production of DNA libraries using the Microlab STAR precision liquid handling robot at USU. (Photo by Akea Brown via DoD)

Members of the Class of 2020 at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) didn’t get a graduation week filled with celebrations and family. Like many other students, they made do with a virtual ceremony.


Unlike many other students, these graduates stepped immediately into the nation’s struggle against COVID-19. Many of the students at USUHS, -- a university with the sole responsibility to train our next generation of physicians, nurses, and other allied health professionals – had graduated early, providing our nation’s stretched health care system with a much-needed injection of high quality medical providers. 


“The military are experts in bringing together research capabilities, logistics, and command and control elements in support of crisis situations,” said Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Richard Thomas, USA (Ret), the sixth president of USUHS, in an interview with MOAA.


Thomas said he realized the university, and the military, would need to be heavily engaged in pandemic response in early February, as the virus raged in China. He based his plans on the evolution of the H1N1 and Ebola outbreaks, and he emphasized that “knowing the high quality of our students and faculty with their can-do attitude, we could make it happen in short order. … That’s what we do.”


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USUHS brings advanced medical capabilities to this fight through its world-class centers of Disaster Preparedness and Public Health; Infectious Disease Research; Global Health Engagement; the Center for Traumatic Stress; and the Center for Deployment Psychology. This only scratches the surface of the ongoing contributions being made by the university to both military and civilian health care systems.


USUHS is providing leadership and expertise in conjunction with partners such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the area of infectious disease, serving as the hub for the military health system. Part of the work involves overseeing extensive research efforts examining the epidemiology, immunology, and clinical characteristics of emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential. This study will discern how COVID-19 and other diseases spread and evolve so they can be prevented in the future.


The school’s Center for Deployment Psychology created a COVID-19 resource page featuring new content to assist providers and patients in light of the pandemic. It includes content related to general telehealth concerns, working with specific patient populations, and responses to social distancing/isolation. 


The pandemic, and the crucial role played by the military and MHS in response to it, “has crystallized the value proposition and how important USUHS is in the production of high-quality health care providers,” Thomas said.


It also led DoD to delay plans to reduce military medical personnel, a move Thomas supports.


“We should be glad the services decided to pause and do a thorough analysis before any action or reductions could occur,” he said.


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Thomas has appointed a committee to track and capture all the ways USUHS experts have been actively engaged in the fight against the pandemic and in support efforts, with the hope that lessons learned can enhance preparedness for, and support to, future contingencies.


Beyond the pandemic, Thomas pointed to a national doctor shortage as a key reason to keep USUHS strong.


“The future is bright for the university,” he said. “We need new structures to modernize and evolve the medical education and research experience to accommodate for the training of more health care professionals."


Beasley, a retired captain of the U.S. Navy, is a former director of health affairs for MOAA Government Relations. 


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About the Author

Capt. Kathryn M. Beasley, USN (Ret), is a former director of health affairs for MOAA Government Relations.