Kimberly Evans with mentors Drs. Richard Bradley, Theresa Koehler, and Robert Emery.
Kimberly Evans with mentors Drs. Richard Bradley, Theresa Koehler, and Robert Emery.

A medical student recently organized and led a public health emergency response drill involving approximately 100 people from hospital systems, law enforcement, media, public health departments, and other entities involved in emergency preparedness and response.

Participants gathered Jan. 16 at UTHealth’s Denton A. Cooley, M.D. and Ralph C. Cooley, D.D.S. University Life Center to learn about a chemical contamination event and were encouraged to discuss their roles in the fictitious situation. At the end of the exercise, it was revealed that the story was actually modeled after a true incident that occurred in 1981 in Spain, where hundreds of people died from contaminated cooking oil.

“This kind of drill is valuable because it’s important for people to know what’s going on upstream and downstream from their role in a public health response continuum,” said Dr. Robert Emery, professor of occupational health at UTHealth School of Public Health and vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management at UTHealth.

Kimberly Evans, organizer of the event, is a second-year medical student who has chosen Emergency Preparedness and Response Program as her Scholarly Concentration.

“As a future physician, I believe it is important to be aware of how public health disasters can occur and how I can be prepared to respond to these situations. The Emergency Preparedness and Response Scholarly Concentration has allowed me to explore this topic with the help of mentors throughout UTHealth,” Evans said.

The Emergency Preparedness and Response Scholarly Concentration spans several aspects of science and health. Students who choose this concentration can focus on emergency medicine, public health response, or basic science. While Evans has chosen to develop a community exercise, another student in the concentration has elected to study the basic science of biological agents that can result in disease.

“Students in our Emergency Preparedness and Response Scholarly Concentration program are very independent and hardworking. They create their own research projects and we provide them support as needed,” said Dr. Theresa Koehler, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.

The concentration is divided into three parts. Students develop their own research project, which usually begins the summer following their first year of medical school and continues as they progress through medical school. They also take didactic courses, which can include lectures on topics such as bioterrorism and response as well as FEMA supplementary courses. The final phase of the concentration is an experiential component, which may include participation in a hospital emergency drill.

“Exercises such as this provide an excellent training opportunity for emergency physicians, since they are the first physicians to care for patients during and after a critical incident,” said Dr. Richard Bradley, associate professor of emergency medicine and chief of the Division of EMS and Disaster Medicine.  Bradley co-directs the concentration program with Emery and Koehler.

-Hannah Rhodes, Office of Public Affairs, Media Relations