Respiratory therapy program expands capacity
The bachelor’s degree program in respiratory therapy (RT) at the College of Rehabilitation Sciences has increased its class size to address a projected shortage of respiratory therapists in Manitoba.
The number of students accepted into the program has grown from 16 to 20 per year. In September, the province announced an investment of $482,000 to help offset the operating costs of the new seats, fund equipment and renovations, and lay the groundwork for further expansion.
The three-year professional program is the only RT program in Manitoba. Peter Nickerson [B.Sc.(Med.)/86, MD/86], dean of the Rady Faculty, said the increased class size is vital for the province’s health-care teams because the projected shortage of respiratory therapists is already being felt.
“This labour shortage has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nickerson said.
In 2020 and 2021, the Manitoba Association of Registered Respiratory Therapists enabled all students in their final year to graduate four weeks early to assist with the need created by the pandemic.
New funding to support brain injury research
In October, the Health Sciences Centre Foundation, Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) and UM jointly announced $3.5 million in support for research led by Frederick Zeiler [B.Sc./05, MD/10], associate professor of surgery.
Zeiler, a neurosurgeon, has a research focus on developing personalized approaches to reduce death and disability in patients with severe traumatic brain injuries.
UM contributed $1.5 million and MPI $2 million to the HSC Foundation. With this new funding in place, the MPI Professorship in Neuroscience, which Zeiler holds, can be elevated to an MPI Chair in Neuroscience.
Zeiler said the funding will allow him to expand his research space, hire new personnel and acquire more complex equipment. It will raise the stature of his research program, he said, and help him to attract top talent.
Peter Nickerson [B.Sc.(Med.)/86, MD/86], dean of the Rady Faculty, said the partnership with the HSC Foundation and MPI will lead to improved patient outcomes.
“Working together with our health-care partners and a community partner will allow us to make a difference in diagnosis, treatment and recovery for those experiencing traumatic brain injuries right here in Manitoba,” Nickerson said.
CBC Future 40 Award winners have Rady ties
Two accomplished professors with ties to the College of Pharmacy were among the 10 winners of CBC Manitoba’s 2022 Future 40 Awards. The awards recognize Manitobans under the age of 40 who are making a difference in their communities.
Brett Houston [B.Sc./09, B.Sc. (Med.)/13, MD/13, PhD/22], who earned her PhD from the College of Pharmacy, is an assistant professor of internal medicine in the Max Rady College of Medicine. Houston, a hematologist, works with elderly patients who have leukemia and bone marrow failure. As a researcher, she is involved in clinical trials of blood-related medications.
Dr. Kaarina Kowalec [B.Sc. (Hons.)/08, M.Sc./11], assistant professor of pharmacy, holds a PhD in genomics and epidemiology. Her research is in the field of precision medicine – the tailoring of treatment to the individual, based on their genetic profile. She has a particular focus on patients with multiple sclerosis or psychiatric illnesses.
Dustin Murdock [MPT/20], a UM physical therapy alumnus, was also a CBC Future 40 Award winner. Murdock, who formerly owned a fitness centre in his home community of Fisher River Cree Nation, has opened a physiotherapy practice with a vision to empower clients.
Alumni in health professions celebrate at Homecoming
A total of 125 alumni representing all five colleges of the Rady Faculty gathered in the Brodie Centre atrium in September for the Dean’s Homecoming Breakfast, followed by tours of the College of Pharmacy and the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry.
The alumni in attendance belonged to classes that were celebrating milestone reunions, such as the Class of 1997 (25 years).
Hannah Payumo [BN/21], a 2021 nursing alumna who works at St. Boniface Hospital, spoke at the breakfast, describing how her class’s education was shaped by the pandemic. “We learned resilience, working together as a team and finding creative solutions,” she said.
Later the same day, the College of Nursing gave a Homecoming tour of the Helen Glass Centre for Nursing on the Fort Garry campus to alumni from 1972, 1982, 1997 and 2002.
The tour included remarks from Health Minister Audrey Gordon.
“I encourage you to take time to reflect on your role in nursing, the skills you’ve learned, the contributions you’ve made and the impacts you’ve had,” Gordon told the current and retired nurses. “It’s impressive and worthy of celebration.”
Grad student researches trans health education
Jess Crawford remembers that during their entire bachelor of nursing program in Ontario, there was only one hour devoted to trans health and gender identity.
“A white transgender woman came in and spoke to our class,” said the nurse, who graduated in 2017. “It was awesome to hear her lived experience, but there was no other education around trans health. There needs to be a lot more … throughout the curriculum.”
While working as a community care and mental health nurse in Ontario, Jess came out as trans non-binary. Now a master’s student at the College of Nursing, they are researching the experiences of Manitoba nursing educators and students in teaching and learning about trans health.
Jess said attention must be paid to intersectionality – the ways in which aspects of a person’s identity, such as race, disability and gender identity, can intersect in their experiences of discrimination.
They hope their research will lead to more comprehensive health-professional education about intersectional gender-affirming care, as well as trans health.
Oral health leaders honoured by peers
During UM Homecoming in September, oral health professionals and friends gathered for a gala awards evening at the Fort Garry Hotel.
Alexander “Sandy” Mutchmor [DMD/83] received the Alumni of Distinction Award from the UM Dental Alumni Association. The Winnipeg dentist has served as president of organizations such as the Manitoba Dental Association and the Canadian Dental Association. He has also chaired countless task forces, working groups and committees.
“To be acknowledged by this group is an incredible honour,” Mutchmor said.
The UM School of Dental Hygiene Alumni Association recognized Mickey Emmons Wener [M.Ed./86] with an honorary Alumni of Distinction Award.
Wener, who earned her dental hygiene degree in Kentucky, came to Manitoba in 1973. She has had an influential career, committed to improving access to care. She joined the UM faculty in 1978 and retired in 2012. Her trailblazing work included advocating for Manitoba’s Dental Hygienists Act.
“I am so thankful to the University of Manitoba for a wonderful career,” Wener said.
Gerald Niznick [DMD/66, D.Sc./02], benefactor of the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry, and his wife were guests at the gala, which also honoured the Dentistry Classes of 1970 and 1972.
Med student recognized with Hall of Fame award
Emelissa Valcourt [B.Sc. (Hons.)/14, M.Sc./16], a high-achieving scientist and medical student, is the UM recipient of the 2022 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Award.
The honour goes to one second-year student at each Canadian medical school who demonstrates community leadership, an interest in advancing knowledge and superior communication skills.
While completing her master’s in immunology at UM, Valcourt designed a dual-acting vaccine against HIV and Ebola. After graduating in 2016, she worked at the National Microbiology Laboratory, where she developed a serologic test that was used to detect protective antibodies in COVID-19 patients.
A member of the Medicine Class of 2024, Valcourt founded the Filipino Association of Medical Students at UM. In the bachelor of science in medicine program, which enables medical students to conduct summer research, she won awards for her project related to heart failure.
Valcourt’s goal is to become a clinician-scientist who bridges the gap between the lab and patient care. “It’s one thing to develop vaccines or therapeutics and test them out, but it’s another thing to see how those interventions can affect a person and their quality of life,” she said.
Sculpture pays tribute to ‘special courage’
A bronze sculpture has been installed on the Bannatyne campus in tribute to all the health-care workers who have answered the call to fight COVID-19, and to women in medical science.
The sculpture, A Manitoba Scientist, is displayed on the Joe Doupe Concourse in the Basic Medical Sciences Building. It depicts a woman research scientist wearing a lab coat, with safety goggles pushed up on her forehead.
The bronze was donated to the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences by Military Heritage of Manitoba. The organization commissioned it from artist Erin Brown [BFA (Hons.)/09], an alumna of the UM School of Art, as part of a series.
Artistic representations of women in science are rare, said Dr. Neeloffer Mookherjee, professor of internal medicine and chair of Women in Science: Development, Outreach and Mentorship (WISDOM).
Mookherjee welcomed the sculpture as “inspirational for everybody, especially young women scientists.”
Gary Solar, a retired colonel representing Military Heritage of Manitoba, said it’s important to honour the COVID-era service of health-care workers and scientists.
“It takes special courage for people in the health industry to do this every single day,” he said.
Watch a video about the sculpture:
Pharmacy students attain national leadership roles
Three College of Pharmacy students hold leadership positions on this school year’s Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns (CAPSI) executive, marking the first time UM has been so strongly represented on the board.
CAPSI is a national community of students from pharmacy schools at 10 universities. The association organizes conferences, connects students and advocates for their interests.
National president Christine Vaccaro [B.Sc./18], vice-president of professional affairs Marianna Pozdirca and president-elect Madison Wong [M.Sc./20], along with nine other executive board members, represent the interests of more than 4,000 pharmacy students across the country.
Nursing learners hone skills in virtual reality
Students at the College of Nursing have a new high-tech learning tool with the recent opening of an immersive virtual reality (VR) lab.
Students work in pairs in the lab. One wears a VR headset and uses hand controls, acting as a bedside nurse for a virtual patient. The other uses a computer to control the virtual patient’s responses by choosing from pre-recorded options.
The active player is completely immersed in a 3D hospital environment. Third-year student Morgan Sawchyn’s first scenario involved a patient who had taken an opioid overdose.
“I had to provide care, give him a reversal agent (antidote), give him oxygen and make sure he didn’t suffer negative consequences. But his ‘daughter’ was also in the room, so I had to educate her,” Sawchyn said. “It’s very realistic.”
The VR program adds to existing simulation platforms at the College of Nursing that use manikins or standardized patients (actors who portray patients).
Funding for the $50,000 VR initiative came from the $30 million donation made by Ernest Rady [BComm/58, LLB/62, LLD/15] and Evelyn Rady [BA/60, BSW/61, MSW/67] to support the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.
Student combines passions for genetics and dentistry
When Berardino “Dino” Petrelli [M.Sc./18] earned his master’s in biochemistry and medical genetics at UM, his focus was on creating a genetic model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in mice.
He became so enthralled by this research that he abandoned his childhood dream of becoming a dentist.
Then something about the “FASD” mice seized his attention. He realized that the abnormal curvature of their snouts was a genetic duplicate of the under-researched “oral signature” of FASD in humans: a narrow oral cavity, high arched palate and misalignment of the upper and lower teeth, causing bite problems.
“A lightbulb went off in my head,” he said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can join both my passions.’”
In 2018, Petrelli embarked on his PhD in biochemistry and medical genetics. The following year, he was accepted into the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry. He expects to receive both his dentistry degree and his doctorate in 2023 – a rare concurrent achievement.
His long-term plan is to join academia and conduct craniofacial research. “One of my goals is to help dentists do better surveillance for FASD,” he said.
Dr. Krishnamurti Dakshinamurti, a distinguished bio-chemist, human rights advocate and longtime UM professor, passed away in October at the age of 94.
Dakshinamurti joined the UM department of biochemistry in 1965. He retired as professor emeritus in 1998. His research included work on the physiology and pharmacology of B vitamins, childhood epilepsy, vitamin-dependency syndromes, diabetes and metabolic syndrome diseases.
He was a senior advisor to the St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre. His work to promote human rights included founding the Mahatma Gandhi Centre of Canada. In 2020, he was invested into the Order of Manitoba.
Students examine long-COVID research on children
Two undergraduate student researchers say more study is needed on the long-term effects of COVID-19 in children.
Catherine Campos, a second-year respiratory therapy student, and Samantha Prokopich, a second-year student in the interdisciplinary health program, conducted two summer research projects with Dr. Diana Sanchez-Ramirez, assistant professor of respiratory therapy.
Their primary project was a systematic review of studies focused on persistent long-COVID effects on lung function, cardiorespiratory symptoms and fatigue in children and teenagers.
“The research on children and adolescents is scarce,” Campos said. “We looked at things like [children’s] ability to return to school.”
Children are less likely than adults to have follow-up appointments after the acute phase of COVID, Campos noted.
The students’ second project is an online survey, open to all Manitobans, aimed at better understanding the prevalence and long-term symptoms of COVID-19 in the province.
Dean’s Prize honours outstanding grad students
Six master’s or doctoral students received the Dean of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences Graduate Student Achievement Prize in 2022. The prize recognizes outstanding academic achievement, leadership skills and personal service.