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Texas A&M Health team receives national recognition for collaborative service in South Texas

The Excellence in IPE Collaboration Award recognizes an interprofessional team of students, staff and faculty for their work with Operation Border Health Preparedness
Asim Abu-Baker, LeRoy Marklund, and Kelly Sopchak

Three faculty members at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) were named this year’s recipients of the Excellence in IPE Collaboration Award from the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) and United States Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Officers Foundation (COF). Asim Abu-Baker, PharmD, LeRoy A. Marklund, DNP, MPH, RN, and Kelly Sopchak, PhD, LSSP, were chosen to receive the award for their collaboration with the State of Texas’ Operation Border Health Preparedness (OBHP).

Abu-Baker, associate dean for clinical and professional affairs at the Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy, served as principal investigator for the application. Marklund, clinical assistant professor at the School of Nursing, and Sopchak, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and manager of the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program at the School of Medicine, represent the 2023 Texas A&M OBHP planning committee.

The interprofessional team of students, faculty and staff that served on the committee includes Karen Beathard, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND, instructional associate professor in the Department of Nutrition; Stephen “Eric” Grayson, PharmD, assistant professor of pharmacy practice in the School of Pharmacy; Krystal Flores, DrPh, MPH, instructional assistant professor in the School of Public Health; Garett Sansom, DrPh, research assistant professor in the School of Public Health; and Debra Zoran, DVM, PhD, professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Operation Border Health Preparedness (OBHP)

Christine Kaunas, EdD, MPH, assistant vice president of Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (IPER) at Texas A&M Health, has been involved with Operation Border Health Preparedness for several years.

School of Pharmacy student Jessica Sierra handles patient information at PSJA Early College High School in Pharr, Texas, during Operation Border Health Preparedness. (Cameron Johnson / Texas A&M Health)

“Operation Border Health Preparedness (OBHP) is the State of Texas’ annual disaster preparedness exercise led by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS),” she said. “The exercise, which takes place in several locations along the South Texas border, tests disaster response capacity and provides much needed health care for underserved communities.”

Abu-Baker and Texas A&M Health’s OBHP planning committee, with support from the IPER office, plan and coordinate Texas A&M Health’s participation by recruiting students and faculty, developing participant orientation, creating interprofessional protocols that overlay OBHP activities, ensuring participant compliance with OBHP training requirements, coordinating assignments to interprofessional teams, making site assignments across the participating counties, and assessing the impact of OBHP participation on student learning.

The most recent operation took place July 24-28, 2023, in five cities across the Rio Grande Valley—Brownsville, Laredo, Raymondville, Rio Grande City and San Juan—and provided numerous services for more than 6,000 patients, including free physicals, screenings, dental care, immunizations, vision exams, free eyeglasses and veterinary services for cats and dogs. In this medically underserved region, this event is many residents’ sole opportunity to receive care, and many line up for hours—even overnight—to secure their spot.

Student learning

Participation in OBHP provides Texas A&M students with hands-on, collaborative practice in patient care, making OBHP the highest impact of the interprofessional education (IPE) opportunities promoted by IPER. IPER provides students with a series of strategically sequenced IPE opportunities—an interprofessional Disaster Response Curriculum—that increase in complexity, starting with TeamSTEPPS® Training and Virtual Disaster Day (currently under development) in the fall, a full-scale disaster simulation in the spring with simulated patients, and finally, OBHP in the summer with real patients.

Texas A&M pharmacy students work with the Texas State Guard Medical Brigade during Operation Border Health Preparedness in San Juan, Texas. (Cameron Johnson / Texas A&M Health)

During OBHP, Texas A&M Health students assist with human health services and care, while the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) provides veterinary care. Last year, the VET completed a record 1,022 veterinary visits in Raymondville, a community that doesn’t have a veterinarian.

“OBHP approaches public health holistically,” said Zoran, director of the VET. “While we provide care to cats and dogs and help protect both them and their families from illness, our colleagues in human medicine provide people in the community essential health care. Together, we’re serving Texans in need while also ensuring our ability to respond to the next major disaster.”

Interprofessional collaboration is evident in the breadth and scope of the academic disciplines, government agencies and community organizations involved in OBHP.

“Many OBHP practices have been modified and elevated by our student participants,” Kaunas said. “For example, pharmacy students embedded with military medical staff suggested having Texas A&M students provide training to all site personnel who collect vitals and related information to ensure proper care, provide greater efficiency and improve patient flow.”

The OBHP planning committee has also worked to have Texas A&M students provide other opportunities, such as training for health care professionals on human trafficking. OBHP leadership implemented this suggestion across all sites. In addition, Texas A&M public health students furthered OBHP data collection efforts to provide additional analytics for the event.

Community impact

Texas A&M’s IPE goal is embedded in the university’s broader institutional commitment to rural health care and aligns with OBHP’s overall goal to help communities get ready for disasters and to offer free health care services to the community during the event.

Texas A&M volunteers worked with DSHS employees, military medical personnel, local health department officials and volunteers from other organizations to improve the health of Texans working towards improving health literacy, awareness and behavior.

people sit in chairs lined up along a high school hallway
Thousands of South Texans benefit from the health services provided during Operation Border Health Preparedness. (Cameron Johnson / Texas A&M Health)

OBHP partners with local leaders and organizations who live in the participating communities. Local volunteers are imperative to the success of OBHP, and several volunteers from Texas A&M are from the participating communities. One pharmacy student serving in Starr County reported that what they liked most about participating in OBHP 2023 was “being able to help my community and see more clearly how much health care is lacking within it.”

The Interprofessional Education Collaborative and United States Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Foundation will recognize these efforts on July 12, 2024, at the IPEC Membership Meeting and Award Ceremony held at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. Abu-Baker, Marklund and Sopchak will accept the recognition on behalf of all who served from Texas A&M.

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