Hundreds of PHHP students graduated in UF ceremonies this spring. They have accepted positions in graduate degree programs, health care facilities, academic institutions, research organizations and public health agencies. In this issue we highlight three new graduates whose work has already made an impact at local, state or national levels.
Lauren Pacho is quick: She talks quickly. She earned her undergraduate degree quickly, and her time in the UF Doctor of Physical Therapy program also shaped up to be — yep — quick.
Pacho sped through her undergraduate degree from George Washington University in three years. But she says her accomplishment has nothing to do with talent
“I went to a really expensive school,” Pacho said, laughing. “I wish it was more profound than that.”
Still, that meant Pacho took 20 credits per semester to graduate in 2012 with a degree in international affairs. While earning this degree, she also fulfilled the prerequisites for a physical therapy graduate program.
As a D.P.T. student, Pacho didn’t abandon her political science background. She is an advocate for the American Physical Therapy Association, the Florida Physical Therapy Association and the APTA’s Private Practice Section. She attends advocacy meetings in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee several times per year, and she is in frequent contact with legislators.
“As a profession we have a responsibility to our patients and to ourselves to have a voice on the Hill and to work towards better patient care,” she said. “If we aren’t there, somebody else will speak for us, and it won’t be the message that we need to send. Fortunately, the past few years have brought us small victories as a profession, but with therapy caps still in place, limited direct access for PT services, flawed payment methods and more issues facing us, there is plenty more work to be done. I am proud to be a part of the process.”Pacho supports bills that would allow physical therapists to extend care for patients who need it — currently, patients need a referral after 21 days of therapy — as well as regulating who can use the Doctor of Physical Therapy initials. At the national level, she has advocated for a correction in a bill that, thanks to a missing comma, combined physical therapy with speech therapy and capped the aount of treatment a patient can receive per year covered by insurance at $1,940.
“For me, advocacy is a huge passion of mine. I spend the equivalent of a part-time job working in advocacy,” Pacho said. “I love it, though. It’s a great way for me to use my background.”
Following her graduation, Pacho plans to pursue a residency position in neurology.
“As a physical therapist, you’re spending two to three days a week with your patients, for 45 minutes to an hour,” she said. “You get to see their day-to-day progress and be in the trenches with them.”
Devin Ross’ four years at UF have been packed with volunteering, mentoring and research assistantships, all in addition to her coursework as a student in the Bachelor of Health Science program.
At the heart of her work is the desire to break down the stigma of mental illness.
Ross served two years as president of UF’s chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms, a national organization that supports people dealing with addiction, depression, self-injury and thoughts of suicide. She worked as a research assistant for two projects led by researchers at UF’s Institute for Child Health Policy: a community alcohol prevention program for the Cherokee Nation, and a study of how economic policies, such as minimum wage and tax credits, affect social determinants of child health. She also volunteered with a group of PHHP graduate students on the development of a mobile application that helps adolescents manage their mental health care.
Ross’ interest in mental health awareness and care comes from personal experience. For many years her mother, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. When Ross and her father were able to get her mother admitted to a rehab program, her mother’s condition improved. But care was cut short when the family’s insurance company refused to pay for the full course of physician-recommended treatment.
“I was devastated because I had been fighting my mother’s addictions alongside her for the past five years, and I finally felt that we were winning the battle,” Ross said.
It was at that moment Ross decided on a career.
“I thought, ‘What can I do in the future to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else?’” she said. “I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to transforming the health care system.”
This fall Ross begins the master’s in health administration program at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Eventually Ross’ mother received the treatment she needed and she has been sober for two years. Ross says they are working to rebuild their relationship. She still plans to take every opportunity to share her story.
“If I’m able to talk to people and share my experiences maybe I’ll be able to help someone else in the same situation.”
Six years ago Cuc Tran was fresh out of UF, having earned back-to-back degrees, including a master’s in public health. Not quite sure what she wanted to specialize in, she took a job with the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute helping to coordinate the Control Flu program.
A partnership between UF, the Alachua County Department of Health and the Alachua County Public Schools, the Control Flu program aimed to vaccinate the county’s schoolchildren in order to reduce the spread of flu throughout the community.
“When we restarted the program, she ran it, and she learned how to interact with the entire community to bring 32 different community organizations together while supervising a group of volunteer interns,” said Parker Small, M.D., a professor emeritus of pediatrics and pathology and one of Tran’s mentors. “And she did a superb job.”
Tran began the college’s doctoral program in environmental and global health in 2012. Her studies of the effectiveness of the school-based vaccination model led her to become a leading authority on the subject, Small said. Her dissertation demonstrated Alachua County’s program indirectly protected 90 percent of 0-4 year-olds and protected 80 percent of school-age children while immunizing 50 percent of schoolchildren in the county. Her work also shows that flu vaccination on a national level could save billions in health care costs.
This summer Tran begins a position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, which works to prevent, identify and respond to deadly disease outbreaks. The elite program only accepts 80 new officers each year. Tran has been assigned to work with poxvirus and rabies and her field work will take her to the Republic of the Congo and Vietnam.
“Her growth has been remarkable,” Small said. “She has gone off to a highly competitive CDC program, which is further evidence of how accomplished she has become. She will rise to a high position in public health.”
Although she is excited about what comes next, for Tran leaving Gainesville is bittersweet. She arrived 13 years ago at age 18, beginning her undergraduate degree in the summer as part of a program for first-generation students to assimilate to college life.
“Everyone has been so amazing and so supportive,” she said. “They made every day working feel like I wasn’t working.”
–April Frawley Lacey