Each year, alumni from the School of Health Professions emerge as leaders in their respective fields. Whether they're just down the street or across the globe, SHP is proud to salute these alumni who continuously represent the school through exemplary work. In this issue, we spotlight Johanna Gilstrap, Rodger Brown, Chirapa Raksakorn, Latonya Bufford, and Mike Eskridge Ethan White.
She is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) stationed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. In fact, she’s the first respiratory therapist to be commissioned. She serves as the respiratory therapy program manager within the Office of Safety, Health, and Environment.
“Anyone who is required to wear a respirator to protect against airborne contaminants on the job must come through the program for training and fit testing of the respirator(s) prior to initial use and annually thereafter,” says Gilstrap.
The program serves laboratorians, epidemiologists, veterinarians, and many other disciplines. Last year, the program had more than 800 employees enrolled. Gilstrap arrived at UAB in the late 1990s not knowing what profession she would pursue. “SHP was unique because it offered a wide range of programs,” she says. “I knew I would find my calling there.”
After graduating from the respiratory therapy program in 1998, Gilstrap worked in a clinical setting at a teaching hospital for more than eight years, but she needed a new challenge. “I obtained a contracting position at the CDC, and I became more interested in the basic public health ethos of disease prevention and health promotion,” she says.
Gilstrap earned her master’s degree in public health and applied to the USPHS Commissioned Corps. She was called to active duty on January 6, 2012.
When the president of North Mississippi Health Services wanted to expand the knowledge and leadership skills of his team back in 1999, he asked Rodger Brown to research top programs nationwide.
For Brown, the program needed to broaden the horizon of executives already familiar with health care and accommodate the hectic schedules of business leaders and physicians. “The program had to be of great value based on the dollars paid,” explains Brown, who graduated from UAB’s Executive Master of Science Health Administration program in 2002. “UAB was the clear choice for us. Interestingly, I had not planned on attending. Once I made my presentation to the president and we agreed on UAB, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘You are going, aren’t you?’ That decision has definitely given me a greater understanding of how health systems operate. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to attend UAB.”
UAB’s Executive MSHA Program was created to prepare students for senior management positions in the health field. It was established with busy executives in mind, requiring them to visit the UAB campus a total of eight days three times each year to earn their degree in just two years. When not attending campus sessions, students continue their studies through online distance learning. The program has thrived because of Brown’s efforts, with 29 people completing the curriculum so far, over the last 10 years.
“We use the UAB program as part of our leadership development and succession plan,” says Brown, who currently serves as vice president of human resources at NMHS. “Everyone who has graduated is a more successful leader, and many have been promoted due to the skill set learned. UAB has a great reputation, especially in developing health-care leaders. “The diversity of those attending, which included administrators, clinicians, and physicians, was a huge advantage. Listening and understanding from those with different backgrounds has given me a whole new perspective of health care.”
Chirapa Raksakorn is using her training in clinical and laboratory sciences (CLS) to help ensure the quality of medical devices a half a world away through her role with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand.
Raksakorn is responsible for drafting standards and coordinating international affairs for the FDA’s Medical Device Control Division.
“My CLS degree really opened up my career opportunities,” she says. “With my background with in vitro diagnostic devices, I understand how to draft laws and regulations regarding these devices.”
Additionally, Raksakorn also serves as international affairs coordinator of her division, which allowed her opportunities to participate
in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings as a national delegate. The ASEAN subcommittee is drafting documents, some of which are related to clinical laboratory sciences. “I am thankful for all the professors and staff members for their dedication to students,” she says. “Every class provided me valuable experiences and has brought me down an extraordinary career path.”
LaTonya Bufford serves as data manager for Rho, Inc., a contract research organization operating in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
As senior clinical data project manager, Bufford is responsible for clinical data monitoring of all data-related activities for sponsorrelated clinical trials. “We verify that data submitted during a clinical trial is accurate and in compliance with all federal guidelines for the collection, management, and storage of clinical data,” she says. “As data managers, we are tasked with the responsibility for a core aspect of clinical research by ensuring the integrity of data submitted to the FDA.
“My time at UAB prepared me for my career by allowing me the ability to meet individuals in the field and expand my clinical research knowledge. I was able to learn in a setting that was conducive to fully understanding the material, as well as developing friendships that will last a lifetime.”
For Mike Eskridge and Ethan White, providing outstanding patient care is a top priority. Eskridge & White Physiotherapy in Birmingham—which offers injury prevention, rehabilitation, and fitness and wellness programs—serves clients ranging from Olympic athletes and competitive runners to stroke victims and joint replacement recipients.
“I enjoy the challenges of evaluating human movement, both healthy and dysfunctional, and applying training and/or treatment techniques to improve performance and function,” says White, who received his master’s in physical therapy from the SHP in 1993. “I decided to make manual therapy the focus of my practice while I was a student at UAB. A number of faculty were instrumental in exposing us to basic manual therapy techniques and theory.”
Eskridge, a co-owner who graduated from UAB with a Bachelor of Science degree in Comprehensive Science, earned a master’s in physical therapy from the university in 1992. He specializes in manual therapy and treatment of mechanical dysfunctions in runners and triathletes, and has completed more than two dozen marathons himself.
Both partners take pride in the company they founded 13 years ago, although they admit it hasn’t always been easy. “Starting a business is very scary,” says White. “I would advise anyone interested in doing so to make sure they have a unique skill set as a therapist. Make sure, if you are a new graduate, that you are in a clinical setting where you can learn and develop the skills necessary to differentiate yourself from others in your field.
“We’ve hired a number of UAB graduates over the years,” adds White. “Mike and I know that with UAB physical therapy graduates, we’re getting motivated and well-trained individuals who are a great fit to our business.”