Inaugural ETSU Mentored Substance  Use Research training program launches

Published 4:53 pm Monday, April 19, 2021

JOHNSON CITY — This spring, East Tennessee State University launched its inaugural ETSU Mentored Substance Use Research (EMSUR) training program, designed to train substance use researchers across multiple disciplines in order to improve health outcomes in Central Appalachia.
Ten ETSU graduate students from multiple colleges and disciplines were selected for the inaugural cohort and are paired with a faculty mentor to train them in substance use research. Ten faculty members are participating as mentors in the program, which is led by Dr. Manik Ahuja, assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Management and Policy in the ETSU College of Public Health.
Ahuja, a trained substance use researcher, spearheaded the EMSUR program at ETSU after he was selected as one of five faculty members from across the country to attend New York University’s Substance Abuse Research Education and Training (SARET) Visiting Development Mentor Program.
SARET, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), trains future professionals in substance use disorder (SUD) research. NYU’s Visiting Mentor Development Program prepares faculty to create similar programs at their home institutions.
“I came away from this program excited and prepared to begin a similar program at ETSU,” Ahuja said. “My vision was to recruit students who are new to the field and who are interested in substance use research, not necessarily those who have already had experience in this area. The goal is to train new researchers. We’re bringing in people who have the aptitude and the interest to make a big impact in the region because the region is  burdened with some of the highest rates of substance misuse and drug related overdoses in the nation.”
Ahuja partnered with ETSU’s Addiction Science Center, putting out a call for applicants earlier in the spring semester. He originally planned to select five students for the inaugural cohort, but the response was so overwhelming that he was able to expand to 10 students. These students were matched with faculty mentors based on their interests. In addition to doing mentored research over the next 12 weeks, they will also complete a modular, web-based curriculum through NYU, which prepares them for SUD-related research careers.
Third-year Quillen College of Medicine student Nelly Grigorian applied and was accepted into the inaugural EMSUR cohort. She will be mentored by Dr. Brooke Schmeichel, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in Quillen College of Medicine.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the women of Appalachia, and have seen firsthand the devastating effect the opioid epidemic has had on many mothers, often even impacting their ability to care for their babies,” said Grigorian, who hopes to practice in OB/GYN. “For a woman to lose the right to care for her child due to addiction is a horrible tragedy and something I want to work against in my career. I know that my work with the EMSUR will be a great way to introduce me to the wide breadth of research currently taking place to lessen the burden of this disease to my patients, and allow me to network with other researchers currently working to fight this epidemic.”
One aspect of the program that Ahuja is especially excited about is its cross-disciplinary, interprofessional approach. Not only were students from multiple colleges and disciplines selected, but many of them were paired with faculty mentors from different colleges.
Madeline Standbridge is a student in ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine and College of Public Health. She is working on her MD/MPH with a concentration in health services administration and policy. She was paired with Dr. KariLynn Dowling-McClay, assistant professor in ETSU’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy.
“The opportunity to get involved with the Addiction Science Center was a major factor that drew me to ETSU for medical school, so I was thrilled to hear about the EMSUR program. As a future physician, I applied to the EMSUR program to better understand ways to increase access to treatment, improve health outcomes, and better advocate for individuals who use substances,” said Standbridge. “I am most excited about the opportunity to be mentored and learn alongside such a wonderful, interprofessional group. Each member of the EMSUR faculty has made such an impact within substance use research. I am looking forward to learning further about the role I can play, through interdisciplinary research, in improving  health outcomes within Central Appalachia.”
The following students were selected for the inaugural EMSUR cohort:
– Esosa Mohammed (College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences), mentored by Dr. Bill Brooks, College of Public Health

– Nelly Grigorian (Quillen College of Medicine/College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Brooke Schmeichel, Quillen College of Medicine
– Monika Jain (Quillen College of Medicine/College of Public Health), mentored by  Dr. Manik Ahuja, College of Public Health
– Katie Langley (College of Nursing), mentored by  Dr. Karilynn Dowling-McClay, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy
– Abby McCurry (Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy), mentored by Dr. Stephanie Mathis and Dr. Kate Beatty, College of Public Health
– Nneka Nwosisi (Quillen College of Medicine/College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Abbey Mann, Quillen College of Medicine
– James Owens (Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy), mentored by Dr. Siva Digavalli, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy
– Bridget Seelinger (College of Nursing), mentored by Dr. Andrea Clements, College of Arts and Sciences
– Madeline Standbridge (Quillen College of Medicine/College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. KariLynn Dowling-McClay, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy
– Tyler Zarin (Quillen College of Medicine), mentored by Dr. Brooke Schmeichel, Quillen College of Medicine

In addition to the inaugural cohort, to expand the training opportunities to a greater number at ETSU, 10 students were selected to participate in the EMSUR training modules, with opportunities for research collaboration with EMSUR faculty. They include: Courtney Burleson, Lei Hang, Urvi Shah and Jessica Stamey (College of Nursing); Julie Hammond (Clemmer College); Amanda McCoy and Kendra Middlebrooks (College of Public Health); Latonia Collie and Jennifer Lowe (College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences); and Loren Peeters (Quillen College of Medicine)

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