Published November 2, 2020

A Message from Brian Strom, M.D., M.P.H.

Chancellor, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones well. Despite the collective efforts, vigilance, and sacrifices undertaken to contain and suppress the transmission of the coronavirus, the spread of COVID-19 continues to affect our state, nation, and world. Although it remains an incredibly difficult time for all of us, we at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) are grateful that our students, faculty, and staff have adapted rapidly to respond to the pandemic. We remain committed to our global alumni community and steadfast in our commitment to shaping the future of human health and keeping the world well, now and in the future.

Our researchers, physicians, and other health care professionals have helped Rutgers assume national leadership in battling the spread of COVID-19. We have established the Rutgers University Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness as a hub for COVID-19 research activities and information dissemination. We have also developed and received FDA emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 testing; graduated our final-year medical, nursing, and pharmacy students early to join the fight; and provided care for thousands of New Jersey residents with or at risk for COVID-19 infection.

Since the spring, RBHS has conducted limited in-person education, training, and research. We have implemented effective and appropriate safety measures and testing protocols to protect all members of our community while our students complete their coursework. The pandemic has changed the way we work, but it has not changed who we are or what we must achieve. I am deeply grateful to those of you who have made gifts to support these efforts.

The following report provides additional information about how you and other donors are making an impact on the RBHS community and around the world. Although it features only a few of the funds our donors support, I hope you will take pride in knowing you help make a difference at Rutgers. Your continued support will ensure that opportunities and success stories like these are possible now and in the future.

Emergency Fund Provides Student Lifeline

The Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Student Emergency Fund, which is solely funded by donors, helps students facing financial hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These students often support themselves and their families, and many are not sure how they will pay their rent or where they will get their next meal.

Our students are truly grateful for the support; below are a few of the many messages received from fund recipients:

  • “Thank you very much for this generous gift. I want you to know that it has definitely lessened the burden for my family and me. Please stay safe.”
  • “Thank you so much. I am crying. You have no idea the blessing it is. Thank you.”
  • “Thank you so much. I am so grateful!”

Fund Fuels Pandemic Response

Established at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rutgers COVID-19 Response Fund supports research, education, and clinical care at RBHS. Gifts to this fund enable our scientists, physicians, nurses, and medical students to fight the devastating pandemic.

Rutgers has assumed leadership in three essential ways.

  • Innovative testing and treatment solutions: Rutgers is directly addressing critical, nationally identified needs to detect and treat COVID-19, including several new methods of testing, such as at-home saliva tests, vaccine development, and more.
  • Clinical care for communities: Rutgers continues to provide medical care for thousands of New Jersey residents with or at risk for COVID-19 infection.
  • Public health: Rutgers has partnered with the New Jersey Department of Health to implement a collaborative and robust contact tracing initiative, which is key to slowing community spread of COVID-19 in the Garden State.

Hidden Heroes Fight COVID-19

Medical laboratory scientists are the hidden heroes in the COVID-19 pandemic, working behind the scenes to battle the viral outbreak. Wearing layers of protective garb, they work quickly so patients receive the right diagnosis and treatment. Rutgers’ School of Health Professions is proud to count some of its alumni among these heroes, who, thanks to donor support of the school’s Academic Excellence Fund, gained the knowledge and skills necessary for their roles.

Heba Hanafy SHRP’11 is a microbiologist whose usual job is processing routine blood cultures and tissue specimens, conducting flu tests, and running panels to identify the best antibiotic for an illness. Now, her daily routine focuses entirely on the fight against COVID-19.

Gifts to the school create a lasting impact by supporting efforts to educate and train the next generation of professionals aspiring to become health care heroes like Hanafy. As a student nearly a decade ago, Hanafy benefitted from donor support of the school’s Academic Excellence Fund, which provided additional training opportunities to enhance her and her classmates’ knowledge and skills in the laboratory. Today she is using what she learned to help solve the public heath crisis caused by COVID-19.

Students Create Guides for Mask Wearing

For many, wearing a face mask has become commonplace. But for others, this necessary addition to our daily routine is more difficult to get used to. Thanks to donor support of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Academic Excellence Fund, RWJMS students, in conjunction with specialists at Children’s Specialized Hospital, created guides to help adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and children adjust to wearing masks.

The guides explain why it is necessary to wear masks and best practices for putting on and taking off masks, and help address anxiety around the use of masks. In addition, the guides help identify which masks work best for each person. For adults with developmental disabilities, the key is finding the right type of fabric and design. The guides also note that it is important to include the individual in the process and to be a good role model by wearing a mask yourself.

Gifts to Robert Wood Johnson Medical School help medical students become the best version of themselves, collectively and individually. Although we still have a long way to go in the fight against COVID-19, your generosity helps us shine as a national leader.

Initiative Aims to Slow COVID-19 Spread

Donor support of the Academic Excellence Fund and the Dean’s Discretionary Fund at Rutgers School of Public Health helps provide students with real-world experience that goes beyond the classroom, enabling students to work directly with communities in New Jersey where help is needed most. These funds also enable the school to respond quickly to public health emergencies. Thanks to donor support, the School of Public Health is leading efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In May, the school partnered with the New Jersey Department of Health to create a statewide contact tracing initiative—the New Jersey Community Contact Tracing Corps—to slow the spread of COVID-19. The school developed a state-specific contact tracing curriculum and, in collaboration with other Rutgers schools, coordinated the training, recruitment, and hiring of 1,000 students and alumni with health care and social work backgrounds to serve as front-line contact tracers.

“The New Jersey Community Contact Tracing Corps is another tool in our collective fight against COVID-19,” says Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the school. “The initiative, intelligently designed from a public health, educational, and economic perspective, relies on Rutgers School of Public Health graduate students and alumni, along with other Rutgers and New Jersey higher education collaborators, to serve the communities in which they live, work, and play.”

Alumna Spearheads State’s Response

Judith Persichilli NUR’76 is the first nurse to be appointed New Jersey’s commissioner of health. Now, more than ever, she draws on her nursing background to lead the state through the most urgent public health crisis the world has experienced in more than a century.

She believes that teamwork is essential to leadership success and to defeating COVID-19. Her Rutgers education and nursing experience have been vital in helping her tackle the shifting challenges of the pandemic.

In this historic fight, the actions of nursing students, faculty, staff, and alumni have been heroic. Gifts from donors have supported Rutgers School of Nursing in many meaningful ways throughout the pandemic. Donor support for everything from student scholarships to faculty research to health care programs that reach underserved communities prepares our students to become outstanding nursing professionals.

Study Looks at Impact of Testing at Dental Practices

Rutgers School of Dental Medicine researchers will soon begin investigating whether regular COVID-19 testing at dental practices would improve safety and reassure staff and patients. They will also examine the effectiveness of other protocols, such as temperature checks upon admittance.

Patients, dentists, hygienists, assistants, and front desk personnel will be tested and surveyed to see if the testing decreases any doubts or anxieties about dental visits during the pandemic. Cecile A. Feldman, dean of the school, says it is safe for patients to go for dental visits “because of the precautions dentists are taking…The CDC issued guidelines for reopening in June and the American Dental Association encourages regular dental visits.”

This research will contribute to understanding patients’ concerns surrounding dental visits during the pandemic and could help dental offices determine how to proceed. It’s important for dental visits to continue during the pandemic, Feldman says, because “untreated dental disease is only going to get worse. And we know there’s a link between oral health and systemic health.”

Gifts to the School of Dental Medicine help support this type of innovative and cutting-edge research.

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