Dr. Karen Burgess, associate professor and chair in the College’s Department of Pediatrics, was presented with The University of Alabama President’s Faculty Research Award for the College of Community Health Sciences on March 31 as part of UA’s Faculty Research Day.
Burgess was among 13 faculty members across campus to be recognized for excellence in research and/or scholarship in their fields. She and the other award winners were profiled at the event, sponsored by the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and held at the Bryant Conference Center.
“We are a place for research, discovery and changing students’ lives,” said UA President Dr. Stuart Bell. “Research is good for The University of Alabama, the state and the country. I congratulate the recipients.”
Burgess’s research looks at ways to improve health outcomes of children in Alabama. Recently, she has focused on pediatric asthma. With funding from BlueCross and BlueShield of Alabama, she is conducting a school-based asthma education program via telemedicine for rural schools in Alabama.
“We partner telemedicine and schools, and we developed a curriculum to talk to students about asthma, inhalers and spacer techniques,” she said. “We’ve found that it’s (telemedicine) a successful way to communicate information to children who are suffering from a chronic condition.”
Burgess currently works with Greensboro Elementary School in Hale County and Ruhama Junior High in Fort Payne in DeKalb County. The schools were chosen because of their high rate of documented asthma cases. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 137,000 children in Alabama had asthma in 2007, a prevalence rate of 12.3 percent, which compares to the US rate of 9 percent.
Classes are offered weekly for the students and their parents to learn about asthma symptoms, medications and treatment. Each class meets a total of four times for 45 minutes. Part of the gift from BlueCross and Blue Shield was used to provide students at Ruhama Junior High School with asthma spacers (add-on devices for inhalers that allow for easier and more effective administration of medication). The hope is that students at Greensboro Elementary School will also be provided with spacers if they do not have them.
Burgess says parents of Ruhama Junior High School students have reported improved symptoms of asthma in their children. “My ultimate goal is to make people’s lives better,” she said.
Burgess plans to expand the project to develop telemedicine clinics in rural areas to improve access to health care for those populations.
Dr. David Franko, dean of UA’s Graduate School, was the keynote speaker at the awards presentation. He said faculty research and graduate education is linked, “and what emerges from this synergy is a vibrant knowledge economy.”
UA currently has 4,600 graduate students, 15 percent of the student body. The University has 6,500 graduate school alumni, and more than half live in Alabama. “Alabama is now a net importer of graduate talent,” Franko said.