UConn Health News

A Dental Dean’s Legacy

Dr. R. Lamont “Monty” MacNeil reflects with pride on his 12 years as dean of the UConn School of Dental Medicine and looks forward with optimism at where the School will go from here.

“Looking back, it has been quite humbling to be the dean of a dental school with such a great national reputation and part of such a distinguished university,” says MacNeil, who soon plans to take a sabbatical but will return as a faculty member. “It has been a phenomenal experience and a privilege to work with the talented faculty, staff, and students here.”

MacNeil joined the Dental School as a graduate student in 1986 after six years in private practice. He took his first role on the School’s leadership team, as associate dean, in 1998 and was named dean in 2007.

Since then, he has shepherded the School through three perfect accreditation reviews and seen it rise in the ranks to number 11 in funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The School was awarded the prestigious William J. Gies Award for Achievement in 2016, and MacNeil helped establish the cross-campus Biomedical Engineering Department in partnership with the UConn schools of Medicine and Engineering.

MacNeil also maximized Bioscience Connecticut funding to transform the physical infrastructure of the School with renovated academic areas, simulation training centers, state-of-the-art dental clinics, and advanced technology.

We should be the school testing new approaches and new models, being the leaders in this new world of collaborative health care.

“The physical renewal we have accomplished here lifts a heavy burden off the next generation of faculty and school leaders,” MacNeil says. “The focus can now be on attracting high-caliber people and supporting the talented people we already have to keep our school on the leading edge.”

MacNeil believes the School has a bright future. He foresees further growth in interprofessional training for students and residents and envisions a greater emphasis on how dentists can be part of patients’ broader primary care teams.

“We are the perfect place for such experimentation because of our integrated structure and our academic interests,” he says. “We should be the school testing new approaches and new models, being the leaders in this new world of collaborative health care. The key is looking beyond roadblocks and limitations and seeing the many opportunities that surround us and maximizing them.”

MacNeil will dedicate his sabbatical to his chairman of the board duties for the American Dental Education Association, which has more than 20,000 members across 76 U.S. and Canadian dental schools. MacNeil says he hopes to advance discussions on topics including reforming national dental licensure, encouraging student interest in academic careers, and expanding international dental education dialogue. The issues he’s most passionate about are innovating methods of assessing dental students and researching the benefits of integrating oral health care with primary medical care, efforts he says could have profound implications for dental education.

“My endpoint goal as dean was to leave the School in a better state than when I took office,” says MacNeil. “I am confident that has been accomplished. We are stronger than ever before, and I know we will keep pushing the boundaries of dental medicine to accomplish even more.”

Dr. R. Lamont Monty MacNeil

Dr. R. Lamont “Monty” MacNeil will end his 12-year tenure as dean of the UConn School of Dental Medicine in August and remain on the faculty. MacNeil has been on the School’s leadership team for 20 years.


UConn has announced that on Aug. 31 Dr. Sharon M. Gordon will become the next dental school dean and first woman to serve in the role. Gordon, a distinguished educator, clinician, and scientist, hails from East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine where she serves as associate dean for innovation and discovery and chair of the Department of Foundational Sciences

Training Aims to Draw Young Women Into Orthopedics Careers

Program Spotlight

female physician points to spine model


Last fall, 40 female Connecticut high school students and more than a dozen female medical students got hands-on skills training in orthopedic surgery at UConn Health.

The program, which more than 250 high school students applied to, aimed to boost young women’s interest in medicine and science fields including orthopedic surgery. Currently, only 6.1 percent of fully accredited, practicing orthopedic surgeons are female.

The training, held in October 2017, ranged from suturing to simulated surgery training with pins and saws and was facilitated by UConn Health orthopedic surgeon Dr. Katherine J. Coyner. She organized the event as part of the Perry Initiative, a national nonprofit that originated in San Francisco in 2009 with the mission of inspiring young women to become leaders in orthopedic surgery and engineering.

As a member of the Initiative’s board of directors, Coyner believes early exposure to these exciting, hands-on careers is key to boosting diversity and introducing fresh eyes and new perspectives into life-changing fields such as orthopedic surgery. The Perry Initiative is named in honor of Dr. Jacquelin Perry, one of the first 10 women orthopedic surgeons in the country.

“It was really exciting to see the girls so interested and engaged,” Coyner says. “We had a lot of volunteers who spanned different disciplines, so these students got all the perspectives. And with the exposure from this mentoring program, they might see orthopedic surgery as a potential career path.”

Attendee Katelyn Miller from Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford says, “I appreciated the offer [from the orthopedic surgeons] to let me shadow them to see if this is what I really want to do. This made me excited to go to school for a really long time.”

Participating first-year medical student Julia Plourde chose UConn School of Medicine for its orthopedics program.

“The Perry Initiative program really demonstrated the positive environment that orthopedics has, especially the mentorship available to foster the growth of women in orthopedics,” Plourde says. “The exposure that the program provided to me certainly sealed the deal for me to continue on my path to orthopedics.”

The Power of Our Women

By Lauren Woods

Photography by Peter Morenus

Dr. Molly Brewer, Dr. Marja Hurley, Dr. Cheryl Oncken, and Dr. Laurinda Jaffe are among the women leading UConn Health’s departments.

At UConn Health, dedication to the achievements of women in medicine and science dates back to our founding in 1968. Efforts to achieve gender parity in our student body and among faculty and staff and their positions as leaders have grown over the decades.

Dr. Molly Brewer, Dr. Marja Hurley, Dr. Cheryl Oncken, and Dr. Laurinda Jaffe are among the women leading UConn Health’s departments.


In 2017, the number of women enrolled in American medical schools surpassed the number of men for the first time, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. And, UConn’s schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine were part of that demographic shift.

There are now more female than male students enrolled — 207 female medical students comprise 50.7 percent of the student body, while 94 female students make up 52.5 percent of the dental school’s student body.

Although the first class admitted to the UConn School of Medicine in 1968 was all men, the faculty has included women from the start. Over the years, the number and roles of women at UConn Health have grown significantly since four accomplished women stood among the founding faculty.

“Since UConn Health’s inception, highly accomplished and dedicated women have always driven UConn Health’s success in research, education, and the patient care mission,” says UConn Health CEO Dr. Andy Agwunobi. “These amazing professionals, and those who join us every day, are key to our past and future success.”

Today, 73 percent, or 4,098, of the total employees who fuel UConn Health’s clinical care, research, and education initiatives are female. Across the enterprise, 895 women hold faculty or community faculty appointments and 217 women are full-time UConn Health faculty. There are nearly 800 female nurses.

Among the women leading the charge are department chairs on the front lines of advancing medicine and cutting-edge research: Dr. Molly Brewer in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Cheryl Oncken in Medicine, Dr. Melinda Sanders in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Dr. Laurinda Jaffe in Cell Biology, and Dr. Sandra Weller in Molecular Biology. Many others serve as associate deans.

I have been able to achieve everything that I’ve wanted to at UConn Health, from becoming a leader to teaching and my efforts to enhance our student curriculum.

Dr. Marja Hurley, the School of Medicine’s associate dean for health career opportunity programs, was the first woman of color to attend UConn’s medical school in 1972 and one of eight female students in the class.

In addition to a stellar career as an NIH-funded physician-scientist conducting research on the molecular basis of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, Hurley has dedicated the past three decades at UConn Health to advocating for women and other underrepresented groups in medicine and science. Through health career opportunity programs including the Doctors Academy, High School Mini Medical/Dental School Program, and the Summer Research Fellowship Program, Hurley also works to expand the interest of high school and college-aged women and men in science and medicine.

“It’s been a pleasure to spend my education, training, and career here at UConn and to help diversify the schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine with more underrepresented groups, including women,” says Hurley.

Currently, groups that are traditionally underrepresented in medicine and science comprise 22 percent of UConn Health’s student body.

“We have made tremendous progress,” she says.

As an American Association of Medical Colleges liaison, Hurley in 2011 launched a Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS) chapter at UConn Health. Its mission is to connect women at the institution and promote their career success within the academic medical center by addressing issues such as salary and gender equity, recruitment and retention, awards and recognition, career advancement toward full professor, and work-life balance.

Recently, GWIMS member Kristyn Zajac, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, helped establish a “Mini Mentoring Program.” More than 70 senior faculty volunteered to serve as mentors to female junior faculty.

Dr. Ellen Nestler, internist and associate dean at UConn School of Medicine, was assigned to mentor Evelyn Neuber, Ph.D., an embryologist and clinical research coordinator at the UConn-affiliated Center for Advanced Reproductive Services.

“I was able to give her tips and tools on how to empower herself to lead and work more effectively with her new team members and management responsibilities in the laboratory,” Nestler says. “Women need mentors, and this new, unique program adds to a woman’s armamentarium.”

Says Neuber, “The mentoring program was really helpful. It was educational and also fun to meet with a fellow woman at work who has gone through similar work situations and to discuss the female experience relating to working in science and personal work-life balance.”

Melinda Sanders, chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, joined UConn Health 26 years ago and was promoted to chair in 2010.

“I have been able to achieve everything that I’ve wanted to at UConn Health, from becoming a leader to teaching and my efforts to enhance our student curriculum,” she says.

Educating the new, more representative class is critical as they will be the next generation of providers.

“Here at UConn Health, we really do want to foster women and develop the careers of future generations of women in health and science,” she says.

New Clinic Provides Health Evaluations to Asylum Seekers

UConn fourth-year medical student Kaitlin Markoja talks with Donna McKay, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and Glenn Mitoma, director of UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

UConn fourth-year medical student Kaitlin Markoja talks with Donna McKay, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and Glenn Mitoma, director of UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. PHR was honored on Nov. 2, 2017, with UConn’s 2017 Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights for its longtime global efforts to prevent human rights violations.


UConn School of Medicine students have launched the UConn Immigration Rights Initiative (UIRI) to aid individuals seeking asylum, providing medical and mental health evaluations to improve asylum seekers’ chances of being granted safe haven in the U.S.

The asylum advocacy effort is led by UConn medical school’s student chapter of the internationally renowned organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which recently joined forces with the school’s Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) student chapter.

Currently, the PHR-PSR student chapter is co-led by second-year medical students Anastasia Barros and Martina Sinopoli. Together, the group of more than 30 medical and dental students is committed to addressing patient health through policy, advocacy, and community outreach.

The UConn Health Asylum Clinic, located in UConn Health’s Outpatient Pavilion, builds on the success of UConn Law School’s student Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, founded in 2002. That clinic’s work has provided legal help to more than 120 people who fled political, religious, or other persecution.

[Exposure to refugee health needs] offers students a window into the global health arena and an opportunity to gain unique skills … that are transferrable to the care of virtually any patient.

The pro-bono forensic physical and psychiatric examinations provided at the clinic will help immigration attorneys prepare asylum affidavits, Sinopoli says.

“With proper medical and mental health evaluations and legal guidance, a refugee is 90 percent more likely to be granted asylum,” says Barros. “Helping increase the chances of these refugees remaining safe here in the U.S. will be the best reward possible for us medical students.”

PHR’s national chapter was instrumental in helping the students establish the Asylum Clinic. PHR trained students participating in the UIRI to perform the forensic evaluations, looking for signs of physical or mental persecution that asylum seekers may have experienced. The national and regional PHR chapters plan to refer asylum seekers in Connecticut to UConn Health.

Dr. Susan Levine is the medical director of the student-run UIRI and heads UConn Immigrant Health, an entity that includes an immigrant health clinic in general medicine, as well as a student and a resident curriculum in refugee health.

“Exposing trainees to immigrant and refugee health needs is incredibly rewarding,” says Levine. “It offers students a window into the global health arena and an opportunity to gain unique skills in eliciting complex determinants of health, skills that are transferrable to the care of virtually any patient.”

Hurricane Relief

UConn Docs Provide Medical Assistance in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Dr. Robert Fuller says of the crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.


In the wake of devastation from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, UConn Health physicians were among those who traveled to help with humanitarian and medical relief efforts. Dr. Robert Fuller, department chair and professor of emergency medicine at UConn Health (pictured, bottom), traveled with the International Medical Corps on a mission to assess the damage to, and identify gaps in, medical infrastructure for delivering care to the poor, and to find and coordinate resources to close that gap.

“Everyone is affected in a serious and ongoing way,” Fuller says. “It is impossible to see or do anything that is not changed by the storm.”

Dr. Natalie Moore, UConn Health’s first International Disaster Emergency Medicine Fellow and a UConn Master of Public Health candidate, went to the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. She treated patients at a temporary triage clinic in St. John before working at a hospital in St. Croix, where she hunkered down for Hurricane Maria. It was the only hospital open in the area, as the hospital in St. Thomas was destroyed.

a fellow volunteer caring for a resident of St. John following Hurricane Irma.

UConn Health’s Dr. Natalie Moore shared this photo of a fellow volunteer caring for a resident of St. John following Hurricane Irma.

UConn Health's Dr. Robert Fuller, center, a volunteer with International Medical Corps in San Juan, discusses logistics with AmeriCares staff.

UConn Health's Dr. Robert Fuller, center, a volunteer with International Medical Corps in San Juan, discusses logistics with AmeriCares staff.

To Our Readers

UConn Health Journal magazines


Two years ago, we published the first UConn Health Journal with the goal of giving physicians, dentists, and the public insight into the groundbreaking research and life-changing clinical care happening at UConn Health. As an academic medical center, UConn Health makes the discoveries that shape the future of health care. Our scientists work to understand medicine’s biggest mysteries, design new therapies and treatments, and turn laboratory breakthroughs into advances in patient care.

As our team collaborates to produce each issue, I constantly find myself in awe of everything that drives UConn Health’s innovations. Our stories can be heavy on science or heavy on heart, sometimes in the same issue. This spring, the story “Aches, Age, and Influenza” told of how UConn scientists’ findings in mice may help us prevent influenza-related muscle deterioration in the elderly. In the same edition, we got to know 11-year-old Alyssa Temkin, who since birth has struggled with an unforgiving, deadly disease for which a new UConn doctor is closing in on a cure.

Most of the time, though, our stories walk the line between the two. Because when it comes down to it, these advancements are based on science. But by definition, medical discoveries always impact real people. The mission of UConn Health Journal, like that of the UConn Health enterprise, is to translate that research: What does it mean for you? For your patients? For your loved ones?

In this issue, we’re exploring one topic from several angles. The brain has for centuries fascinated and perplexed. The more we learn about it, the more we find there is left to discover. At UConn, those who work with the brain range from a neurologist with a ringside seat to the evolution of concussion treatment to a radiologist and medical physicist who harnessed 3-D printing technology to give surgeons a practice brain for complicated procedures.

And please, let us know what you think and what else you’d like to read about. Email me anytime at julie.bartucca@uconn.edu.

Thanks for reading,
Julie Bartucca
Editor, UConn Health Journal

Magnifying Nursing Excellence

nurses do rounds inside UConn Health


UConn Health has launched its journey to Magnet nursing excellence recognition by the American Nurses Credentialing Center of the American Association of Nursing (AAN).

“Magnet designation is the ultimate honor for a hospital’s high-quality nursing,” says Sue Ellen Goodrich, RN, nursing director of Professional Practice for UConn Health. “Research shows us that stellar nursing practice truly makes a difference in patient care and outcomes.”

To pave the road to Magnet status for its more than 1,200 nurses, UConn John Dempsey Hospital is raising patient safety, satisfaction, and evidence-based outcomes benchmarks to above the national average while increasing nurse satisfaction, retention, collaboration, research, and professional development opportunities.

Of the 5,564 hospitals in the U.S., only 6.6 percent are Magnet-designated, with 460 total Magnet hospitals worldwide.

The Magnet Recognition program, created in 1990, is based on 14 “Forces of Magnetism” characteristics grouped into five pillars: Transformational
Leadership; Structural Empowerment; Exemplary Professional Practice; New Knowledge, Innovation, and Improvements; and Empirical Outcomes.

To jump-start the Magnet journey, UConn Health has adopted a nursing professional practice model of compassion, integrity, collaboration, and innovation, with improvement initiatives aimed at preventing patient falls, central line–associated blood stream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, and hospital-acquired pressure ulcers. UConn Health has also joined the national program NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders).

“We look forward to building an even stronger foundation of nursing excellence while providing greater benefits to our patients and nurses,” says UConn Health Chief Nursing Officer Ann Marie Capo, RN, whose leadership and vision was pivotal to starting the Magnet process.

Event Spotlight: Global Genomics Conference

Genomics and Society: expanding the ELSI universe


UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory Host Global Genomics Conference

Good genomics research requires healthy curiosity, powerful data analysis, rigorous scientific methodology — and a strong ethical grounding. UConn Health and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine co-hosted the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications Research Program’s (ELSI) fourth-annual conference June 5 through 7 to explore how ethical decisions surrounding genomic discoveries are informed by the legal and social context of our society.

Nearly 300 people attended the three-day “Genomics and Society: Expanding the ELSI Universe” conference, which brought experts from around the world to UConn Health in Farmington, Connecticut, to discuss both what we can do with our genomic knowledge and the responsibilities that come with that power.

“The increase in genomic testing and technology are fueling breakthrough discoveries here in Connecticut and around the globe for heart disease, cancer, and a host of rare diseases,” said Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of UConn School of Medicine. “However, these promising personalized medicine therapies and our greater genetic knowledge may also come with a steep societal price if we don’t address the associated concerns in a timely fashion.”

Keynote speakers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and universities across the country spoke about the ethics of genomics in the clinical setting; the relationship between genes, ancestry, and identity; and the NIH’s All of Us initiative. All of Us seeks to broaden the genetic database used for research in the United States so that it more accurately reflects the citizenry and the differences in lifestyle, environment, and biology encountered in different populations across the country.

Much of the funding for ELSI comes from the National Human Genome Research Institute, with the goal of supporting research that anticipates and addresses the societal impact of genomic science. The institute has four broad priorities: genomic research; tracking how that research influences health care; exploring how social norms and beliefs affect how we understand genetic advances and how we use them; and legal, regulatory, and public policy issues. Workshops at the conference covered specific topics from those areas, including the implications of genetic testing in the criminal justice system; the uses and misuses of the gene editing technique known as CRISPR; and the controversies over the appropriate use of genetics in psychiatric, neurologic, and behavioral fields.

More information about the ELSI project.

UConn to Establish Genetic Counseling Master’s Program

illustration of genetic material


UConn has awarded $300,174 to seed a new Professional Science Master’s (PSM) Program in Genetics, Genomics, and Counseling. Graduates of the program will work with doctors and patients to interpret the results of genetic testing, a rapidly growing area in health care that needs more trained personnel. Once accredited, the program will be the first in Connecticut and the only one in New England at a public institution.

“Our students are anxious. They want to do this,” says Judy Brown, director of the diagnostic genetic sciences program in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources’ allied health sciences department. Brown is spearheading the push for the program along with Institute for Systems Genomics director Marc Lalande and UConn Health genetics counselor Ginger Nichols.

Once accredited, the program will be the first in Connecticut and the only one in New England at a public institution.

New genetics research and techniques have made it easy for the average person to get a read on their genome, or whole genetic code. Celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, who have openly discussed their genetic risk factors for cancer, and companies, such as 23andMe, that will provide a basic genetic report for a fee, have increased demand enormously. But there’s a lack of trained people who can accurately interpret and explain the results of genetic tests, limiting the potential benefits.

Ideally, a doctor who identifies “red flags” within a patient’s family history that indicate increased genetic risk for disease will call in a genetic counselor. The counselor can take a detailed family history, determine the appropriateness of genetic testing, discuss benefits and limitations of testing to help the patient make an informed decision, and advise the patient on who else in their family might be at risk. If testing occurs and results indicate high genetic risk, counselors can help discuss the options to mitigate that risk.

As a result, genetic counseling is the fourth-fastest-growing occupation in Connecticut. Many UConn allied health sciences majors would like to enter the profession, Brown says, but there are only 34 training programs in the U.S., and the acceptance rate is below 8 percent.

Institutions including Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) have expressed support for the program. Kate Reed, director of the Clinical and Continuing Education Program at JAX, says JAX would combine its experience translating genetic discoveries into clinical applications with UConn’s experience in this area to give the PSM graduates a solid understanding of the research behind clinical treatments.

The exact roles of JAX, Connecticut Children’s, and the other institutions who support the new PSM have not yet been defined. The program’s curriculum first needs to be approved and accredited. The first students are expected to start the program in fall 2018.

UConn Writes New Prescription for Medical Education

academic entrance, UConn Health Farmington CT
Inside UConn Health Farmington CT, rotunda

The exterior (Top) and interior (Bottom) of the new Academic Rotunda at UConn Health. Photo: Janine Gelineau


The class of 2020 is not only the largest in UConn School of Medicine history, it’s also the first to experience a newly launched, innovative curriculum to better prepare doctors for the rapidly changing health care landscape.

The new curriculum, known as MDelta — Making a Difference in Education, Learning, and Teaching Across the curriculum — is based on the principles of lifelong learning, patient-centered care, and collaborative teamwork.

A cutting-edge holistic assessment program provides time for students to evaluate their competencies as they reach milestones in their development.

“Medicine and the health care landscape is changing rapidly, with the explosion of clinical information and technology, the development of complex health care systems, a move from inpatient to outpatient care settings, and the rise of team science,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of the UConn School of Medicine. “Our new curriculum is a platform to make our students the best possible future doctors and prepare them to be health care leaders,” he says.

Rather than traditional classroom lectures, the new curriculum relies heavily on team-based learning, in addition to anatomy dissection, virtual laboratory experiences (including the use of four Anatomage virtual anatomy tables), clinical practice, and simulation.

A novel course called VITALS — Vertically Integrated Teams Aligned in Learning and Scholarship — brings together teams of students from across all years of the medical school and professional schools, such as the UConn School of Dental Medicine, to learn together about health care policy, population health, ethics, and current events affecting local and global communities.

At the start of medical school, each student is assigned to a primary care physician in an outpatient practice at UConn Health or in the surrounding community across the state to follow the health of patients over three years. In addition, teams are assigned to a “Clinical Home” in one of UConn’s affiliate teaching hospitals to learn how to work in a health care system caring for a diverse population. These opportunities prepare students for more advanced clinical experiences — both inpatient and outpatient — later in medical school.

Thanks to the American Medical Association selecting UConn as a member of its Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, students will also be trained in the electronic medical record.

“Early clinical and health system exposure is an integral part of the new curriculum, along with inter-professional activities,” says Dr. Suzanne Rose, senior associate dean for education at UConn’s medical school. “A cutting-edge holistic assessment program provides time for students to evaluate their competencies as they reach milestones in their development.”

And because of investments from UConn Health and the state of Connecticut through the Bioscience Connecticut initiative, the 100 medical and 49 dental students are also the first to learn in a new 17,000-square-foot facility featuring a renovated academic entrance and a brand-new, high-tech rotunda.