June 19, 2024


You are Your Only Limit

2022 Health Sciences Year in Review: UNM Newsroom

10 min read

The University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center (HSC) had quite a year as reflected by several construction projects including the new Critical Care Tower and the College of Nursing and Population Health Building. Not only were construction workers busy throughout the year, but so were HSC scientists conducting research involving the hazards of wildfire smoke to non-invasive brain stimulation to a new MRI technique to create time-lapse images as the brain responds to experiences and the arrival of the Omicron variant in New Mexico. In addition, several HSC staff members were recognized for a variety of achievements from retirement to leadership.

Below is a select list based of HSC’s 2022 Year in Review highlighting UNM students, faculty, and staff accomplishments. Click on the headline to read the full story for each listing.

New Hospital Tower

In 2021, UNM Hospital broke ground on a seven-level, 96-bed critical care tower. Over a decade in the making, this contemporary medical facility will help UNMH further its mission of caring for more New Mexicans in New Mexico when it debuts in 2024. Now, UNMH is taking construction on the tower to new heights. Earlier this year, the New Mexico Higher Education Department and State Board of Finance gave UNMH the green light to move forward with a vertical expansion of the new tower. This ambitious development adds two additional floors and even more hospital beds to the tower.

Studying the Hazards of Wildfire Smoke

University of New Mexico researchers have received federal funding to study how exposure to wildfire smoke creates signs of premature aging in the brain – and look for ways to inhibit the process. Thanks to a five-year, $3.7 million grant from the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a multi-disciplinary team led by Matthew Campen, Regents’ professor in the UNM College of Pharmacy, will investigate how inhaled smoke particles travel from the lungs to erode the blood-brain barrier.

College of Nursing’s MSN Program Highly Ranked

The University of New Mexico College of Nursing’s master of science in nursing and doctor of nursing practice are again ranked among the best nursing programs in the nation and the top in New Mexico, according to the latest ranking from U.S. News & World Reports 2023 edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools. UNM’s master of science in nursing program is ranked 61st in the nation and fourth in the Mountain West. The doctor of nursing practice program is ranked 80th nationally and fifth in the Mountain West. Both programs earned the top spot in the state of New Mexico.

Physical Therapy Student Jessica Yeaton Competes in the Winter Olympics

Whenever she takes a break from her studies in The University of New Mexico Physical Therapy program, Jessica Yeaton likes to strap on her cross-country skis and head to the snowy upper reaches of the Sandia Mountains for a workout. But this week, Yeaton will heading to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics as a member of Australia’s cross-country ski team. It’s the 30-year-old’s second Olympic appearance: in 2018 she was in South Korea for the winter games.

Researchers Study Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

University of New Mexico researchers are leading a multi-center study to see whether noninvasive brain stimulation can improve the cognitive symptoms of traumatic brain injury in veterans. The three-year $4 million trial, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, will recruit participants from Veterans Affairs hospitals in Albuquerque and Minneapolis, said Davin Quinn, professor in the UNM Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, who serves as principal investigator.

Project ECHO Launches Program to Boost Vaccine Confidence in Rural New Mexico

Project ECHO at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center is launching a new program to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in New Mexico’s rural and underserved communities. The program will help front-line health workers gain essential skills in listening techniques, motivational interviewing and effective messaging. They will also learn how to help their clients find vaccination sites and transportation, overcoming some of the difficulties in accessing vaccines in rural areas.

UNM Health Sciences Received Record $239 in External Research Funding in FY 2022

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences was awarded nearly $239 million in external funding in FY 2022, a new record that builds on year-over-year increases in grant funding for 17 of the past 18 years. In addition, UNM Health Sciences researchers have for the first time collectively received more than 1,000 active grants.

UNM Health Sciences Receives Grant to Support Diversity in Young Biomedical Researchers

The University of New Mexico’s Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BSGP) has been awarded a five-year $2.71 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to develop a diverse pool of Ph.D. researchers. The Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) program is part of the National Institutes of Health T32 funding mechanism. It joins three other UNM Health Sciences T32 awards, said Nancy Kanagy, chair of the Department of Cell Biology & Physiology and principal investigator for the new grant.

UNM Health Sciences Redesignated a World Health Organization Collaborating Center

The Office of International Health at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences has been redesignated as a collaborating center by the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization (WHO/PAHO). Arthur Kaufman, vice president for Community Health, and Amy Clithero, principal lecturer in the Department of Family & Community Medicine, will serve as co-directors of the Collaborating Center for Innovative Health Workers Education, Service and Research Models

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center Designated a Level III Trauma Center

The New Mexico Department of Health EMS Bureau has certified The University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) as a Level III trauma center. Going forward, SRMC will be equipped to handle the needs of lower-level trauma patients whose injuries can be treated by a general surgeon or an orthopedic surgeon. Patients with traumatic brain injury and other acute conditions would be transported to the Level I trauma center at UNM Hospital.

UNM Physician Volunteers in Ukraine to Help with Refugee Crisis

More than two million people have fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine over the past two weeks, pouring into neighboring central European countries. University of New Mexico physician Matthew Wilks, chief medical officer and chief quality officer at Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho, has headed in the opposite direction, crossing into Ukraine to establish aid stations manned by volunteer health providers. Wilks belongs to Team Rubicon, an international disaster relief organization

UNM Scientists Use New MRI Technique to Create Time-Lapse Images as the Brain Responds to Experiences

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has transformed the field of neuroscience over the past 40 years, enabling scientists to create clear snapshots of living brain structures and even detect functional changes associated with certain activities. Unlike X-rays or CT scans, MRI does not rely on beams of radiation. Instead, powerful magnetic fields and radio waves are used to temporarily align the hydrogen atoms in the body’s water molecules, meaning it can create a clear picture of soft tissues, like the brain.

More Rodent Species in New Mexico Found to Carry Deadly Hantavirus

Each spring, as rodents emerge from their burrows, Four Corners residents cleaning out storage sheds or woodpiles know to be on the lookout for tiny deer mice, which can carry the deadly Sin Nombre hantavirus. Steven Bradfute, an associate professor in The University of New Mexico Center for Global Health and Department of Internal Medicine, and an expert in virology, immunology and microbiology, has spent years teasing out the secrets of the virus, which kills nearly 40% of those who become infected.

UNM Cancer Center Participates in National Bladder Cancer Clinical Trial

Bladder cancer affects nearly 84,000 people in the United States each year, making it the sixth most common cancer. Most people survive it, but unfortunately, many lose their bladders. Dr. Neda Hashemi, and her team at The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center are now offering several clinical trials, including one that will give people with bladder cancer a chance to fight their disease and keep their bladders.

UNM Among First to Receive ACGME Accreditation for Neuro-Critical Care Fellowship

The University of New Mexico Department of Neurology is among the first programs in the nation to receive full accreditation for a fellowship in neurocritical care. Recognition of UNM’s two-year fellowship program by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is a major accomplishment because “neurocritical care is a subspecialty that has been in existence for 30 years, but has had to tackle many hurdles as it grew beyond the major coastal universities,” said fellowship program director Dr. Diana Greene-Chandos, associate professor of Neurology.

UNM Health Extension Regional Officers Assist People Displaced By Massive Northern New Mexico Blaze

Within a moment’s notice, they knew it was their responsibility to act. Now, in the thick of it, some Health Extension Regional Officers (HEROs) from The University of New Mexico Office for Community Health (OCH) are on the front lines, helping people afflicted from the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon wildfire that is burning through the southern reaches of the Sangre de Cristo range. Many people living in rural communities near Las Vegas, N.M., have been displaced from their homes and are having to stay at evacuation sites.

UNM Center for Native American Health Joins National Network of Public Health Institutes

The University of New Mexico Center for Native American Health (CNAH) has been approved as a public health institute by the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI). CNAH will further expand its public health activities in its new PHI, the Public Health Institute for Indigenous Knowledge and Development. CNAH becomes the third indigenous PHI nationally and the second program in New Mexico to join the NNPHI network, said CNAH director Tassy Parker, professor in the UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine.

UNM Division of Physical Therapy Creates Women’s Health Residency Program

Across New Mexico, people with pelvic floor disorders who need help managing pain and discomfort are on a months-long waiting list to see a specialized physical therapist. To help address this growing need, The University of New Mexico Division of Physical Therapy recently announced a new residency program. The UNM Women’s Health Physical Therapy Residency Program, which was granted candidacy from American Board of Physical Therapy Fellowship and Residency Education (ABPTFRE) this summer.

UNM Scientists Detect Arrival of Omicron in New Mexico

Detecting new COVID-19 variants as they start to spread is a massive scientific and logistical challenge. But thanks to two University of New Mexico scientists who have studied and tracked the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) since the beginning of the pandemic, genomic surveillance is how we knew when the Omicron variant was first brought into New Mexico.

Groundbreaking for UNM College of Nursing and Population Health Building

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in August for the new College of Nursing and Public Health Excellence Building (CON-PHE), which will enable the capacity to graduate more students. The 93,740-gross-square-foot building will be located on Tucker Avenue, just west of the Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education, on what is currently the M-Family Practice parking lot. The three-story building will include classrooms, offices, community hubs and a research wet lab.

UNM ASAP Clinic Treats Substance Use Disorders with Medication, Therapy and Empathy

Substance use is a significant public health issue in New Mexico, which for decades has ranked among the worst states in the nation for alcohol- and drug-related deaths. Cases of substance use disorders continued to skyrocket in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the isolation and loneliness that accompanied lockdowns, often exacerbated people’s mental health challenges.


Ava Lovell Retires as Health Sciences Senior Executive Officer

“Doing the work and being a part of something that makes a difference is where the fun is.” This joy in advancing the operations and growth of The University of New Mexico has been a defining characteristic of Ava Lovell’s career. After nearly 28 years of service to UNM, Lovell, who is currently the HSC Senior Executive Officer for Finance & Administration, has announced her retirement. She has been at the helm of the UNM Health Sciences finances and operations since 2007.

Emeritus UNM Professor Robert “Bob” Otto Valdez Named to Head Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality

Robert “Bob” Otto Valdez, an emeritus professor of Family & Community Medicine and Economics at The University of New Mexico, has been appointed director of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). In 2008, Valdez was the founding executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at UNM. He previously had served as founding dean at the Drexel University School of Public Health.

Patricia Finn Named New Dean of UNM School of Medicine

Dr. Patricia W. Finn, professor, head of the Department of Medicine, associate dean for Strategic Initiatives and associate program director for the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago, has been named dean of The University of New Mexico School of Medicine. In addition to her leadership roles, Finn is a noted clinician, teacher and physician scientist. 

Dr. Steve McLaughlin Named Chief Medical Officer at UNM Hospital

Dr. Steve McLaughlin will assume the role of chief medical officer at The University of New Mexico Hospital, starting Jan. 1, 2023. McLaughlin is currently chair of the UNM Department of Emergency Medicine, as well as the interim senior associate dean for Clinical Affairs in the UNM School of Medicine.

Gina Urias-Sandoval Named a Woman of Influence by Albuquerque Business First

Gina Urias-Sandoval, chief of staff for The University of New Mexico Health Sciences, has been named one of 24 Women of Influence by Albuquerque Business First. The honorees, selected from a list of more than 100 nominees, were recognized at an awards ceremony on Feb. 28 at Sandia Resort & Casino.

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