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Six months ago, Student Health Services (SHS) began an initiative to expand and improve its operations. Since then, more students are using its services and patient satisfaction has grown. In Vivo visited Dr. Samuel Seward, assistant professor of medicine and director of Student Health Services, for an update.

How has Student Health Services changed since the makeover last August?

There's clearly an increase in the number of students using our services. They used to come primarily for urgent medical needs; now many are coming for primary care appointments. We have about 600 patient visits a month; about half of those are scheduled primary care visits. Before our initiatives were put into place, we were not oriented toward primary care – now, it's a major focus. We have increased hours, a full-time triage nurse and primary care providers are present a minimum of eight hours Monday to Friday. There's a student advisory committee that meets monthly to let us know what student needs and concerns are. There's also a feedback form on our Web site at Our goal is to respond to all inquiries within 24 hours.

How have students responded to their new health insurance plan?

Students have been offered a comprehensive health insurance plan through Chickering/Aetna. The plan provides preventive care, travel-related coverage and mental health benefits they didn't have before. We're continually working to optimize the health plan based on student needs. There has been an adjustment period for all concerned, partly because we are now using a provider network that was not part of the former system. We will meet with Chickering/Aetna to closely evaluate the performance of the plan over the past six months and negotiate improvements for the upcoming academic year.

What's new in the area of health education for students?

We've hired a new health education director, Dr. Silenia Gil, who is a Columbia graduate. She wants to know what health education programs our students are most interested in. Students can reach her directly at 212-795-4181, ext. 111. Suicide is a major health issue on all U.S. campuses. We've formed a suicide action campaign to increase student, faculty, and community awareness. A suicide committee, comprised of members from all schools at Columbia University Medical Center, is working on ways to educate our community about the signs and symptoms associated with suicide.

What are students most pleased with since the initiatives were put in place?

Students say they're most pleased with the customer service aspect of SHS. When they call our office they get a person instead of a voicemail message. I've personally had many students stop me to compliment SHS on the care they received from our primary care providers. Students also like to take advantage of our travel medicine services. Every Friday morning, students can come and get an up-to-date CDC-based evaluation with our infectious disease specialist, Dr. Mary Flood, on the appropriate preventive measures to take while they are traveling for study, work, or for personal reasons.

Columbia Hosts Open House on Proposed Manhattanville Expansion

Columbia University hosted an information open house at Alfred Lerner Hall on the Morningside campus Jan. 23 about the plan to expand research and academic facilities into Manhattanville in West Harlem. This was the first of several information sessions about the Manhattanville expansion.

The university's continued growth has necessitated the development of about 1 million square feet since 1994. There is not enough space available for development within the existing CUMC and Morningside campuses or through the development of nearby university-owned properties to sustain such a growth rate. Columbia has had facilities in Manhattanville for decades, where it has owned or leased about one-third of the area.

Manhattanville, which consists of about 20 acres, is located between the Morningside campus and the uptown CUMC campus, extending roughly from West 125th Street to 133rd Street and from Broadway to 12th Avenue. The area, currently zoned for industrial use, is comprised of warehouses, car service stations and other industrial buildings. The economically depressed area has experienced an employment decline of more than 40 percent since 1984.

Columbia has established a community advisory committee to enable an ongoing dialogue with community members about their concerns and interests and has hosted a number of open neighborhood forums. A faculty advisory committee has been established to address research and academic needs. Meetings have been held with elected officials and leaders in the area, local community boards, and civic associations.

Columbia anticipates that the proposed full development of Manhattanville would generate more than $3 billion in New York City revenues and employ thousands of workers to design and build the facilities. As a part of the university's Minority, Women and Local Business Enterprise initiative, many of the people and firms employed as a result of this development would be from upper Manhattan and the South Bronx.

Pending the approval of the proposed development, construction would begin within the next five years. One million square feet of new and renovated space could be complete within 10 years of the approval.

Who's that Dog with the CUMC ID?

A very unusual candidate stood in line at the public safety office in late February, waiting for an I.D. badge. Linc, a 3-month-old Labrador retriever, needed a Columbia University Medical Center ID because he's attending class at the School of Nursing. Julia Firlit, a nursing student, brings Linc to her classes as part of her duties as a volunteer "puppy-raiser" for Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that breeds and trains dogs to work with people who have disabilities other than blindness.

Ms. Firlit, who has been involved with the program for six years, raises and trains dogs to respond to basic commands. The dog must master 32 commands by the time Ms. Firlit returns him to CCI in February 2005. The commands include basics – sit, down, here, roll, stay – as well as those necessary to help someone who is wheelchair-bound or has limited mobility – under, heel, side, behind, off, lap, visit. Ms. Firlit also takes the dog to at least two obedience classes each month. "One of the main goals of puppy-raisers is to have a well-socialized dog," says Ms. Firlit. "Exposing the dog to new and mentally stimulating situations by having him practice commands in new places is critical to the dog's success in the program." Ms. Firlit takes Linc along with her as she travels to school to expose him to the subway, crowds, revolving doors, and elevators. Linc also learns to listen to commands that she whispers during class. He practices resting beneath her desk for long periods so he learns to remain quiet, calm and relaxed.

Linc, who can be seen walking around campus with his dog ID, is allowed nearly everywhere, except on the patient floors at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Pictured is Ms. Firlit with Linc in the Black Building lobby and Linc's very own CUMC ID badge.

We Got Google

Obtaining fast, accurate results from searching CUMC Web sites is now easier than ever since the installation in December of the Google search engine. CUMC Google enables users to search 50,000 CUMC pages, with capacity for 250,000 more as documents are added. Content within PDFs, files, spreadsheets, and Word documents can be searched. Try it at

Any CUMC Web site can now be Google-ized. Improve your search engine capacity by sending an e-mail request to

A Site for a New Identity

The Identity Manager Center Web site provides information about how to implement Columbia University Medical Center's new identity system, which was developed to establish a common look and feel that crosses schools and divisions. The site provides flexible guidelines for developing communications materials for schools, departments, centers and institutes at CUMC. Instructions are provided on how to apply the identity system to stationery items (business cards, fax cover sheets, etc.), new CUMC and school logos, brochures, annual reports, newsletters, presentations, posters, banners, signage, Web pages and all other printed materials. The site – – also includes templates for printed materials and PowerPoint presentations.

CUMC Neighbor Opens Track and Field Hall of Fame

The Armory Foundation and USA Track & Field dedicated the new National Track and Field Hall of Fame Jan. 24 at the 168th Street Armory. Members of the Hall of Fame attended the event, including Billy Mills, who in 1964 won America's only gold medal in the 10,000 meter race in the Tokyo Olympic Games, and Al Oerter, four-time Olympic gold medalist. More than 600 people came to celebrate the event, including Ross Frommer, CUMC deputy vice president for government and community affairs and associate dean.

The National Track and Field Hall of Fame, most recently located in Indianapolis, was created in 1974 in Charleston, W.Va., and remained there until 1983. In the mid-1990s, it became a traveling exhibit before closing due to space limitations. New York and the 168th Street Armory were selected by USA Track & Field from among nine cities that competed to become the new site of the Track and Field Hall of Fame. Visitors can now see memorabilia that includes track star Mal Whitfield's gold medal, one of three he won in the1948 and 1952 Olympic Games; the javelin of Jim Thorpe, who won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympic games and played professional football and professional baseball; and the uniform of Steve Prefontaine, the greatest long distance runner in American history who held 14 American track and field records in the 1970s. The hall also has a classroom for visiting students and a 70-seat auditorium for viewing a film about track and field competitions. More than 90 track meets are held at the Armory each winter, attracting more than 300,000 athlete visits, from high school to master's level. The Hall of Fame is open to the public Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens.

Pictured above are runners from the Riverdale Country School visiting the exhibition.

The Center for Community Health Partnerships received a $42,000 grant from the Aetna Foundation to help train Columbia faculty in the skills necessary to deliver culturally competent care. The grant goes toward a series of development programs that will be offered to a multidisciplinary team of faculty representing Columbia University Medical Center and the School of Social Work. The training programs will address key topics related to cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural knowledge and language diversity.

Kathie-Ann Joseph, assistant professor of surgery, was selected for the 2004 American Association for Cancer Research Minority Scholar Award in Cancer Research. The grant pays for expenses related to her attendance at the AACR annual conference this spring in Orlando, Fla.

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology received a $50,000 Community Grant from the March of Dimes to establish the Center for Prenatal Pediatrics at the Sloane Hospital for Women to provide care for women and infants at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. The center will provide a comprehensive, service-oriented program of care for expectant families who have a diagnosis of a fetal abnormality or a genetic syndrome that requires medical or surgical follow-up after birth. The care of the mother will be closely coordinated by a genetic counselor who is dedicated to leading the family through all diagnostic, clinical and counseling steps, when possible in one setting and in one visit. The award funds the hiring of a care coordinator.

Robert T. Grant, assistant professor of clinical surgery, has been appointed acting chief of the Joint Division of Plastic Surgery at CUMC and NewYork Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Grant's clinical and research interests are in cosmetic surgery, reconstruction after cancer surgery and trauma, and tissue-engineered approaches to wound healing. He is a member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Jeffrey A. Ascherman, assistant professor of surgery, has been appointed site chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery. Dr. Ascherman earned his medical degree and completed his residency in general and plastic surgery at P&S. He is an expert in breast and cosmetic surgery, pediatric reconstructive surgery, and craniofacial surgery for congenital malformations. He has participated in several humanitarian missions to the Far East to perform surgical procedures on severely deformed children. Dr. Ascherman is a member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.