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UTRGV School of Medicine adapts recruitment efforts to pandemic’s new normal - vitalant - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Vitalant of McAllen, which is part of one of the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit community blood service providers, on Thursday, October 22, 2020, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., will be hosting a blood donation drive, along with providing free COVID-19 antibodies tests, at the LDS Church, 401 S. Jackson Road in Edinburg. Vitalant supplies comprehensive transfusion medicine services to nearly 1,000 hospitals and health care partners for patients in need across 40 states, including Texas. For information on what a person should eat and drink before donating blood, call 575/840-8178 or log on to https://www.healthline.com/health/what-to-eat-before-donating-blood

Graphics By ANTHONY ACOSTA

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UTRGV School of Medicine adapts recruitment efforts to pandemic’s new normal 

By DIMITRA TREJO

With the new academic year underway at the UTRGV School of Medicine, the Office of Admissions continues its recruitment process for medical school candidates. 

During the season, the staff pitches the School of Medicine’s opportunities to candidates across the county via an admissions committee of 18 faculty members and four student leaders who work to provide critical information about the resources and opportunities available.  

With the challenges of COVID-19 hovering over every aspect of life, however, the School of Medicine’s admissions efforts has had to change, with in-person recruitment on hold. 

Betty Monfort, Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions for the UTRGV School of Medicine, said the experience so far has been unique, but the problems they have faced because of the pandemic are not unique to just one institution.  

“Our School of Medicine, along with 14 other medical schools in the state of Texas, usually partake in a number of college fairs. That is part of the recruitment process, and we all know each other,” she said. “With COVID-19, all of the medical schools including ours had to get creative for our recruitment efforts, and it has been extremely laborious.”  

The Admissions Committee and the admission team are responsible for reviewing the applications, interviewing candidates, and accepting or rejecting them, with some placed on a waitlist. 

“Admissions is 24/7,” Monfort said of the complex process. 

One big help is the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Services (TMDSAS) – the centralized application processing service for applicants to first-year, entering classes at all public medical, dental, and veterinary schools in Texas that makes it easier to apply to their school of choice. 

TMDSAS simplifies the application process for both the applicants and the participating schools by providing one standardized application, thereby relieving students of the need to complete a separate application for each school they want to apply to. 

Monfort says that the centralized process means all medical schools in Texas have a unified approach to the issues they have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that has been helpful. 

“We all keep in touch,” she said. “We pick up the phone and have productive conversations because we interview the same candidates. This year, every single medical school in the state is doing some sort of remote interview process. It’s a pandemic, and we realized it was all or nothing and we had to go virtually.”

Interview Day and other Challenges

Monfort says interview day – when potential students meet the School of Medicine’s faculty, staff, and leadership – is a crucial part of the selection process. It also is an opportunity for the staff to learn more about potential students. That important personal note is missing this year because of COVID-19. Now, interviews have been conducted in other ways. 

“The challenge is adopting a new system to virtual platforms,” Monfort said, “so we do not lose the soft skills and other personable traits we would otherwise see in the interview processes for candidates.” 

Monfort, who has been involved in recruitment efforts for more than 30 years at medical schools in other universities, including Florida International University in Miami and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, said going virtual has been a different undertaking altogether.   

“For me personally, I’m technically challenged,” she said. “I started doing this with cue cards many years ago. I am blessed to have a staff that is very well prepared with the new tools we need to keep working. I am on Zoom from eight in the morning until six at night.”  

Still, despite the setbacks, the new processes have not deterred the interest of applicants, she said.  “We are keeping up with the times and I’m happy to say that this pandemic has not hindered the amount or caliber of applicants we have received,” Monfort said. “In fact, our team is very impressed with the potential medical students who have applied. Applicants have welcomed and accommodated to our new systems of operating.”  

This year, they asked applicants to send in a video answering questions like, “As a medical student, what is a main concern for the region in the time of this pandemic?”  

“The replies we got were so insightful, and a great testimony to the type of students the UTRGV School of Medicine will be training,” she said.  

Record Highs Despite the Challenges

Even given virtual, technological, and social challenges, the UTRGV School of Medicine’s percentage of applicants for the Class of 2025 is up 31 percent, and more than 7,300 applications have been started for the Class of 2025 as well. 

“This is record-setting,” Monfort said. “We have delayed the deadline until October 30, and I’m not surprised at the amount of interest we’ve received.”  

Monfort connects the pandemic and the ensuing economic recession to people’s interest in searching for higher education opportunities in the medical field. 

“Every time there is a recession or an anomaly, people go back to school,” she said. “When 911 happened, there was a big increase in criminal justice degrees. Students aren’t running away because they are scared. They are coming to us and saying, ‘Teach me, I want to help.’ Which is great.”

Tours – From the Safety of Home

The UTRGV School of Medicine Office of Admissions has been working on developing virtual environments and tours where potential medical students can learn more about the school and region. Before COVID-19, applicants would have been able to visit in person. 

“Our forte has always been in-person, including a full interview day where the potential medical students come on campus to meet our faculty, speak to our current students, receive a financial aid overview, and visit surrounding areas and clinics,” Monfort said. “We can’t do that this year, so we are initiating virtual tours of our facilities and resources.”  

The virtual tours are moderated by a medical student and are intended to provide an immersed experience of the medical school. The tour will lead applicants through the School of Medicine, where they will learn about the amenities, including anatomy labs and wellness centers, hear messages from faculty and leadership, and get a better picture of what the institution has to offer.   

Monfort said developing the virtual tour to accommodate applicants has been a joint effort with other schools of medicine departments and will benefit potential students looking to make a decision on which medical school to attend. 

She said she hopes for a time when the traditional form of recruitment is again the norm. But until then, she and the team are ready to interact and recruit potential medical students however they can. 

“We are available anytime, and there is always a team member in our admissions office five days a week,” Monfort said. “This new process of recruitment is like a new shoe. You wear it until it becomes comfortable. I’m confident we will succeed.” 

For more information on admission to the UTRGV School of Medicine visit, https://www.utrgv.edu/som/admissions/index.htm.  

About UTRGV 

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions. 

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

HEALTHLINE.COM: EATING AND DRINKING THE RIGHT THINGS BEFORE AND AFTER DONATING BLOOD CAN HELP REDUCE YOUR RISK FOR SIDE EFFECTS

According to healthline.com, donating blood is a relatively safe way to help people with serious medical conditions. Donating blood can lead to some side effects, though, like fatigue or anemia. Eating and drinking the right things before and after donating can help reduce your risk for side effects.

Healthline Media, Inc. is an American website and provider of health information headquartered in San Francisco, California, according to Wikipedia. It was founded in 2006 and established as a standalone entity in January 2016.

As of March 2020, it had a global ranking of 212 by Alexa.

Read on to learn what you should eat and drink before donating blood, plus learn tips for things you can do after you donate.

What to Eat and Drink

If you’re donating blood, it’s important to stay hydrated before and after you donate. That’s because about half of your blood is made of water. It’s also good to increase your iron intake because you lose iron when you donate. Low iron levels can cause symptoms of fatigue.

Iron

Iron is an important mineral your body uses to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of iron-rich foods can help you store extra iron. If you don’t have enough iron stored away to make up for the iron you lose when donating blood, you can develop iron deficiency anemia.

There are two different types of iron found in foods: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is more easily absorbed, so it boosts your iron levels more effectively. Your body absorbs up to 30 percent of heme iron and only 2 to 10 percent of nonheme iron.

Before you donate blood, consider increasing your intake of iron-rich foods. This can help increase the iron stores in your body and reduce your risk for iron deficiency anemia.

Foods rich in heme iron include:

• Meats, like beef, lamb, ham, pork, veal, and dried beef
• Poultry, such as chicken and turkey.
• Fish and shellfish, like tuna, shrimp, clams, haddock, and mackerel.
• Organs, such as the liver.
• Eggs.

Foods rich in nonheme iron include:

Vegetables, such as spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, string beans, beet greens, dandelion greens, collards, kale, and chard.

Bread and cereals, including enriched white bread, enriched cereal, whole-wheat bread, enriched pasta, wheat, bran cereals, cornmeal, oats, rye bread, and enriched rice

Fruits, such as strawberries, watermelon, raisins, dates, figs, prunes, prune juice, dried apricots, and dried peaches.

Beans, including tofu, kidney, garbanzo, white, dried peas, dried beans, and lentils.

Vitamin C

Although heme iron will raise your iron levels more effectively, vitamin C can help your body better absorb plant-based iron, or nonheme iron.

Many fruits are a good source of vitamin C. Fruits high in this vitamin include

• Cantaloupe
• Citrus fruits and juices
• Kiwi fruit
• Mango
• Papaya
• Pineapple
• Strawberries
• Raspberries
• Blueberries
• Cranberries
• Watermelon
• Tomatoes

Water

Around half of the blood you donate is made of water. This means you’ll want to be fully hydrated. When you lose fluids during the blood donation process, your blood pressure can drop, leading to dizziness. The American Red Cross recommends drinking an extra 16 ounces, or 2 cups, of water before donating blood. Other nonalcoholic beverages are fine, too.

This extra fluid is in addition to therecommended 72 to 104 ounces (9 to 13 cups) you should drink each day.
to avoid
What to Avoid

Certain foods and beverages can have a negative effect on your blood. Before donating blood, try to avoid the following:

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages lead to dehydration. Try to avoid drinking alcohol 24 hours before giving blood. If you do drink alcohol, make sure to compensate by drinking extra water.

Fatty Foods

Foods high in fat, such as french fries or ice cream, can affect the tests that are run on your blood. If your donation can’t be tested for infectious diseases, then it can’t be used for transfusion. So, skip the doughnuts on donation day.

Iron Blockers

Certain foods and beverages can affect your body’s ability to absorb iron. You don’t have to avoid these foods completely, but avoid eating them at the same time you consume iron-rich foods or iron supplements. Foods that reduce iron absorption include:

  • coffee and tea
  • high-calcium foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • red wine
  • chocolate
  • Aspirin

If you’re donating blood platelets — which is a different process than donating whole, or regular, blood — your system must be aspirin-free for 48 hours prior to donation.

What to Eat and Drink after Donating Blood

After you donate blood, you’ll be provided with a light snack and something to drink. This will help stabilize your blood sugar and fluid levels. To replenish your fluids, drink an extra 4 cups of water over the next 24 hours, and avoid alcohol.

Are There Any Side Effects of Donating Blood?

Most people experience no side effects when giving blood. After donating blood, you’ll be asked to wait in the refreshments area for 10 to 15 minutes to make sure you’re feeling OK.

Once you’ve had a snack and something to drink, you can return to your daily activities. The Red Cross recommends avoiding heavy lifting and vigorous exercise for the rest of the day.

If you’re a frequent blood donor, you may want to talk to your doctor about iron supplements. It can take months for your iron levels to return to normal after giving blood.

A 2015 study found that taking iron supplements can significantly reduce this recovery time.

The Takeaway

Donating blood is a great way to give back to your community. It’s usually quick and easy. If you eat healthy on the day of your donation and drink plenty of extra fluids, you should have minimal or no side effects.

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For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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