Health & Environment

Texas A&M Team Receives National Recognition For Collaborative Service In Rio Grande Valley

Faculty, staff and students from health, vet med and nutrition will be awarded in D.C. for work with Operation Border Health Preparedness.
By Texas A&M University Health and School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences May 2, 2024

The dental staging tents at PSJA Early College High School in Pharr, Texas on Thursday, July 27, 2023.
The dental staging tents at PSJA Early College High School in Pharr, Texas on Thursday, July 27, 2023.

Texas A&M Health


A collaborative effort by Texas A&M University to support border health has received the 2024 Excellence in Interprofessional Education Collaboration National Award.

Awarded by the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Foundation for the Advancement of Public Health and the Interprofessional Education Collaborative, the award is presented to a team of health students and faculty whose interdisciplinary work has significantly impacted the community they serve. The Texas A&M team was chosen to receive this year’s award for their collaboration with the State of Texas’ Operation Border Health Preparedness (OBHP).

Three faculty members at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) — Dr. Asim Abu-Baker, Dr. LeRoy A. Marklund and Dr. Kelly Sopchak — applied for the award on behalf of all Texas A&M-affiliated OBHP participants and will receive the award on behalf of the team.


DVM students Mohan Iyengar and Cheryl Armstrong examine a patient at Operation Border Health Preparedness.
Veterinary students Mohan Iyengar and Cheryl Armstrong examine a patient at Operation Border Health Preparedness.

Jason Nitsch/Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences


Abu-Baker, associate dean for clinical and professional affairs at the Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy, served as principal investigator for the application. Marklund, clinical assistant professor at the School of Nursing, and Sopchak, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and manager of the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program at the School of Medicine, represent the 2023 OBHP planning committee.

The interprofessional team of students, faculty and staff that served on the planning committee includes Dr. Karen Beathard, instructional associate professor in the Department of Nutrition; Dr. Stephen “Eric” Grayson, assistant professor of pharmacy practice in the School of Pharmacy; Dr. Krystal Flores, instructional assistant professor in the School of Public Health; Dr. Garett Sansom, research assistant professor in the School of Public Health; and Dr. Debra Zoran, professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Operation Border Health Preparedness (OBHP)

Dr. Christine Kaunas, assistant vice president of Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (IPER) at Texas A&M Health, has been involved with Texas A&M Health’s participation in OBHP for several years.

“Operation Border Health Preparedness is the State of Texas’ annual disaster preparedness exercise led by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS),” she said. “The exercise, which takes place in several locations along the South Texas border, tests disaster response capacity and provides much needed health care for underserved communities.”

The most recent operation took place in five cities across the Rio Grande Valley — Brownsville, Laredo, Raymondville, Rio Grande City and San Juan — and provided numerous services for more than 6,000 patients, including free physicals, screenings, dental care, immunizations, vision exams, free eyeglasses and veterinary services for cats and dogs. In this medically underserved region, this event is many residents’ sole opportunity to receive care, and many line up for hours — even overnight — to secure their spot.


A volunteer listens to a patient's needs at PSJA Early College High School in Pharr, Texas on Thursday, July 27, 2023.
A volunteer listens to a patient’s needs.

Texas A&M Health


Student Learning

Participation in OBHP provides Texas A&M students with hands-on, collaborative practice in patient care. Texas A&M Health students assist with human health services and care, while the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) provides veterinary care in South Texas communities that don’t have a veterinarian.

DVM student Madeline Iselt conducts an exam at OBHP.
Veterinary student Madeline Iselt conducts an exam at OBHP.

Jason Nitsch ‘14/Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

“OBHP approaches public health holistically,” said Zoran, director of the VET. “While we provide care to cats and dogs and help protect both them and their families from illness, our colleagues in human medicine provide people in the community essential health care. Together, we’re serving Texans in need while also ensuring our ability to respond to the next major disaster.”

In 2023, the VET completed a record 1,022 veterinary visits, which almost doubled the number of patients seen in 2022 and was significantly higher than the team’s caseload in 2021, the first year the VET participated in OBHP.

Interprofessional collaboration is evident in the breadth and scope of the academic disciplines, government agencies and community organizations involved in OBHP.

“Many OBHP practices have been modified and elevated by our student participants,” Kaunas said. “For example, pharmacy students embedded with military medical staff suggested having Texas A&M students provide training to all site personnel who collect vitals and related information to ensure proper care, provide greater efficiency and improve patient flow.”

The OBHP planning committee has also worked to have Texas A&M students provide other opportunities, such as training for health care professionals on human trafficking. OBHP leadership implemented this suggestion across all sites. In addition, Texas A&M public health students furthered OBHP data collection efforts to provide additional analytics for the event.

Community Impact

Texas A&M’s OBHP participation is embedded in the university’s broader institutional commitment to rural health care and aligns with OBHP’s overall goal to help communities get ready for disasters and to offer free health care services to the community during the event.

Texas A&M volunteers worked with DSHS employees, military medical personnel, local health department officials and volunteers from other organizations to improve the health of Texans working towards improving health literacy, awareness and behavior.

OBHP partners with local leaders and organizations who live in the participating communities. Local volunteers are imperative to the success of OBHP, and several volunteers from Texas A&M are from the participating communities. One pharmacy student serving in Starr County reported that what they liked most about participating in OBHP 2023 was “being able to help my community and see more clearly how much health care is lacking within it.”

The Interprofessional Education Collaborative and United States Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Foundation will recognize these efforts on July 12, 2024, at the IPEC Membership Meeting and Award Ceremony held at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. Abu-Baker, Marklund, and Sopchak will accept the recognition on behalf of all who served from Texas A&M.

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