COPH and MCOM alum creates interdisciplinary “passion project”

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As a fourth-year medical student at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM), Dr. Sayeef Mirza did a clinical rotation through several free clinics serving the uninsured. In the course of working at these clinics, Mirza, who is also a USF College of Public Health (COPH) alum with an MPH degree, realized there was a need for a centralized, aggregated dataset that could better analyze clinical characteristics of uninsured patients.

“I would ask clinic staff simple questions like how many people with diabetes or hypertension are treated at this clinic, and those questions were hard to answer,” commented Mirza. “The information was in the medical charts, but it needed to be tracked and analyzed. Also, I noticed current literature usually described single clinic experiences across the country, but data was rarely aggregated from multiple clinics, again because the data was difficult to access and analyze. On top of that, these generous free clinics oftentimes do not have the resources for dedicated ‘biostats’ or ‘epidemiology’ staff. This is when I decided to write up a study called “Assessing the Burden of Chronic Disease (ABCD) in Free Clinics.” One aspect of the study was recently published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine.

To help with the statistical analysis of the data collected, Mirza called upon fellow COPH alums Justin Swanson and Drs. Shams Rahman and Rahul Mhaskar. Several other COPH students, including Caitlin Wolfe, Shahriar (Shawn) Zamani and Yuanyuan Lu, also lent a hand, helping with analyses and partnering with medical students who didn’t necessarily have a biostatistics background but were asking important clinical questions that needed exploration.

Photo from Unspash

Today the ABCD project, now in its fifth year, encompasses 10 clinics throughout the Tampa Bay area and receives assistance from dozens of students from a variety of fields. MCOM’s Research, Innovation and Scholarly Endeavors (RISE) provides stipends to medical students helping with the research.

“This is a community outreach project,” said Mirza. “Every clinic gets an individualized ‘annual report’ with all the data we extracted, and its analyzed for their specific clinic. Clinics benefit from these individualized reports, but only aggregated data is used for our retrospective studies. We now have longitudinal analyses that can help us track improvement. These analyses can serve as baseline data Quality Improvement (QI) projects to encourage evidence-based medicine and studies examining the role of free clinics in the nation’s health care system.”

Mirza and his colleagues hope to use the data to apply for more grants and secure funding for free health clinic resources. MCOM’s Graduate Medical Education (GME) has already awarded grants for small public health interventions.

“We have to stand up for the disadvantaged,” said Mirza. “The uninsured population is outside of our perspective. They are understudied, disadvantaged and in need of support and resources. With the power of academic research and student passion, we can better understand this population and bring to light what is going in our community.”

For more information about the project contact Dr. Rahul Mhaskar at

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health