VUSM Class of '23 Medical Student Receives U.S. Public Health Service Award

headshotVanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) graduate Daniel Sack, MD'23, PhD'22 received the 2023 Excellence in Public Health Award from the United States Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee (USPHS) for his commitment to improving HIV care and treatment outcomes, particularly among those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This award recognizes medical students' contributions to public health and support of health promotion and disease prevention. Dr. Marie Martin presented the award during VUSM's Class Day on May 11.  

While at Vanderbilt, Dr. Sack pursued advanced training in epidemiology to understand population health at a higher level and equip himself with the tools to be an effective public health researcher, practitioner, and leader. As a long-standing member of VUSM's Diversity and Inclusion Council, he co-developed a 4-year curriculum for physician-scientists to codify antiracist programming into their medical school training. Dr. Sack worked with the Shade Tree Clinic (a student-run clinic for uninsured people in Nashville). He served as a clinical volunteer for five years. Other roles included Director of Operations and the Patient Assistance Program Co-Director, focusing on ensuring quality clinical care for underserved patients in the greater Nashville area.   

With mentorship from Carolyn Audet, PhD, MSci, he led the validation of an empathy scale among HIV-positive couples participating in a partner-based intervention in Mozambique. He assessed both the didactic and longitudinal changes in empathy among control and intervention participants. His ability to manage large datasets to evaluate partners' impact - didactic pairs – is ideal for continuing his career working with couples in reproductive health settings.

In 2020, Dr. Sack received a grant from NIH's Fogarty International Center, which supported his research on the importance of male partner support during pregnancy among women living with HIV in rural South Africa. He developed interview guides and trained South African interviewers to begin data collection on his proposed study. Working closely with Dr. Audet, who was in-country, they enrolled HIV+ pregnant women for quantitative surveys about their intimate partner relationships. Daniel led weekly team meetings with two field workers, their supervisor, and a collaborator in South Africa.

In February of 2022, after successfully defending his dissertation, Dr. Sack visited South Africa to facilitate the final portion of clinical data collection. Three manuscripts and a grant application from this work are underway.

While in Nashville during COVID-19, he expanded his interest in the importance of male partner support during pregnancy to a new population: women with substance use disorder (SUD). Dr. Sack amended his South African protocol to fit the cultural and clinical context of Nashville and had the opportunity to conduct interviews. He gained participants' trust, identified challenges pregnant women with SUD faced obtaining stigma-free health care, and learned their preferences for partner support throughout their treatment journey. 

Dr. Sack was matched into the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and will complete his residency in Medicine.