Dr. Carlisha Colbert Gentles, PharmD, BCPS, of the Indian Health Services’ Tsaile Health Center in Arizona recently received a 2014 Honorable Mention as Individual Practitioner at the American Pharmacist Association in Orlando, Florida. As a native of Thomaston she is also an active-duty member of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) where she maintains the rank of Lieutenant and focuses her efforts on improving the health care of Native American patients. In addition to her medical assignment, she and her husband, Dr. Andrew Gentles, are the co-founders of the non-profit organization, Dissipating Disparities, Inc. Carlisha will be in Thomaston on May 3 as Dissipating Disparities does a meet and greet at Colony Bank.
Carlisha Colbert grew up in Thomaston and is a 2001 graduate of Upson-Lee High School. She is the daughter of Captain Renee and Jimmy Harris and Carl Colbert. She has one brother, Caltez Colbert, and two sister-cousins, Britni Brown and Brianna Vaughn. Her grandparents are Mable Brown and the late Benjamin Brown, and the late Betty and James Colbert. She also has an aunt, Phyllis Brown, and two uncles, Dexter and Wendell Colbert. She and her husband met in pharmacy school at Howard University in Washington, DC. He proposed in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 2009 and they were married at the Villa Serena in Conyers, GA on August 14, 2010.
After graduating from Upson-Lee, she headed to Mercer University in Macon, where she completed her pharmacy pre-requisites. She received her Doctorate of Pharmacy degree from Howard University College of Pharmacy in Washington, DC. She then went on to complete a pharmacy practice residency in community practice/ambulatory care with Mercer University and East Marietta Drugs from 2008-2009. She was a pharmacy consultant with the Institute for Wellness and Education and a pharmacy manager at Walmart before joining the United States Public Health Service in June of 2011. She said she first heard of the organization while she was in pharmacy school.
“During my pharmacy school tenure, we had alumni of various pharmacy professions come back to the college and detail their current careers,” Carlisha said. “ I remember one particular pharmacist in general. She came in, provided a lecture on immunizations and detailed her deployment to Hurricane Katrina. Upon first glance, many assumed she was a member of the Navy and even though she was a member of the Uniformed Forces, she was not a member of the Navy, but a Commissioned Officer of the United States Public Health Service. After meeting her, learning of her experiences, and researching the organization for myself, I knew this was an opportunity to pursue upon graduation and completion of my pharmacy practice residency. Being a member of USPHS with its mission to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our nation, aligned perfectly with my personal, professional and career goals. It was a mission that I completely support wholeheartedly and had to be a part of.”
As America’s uniformed service of public health professionals, the Commissioned Corps achieves its mission through:
• Rapid and effective response to public health needs
• Leadership and excellence in public health practices
• Advancement of public health science
Carlisha’s first assignment upon joining the USPHS was to Chinle, Arizona in the Navajo Reservation. The reservation coves more than 27,000 square miles in northeastern Arizona and smaller parts of Utah and New Mexico. It is home to some 250,000 tribe members who are spread thinly across the high desert, rivers and mountains. Many still live as their ancestors did, farming or herding sheep, horses and cattle, and conducting ceremonies in eight-sided buildings called hogans. As of the 2010 census, Chinle had a population of 4,518. Carlisha found it somewhat of a surprise when she and her husband, who is also an active duty officer, arrived at Tsaile.
“When I first arrived at my assignment, I was in a bit of shock due to the isolation of the area, a bit of poverty, and the fact that there was no green of course, being in the desert,” Carlisha said. “Imagine if you will, driving for miles with red clay and canyons on both sides of the road with rolling fields stretching as far as the eye can see, as tumble weeds literally blow past you car, no green grass or trees in site for miles while making a 1.5 hour commute to the nearest Walmart. Arriving on the hospital campus, where our housing quarters are located, provided some glimmer of hope, but it could not take away the vision of the small barely stable units inhabited usually by multiple families we passed on the way up the hill to our housing assignment.”
While at Chinle, Carlisha received her commission as a Lieutenant in the USPHS in June 2012. She also grew to love the area and its people.
“In the almost three years that I have been here, I have definitely come to love the beautiful canyons and amazing horizons, the Navajo and their culture, and being able to serve and promote the advancement of the profession of pharmacy in this under-served population,” she added. “The USPHS is very unique in that you are usually able to choose your assignment area, however, when you are to deploy you have no choices. I did request the Navajo area which has proved to be a great decision. What most surprised me about coming to the reservation were the questions I received prior to leaving Georgia. For instance, many asked me if I would live in a teepee. This was so far from the truth. But I found it interesting because it highlights a misconception about the culture and presents an opportunity to provide education. Now, I would have liked to experience staying in a teepee for a short time. But the Navajos only use teepees today for traditional ceremonies; however, some of the more traditional Navajos and Navajo elders did reside in hogans long ago and some still today. Most hogans now are also used during times of celebrations or traditional ceremonies.”
Carlisha established the first pharmacist-led zoster vaccination program at Tsaile Health Center in Arizona. Zostavax or the zoster/shingles vaccine is used to prevent shingles or decrease duration of shingles outbreak if one were to get shingles. According to the CDC, almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster. There are an estimated 1 million cases each year in this country. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However the risk of disease increases as a person gets older. About half of all cases occur among men and women 60 years old or older.
By utilizing the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Model for Improvement (Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle), Carlisha established a team of physicians, nurses, and informaticists to work with her at each step of the process. She presented her findings to the administration and the governing Pharmacy and Therapeutics body and received approval for the zoster vaccine to be added and administered only by an immunization-trained pharmacist. By December 2013, Carlisha and her fellow pharmacist, Dr. Terry Teller, had successfully vaccinated 150 patients. They are expected to administer approximately 400 zoster vaccines by July 2014.
If working on the Navajo Reservation wasn’t enough, Carlisha and her husband formed the Dissipating Disparities, Inc. non-profit organization, and are bringing it back to her hometown of Thomaston.
“Being that I have a passion for health and also giving back to my community, it only felt right to start a community based grassroots organization, Dissipating Disparities, Inc. (DDI), which has now become recognized as a nonprofit organization in the State of Georgia with our 501c3 status pending,” she said. “DDI’s mission is to eliminate disparities and empower our communities by bringing awareness, acceptance, and action to our communities in the areas of health and wellness, financial literacy, and education. DDI will be hosting our 1st Meet and Greet on May 3 at Colony Bank, and our second annual Saving Ourselves Expo in Thomaston on Sept 20 at the Civic Center, along with our Annual Sweet Soles Diabetes Walk on Nov 29.”
Carlisha will be in town at the meet and greet at Colony Bank on May 3 at 10am. If you would like to know more about DDI, upcoming events or opportunities on how to join efforts to support the mission, please check them out at www.ddi-ga.org.