TAMEST Member Profile: Sylvia Trent-Adams, Ph.D. (NAM), University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth
After a 33-year career in the uniformed service, Rear Admiral (Upper Half) Sylvia Trent-Adams, Ph.D. (NAM), was supposed to retire from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in Spring 2020, but she put retirement on hold to help handle the quickly unfolding hurdles of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once she felt her former team had a grasp on COVID-19 testing and vaccine development, Dr. Trent-Adams took the reigns as Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) at Fort Worth last October.
She’s spending this next chapter of her career on efforts to transform health, address health disparities and develop a whole health approach to care. She put this approach into practice immediately while helping to oversee the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for UNTHSC, which included broad awareness campaigns targeting underserved communities and pop-up vaccine clinics.
TAMEST connected with Dr. Trent-Adams to find out more about her career, service and her impactful year helping lead health care through a pandemic.
You joined The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth in October of 2020. What made you decide to take on this role and move to Texas?
I was excited about the opportunity to work with the incredible team at UNTHSC.
There are a number of research efforts underway at UNTHSC that intrigued me. I am especially interested in the work we are doing in whole health, health disparities and innovation and entrepreneurship.
Since you started, you have indeed hit the ground running. Talk about your work surrounding vaccine awareness and access since the rollout began.
I joined UNTHSC in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since arriving, I have had the opportunity to work alongside exceptional public health leaders, faculty, students and community members to bring testing, vaccines and awareness to the importance of a community approach to addressing COVID-19.
We are working with Tarrant County Public Health Department to improve access to vaccines to anyone who is in need. In addition, we launched efforts to engage with members of the community to better understand the role of vaccine hesitancy and medical mistrust, and low vaccine demand in underserved communities.
We continue to modify our vaccine service delivery model to respond to the needs of the community. Homebased access, pop-up clinics, and on-demand, same-day access have improved vaccine uptake in many areas across the county.
How do Texas vaccination rates compare to other states? What has been the biggest hurdle for UNTHSC with the rollout?
The vaccination rate in Texas is behind the national average and ranks in the lower third of the states in the country. Some of the hurdles we experience with the UNTHSC rollout of the vaccine is much like other parts of the United States in that early on there was high demand and low inventory of vaccine and now there is plenty of vaccine on hand but low demand.
We are now facing a point where we have to be very strategic and make the vaccine as easy to access as possible. Education is critical to make sure people can ask questions and receive answers they understand.
In some communities, there is a lack of trust in the health care community. We must acknowledge the challenge and meet people where they are. Services are better received when they are provided by individuals who are trusted in the community and have a connection to those they serve. Language and culture are also important to consider when serving a diverse community.
What lessons do you hope Texans learn from this pandemic?
I hope Texans learn the importance of public health in our everyday lives. We all have a responsibility to protect each other. We live in a global society and what happens in another part of the world can directly impact us here in Texas.
The pandemic is not over. We need to continue to practice appropriate public health measures that help prevent COVID-19, especially for the population that is unvaccinated.
Talk about your work before UNTHSC. What made you decide to retire from a long career in public service and government to transition to academia?
For the first five years of my career, I was a nurse officer in the U.S. Army and the remaining time in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
I served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (PDASH) from January 2019 through August 2020. As the PDASH, I shared responsibility with Assistant Secretary for Health, for planning, coordinating and directing substantive program matters; policy and program development; and determining and setting legislative and program priorities covering the full range of public health activities within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.
From 2015 through 2018, I served as Deputy Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (HHS).
Over the course of my career, I held several leadership positions in HHS, working to improve access to care for poor and underserved communities. I am proud of the work we accomplished clinically and in building systems of care to improve public health for marginalized populations domestically and internationally.
Prior to COVID-19, I had plans to retire in the Spring of 2020, but I could not leave with everything that was happening at that stage in the pandemic. There was too much work to be done to get a handle on the many challenges we were facing with COVID-19. After we were able to get testing up and running and vaccine development was well underway, I set a date to retire that worked for me and the mission. I retired from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps with the rank of Rear Admiral Upper Half.
What makes you most passionate about your work?
My role as Chief Strategy Officer allows me to be involved in every part of the university. I enjoy working with faculty, staff and students. The energy of the people here keeps me motivated to come to work every day.
UNTHSC is an incredible place to work. The culture of the institution encourages interprofessional practice and research. People are a priority here. There are opportunities for everyone to engage and be a part of the efforts to transform health and improve health care.
I am passionate about helping people and working with a great team to make a difference. It is great to work at UNTHSC and have the opportunity to be a part of health professional training, research, clinical care, innovation and engaging with the community. I am excited to see what we will accomplish together.
What does being a member of TAMEST mean to you?
It is an honor to be a part of TAMEST. I am in awe of the accomplishments of the members from across the state. TAMEST provides a pathway for me to connect with leaders in medicine, engineering, science and technology throughout Texas.
It is an incredible resource for collaboration and sharing information on new developments in research and science. I appreciate the TAMEST network and opportunities to work together to support the organization and develop future TAMEST members.