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From private practice to public servant: Dr. Alan Cohen is BioSci’s #1 volunteer

Dr. Alan Cohen

Dr. Alan Cohen has been a volunteer instructor in the Department of Biological Sciences for the last 8 years and an active member on the NKU COVID Preparedness Team.

 

Dr. Alan Cohen

Dr. Cohen was an early newsmaker during his time in medical school at Tufts University.

 

Dr. Alan Cohen

As an infectious disease expert, Dr. Cohen was asked to lecture about HIV and AIDS in 1999.

 

Dr. Alan Cohen

Dr. Cohen has developed multiple presentations for groups interesting in learning more about the pandemic, including the Biology seminar series and NKU's COVID modeling group which meets regularly in Zoom to discuss data trends.

 

Many people look forward to retirement as a time to relax with fewer responsibilities, but Dr. Alan Cohen saw retirement as an opportunity to take on new responsibilities by sharing his expertise in infectious diseases with the broader community, including service as a volunteer instructor at NKU.

The road to NKU started in Pittsburgh where he was born, followed by an undergraduate degree in biology from Queens College - City University of New York, an M.D. from Tufts University, an internship and residency at University Hospitals in Madison, Wisconsin and a fellowship at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, where he earned recognition three different times for excellence in teaching.

Dr. Cohen joined St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and the former St. Luke Hospital in 1985. He founded Infectious Disease Consultants of Northern Kentucky, Inc. and got connected to NKU through Dr. Carol Swarts, another great friend of the university. “I entered practice as HIV was hitting. I was the primary HIV physician in Northern Kentucky.”

That was excellent preparation for what might be his most important role at NKU. He serves as the infectious disease expert on the university’s COVID-19 Preparedness Team and also participates in a Pandemic Modeling Group organized by College of Informatics Dean Kevin Kirby and local health professionals leading the community response against the novel coronavirus.

 “His regular updates on the course of the pandemic has framed the discussions and recommendations of the team, and his insights have been invaluable,” said Sue Ott Rowlands who led the team in her tenure as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“Dr. Cohen is a veritable fountain of data for COVID-19,” added Dr. Valerie Hardcastle, St. Elizabeth Healthcare Executive Director for the Institute for Health Innovation and Vice President for Health Innovation.  “His professional connections allow him behind-the-scenes access to the latest in research and trends. But perhaps more importantly, he presents what he knows in an easily digestible manner so that those who are not science geeks can understand. And he does so with a measure of charm that helps us consume and appreciate even the worst of news.”

His service on the COVID-19 team earned him the 2020 Friend of Student Affairs Faculty Award.

Impact on teaching

But perhaps his greatest impact has been on students in the Department of Biological Sciences. Since 2012, he has helped Dr. Joe Mester refresh three different courses: Medical Microbiology, Virology, and Immunology. “It’s been a delightful eight years,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot too.”

“He participates fully in all classroom and laboratory activities,” said Dr. Mester.  “He
always provides high level and very insightful input.  He has prepared and given lectures, composed detailed daily in-class quiz questions as review check-ups, and provided detailed comments on student writing assignments.  End-of-semester student comments always mention the favorable impression that he made on the students.  I am sure it is something they will always remember.”

Indeed! NKU 2018 graduate Ceilidh Ahearn recently emailed Dr. Cohen for advice, remembering his generous offer to provide career guidance for those interested in the medical profession. “Your short role as an impromptu mentor for me in undergrad made a huge difference for me, and I valued it greatly,” wrote Ahearn, who is now in a master’s program in physiology at the University of Louisville.

Impact on research

Although trained as an M.D., Dr. Cohen has published numerous peer-reviewed research articles including an important paper on fighting white nose syndrome in bats in the highly regarded journal PLoS One late last year. The first author was the 2020 Outstanding Graduate in Biology Colin Hartman, who is now pursuing graduate studies at Dartmouth.

“Colin worked through all of the difficult concepts. He deserves the credit,” said Dr. Cohen, who is looking forward to even more opportunities to support Biological Sciences and NKU in the years ahead.

“I’m eager to help. The biology department is superb, and when
you combine human medicine with bench biology, that’s fun!”