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Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
 Issue 162 - September 11, 2018
There is so much good work being performed throughout UNLV Medicine that it’s hard to choose which project or program to tell you about each week. Our new chair of OB/GYN has really hit the ground running. Dr. James Alexander is doing a terrific job familiarizing himself with our operation while juggling a number of new projects within the department. I think you’ll find the research his team is performing quite interesting. Dr. Alexander is a true believer in the power of education and the impact a good teacher can have on a student. He credits much of his success to the professors who took a special interest in him. Now he is looking to return the favor using everything he has learned during a life in medicine to help shape the next generation of doctors in Southern Nevada.
Barbara signature, first name only
DR. JAMES ALEXANDER:
PURSUING EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE
9 11 2018 Dr Alexander
Dr. James Alexander, chairman of the UNLV School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
When Dr. James Alexander, the new chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the UNLV School of Medicine, talks about the importance of research to patients, his Texas accent becomes hotter than a two dollar pistol.

Yes, this native of Dallas can’t help getting passionate when he talks about how research can help clinical outcomes. And when he does, he tends to use “Mamas” instead of “Mothers,” much like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings did with their, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

“I know I should use ‘mothers,’ but it comes out on me (the Texan) sometimes,” he says.

Make no mistake: Dr. Alexander doesn’t just talk about research, he does it. His 69 journal pieces, published in renowned journals that include the American Journal of Perinatology and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, cover everything from “Effects of Magnesium Sulfate on Preterm Fetal Cerebral Blood Flow Using Doppler Analysis” to “Hypertensive Emergencies of Pregnancy.”

The author or editor of ten books, he’s been one of the writers of three editions of “Williams Manual of Obstetrics,” the companion to the texbook, “Williams Obstetrics,” which has been the premier reference in obstetrics for more than a century. One reviewer said of the pocked-sized manual, “The authority of Williams Obstetrics in a portable package.” For two editions of the texbook, Dr. Alexander has been a contributing editor. Said a reviewer: “Ob/Gyns don’t need to be told about this book; they swear by it.”

“I really like having science behind what I do,” Dr. Alexander says. “That way you do interventions that you know will help. It helps patients have better babies.”
“A good teacher in medicine makes a huge difference,” Dr. Alexander says. “We need to find more ways to reward them... a teacher is why I’m in the field I’m in today.”
Recently, the UNLV School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology was awarded a $22,190.00 grant from the March of Dimes to study the effects on pregnancies of women who use long acting birth control, such as an intrauterine device (IUD) or implantable hormonal devices. Dr. Alexander noted that research has shown that pregnancies which start less than 18 months after birth are associated with delayed prenatal care and adverse birth outcomes, including preterm birth, neonatal morbidity and low birthweight.

It could be, Dr. Alexander says, that long acting birth control where a woman doesn’t have to remember to take a pill or get a shot could become the recommended and cost effective safe way for women to control birth spacing, which would result in better birth outcomes.

“The March of Dimes is excited about this research and so are we,” said Dr. Alexander.

Prior to joining the UNLV School of Medicine in July, Dr. Alexander held a similar position with the University of Arkansas for Medicine Sciences in Little Rock. He also has been a professor in the division of maternal fetal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. That center became internationally renowned in obstetrics because of the research done by its late director, Dr. Jack Pritchard. It was Pritchard who introduced magnesium sulfate to the treatment of the convulsions associated with eclampsia (a condition in which seizures occur in a pregnant woman suffering from high blood pressure.) Dr. Pritchard also pioneered studies in the changes of the blood and blood forming tissues during pregnancy.

“His work forever changed the practice of obstetrics and gynecology,” Dr. Alexander says. “He was a giant in the field. He inspired many leaders in our field.“

Dr. Alexander wants the research work done by OB/GYN faculty investigators at the UNLV School of Medicine to develop into a statewide resource. “We’re not only training doctors, but want to help the entire state.” (The OB/GYN Department, which will have a total of 24 residents, also trains physicians based at Nellis Air Force Base.)

It was while he was a third year student at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston that he developed his passion for OB/GYN. “The professor took me under her wing and really got me interested,” he says, adding that she helped him obtain a residency in the field at the University of Alabama Birmingham. That training was followed by a fellowship in maternal fetal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

“A good teacher in medicine makes a huge difference,” Dr. Alexander says. “We need to find more ways to reward them... a teacher is why I’m in the field I’m in today.” Even with all the technological advances found presently in medical schools, he says, what a doctor imparts to a student is critical. For that reason, Dr. Alexander still calls the study of medicine “an apprenticeship.”

With 12 and 16 hour days not uncommon for much of his life in medicine, Dr. Alexander says that in his family hard work was always the norm. “Our history was basically that of laborers,” he says, noting that his father worked on the railroad. While his dad’s work put food on the table and a roof over his head, there was no money to send him to college. He qualified for a financial need Pell Grant, which he combined with work as a lifeguard, sacking groceries, waiting tables at Red Lobster and selling auto parts to get through college.

There was no “magic moment,” he says, when he decided to become a doctor. “I loved biology and science and it just seemed like it would be a profession that made good use of my skills.”
It was while he was working at a recreation center checking out equipment he would use the money toward medical school that he met the woman who would become his wife.

“We dated for just three months and my mother asked me if I was sure I wanted to get married going into medical school,” he recalls. “I told my mother I knew she was the one for me and she has been. We’re together after 31 years with two beautiful daughters. I couldn’t have come this far without her.”

Dr. Alexander’s says his decision to come to Las Vegas wasn’t a difficult one.

“I’m in my 50s, in good health with plenty of energy and have a chance to make a difference at a new medical school. How many people get to do that?”

After decades of helping bring babies into this world, how does he feel about the experience today?

“Delivering babies is still just as exciting now, if not more so, than when I started.” 
IN THE NEWS   Click to see recent stories about UNLV School of Medicine

Diane Han is part of a group of medical students whose decision to stay and practice in Las Vegas after graduation may give the city hope that it can reduce its reliance on casinos.

Reuters, September 11, 2018

“Electronic access can make sure our students and faculty are getting the most recent research and medical information.”
- Maggie Farrell, dean of university libraries, UNLV

Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 9, 2018
MEDICINE BY THE NUMBERS - 1,600,000
40 percent of the 4 million babies born annually in the U.S. are now delivered by unwed mothers.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) |  https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/births.htm
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