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Dr. Deepa Sekhar: Leading a new community-based wellness initiativeExecutive director, Penn State PRO Wellness

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Dr. Deepa Sekhar, executive director, Penn State PRO Wellness
Dr. Deepa Sekhar, executive director, Penn State PRO Wellness - (Photo / )

Deepa Sekhar, 41, was recently appointed executive director of Penn State PRO Wellness and will oversee its research and outreach efforts.

She is also a pediatrician at Penn State Health and an associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine.

Sekhar earned both her bachelor’s degree, in biology and international relations, and her medical degree from Brown University. She did residencies in pediatrics at New York and Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia Campus and at Brooklyn Hospital Center.

She and her husband have three sons and live in Derry Township.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new role with Penn State PRO Wellness?

A: PRO Wellness has a variety of projects, they’re all grant-funded and all tied in some way to either schools or communities. With my recent funding related to school-based mental health screenings, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to integrate the research I’ve been doing and the opportunity with PRO Wellness to both answer questions that are medically important and make sure those answers are applicable to the community and the results are valuable to the communities we work in.

How do Penn State PRO Wellness’ programs help children?

PRO Wellness initially started with a report from the Department of Health at a time when schools were just beginning to foray into wellness. PRO Wellness was established to provide schools with evidence-based programming and ideas to address the challenges they were facing. That piece has remained consistent, and the program now is called Healthy Champions. It reaches over 300 schools throughout the commonwealth and we are planning to increase that to up to 600 schools this upcoming year. That is one of our signature programs to ensure kids are getting appropriate nutrition and physical activity, and that that sort of programming starts at a young age. I just got a notification that there has been a piece of legislation introduced in Pennsylvania addressing the idea of school-based mental health screening. Another program will involve HPV or Gardasil vaccination, how schools communicate vaccination and its importance to parents, and focus groups to look at barriers to vaccination. That’s just a general smattering of the programs.

How will you balance the administrative aspects of your role with human care?

I’m a general pediatrician, in addition to this role, and see patients in a primary care outpatient clinic and work in a newborn nursery. I think that is separate from PRO Wellness' work, which touches on health issues, but it’s not the same to me as providing clinical care in an office for patients. The PRO Wellness staff is all grant-funded to develop programs and look at research questions. In my mind, the finance aspect of that is separate from the patient care I also do.

If you could be a kid for a day, what would you do?

Probably my ideal day would be spending the day at the beach with family, playing in the sand all day, and running back and forth to the water, and then having a nice dinner and curling up on the couch with a movie and the family. I’m a summertime girl, so it would have to be in summer and not on a cold snowy day.

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