Rebecca Cunningham, M.D.

Medical SchoolEmergency MedicineAdult
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Dr. Cunningham’s research is focused on intentional injury and substance use prevention, particularly of youth and young adult populations. Her work on behavioral interventions in the emergency room has helped position emergency departments as critical locations for public health interventions, specifically for violence. Dr. Cunningham and her team have also developed and successfully implement behavioral interventions focused on reducing substance use among underage drinkers seeking ED care, with a focus on cutting-edge technology-delivered interventions. Dr. Cunningham was instrumental in the development of such global projects as the medical, nursing and post-graduate education of emergency medicine content for colleagues in Ghana. She is the director of the U-M Injury Prevention Center.

  • M.D., Jefferson Medical College
  • B.S., Fairfield University

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What are you thinking about?

Faculty and staff of the University of Michigan Injury Prevention Center are thinking a lot about decreasing the burden of injuries in the region and nationally. This includes injuries that result from youth violence broadly — gun violence, prescription drug misuse and overdose, and transportation safety, including teen driver safety and motorcycle helmet use. Individually, I am spending a lot of research time thinking about how to engage with adolescents and young adults during their emergency department visits to prevent future violent injury, future firearm injury, and substance misuse that often leads to injury.

Why is this interesting to you?

Injuries such as these are the leading cause of death among Americans ages 1-44. They are so common we almost accept them as unavoidable "accidents"; however, they are very preventable when solid injury science is applied. As an emergency physician, I am well trained in how to treat patients with acute injuries, but our focus is less clear about our role in prevention messages. Most physicians will talk to an adolescent with asthma about smoking, and find it their role to do so. I find it fascinating to think about how the health system can treat patients acutely, while also attending to the underlying risks for future injury.

What are the practical implications for healthcare?

Health care is entering a new era of cost management. We no longer can afford to not apply prevention science that we know is effective on the front end to prevent injuries that result in major morbidity, mortality and cost to our health care systems and patients down the road later by fragmented care that does not include prevention, including injury prevention. Also, with the possibility of increased access with Obamacare to mental health and substance use treatment parity, we have the opportunity to care for the whole of the injured patient, both physically and mentally.

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