Ira Combs is a Champion of Change

Image with caption: Ira Combs, center, with his puppet, Dr. Jesse, as a fan looks on.
Ira Combs, center, with his puppet, Dr. Jesse, as a fan looks on.
You learn something -- you have to give back.

That's the philosophy Ira Combs, community nurse liaison in UNMC's Center for Reducing Health Disparities in the College of Public Health, has had for more than 20 years as he has encouraged African-Americans to become involved in health education.

To see a video on Combs and his work, click here.

An oncology nurse whose emphasis now is public health, Combs was selected by the White House as a Public Health and Prevention Champion of Change, a person leading extraordinary efforts in prevention and public health that will have lasting effects on the health of Americans.

See the reception live

Watch today's Champions of Change ceremony live beginning at 9 a.m. CDT.

Combs will be honored at a White House reception this morning, also participating in a panel discussion describing his work. Champions help communities focus on prevention and public health by tackling childhood obesity, health disparities and health care-acquired infections. They innovate ways to make America healthier based on wellness and prevention.

Nearly 900 people were nominated.

A non-traditional student, Combs received his nursing degree at the age of 40 and immediately created the North Omaha Area Health (NOAH), an agency that addresses the needs of the underserved in North Omaha.

Read Ira Combs' Champions of Change blog.

"I work with a handful of dedicated community volunteers and limited funding to produce health-oriented comics and coloring books for kids, and sponsor and maintain websites and social media networks that provide information about healthy living," he said.

He is perhaps best known for his puppet characters, Dr. Jesse, Dr. Healthy (a woman doctor) and Mr. Jones, who never does anything right, and such other African-American superheroes as Prevention Man, Medical Dude and Vernon the Vegetarian Veggie Bird -- all who make it fun to learn about health.

He also created Youth Expressions of Health, which includes an annual youth summer internship program in partnership with UNMC. It has helped more than 45 young people prepare for and start college with a focus on entering the field of health care. Combs also coordinates health screenings and interventions for minority and underserved populations.

"I try to keep people healthy so they don't have to go to the emergency room," he said.

"This is what it's all about," Combs said. "Reaching people one-by-one at their point of need can change their life and the lives of their family.

"I thought about retiring last year, but with this award I will use it to benefit the community. This is quite an honor."


Fill out the following and your comment will post once it has been approved.

Thank you, your comment will appear below once it has been approved.

Adi Pour
September 11, 2013 at 1:36 PM

Ira, congratulations - this is so well deserved. Our community owes you a ton of gratitude for what you do every day to improve public health! You are an inspiration and do not think of retirement, Omaha needs you!

Dr Kosoko-Lasaki
September 10, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Congratulations Ira Dr Sade Kosoko-Lasaki Creighton University

September 10, 2013 at 3:29 PM


Renaisa Anthony
September 10, 2013 at 3:25 PM

So very proud and inspired by your work, dedication, and service to community health and wellness. Congratulations!!!!

nicole hackendahl
September 10, 2013 at 10:42 AM

Great Story. Great Man. Great Mission. Go Ira!

September 10, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Awesome! Way to go Ira.

September 10, 2013 at 9:11 AM

WOW! Congratuations Ira. So proud of you!

Renee Cook
September 10, 2013 at 9:05 AM

Congratulations Ira...An Honor well deserved.

Jo Giles
September 10, 2013 at 8:49 AM

CONGRATS Ira!!! You have helped so many and are deserving of this honor!

Carla M. Pospisal
September 10, 2013 at 8:05 AM

Congratulations Ira. What a wonderful recognition for all that you do. Carla (Incontro) Pospisal

Peggy DeLaet
September 10, 2013 at 7:56 AM

Way to go Ira, You do make a difference in health care and motivating others to follow in your footsteps.