Master of Public Health Graduate Kelly Oliver—Determined to Help People Improve their Lives through Her Career
Kelly Oliver knew early on that she wanted to work in the medical field and help people. She earned her undergraduate degree in public health from one of the top state universities in North Carolina, and also obtained her Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) designation while still in college.
After graduating, Kelly was eager to make a difference in her community and excited about the prospect of beginning work in public health or health education. She started her search for a public health job—scanning online postings, volunteering/interning at various organizations to gain experience, networking with professionals in the field, and going on interview after interview. Little did Kelly know that 3 years later she would be in the same position—without a job in her chosen field, frustrated, and overwhelmed, but still determined!
“I love helping people, especially the underserved populations,” she said. “I knew if I could gain some experience, get my foot in the door, I could prove myself and start a great career!”
Kelly finally reached a point where she got tired of being rejected. “I decided to do something about it. I enrolled in Kaplan University to further my education, because I knew that a master's degree would help me. And it definitely has made a big difference so far! But many more opportunities are awaiting!”
While Kelly was in the process of earning her master’s degree in public health, she landed a one-year appointment serving with the Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program (www.nationalservice.gov). VISTA members work to fight poverty in underserved, rural communities.
She was able to choose the area where she wanted to serve for Americorps. Symbolic of her gutsy and proactive personality, Kelly chose to move from her native North Carolina to rural, upstate New York—a state she had never even visited before—to meet new people, see a new part of the country, and gain some great work experience. However, the transition wasn’t easy. She had to adjust to her new workload, which was a bit overwhelming. She also was over 500 miles away from family and friends. To top it all off, her course load at Kaplan University became more intense.
Kelly struggled to balance it all, but enjoyed being challenged in her studies as well as her burgeoning career. She was inspired by the impact that she was already making to improve the quality of life for the residents she was serving. The work that she has done so far has been very beneficial in expanding client services for organizations that help uninsured, low-income populations.
Kelly’s VISTA program is hosted by the Rural Health Service Corps, which is administered by the Rural Health Network of South Central New York (www.rhnscny.org) and her host site is SUNY Upstate Medical University Binghamton Campus. VISTA’s efforts are focused on capacity building for organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, and foster economic development and otherwise assist low-income communities.
“I have learned a few new skills and enhanced skills I already had during my service with Americorps,” Kelly said. “I am a program coordinator, but I consider myself a health educator as well. I have been responsible for four major initiatives in my VISTA position. First, I am currently working on a project to help increase access to prescription medications for uninsured and underinsured local residents. I developed a brochure that provides information about local and national assistance programs that help people pay for their medications. I also developed a 20-minute educational presentation to train staff at local community-based organizations and health care agencies.”
Her second initiative is a data analysis project, which will display information about the effectiveness of her educational sessions.
For her third project, Kelly developed and will be implementing a “Train-the-Trainer” curriculum for staff members at three of the local New York-area organizations that provide prescription assistance services. Her goal is to empower staff members at these organizations to continue her outreach efforts once her service ends.
Lastly, Kelly is working on a project assessing the housing situation in Broome County, New York. She is analyzing housing as a social determinant of health and is evaluating the current state of affordable housing in the area. Kelly is optimistic that her findings will be used to help promote advocacy for housing issues.
As Kelly looked toward the end of her appointment this summer, she reached out to her local health department in her native North Carolina County. As a result of her ambition, she landed an internship (starting this September) revamping and promoting the department’s medication assistance program, which is not currently being utilized by residents.
“I have experienced firsthand how awareness can greatly impact an organization’s services and I wanted to create that same awareness in my own community because prescription access is a crisis in America.”
“I feel so great knowing that I am able to help people improve their situations. The people that I help are confined to a life that they cannot necessarily change. Therefore, they need someone like me—someone to guide them—to help them get the information they need, and to steer them in the right direction so they can take control and improve their quality of life.”
This testimonial was solicited by Kaplan University. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individual; student experiences may vary.