Alumni Spotlight: Gail Callahan, MPH ‘18

Gail Callahan is a Registered Nurse in a family practice with more than 22 years of clinical nursing experience. She decided to earn her MPH as a way to expand her knowledge of public health and begin to transition her career from one-on-one clinical care to a position where she can make change on a broader level.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology, figuring I’d move on forward and go into counseling because I really enjoyed working with people. But after college, I struggled to find a job. I wasn’t able to really find anything that I felt comfortable with.

I had always been interested in nursing because of the people aspect, so I decided to go back to school. My husband and I were living in Missouri at the time when I pursued the required prerequisites at a local community college, and then a nursing program in St. Louis. When I finished, I was fortunate to find work in a mental health unit back home in New Jersey.

My next nursing position was with a hip and knee rehabilitation unit where I was able to integrate a lot of the psych skills I acquired – I worked with my patients to promote safe recoveries and positive health outcomes. The rehab department also included units that focused on neurology rehab and cardiac rehabilitation. Patients in each area had specific needs that required a variety of health care requirements.

I then moved on to working in a hospital-owned family practice with a full-time staff of 14 attending physicians, 9 resident physicians, and 24 staff that support clinical and clerical needs. It’s an extremely busy office but working here has allowed flexibility while raising my daughters. I’ve been in this office for 22 years and have seen many changes!

Our clientele range in age from infant to geriatric. The needs of the patients vary across the healthcare spectrum – scheduled visits such as well visits and prenatal needs, along with urgent visits for patients with injuries or immediate illness. Through both direct and indirect patient care the nursing role handles activities such as patient triage, immunizations, and assisting with clinical procedures. We work a lot with our hospital staff and our infectious control group too – especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. You never know what’s coming in the door, which can be quite interesting since it’s such a busy office.

What led you to earn your Master of Public Health versus a Master of Science in Nursing?

I felt stagnant in what I was doing professionally, and I wanted a break from working in a clinical setting. I’ve always wanted to earn a master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure which degree I should pursue. It was my sister-in-law who’s a nurse anesthetist who suggested that I look into public health. I wasn’t even clear on what it was!

But then I started looking into opportunities within public health and just knew it would be perfect for me. I could incorporate my education and nursing skills to move my career in a different direction. I was so excited!

I started by committing to the Public Health Graduate Certificate program, figuring that, if nothing else, I’d just do the initial certification to get a leg up on learning.

So you started with the Graduate Certificate, and decided to get the MPH?

Yes! After I’d gotten through the certificate portion, my husband encouraged me to finish it out and go for the master’s degree. He and my girls were very supportive. The entire process has been extremely interesting. I’ve loved it.

In the first class, I remember one of the first assignments I had to do was to take a picture of something that I thought was public health. The example given was a picture of a handicap sign at a parking spot – which was something that I hadn’t thought about. And that led us then into reading about how the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) came to be and why such signs were designed. 

This program has opened my eyes – public health is so encompassing, it’s everywhere!

Anything that improves our health as a whole, as a community, or as an individual can be considered public health. Being in this master’s program has been a wonderful experience – and I love the topic.

Has getting your MPH helped advance or enhance your career as a nurse?

I’m still at the office that I have been working in, however, being in this MPH program has opened doors for me. For example, one of the doctors recruited me to get a new program launched at the office, so I’ve been working quite extensively with that. It’s a program that addresses chronic illness management in a group setting.

We host a series of meetings for groups of ten people at a time, focusing on chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cholesterol. Instead of doing one-on-one doctor visits, the patients meet in a group setting where different topics are addressed such as nutrition, stress reduction, and medication management. During one meeting, we had a pharmacist come in and talk about pill packs, which led to a discussion about what services the local pharmacist provides.Gail Callahan, MPH Alumni of University of New England 2018

It’s such a great group of people – and they rely on each other. Some of them have exchanged phone numbers and call one another, and others go walking together, and they share recipes too. Vital signs such as weights and blood pressure help monitor the members’ progress. So that has been one thing that I’ve been working on that has advanced my position a bit.

I’ve also maintained a leadership role in promoting our telephone triage group. A lot of the younger staff will come and ask for advice, and to help them review their notes. I’ve become more active in mentoring staff as I’ve advanced in my career. Now, with my earned MPH, I am more confident in making suggestions regarding our patients’ – and staff’s – health needs.

Have you used our Career Services resource?

I’ve been working with the Assistant Director for Career Services at CGPS. They have helped me to organize my resume to achieve a clearer focus on the public health positions I am seeking. It’s been challenging, but I feel a great deal of personal success having completed my MPH. I truly enjoyed the program and the topics that were introduced.

Is there one skill that you’ve learned that you have been able to apply to your job right now?

Definitely. Learning about logic models and the theories behind their creation has helped me develop a plan for new interventions. For example, I’ve been able to utilize the knowledge of logic model design to assist with our group health project. We would like our facility to incorporate group health visits throughout the family practices, and we would like more funding for it too – so I’ve been working with our lead physician to get the initiative off the ground.

Having this master’s and the knowledge that I’ve gained around launching a public health proposal has been very helpful.

Have you found that nursing and public health go hand in hand?

Yes – and for any nurse who is interested in looking for a master’s, I would suggest getting an MPH. Even if all they wanted was a little bit of a change of venue, they can certainly combine their nursing education with public health. I didn’t run into a lot of nurses in my courses, but I did encounter a lot of physicians.

I liked that you could choose courses to focus on specific areas of public health.

Did you feel supported throughout the program?

I really enjoyed all my interactions. My instructors – and anyone that I reached out to – were either able to talk with me on the phone, or would answer by email within a reasonable time frame.

Everyone was very open to helping. And my Student Support Specialist, Hayley – I can’t speak highly enough about her. She was so patient with me when I had questions. She was wonderful!

In what ways did you feel that you were a part of a community?

I loved being in an online program. Even though I was miles away from the physical campus, I always felt included. The university sends out emails with notices about events, or if there was an on-campus speaker and you happened to be in the area, you were always invited to those. I always felt like I was a part of things.

What would you want a potential student to know before starting in this program? Any words of advice?

Go in with an open mind. You may have one idea of what you’re searching for, but learning about public health opens up much more. When viewing the evolution of public health – it shows the potential of where the discipline can really go. It’s inspiring.

Again, go in with an open mind, and even if you don’t advance in your position or field, you’ll definitely come out with a new appreciation for health.


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