Spotlight: Rose Aitcheson, MPH
Rose Aitcheson received her MPH at UNE in May of 2021. She is currently employed as a Clinical Informatics Specialist within Primary Care Medicine and her goal is to apply for Physicians Assistant school.
Here she talks about her time at UNE, and how she was able to positively impact her community through her APE and ILE experiences.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what encouraged you to pursue your Master’s in Public Health?
I’m originally from south Alabama but recently relocated to central Mississippi. My undergraduate degree is in Biological Sciences from the University of South Alabama. My experience as a Clinical Informatics Specialist in the emergency room initially catapulted me toward the public health field. I then pursued a certificate to become a Medical Assistant.
From my time as a Clinical Informatics Specialist in the Emergency Room to a Medical Assistant in Urology, to my current role as a Clinical Informatics Specialist in Geriatric primary care setting, I have learned that Public Health is my calling and that is why I chose to pursue my MPH.
I discovered UNE Online when I was researching master’s programs, and what attracted me to the school was the fact that the program was 100% online. I worked full time throughout the entire program, so that flexibility allowed me to really dive in head first.
What drew me to the MPH program itself was the diversity of the curriculum. As a clinical informatics specialist I knew that I would really enjoy the clinical side of public health, but I also very much enjoyed learning about other aspects of public health. I also saw it as an opportunity to expand my knowledge of public health to strengthen my skill set for a future as a Physician Assistant.
It was interesting to explore more about research and program evaluations, as well as public health administration. I learned that public health is everywhere and is overlaid with some of the even simplest things – such as the role that ergonomics plays in preventing carpal tunnel, which I found very interesting.
In pursuing this degree I realized just how integrated public health is to ALL aspects of life and the resulting impact it has on healthcare specifically.
What type of work do you do?
I’m currently a Clinical Informatics Specialist at a Primary Care clinic that focuses on healthcare for geriatric patients. I am essentially the Medical Provider’s “right hand,” involved in virtually all aspects of the patient encounter. I ensure that labs, screenings, and diagnostics have been ordered and completed and that the results are available. I document the patient encounter, the after-visit summary, and supply any other patient materials at the end of their visit. I submit orders and referrals, reconcile lab orders, follow up on previously ordered items, obtain medical records, and continue to be a direct line of support for my provider and other care team members.
Secondary to my full-time employment, I am currently the Interim Health Facilities Coordinator for the Partners in Development Health & Wellness Clinic in Glendora, Mississippi. This part-time role encompasses traveling to the clinic one Saturday each month and allowing access to the facility and doing basic screenings to maintain health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through this UNE MPH program, I was fortunate enough to connect with Partners in Development (PID) and their Glendora Program. The connection started when Director Gale Hull agreed to preceptor my Applied Practical Experience (APE). During my APE I focused on the Health & Wellness program specifically. My goals were to better understand the program, capture strengths and opportunities, coordinate with travel teams on procedures of operations, and ultimately design a formal Standards of Operation for this program.
Fortunately, for my Integrated Learning Experience, (ILE), Director Hull graciously allowed me to continue working with the Health & Wellness program. For this portion of my MPH, I chose to conduct a qualitative program evaluation. My evaluation led to great insight into the inner workings of the program which will allow PID to capitalize on the strengths while addressing the opportunities to strengthen the Health & Program. It also sets the foundation for future internal, hopefully annual, evaluations of the program.
Upon completion of the ILE, Director Hull offered me the Interim Health Clinic Facilitator position at the Health & Wellness Center in Glendora. This role not only continues my connection to the individuals of the community but also to the program and its staff. I also continue to use my Medical Assistant knowledge and skills while providing basic health/medical services to the individuals in the community that would likely go without entirely due to the pandemic.
What are you planning to do with your degree?
Right now I’m at a crossroads, and I have a lot of options now that I have this MPH. I love the clinical side, providing direct care to patients at the clinic in my role as Interim Health Clinic Facilitator, but I also really enjoyed the administrative side of public health, such as doing program evaluation to strengthen existing programs.
I’m also strongly considering Physician Assistant school and focusing on direct clinical care as a practitioner. I look forward to whichever path God has intended for me!
How did you feel about the flexibility of the program?
I have a very busy life – I work full time, I’m very into family, I love to read, I love to help people who don’t have the avenue to help themselves and don’t have the support to thrive, I love the outdoors, hiking, traveling – so online worked for me. It provided me the ability to pursue my education without sacrificing any other aspects of my life.
The coursework for several courses was challenging. It sometimes felt as if there was not enough time to truly comprehend and apply the different objectives. In the “muck of it all,” this seemed rather daunting but on the “outside looking in,” I can see just how much I truly learned and retained from those courses.
The 8-week course length was definitely ideal. It was nice getting to cover one topic then move on to the next more quickly. Especially when it came to a subject I was less intrigued to cover. It was also nice that while there were deadlines I could still complete most of the coursework at my own pace. Getting into the coursework was a challenge for some of the courses, but I felt that the 8-week course length was ideal. I was able to complete my work at my own pace within the assignment schedule.
Did you feel supported by your instructors and your student support specialist?
My first Student Support Specialist was Emily Hill, and then I later transitioned to Hayley Van Valen, and they were both wonderful from the very first interaction. I felt supported by them, and they were both very knowledgeable and helped guide me in the right direction.
At one point I was struggling with an issue I was having with a faculty member, and Emily knew exactly how to help me address it. I felt very supported.
Did you feel that the program curriculum was rigorous?
I’ve felt that they have been manageable. The volume of content and understanding specifically what each instructor is looking for has been a little bit of a challenge, but I wouldn’t say it was hard.
If you could give future MPH students a piece of advice, what would that be?
Take the plunge! Pursue the program and see what it has to offer you both personally and professionally. Most importantly, give yourself plenty of time to delve into course topics. Try to dedicate more time to the coursework than “the bare minimum.” In the long run, it will help insurmountably. There are a few courses that I’d love to go back and take again, just to absorb more of the information that I likely didn’t get the first time around just because I was more focused on getting something submitted on time.
My biggest piece of advice is to get started on finding an Applied Practice Experience (APE) and Integrated Learning Experience placement sooner rather than later. Find something that you want to do, or that interests you, and then start reaching out. I tried for several months, and I applied everywhere I could think of – and that was pre-COVID. This hindered me greatly and caused a great deal of stress and worry. Coordinate with your Support Specialist early and try to find information about the two practicum assignments/requirements early so you can be prepared!
My APE and ILE experiences ended up being some of the most valuable. I feel like I came out with so much useful information that will benefit the program tremendously – how to strengthen what’s being offered and improve the program in the future. So when we do finally cross that COVID bridge, we can hopefully bring teams back in and really revamp the program and make it more successful than ever.