Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Kilgore, RN, MPH ‘20

Sarah Kilgore in front of a visiting ICV Stryker, mandatory mask in hand.

Sarah Kilgore in front of a visiting ICV Stryker, mandatory mask in hand.

Sarah Kilgore is an RN in the Department of the Army in New York, and a recent UNE Online MPH graduate. Here, she talks about how her professional life has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what encouraged her to earn her MPH.

What encouraged you to get your master’s in public health?

I became interested in public health while I was working with infectious diseases and research for the Army in Germany. I wanted to be involved on the policy level, working on public health initiatives with Army representatives and hospital directors.

How has your graduate school experience been affected by the pandemic?

I had my capstone and preceptorship all set up, I had a doctor that I was going to collaborate with, and we had already developed a big project plan – but being in New York at the epicenter of the outbreak, everything closed down pretty early.

From March 6th on, I suddenly didn’t have a population to work with for my practicum research, and since the doctor is a reservist, she got activated and called away leaving me with no preceptor for my practicum.

With my study population gone, and my preceptor and her proprietary research gone, I was still facing a permanent change in station to CENTCOM in the fall – so delaying graduation was not an option. Fortunately, the CGPS faculty were very quick to respond and come up with new project ideas that were rigorous enough to meet CEPH accreditation standards.

You had to totally change your practicum experience – what did that look like?

While working in New York, I collaborated with students from Maine and Texas to explore the effects of the Coronavirus through a socioeconomic lens by documenting the impact through photography. It was fascinating to look at the pandemic from a broader view, at multiple economic levels, and from the perspective of multiple states.

I graduated this August, but one of my partners and I are continuing on with the work, focusing on risk communication and public trust during a pandemic.

You presented your findings at the MPHA conference this fall. Can you talk about that?

Yes – I worked with another student, Tania Brezault, MPH ‘20, and along with Dr. Titilola Balogun we adapted our presentation and presented our poster at the Maine Public Health Association Annual Conference this fall.

Using photography, we conducted a community assessment of the impact of COVID-19, and we identified several overarching themes – including food security, health education, and mistrust of public health policies.

Our research demonstrated multiple opportunities for health education, an increasing role for telemedicine in health care, and the need for clear risk communication in emerging situations.

What were your key takeaways from looking at the pandemic through a wider lens?

I appreciated having the chance to not only examine how the pandemic affected us school-wise but to also look at what the nation was doing. We were able to see different states’ perspectives, and I saw the effect of COVID on many other levels as well.

As a nurse, I personally witnessed the impact of people needing appointments but not being able to get in unless it was completely emergent – so there was access to care issues. People didn’t have access to food, so we experienced food insecurity. There was also limited access to physical activity because our parks and play areas were closed – and people were limited in gathering so they were almost forced to stay in the house as much as possible. That impacted the community on a lot of levels, especially for the young and the relatively healthy.

I could really see how COVID affected the entire community, even for those who never contracted the disease.

How has your professional life changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

In my role as a nurse for the Department of the Army in New York I’ve had to make many adjustments because of the pandemic. I work with a population of Active Duty soldiers and Army cadets; but when the cadets were sent home on March 6th, my workload actually increased dramatically.

I was fielding dozens of telehealth calls and requests every clinic day, coordinating health needs across 50 states for 4,400 displaced cadets. Those first few months went by in a blur. Being a nurse, I didn’t have the option of working from home.

Work was busy all day every day, and when I came home I just tried to focus on what my schoolwork required. Then I went to bed exhausted and started all over again. But I did it – and I maintained a 4.0 the entire time.

How will this MPH help you move forward in your career?

I see it as a trajectory forward. It won’t change like my job description right now, but having my MPH will help me in the future – I will be qualified to take on different projects and cooperate with NGOs such as the World Health Organization and the Peace Corps, and work with them at the population level.

Education opens doors, and I am looking forward to seeing what new public health opportunities will be opened for me in the future. I am grateful for the accommodations made by the faculty at UNE that made it possible for me to graduate on time and to have this degree right now.

I am proud to be a fresh graduate of the University of New England, and I will strive to make the UNE community proud as well.

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