A Vanguard of Online Public Health: Military Medic Aims for More
Master’s Student, Online Population and Health Sciences Degree Program
November 4, 2019, MPH, Students, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Global Public Health, Health Disparities, Professional Development
[Photo courtesy of Defence Visual Information Distribution Service | Photo by Airman Hope Geiger]
As an aerospace medical technician in the Air Force, Delaney Preston has a job that allows her to help people, learn, and travel the world—three things she really enjoys. When she started to think about graduate school, she didn’t want to give up her job and miss out on the many opportunities it provides.
But then she learned about the Master of Public Health in Population and Health Sciences program at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, which is taught entirely online, allowing learners the flexibility to continue working full time and take courses from anywhere, even on assignment in Alaska or a family trip abroad.
I’m able to go on trips, gain professional experience, and still keep moving forward with with my school work because I can access it from anywhere.”
Delaney is part of the first cohort of online learners in the brand-new MPH program. Throughout her life, Delaney says her family has instilled in her a love of traveling - that’s part of the reason why military service was an attractive career path for her. “The online MPH program allows me to keep taking these amazing and valuable travel assignments that make my job amazing.” Already this semester, she’s been able to do a three-week assignment for work in Alaska. “There are pieces to balance, but I’m able to go on trips, gain professional experience, and still keep moving forward with with my school work because I can access it from anywhere.” In the next few weeks, she’ll be going on another trip to Utah for work, and taking a cultural immersion trip to Botswana with her family in December—all while continuing her courses.
Delaney started training as a medic in the Air Force National Guard as a sophomore in college, when she says she wasn’t sure of what she really wanted for her future. The military gave her a path to feel confident about.
Delaney serves in the field with the 180th Fighter Wing Ohio National Guard
Photo courtesy of Defence Visual Information Distribution Service | Photo by Airman Hope Geiger
From the start, Delaney knew she was more interested in helping people rather than combat, “when I started in the Air Force, I chose to go into the medical unit because that’s what best fit what I wanted in the military,” she says, “and even though I didn’t yet know what public health was, I knew that I liked what I was doing in training as a medic.”
In 2017, Delaney was assigned to take humanitarian mission trip to a rural community in North Carolina. “It opened my eyes to how different healthcare was in the United States. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot around the world and I had seen those disparities across different countries, but I didn’t have that experience here—that there were people in the US who didn’t have access at all, or even the same health access that I do here in the US.” The mission had Delaney travel with medical groups from across the country to provide no-cost medical care for the residents there. “I was in charge of the medical operations for one of two sites.” During the trip, she helped set up a makeshift clinic to dispense their services with the limited resources they had available. “I took vital signs, recorded patient history, assisted providers, and organized training classes for the medical personnel on the trip.” The experience made her realize that was the kind of work that was important to her.
After not really knowing what she wanted to do in her career, Delaney says it felt good to recognize that she had a passion for health. But she says she only made the connection to public health as a career path when a doctor she worked with in the Air Force started sending her links for master’s programs in public health. “He pushed me and encouraged me to pursue the field and reach the potential he saw in me.”
I didn’t have it all figured out from the start and it’s important for others to know that’s okay.”
Even with that encouragement, making the decision to actually pursue an MPH was not necessarily an easy one. In addition to not wanting to give up her job to return to school full-time, Delaney explained that her undergraduate experience weighed on her decision. “In college, I wasn’t motivated to learn, and my grades definitely reflected that. Finishing my bachelor’s degree felt like something I was just trying to get done—something I was supposed to do.” She says sharing this common feeling with other students is important: “I didn’t have it all figured out from the start and it’s important for others to know that’s okay.” At the time, she questioned what she would end up being able to do with her chemistry degree. “A lot of what I saw in my future with a chemistry degree was going on to more education. But the grades I had were going to make it very difficult to get into programs. I felt like I dug myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of.”
Delaney connects with Michigan Public Health staff via video conference
Delaney says that’s why she feels fortunate to have discovered the online MPH program at Michigan Public Health. “They let me know they look at applications with a holistic approach, so I wouldn’t immediately be excluded based on my work in undergrad. With that in mind, I made sure to study very hard for the GRE and spent a lot of time on my essay so that I could show that I was motivated for this program and submit an application that really reflected who I am now. I’m grateful that they were able to appreciate that I was more than just that number from my GPA in undergrad.”
So far, Delany has completed her first two classes in the online MPH program and says she’s very proud of the grades she’s earned. “I think I’ve been able to prove myself. It’s amazing when you enjoy the material, how much easier it comes to you and how much better you do.”
“What’s been interesting about getting to participate in the program while working is that I’ve been able to see and use concepts from my classes in my daily life.”
She attributes her success so far to the flexibility of an online degree program. “With this program being online, it’s a lot easier to commit to a few live lectures and do the rest when I'm ready. It’s easier to stay motivated when I can do the work when I have the time and mental energy to focus on it.”
“What’s been interesting about getting to participate in the program while working is that I’ve been able to see and use concepts from my classes in my daily life.” For example, Delaney says on her military base it’s always difficult to get people to comply with getting their mandatory flu shot each flu season. “I’ve noticed that I've been using some ideas from my courses to think about things like: How can we better motivate people to get their flu shot here on the base? I find myself turning on my strategic public health brain like that now.”
Delaney says she’s eager to get in the field doing public health work. “Ideally I’d love to work in a global health area and do more internationally.” Her dream jobs reflect her strong interest in travel—working with the WHO, Unicef, or even Doctors Without Borders. Earning an internship with any of those organizations is next on her list. But right now, she’s taking the time to enjoy the material and the learning experience. “It just feels good to be able to pursue a master’s degree at Michigan. Both of my parents graduated with MBAs from Michigan, so I’m really happy to be continuing a family tradition.”
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