Healthcare accessibility in rural areas driving force for Health Management and Policy alumna
Olivia Rockwell, MPH ’23
Health Management and Policy
Olivia Rockwell’s upbringing in rural southern Illinois has had a profound impact on her desire to pursue public health. Growing up on the outskirts of St. Louis, she experienced an “inherent societal view that asks us to dive deeper into the ways we impact each other.”
“Societies, especially in the western world, often forget that our actions impact each other's health in critical ways,” said Rockwell, who graduated in April 2023 with a Master of Public Health in Health Management and Policy from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Whether this is hand washing or what healthcare provider you choose to go to, our decisions matter not only for us as individual humans but for humanity across the globe.”
The most fascinating part for Rockwell—and where her “heart lies”—is how societies address accessibility of healthcare in rural areas because individuals located in rural areas typically have fewer choices.
“I have watched as local providers in my town have left and outpatient centers, which can be expensive, have taken their place,” she said. “Even then, many rural patients are aware that they can receive better care in larger healthcare centers, prompting those with greater resources to seek care elsewhere.
“This further exacerbates the issue, and is seen not only in my hometown but across the globe as indicated by disparities in rural health outcomes. My interest lies in the ways we can address this through policy across the globe.”
I love research, specifically in health policy. I am interested in the ways in which we pursue these issues from a systematic standpoint. Michigan Public Health gave me the best odds at entering the global health policy research space.”
Rural areas face many scarcities, including educational and professional opportunities.
“I grew up unaware of these scarcities and then found these opportunities inaccessible,” Rockwell said. “This leads to disadvantages in aspects and has led to cyclical seasons without much opportunity throughout my life. I have been blessed to have wonderful parents who encourage my growth, whether in providing educational resources or by helping me move to the available opportunities.”
While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she graduated from the Honors College with distinction, she studied the economic impact of health policies in her microeconomics and public economics courses. In the Honors college, Rockwell took the class “Political Bodies” that asked students to consider the ways in which politics control individual and societal decisions.
This increased interest in politics, policy and health led Rockwell to study abroad outside of Sejong, the government capital in South Korea at Korea University.
“While at Korea University, I took courses in public policy, specifically a policy evaluation course in which I evaluated health policies,” she said. “Upon returning to the United States, I completed an honors thesis under Sunwoong Kim and pitched a comparative and qualitative evaluation to healthcare systems titled ‘Qualitative Evaluation of National Health Care Systems: Health Care Ecosystem Approach.’”
Rockwell chose to attend Michigan Public Health after interviewing with Holly Jarman, associate professor of Health Management and Policy, and decided it was the best fit for her and her background.
“I love research, specifically in health policy,” she said. “I am interested in the ways in which we pursue these issues from a systematic standpoint. Michigan Public Health gave me the best odds at entering the global health policy research space.”
In March, Rockwell presented her poster, “The health-related co-benefits of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals,” to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (pictured), director-general of the World Health Organization, who was on campus to receive the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health, one of the university's highest honors.
Her presentation focused on a method of analyzing policies and the potential health-related co-benefits they produce that will be part of an upcoming book.
Being able to present the proposed evaluation and say, ‘We know public health is often overlooked by other sectors and here is a potential solution to making public health a more attractive investment for everyone,’ felt like providing a ray of sunlight.”
Her presentation focused on an upcoming book that proposes a method of analyzing policies and the potential health-related co-benefits they produce. The book has separate chapters for each sustainable development goal.
“Being able to present the proposed evaluation and say, ‘We know public health is often overlooked by other sectors and here is a potential solution to making public health a more attractive investment for everyone,’ felt like providing a ray of sunlight,” said Rockwell, who was supported by the Gelman Global Scholarship and Natalie and Jack Internship Fund. “My wish is that Dr. Tedros and others will be able to see the potential for the methods to attract resources from across sectors to improve global health.”
In addition to public health, Rockwell, a self-described introvert, enjoys nature photography, long walks and weight training. An avid reader who is always looking for people to discuss the books she has read, she also just started to learn how to quilt.
Rockwell will continue to build on her hobbies and follow her passion for global health policy research this fall as she will be a doctoral student in the Department of Health Management and Policy’s Health Services Organization and Policy PhD Program.