UK students help steer rural students into healthcare careers

Published 12:19 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2023


University of Kentucky

Jackson Miller and Ethan Morgan, former Marshall County High School classmates and now best friends and roommates at the University of Kentucky Lewis Honors College, first arrived in Lexington feeling a bit overwhelmed of all the opportunities available to them UK.

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Coming from a rural area where most high-school graduates enter the workforce or the military rather than college, Miller and Morgan felt they did not have a clear roadmap of how to pursue their career aspirations of becoming physicians. To help other students not feel so lost in navigating all of the health care education opportunities, Miller and Morgan created a student organization during their sophomore year to help other students like them. The organization, HealthCare Cats, is now “providing an avenue into college and health care opportunities for rural students of Kentucky in order to create a better commonwealth.”

To start their program, Miller, a psychology major, and Morgan, a biology major, worked with several UK colleges focused on the health-care industry including the College of Medicine, College of Dentistry, College of Pharmacy and College of Nursing, for information about how to present themselves as the best candidate for those types of degrees. The students then developed a presentation that has been shared with rural high-school and college students to encourage them to aspire to a career in health care and show them the different options and opportunities that are offered at UK.

“We wanted to help students who felt behind, didn’t have the greatest study habits and most certainly weren’t aware of many of the opportunities in health care,” Miller said.

The organization, which already boasts over 160 students, will include guest speakers, networking opportunities and a mentoring program to connect first-year students with more experienced students.

“These opportunities for the members of the organization will allow us to not only reach the younger, rural generation, but also cultivate a community of future rural health leaders within the organization,” Morgan said.

Already, the organization has had speakers such as Dean Christian Brady from the Lewis Honors College, who spoke to the organization on discovering your “why” for health care and education, combating burnout, handling changes in the path of life, managing adversity in life, and more. The organization also held a graduate student panel with students from nursing, medicine, physical therapy, the physician assistant program, dentistry and pharmacy. The students shared application tips, pros and cons of their programs, and advice they would consider if they had to do it all over again.

This Friday, Dec. 1, HealthCare Cats, in partnership with the Appalachian Health Initiative, will welcome Dr. Michael D. Rankin to speak at 5 p.m. in the Lewis Honors College Scholars Lounge. Rankin, a graduate of UK, recently pledged $22 million to “advance the mission of the UK College of Medicine and expand the top-notch educational opportunities through the support of a new health education building and the funding of medical student scholarships,” as stated in the UKMedicine magazine.

Rankin had quite a non-traditional path to medicine, as he graduated from his undergraduate studies and spent six years in the electrical engineering field to accumulate enough funds to attend medical school. This was a common occurrence in Rankin’s life, as he explains how before attending UK for his undergraduate career, his family resorted to selling a cow to afford the tuition. Rankin has provided unconditional support for those with similar backgrounds to himself attempting to enter the medical field, as he understands the struggles of attending college from a rural environment.

“Dr. Rankin coming to speak with us will be great, for he will understand the backgrounds of our membership and be able to offer advice from the perspective of someone who has walked their paths,” Morgan said.

“Having worked with students Maddie Duff (president) and Ben Vickery in the past, it is clear that the missions of our organizations align in critical ways. Dr. Rankin speaks very highly of Appalachian students and often notes the need for them in Kentucky’s health care system. We are so excited to be able to bring in their diverse perspectives and work together to build a better commonwealth.”

Supplementing the event programming, HealthCare Cats initiated a mentorship program where rural first-year students are matched with an upper-class student to make the college/pre-health transition smoother. The first director of HealthCare Cats’ the program, Maya Moskal, is from Chicago and is considering a career in a rural market.

“Being from a bigger city, HealthCare Cats has broadened my knowledge on the health care disparities present in rural areas,” she said. “The program has opened many doors by encouraging me to give back to Kentucky, in addition to helping me personally succeed at UK in many ways.”

Through HealthCare Cats, Miller and Morgan hope to apply the common chemistry phrase “like dissolves like” by helping rural students achieve their medical aspirations — and then return to their hometowns.

Morgan asked, “Who better to serve rural populations in Kentucky than those who resided there for much of their lives?”