Have you ever considered how the military oversees the health care of its vast network of current and former employees? Try to visualize it, and you may begin to see the natural fit between some military personnel and the field of health policy and management.
In the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s department of health policy and management, there is a cadre of students made up of both active and retired members of the United States Armed Forces.
[Photo: Capt. Joshua Monroe wears his Air Force service dress uniform; Capt. Nathan Martin poses in the turret of an armored personnel carrier in Kirkuk, Iraq; Capt. Kelly Sampson celebrates a promotion ceremony at Hill Air Force Base in Utah with her husband and children; Maj. Shannon Niki Stroud (second from left) laughs with an Iraqi soldier and local schoolchildren during a humanitarian mission in Baghdad (photo by Capt. Jeff Wismann); Ms. Marie Callahan, shown here in uniform in 2008, now works at the Durham VA Medical Center.]
Capt. Joshua Monroe of the Air Force is among them, and makes the most of the military-public health connection.
“The Air Force allows me to attend school full time, so my daily schedule is very similar to that of the average graduate student,” Capt. Monroe says. “However, my learning is influenced by my exposure to military health care, and I’m able to apply my work experiences in the classroom. I’ll return to a military hospital upon graduation, so I am continually thinking about how to apply the skills I’m gaining as a student to the military healthcare environment.”
Capt. Monroe is one of three Air Force officers currently studying health policy and management at the Gillings School. He, Capt. Nathan Martin and Capt. Kelly Sampson all matriculated at the University of North Carolina through a highly selective graduate education and training program offered by the Air Force. For the past several consecutive years, at least one of the two officers selected annually for the program has chosen to study at UNC.
“My primary duty in the Air Force is healthcare administration, so health policy and management was really the only choice for me,” explains Capt. Martin. “I joined the Air Force specifically to enter this field. It’s a great fit for my analytical skills, and I figured the rapid evolution taking place in the industry could give me an opportunity to make a real difference.”
Like her colleagues, Capt. Sampson is an officer in the Medical Service Corps. This role amounts to acting as a healthcare administrator within the Air Force, and covers such areas as patient administration, resources management and medical readiness.
“What brought me to the Gillings School,” Capt. Sampson shares, “is that UNC has a great program, a great location and a great reputation. The choice was easy for me. They are also very military-friendly.”
Not all the military students in the health policy and management department represent the Air Force. Mr. Shane Alexander is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and a member of a proud military family.
During his five years of service, he drove an icebreaker on the Great Lakes, ensured regulatory compliance of commercial vessels as a marine inspector in northeast Florida and, ultimately, led the region’s Waterways Management Division in support of various marine safety missions.
After his service ended, Mr. Alexander wanted to find a perfect match between his unique skill set and his personal drive to support organizations with a humanitarian focus.
“In taking my father – an Army and Coast Guard retiree – to appointments, I gained exposure to the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System,” Mr. Alexander explains. “Taking into account my undergraduate degree, military experience and personal motivations, I realized a career with Veteran’s Affairs (VA) would enable me to leverage what I have to offer to benefit the very large VA patient population.
“I chose to study at UNC,” he adds, “because the welcoming family environment blew me away. Faculty and staff truly care about your professional growth, but they’re also invested in your individual well-being.”
Maj. Shannon Niki Stroud also studies health policy and management at the Gillings School. She was on active duty for seven years before transitioning to the Army Reserves in July 2014. In that capacity, she continues to support the Medical Service Corps.
Maj. Stroud has been stationed all across the U.S. – including in Alaska, where she met her husband – and she was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Now, she enjoys learning how things work on the civilian side of health care while remaining close to her husband, who is stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“I didn’t want to go to just any school or get just any degree,” Maj. Stroud declares. “I wanted to attend a top-rated program that could set me up for success in the health care sector. I’m still working out exactly which career path is the right one for me, but I do know that I will use my military experience and UNC education to help a healthcare organization flourish.”
In addition to these students, four other active and veteran members of the U.S. military currently study health policy and management at the Gillings School. These include Army Maj. Walter Hawkins, health services comptroller and student in the master of science in public health program; Army Lt. Col. Azure Utley, dental officer in charge of Smoke Bomb Hill Dental Clinic at Fort Bragg and student in the executive master of public health program; and Greg Page, Navy veteran, and Lt. Col. Keith Vollenweider, base clinic administrator at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, both students in the doctoral program in health leadership.