As interest in the field of public health was growing in the wake of the pandemic, Nick Colwell already was putting his St. Ambrose University Master of Public Health degree to work.
A 2009 graduate of the SAU Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program, Nick enrolled in the first cohort of MPH students in 2018, only a couple of years after starting a new chapter in his career focused on introducing an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system to all Genesis Health Systems facilities in the Quad Cities. He started thinking systems, thinking big, thinking at the population level.
The EHR can transform health care delivery, making services more person-centered. The fact that this career change coincided with the arrival of the fully online SAU MPH program was serendipitous, as he could gain skills to expand his understanding of the need for a system-wide approach in health care administration.
"Public health really gives you a broader perspective of how everything is interacting and how all those pieces come together to form a broader community health system," he said.
Certainly, that wider strategic approach to health care wasn't new when Nick enrolled in the SAU program in 2018. But the public's understanding of the need now is more urgent.
"Obviously, that exploded in the last year-and-a-half," the young father said. "I started this program before COVID-19 and people would say ‘MPH? What is that? What are you going to do with that?' Now, there are people on TV with MPH behind their names every night and I don't get that question as much.'"
Except for right now, that is: As a newly minted MPH degree earner, how will Nick put his lessons to work?
"I got into this program with a completely open mind," he said. "There will be opportunities with the company I work in now to grow public health solutions and applications. I also can see myself wanting to go back into a role with Genesis to do more decision-making."
More than many, Nick and others versed in public health recognized epic flaws in the global pandemic response and now understand the need for systemic changes much more keenly than most.
"I'm not necessarily going to be working in pandemic response," Nick said. "But now that we're seeing how acutely the virus affected vulnerable populations, it is going to give us a lot of direction moving forward on how we react to pandemics and other health crises.
"It was quite a time to be learning these MPH lessons. It's going to be very interesting to see how the field changes in the next decade and what direction health systems want to take with their public health strategies."
Nick Colwell '18, '21 MPH
As interest in the field of public health grows in the wake of the pandemic, Nick Colwell already is putting his St. Ambrose University Master of Public Health degree to work.
With his backgrounds in nursing and health IT, Nick also sees how the wider perspective of a public health professional genuinely can complement the person-centered approach to health care promoted by the St. Ambrose Institute for Person-Centered Care (IPCC).
The Institute and the MPH program were created together to advance the growth of health care practices that best serve the wishes and needs of patients and their families. The population based-epidemiological overlook of the MPH is necessary to improve individual's access to quality health services.
"Public health tries to bring the many players in the system together to try and solve problems," he said. "It isn't that we want to bring in a public health person to solve a problem. We bring in a public health person to bring in everyone to solve a problem."
Nick noted the pandemic response exposed "silos" in the system, and the imperative for greater coordination and team-centered responses. "The way these things interact and interconnect has really been exposed and we see that broader public planning is what's needed going forward in order to respond to things like (the COVID-19 virus) in the future."
The answers aren't always as complex as the problem, but a coordinated, strategic effort can mine solutions through something as simple as a conversation.
Nick remembered very recently training a private care doctor on an EHR application. When the doctor learned Nick was about to earn his Master of Public Health degree, he asked how a credentialed public health graduate would solve the vexing problem of resistance to vaccines.
"Not blowing my own horn, but I said, ‘That's on you as a primary care doctor,'" Nick noted. "A patient might not go to a vaccine drive, but if you've got them in your office and say, ‘It's really important that you get this and I've got a dose right here,' they might say ‘Let's do it.'"