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Helen Ferguson, MPH ('12)

Director of Programs - Rescue Mission
Helen Ferguson

My path to a MPH was not a planned one.  I had begun pursuit of another degree in the medical field and things were not going as planned.  I didn’t know what I was going to do.  I knew I wanted to continue in the medical field; however I wasn’t sure that my original plan was the right choice.  I met with my advisor and she recommended a MPH.  She let me know that a MPH would allow me to do many of the things I wanted to do.  My research led me to concepts and ideas I had never considered.

I was drawn to VT’s program because I wanted to stay in the area and the awesome faculty.  I am from the Roanoke Valley and at the time I was not looking forward to the idea of relocating.  The faculty I had met with while trying to decide were very caring and thoughtful.  They let me tell my story over and over and helped guide me through the process as I was making the decision about what to do next.  They were encouraging on days when I wasn’t sure that I could pursue a master’s degree.  

I think the highlights of the program were the amount of support the faculty and staff gave.  Encouragement when I was down and feeling like I couldn’t conquer the task in front me of me.  Giving me the little extra nudge to think differently about topics and concepts.  I consider these the highlights because I truly believe the motivation and encouragement is how I didn’t give up and found the job that just seems to fit me.

My current job is Director of Programs at the Rescue Mission.  A typical work day covers a host of things from working side by side with providers to ensure the G. Wayne Fralin Free Clinic for the Homeless, a ministry of the Rescue Mission, runs smoothly and meets the needs of the patients it serves to meeting with shelter staff to ensure policies and procedures related to disease control are followed.  As part of my job at the Rescue Mission, I also oversee our Food Service department and our residential Recovery Program.  With this position comes the ability to write policies that protect our guest in shelter as well as teach health education classes.  I also work to educate the staff on disease and how to respond to them when they have concerns about guests. 

The MPH degree helped prepare me for policy writing and health education.  I think this is best shown through the concentration I selected.  By learning about outbreaks, tracking them, and appropriate responses, I felt very comfortable on making decisions about policies that needed to be written to prevent outbreaks.  I also feel that the education classes helped prepare me for learning styles and how to teach classes.  Lastly the degree helped me with program development and evaluation.  Understanding the basic principles of development and evaluation help me daily evaluate what needs to be done and what changes need to be made. 

I would encourage prospective students to think outside the box when examining if they would like to pursue a MPH.  I don’t think that when I was doing my research on this degree that I would have imagined that would have the job that I have now.  The Public Health Field is growing and there are so many dimensions to the field.  Don’t limit yourself or your ideas.  Be sure to meet with the team of individuals who will be guiding you through the MPH process (the faculty and staff).  The wealth of information they have is vast and the conversations you will have may just lead you to your dream job.