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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Two Approaches to Healthcare

Emma Willoughby and Elyse Jensen investigated healthcare for their honors thesis projects—
one from a social science perspective and the other from the natural sciences.


Willoughby, a senior from Ocean Springs, in sociology and liberal studies with concentrations in anthropology, biology and psychology, developed a wide array of skills while at UM. The founding member of the UM Food Bank worked with the Writing Center, the Daily Mississippian, and owns a photography business.

“She is a scholar, student leader, and an inspiration for others,” said her thesis advisor John Green, associate professor of sociology and director of the Center for Population Studies.

Willoughby’s inspiration comes from an English professor’s encouraging comment about an essay she wrote her sophomore year—that her paper resembled graduate work.

“Hearing that my writing was strong and my thoughts were cogent, strengthened my confidence in my abilities as a writer,” she said. “At this point I knew that my writing could take me where I need to go and where I want to go—not only in my time at university, but also as I develop as an individual, thinking critically and understanding the world around me.”

For her honors thesis Willoughby focused on understanding the world of healthcare by conducting field research in the Mississippi Delta.

“The purpose is to look at the medical home health model and the management/organization of the community health center to understand staff-patient relations and how these contribute to better health outcomes, particularly among patients with co-morbid conditions,” she said.

“In light of health care reform, her work has taken on noteworthy significance,” Green said. “My colleagues and I in the Center for Population Studies have been so captivated with Emma’s work that we offered her a paid internship with health-related projects. She is contributing to the development of knowledge to inform real-world health programs in the State of Mississippi.”   


Elyse Jensen

Elyse Jensen

Elyse Jensen, from Oxford, completed the pre-med curriculum within the Department of Physics and Astronomy and wrote her honors thesis on Pregnancy, Childbirth and Newborn Care in San Mateo, Belize.

“I made two very rewarding trips to gather data on this impoverished island village,” she said. “In putting together my research design, I utilized a wide variety of techniques from many different academic areas.”

The evaluation of women’s access to health care in this Central American country included interviews with women and health care professionals to provide perspective of how health care is received and improvements could be implemented.

“As a science major, I found it a challenge to reach out and learn about qualitative research and work with human subjects,” she said. “My project afforded the opportunity to combine theory and practice.”

Her research highlighted the importance of basics, like education. “I interviewed one woman who didn’t learn how to read until her children went to school,” she said. “She couldn’t read informative healthcare posters or labels on prescriptions.”

Jensen also learned the connection between finances, health, and nutrition; she compares food issues in San Mateo to isolated communities in Mississippi.

“Because the sandy soil is not good for growing a lot of vegetables, people don’t have balanced nutrition,” she said. “Their high sugar diets lead to problems with mothers and children. Overweight mothers have problems with pregnancy and children have dental issues.”

She plans to apply lessons learned in both countries through lifelong service work addressing the real world problem of global healthcare. “I’d like to go into the medical field and work for the World Health Organization or Doctors Without Borders and this project helped me see how they set up programs,” Jensen said.