Only 10 students from across the nation were chosen for Western Washington University’s interdisciplinary health care training program last summer, and University of Mississippi senior sociology major Megan McRaney was one of them.
The eight-week program “Health, Population and Aging” offered college students the opportunity to consider health care from all areas of study and merged the different areas.
“Basically the premise of the program is to have an interdisciplinary approach to health and health care, said McRaney, daughter of Paul and Angelia McRaney of Madison. “The program attracts students from different schools and disciplines. It brought together the hard and the soft sciences, the physical and the social sciences – it approached medicine from all sides.”
Lucky Tedrow, sociology professor at WWU, organized the program with three main objectives: to provide students with an appreciation of the value of interdisciplinary approaches in the study of health care for the aged, to increase the likelihood that high-quality undergraduate students will pursue graduate education in a health-related field and to increase students’ exposure to different ways of seeing and assessing complex problems.
“Hopefully, the students got an appreciation of different perspectives for solving complex problems,” Tedrow said.
Funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, the training allowed students to visit clinics and shadow doctors.
“It wasn’t so much class; it was a lot of hands-on learning,” McRaney said. “Every week we had a different focus. We did a week on the aging population and geriatric medicine. We were in and out of hospitals, in and out of clinics. We shadowed doctors a couple of times. Typically when people shadow, they are looking for a medical aspect, but the focus was to interact with the patients and hear what they didn’t like about the way their health care is given or provided and the problems that they have with the system as a whole.”
McRaney said she was determined to attend the program and was persistent about applying. “I heard about it through the UM sociology department. Last year, there was a flyer there and it caught my eye, but I had to take summer school and wasn’t going to be able to do it. So when it came around this year, we didn’t have any information for it, but I talked to the head of the sociology department and we tracked them down.”
The application process was fairly open-ended, McRaney said. They required her to submit two letters of recommendation, her transcript and an essay in which she had to explain why she wanted to attend.
Besides the training, McRaney also gained a thesis topic from her experience.
“My thesis topic is social determinants and how they affect health,” she said. “I’m focusing on income, race and discrimination, and education, and how those impact your likelihood of being healthy and/or receiving health care. I wanted to make it specific, so I’m focusing on how these factors affect the black population in Mississippi.”
McRaney also continues to benefit from several WWU faculty advisers. “It was incredible to be able to interact with faculty at a different school, so now I have advisers at this school in Bellingham, Washington, who are still helping me with my thesis and still providing me with information.
“When they see stuff that they think might be useful, they’ll send it to me. It’s nice to have that, and then have an adviser here. It’s been fun.”
Tedrow was among McRaney’s advisers. “We enjoyed very much having Megan in the summer program,” he said.
Even though the WWU program finished the end of its two-year stint, it was so productive that some of the faculty are incorporating aspects of the program into the sociology department’s curriculum, Tedrow said.
“I think (the program) was very successful,” he said, “We will know in a few years how many of the students pursued graduate education in a health-related field.”
McRaney has big plans for her future. She hopes to live in Washington, D.C., and eventually attend law school. “I want to be inundated with policy work, inundated with law in some respects, so I want to live in D.C. – and actually live in that situation – before I commit to doing it for the rest of my life. Ultimately my goal is to go to law school, hopefully a joint law-public policy school.”
The WWU experience was one of the most influential and notable experiences of her college tenure, McRaney said.
“From an educational standpoint, the program broadened my perspective and provided me with incredible instructors, experiences and information,” she said. “Having the opportunity to develop relationships and grow in a new place, apart from all that I knew, was extremely gratifying and beneficial.”