Pursuing higher education while balancing military service can be daunting. But West Virginia Air National Guard members Calista Roark and Dominique Wright found support in their respective programs at the West Virginia University School of Medicine managing their dual roles as students and service members.
“I had a great experience at the School of Medicine and truly appreciated their support and understanding of my military obligation,” said Roark, an alumna of the Health Informatics and Information Management (HIIM) program. “It allowed me to pursue my college career and military career with ease.”
“The faculty in my program have been so helpful in accommodating my schedule when I have to miss class for my military service,” added Wright, a current student in the Medical Laboratory Sciences (MLS) master’s degree program. “I can make up class or labs as I need to.”
The HIIM program, which is a unique combination of business, healthcare and information technology, is offered HyFlex, allowing students to choose the format of their education – online, in-person or a blend of both.
This flexibility allowed Roark to join the Air National Guard while earning her degree at WVU.
“The HIIM program is very beneficial for those in the military because we have the opportunity to do class on the go,” said Roark, who traveled within West Virginia and to Texas for her military training while in the HIIM program.
“The Hyflex format allowed me to learn from various locations and still allowed me to participate in class in real-time. I would join virtual classes from wherever I was at the time.”
While in the Air National Guard, Roark enhanced her HIIM knowledge by pursuing a health services management apprenticeship, which is the military equivalent of an HIIM professional. She also balanced two internships on top of her military and academic obligations.
“Having the option to intern with two different HIIM departments prepared me for my professional work life,” said Roark, who now works as a program specialist for the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care and e-Directive Registry. “These in-person, hands-on tasks allowed me to experience what it is like to work in the HIIM field.”
While in the HIIM program, Roark found support from Assistant Professor Ashley Simmons, MBA, who was in the military while pursuing her own undergraduate degree.
“We’re helping bridge military service and impactful healthcare careers in the HIIM program,” Simmons said. “Our students learn transferable leadership, teamwork and communication skills, and our curriculum prepares our students for STEM and Medical Military Occupation Specialty careers.”
In the Medical Laboratory Sciences program, Dominique Wright has not only found support, but commonality. The skills she has acquired from both the military and the classroom complement each other, contributing to a well-rounded and versatile skill set she believes will help her in a future career.
“The main skills that I’ve found in the military and my master’s degree are the ability to listen to orders/follow directions, act quickly and carefully and work well under pressure,” Wright said. “For my major, being precise in the lab is crucial, and it’s the same for the military.”
A medical laboratory scientist performs tests on blood and body fluids to assist healthcare providers in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders. Wright is currently in clinical rotations in the hematology department at the WVU Medicine Berkeley Medical Center, where she is analyzing bodily fluid and performing cell differentials on patient samples.
“I hope to work either in the Veterans Affairs lab in my hometown or my local hospital,” Wright said. “The School of Medicine is preparing me for my future with all the hands-on work we do in the lab, along with our clinical rotations.”
In addition to the MLS master’s track, students in the Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics (BLD) program have two undergraduate options – one in medical laboratory science and the other in histotechnology.
“As a small program, we’re able to accommodate short and long-term absences as needed by our military students”, said Michelle Butina, Ph.D., MLS, associate professor and vice chair of the BLD program. ”As a former member of the North Carolina Army National Guard, I fully understand the commitment these students made to serve therefore we go above and beyond to accommodate them.”
For more information about the Health Informatics and Information Management program at WVU, visit http://medicine.hsc.wvu.edu/hiim/. For more information about Biomedical Laboratory Sciences programs at WVU, visit https://medicine.wvu.edu/biomedical-laboratory-diagnostics/.
CONTACT: Ally Kennedy
WVU School of Medicine