It was Melanie Jones' senior year of high school when the subject of nutrition piqued her interest. She remembers her AP biology course briefly discussed nutrition when she realized science is involved in nutrition.
“It was the first time I’d ever realized it goes far beyond ‘simply watching what you eat’ and ‘counting calories,’” said Jones. “I decided to become a registered dietitian because I wanted to make nutrition my career.”
Jones went through the Dietetics Internship in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at UAB and finished in 2012. She said the experience allowed her to see the different areas of the field of nutrition.
“It helped me narrow down my areas of interest,” said Jones. “The program is great because it has so many fantastic resources. By spending time at UAB Hospital, Children’s of Alabama, the VA Hospital, the HIV Clinic, the EatRight program and more, dietetic interns at UAB are able to see and experience many diverse opportunities that dietetic interns in other places aren’t able to do.”
Jones is currently working as a nutrition trainee at the UAB Pediatric Pulmonary Center. As a Registered Dietitian, she assesses and provides services to pediatric patients. But school isn’t over for her yet. She’s now working on a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition at UAB.
“I decided that I wanted to further my education and pursue leadership roles in my future career,” said Jones.
She’s currently completing her research with plans to be published.
“My research involves teenagers with cystic fibrosis that explores that the differences in clinical, environmental and psychosocial factors between those classified as having an optimal nutritional status and those classified as being in nutritional failure,” said Jones.
Even though new letters will be added to the end of her name in May 2013, Jones will still be doing what she set out to be in the beginning…a Registered Dietitian.
"I plan to still work as an registered dietitian in a clinical environment preferably with pediatrics," said Jones.
Three years after receiving her master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from UAB, LaShonda Peoples saw a need and decided to do something about it. She remembered the out-of-pocket expenses she endured as a second year OT student and in 2008 created the HOTSS Scholarship (Helping Occupational Therapy Students Succeed).
“The scholarship helps second year occupational therapy students afford and prepare for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam, license fees and study materials,” said Peoples. “Students tell me they are grateful for the scholarship considering there are very few available for OTs.”
Every year, two OT students are awarded a $500 stipend to use for their licensing and exam fees as well as fieldwork expenses. So far five scholarships have been awarded and two more are planned for April. Peoples support to the OT program doesn’t stop with her scholarship. The Tuscaloosa native also mentors both first and second-year students.
“It is rewarding to help students learn and become professionals,” said Peoples. “Mentoring provides a way for the professional to learn from the student as well and to share new ideas.”
It’s obvious Peoples enjoys helping others, and it’s one of the reasons she decided to enter the OT program.
“I admired the relationships OTs had with their clients and the affect they had on increasing each client’s independence with activities of daily living,” said Peoples.
She sees that progress every day as an OT in the burn and behavioral health units at Children’s of Alabama. She’s helps her young patients build back important skills.
“I help my patients remain independent after sustaining burn injuries, help them accept their body image and to be confident in their abilities to play and function around peers,” said Peoples. “I help my patients on behavioral health by building positive self-esteem and social skills, establishing positive coping skills and positive communication skills.”
Peoples tells potential students OT is a rewarding profession and provides many career path options. And she tells soon-to-be graduates to be open to ideas.
“Take time to shadow various professions that you are interested in and be prepared to work hard to earn your degree,” said Peoples. “Prepare for board certification exams, take time to visit facilities that you are interested in working at and don’t be afraid to try new things.”
“I realized I hated what I was doing and the only way to take control of my career was to go back to school and get into a field with more, and varied, career opportunities,” said McCarter.
That’s when the Danville, Va. native discovered the Biotechnology graduate program in the Department of Clinical & Diagnostic Sciences. For him, it was the perfect mix: close to family in Alabama and Atlanta and opportunities to capitalize on old and new proficiencies.
“The Biotechnology master’s program allowed me to gain the skills necessary to be useful in a laboratory setting, while also capitalizing on business skills I had developed after graduating from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in marketing,” said McCarter.
In just a year and a half, students in the Biotechnology program learn how to take research from the lab to the market. While in school, McCarter interned at Soluble Therapeutics, Inc. in Birmingham and then was hired as the Research and Business Development Associate when he graduated with his master’s degree in 2011. Less than a year later, he was promoted to director of business development where he manages the sales and marketing efforts as well as his lab expertise to keep projects moving forward and on time.
“I use the skills I learned in my program every day, whether it is media monitoring that allows me to stay on top of trends in the industry and identify potential new clients, or putting some gloves and a lab coat on to run an assay in the lab,” said McCarter.
His hard work has paid off. So far he has secured research and development contracts with six of the Top 20 global pharmaceutical companies and is leading the market launch of a new protein analytical instrument used in the development of biopharmaceutical products. Sales have increased two-fold since he became the director less than a year ago.
With that success, McCarter hasn’t left behind the program that helped him achieve his career. He not only serves on the School of Health Professions Junior Advisory Board, but he also manages the interns for his company.
“I do this because I believe this type of experience is invaluable for somebody looking to make a start in a new career,” said McCarter.
And he says you can’t be shy to make it in this business.
“Network, network, network,” said McCarter. “Don’t be afraid to approach leaders in your field for advice and information. And, clean up your social network profiles.”
As an area manager for IOD Incorporated, a vendor that provides health information services to facilities including St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Jeannine Teague, RHIA, CPC-A, sees herself as a patient advocate.
“It is my responsibility to ensure that we protect the patient’s right to privacy and confidentiality by following HIPAA laws when releasing information to the different types of requesters that require information for a specific purpose,” said Teague. “In document imaging, it is my responsibility to ensure that we are operating successfully with scanning the paper medical record into the EHR accurately and completely. These two things are very important in the medical field because they can affect the level of care received by the patient if all of their information is not present or accurate when they seek additional care, or need specific information released for another purpose.”
Teague knew she wanted to be in healthcare to improve it, but she wanted to work behind the scenes. As a single mom working full-time and trying to raise three boys, she needed a degree that was flexible. The UAB bachelor’s degree in health information management (HIM) fit the bill.
“The UAB HIM program has a good reputation in the industry, and UAB was very convenient since it offered online and evening classes,” said Teague. “As a single working mother, this was very important to me.”
She at first thought she wanted to be a coder, but as she completed the variety of classes offered in her curriculum, her interest grew in information management. Teague graduated in May 2011.
She tells students to think about what classes they liked best in the program in addition to the ones they excelled. She also encourages students to take advantage of the UAB Career Center for advice on resumes and mock interviews.
“As I review resumes to hire new employees, a good resume will be the difference between a call for an interview, and not being considered at all,” said Teague. “Go to the RHIA review class offered at the end of your senior year! It will definitely help prepare you for that 4 hour test. Most importantly, start networking by becoming a member of AHIMA, AAPC, and other local chapters of credentialing bodies.”
Even though Teague is not that far removed from graduation, she has given back to the program by being a preceptor.
“I would love to do it again because I appreciate the time that my preceptors gave to me which allowed me to connect my institutional knowledge with my practical knowledge,” said Teague. “It truly helps to take what you learned and apply it.”
Ellen R. Strunk knew when she graduated from the physical therapy program at UAB in 1991 she would never be bored.
“No two patients are ever the same and no two impairments are exactly alike,” said Strunk. “There are so many possibly venues in which physical therapy exists.”
Working with older adults is her love and it’s given her the opportunity to work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and outpatient rehab agencies.
“The profession of physical therapy is universal in a lot of ways, but it is unique in its application,” said Strunk. “That is the joy and the challenge of having my degree.”
She almost considered medicine while earning her undergraduate degree. A job as a PT tech at a hospital changed her mind.
“I loved the fact that I would be able to work more closely with patients to help them achieve wellness,” said Strunk.
While she chose UAB because it was affordable, the Knoxville, Tenn. native quickly learned the reputation of the PT program.
“I realized I was fortunate to have been invited into a program that is nationally respected,” said Strunk. “The teachers and professors and mentors at UAB were and are nationally respected.”
Strunk is also known on the national scene having been published in the American Physical Therapy Association for reimbursement issues and cardiovascular system age-related changes and problems. In 2012, she was elected president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association.
She took the plunge in 2008 and founded her company, Rehab Resources and Consulting, Inc. in Birmingham.
“I specialize in helping clients understand the Medicare prospective payment systems for skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies as well as the Medicare conditions of participation and fee schedule for rehab agencies,” said Strunk. “In our current environment of reducing health care expenditures, every cost to the health care system is under scrutiny. PT’s must be knowledgeable in the rules in order to protect themselves and their patients.”
Strunk said it’s important for PT’s to never stop learning in this ever-changing environment.
“Be passionate about what you do every day,” said Strunk. “Be an advocate for your patient and your profession.”