Mary King is a member of the first cohort of the UAB Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies and Master of Public Health (MSPAS/MPH) dual degree program.

Back Story

Before I began the UAB Physician Assistant Studies program, I had nearly six years of experience working as a pharmacy technician, in which I gained a specialized insight into patient’s lives.

I witnessed non-compliance among patients so often that I would be genuinely impressed when a person correctly followed their treatment plan for the span of even a few months. At times, I would ask patients why they were not taking their medications regularly, and they would often state that they simply could not afford them.

Because of these disclosures, I will be much less likely to prescribe a new expensive medication when an older, lower-costing, equally effective medication is on the market. In the future, I would not only like to explore other reasons why patients do not take their medications correctly, but also find how we can proactively increase patient adherence.

The Calling

Seeing a patient with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (a rare, serious skin reaction) in the free healthcare clinic where I volunteered throughout college was my light bulb that I wanted a more direct relationship treating patients than my job at the pharmacy would allow. Witnessing how the sunlight catalyzed his disease was heart wrenching.

Having additional environmental health training throughout the MPH curriculum has afforded me the knowledge on how to counsel my patients on available preventative measures when discussing a current or future treatment regimen.

I believe this dual-degree program will help me explore all these avenues in health care.

The Programs

I chose to participate in the dual MSPAS/MPH degree program because it will widen my perspective of health. Public health schools prepare students to review healthcare delivery from a vantage point in contrast to the “one provider, one patient” model of training carried out in PA and medical school programs. I believe that this degree program will provide students with meaningful skills to influence both population and individual health issues.

Holding degrees in public health and physician assistant studies will allow me to have an anomalous perspective on healthcare. Training in health behavior (King earned a B.A. in Psychology in addition to a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences) helped me recognize different personalities, which in turn has strengthened my communication skills with diverse populations. The MPH curriculum has taught me about all the players within health care system, which will undoubtedly enhance my ability to function as an efficient PA.

I will continue to evolve to allow the scope of my abilities to be refined. I am intent on pursuing a career in health care in order to allow my passions to be translated into life-changing actions that will improve and save lives of many people who might otherwise face unfortunate circumstances in life.

Work and Research

I worked with the UAB Sports Nutrition team as a Health and Wellness Specialist Intern. I utilized evidence-based research to provide the most recent and NCAA-compliant nutrition care to student athletes.

As an intern, I helped prepare and plan healthy menu options, assisted in team talks, and participated in educational seminars. I gave grocery store tours to community members, athletes, UAB employees, and coaches, where I discussed how to make healthy, informed food choices in today's fast paced world. I also administered individual and group counseling sessions on mental and physical body change for increased performance.

Eating disorders are complex and have underlying social, biological, and psychological components. Many athletes feel pressure to achieve a certain physique and may not have received proper nutrition training prior to competing at the collegiate level.

With a background studying medicine (B.S. in Biomedical Sciences) and having a B.A. in Psychology, I helped draft the UAB Athletics Eating Disorder Policy and the UAB Athletics Diabetes Policy. I helped define the types of eating disorders, causes, symptoms, and course of treatment/support if an athlete may be suffering from an eating disorder. I also helped outline the types of diabetes, etiology, pathophysiology, signs and symptoms of various blood glucose levels, and treatment/support for types of diabetes.

I assisted the PhD in Nutrition Sciences students with their ongoing research projects. For one project, I helped gather the specimen for a muscle biopsy to analyze levels of free radicals and its relation to Type II Diabetes. For another, we gathered and analyzed data on participants and specimens for an obesity research project on nitrates. This research project aimed to see if a supplement given to participants improved weight loss and increased exercise performance through various measures.

  • Health Assessment: Birmingham-area Homeless Women and Children

With a group of PA students and an MPH/MSPAS colleague, I conducted a community health assessment on Birmingham-area homeless women and children at the First Light shelter. We provided meals for over 80 women and children and assessed the demographics, necessary historical and geographic information, barriers to access of care, and health outcomes of the women and children that needed to be addressed.

We also pulled together a list of resources available for the Birmingham homeless population. I was very grateful to be able to participate in efforts to end chronic homelessness in the Birmingham area. One Roof recently conducted a study that showed that the number of homeless men, women, and children has decreased from 2,200 to 1,950 on any given day that is a 14.5 percent decrease in three years! Let's continue our efforts to further catalyze this downward trend!

  • Oral Contraception and Opportunistic Infections

I also collaborated with two fellow PA students, Melissa Do and Kara Arnold, on conducting a systemic research review of whether there is an association between oral contraception use and opportunistic infection of the female reproductive tract.

Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) are the most commonly used form of birth control in the United States. Opportunistic infections, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), affect the female reproductive tract, and persistent infection can lead to vaginitis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which are implicated in infertility.

The purpose of this systematic review was to analyze published studies to determine if the use of oral hormonal contraceptives affects the rate of opportunistic infection of the female reproductive tract. Results were widely varied.

OCPs were shown to have a protective factor against opportunistic infection in some studies while others showed increased infection rates among OCP users or no effect.  Additional trials are needed to produce more definitive data about the nature of the association (protective, predisposing, or neutral) between oral contraceptive use and opportunistic infection of the female reproductive tract.