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Trish Wright, PhD, MPH

What degree program(s) did you complete?C O P H Alumna and Assistant Professor in the Science Department of the College of Nursing Patricia Wright, P h D, M P H

MPH/Epidemiology (2005), PhD/ Health Services Research (2012).

What attracted you to the field of public health?

I knew that I wanted to be a researcher and a scientist.

What is your current job title and place of employment?

I am an assistant professor in the Science Department of the College of Nursing at UAMS.

How would you describe a typical work day?

It is hard to say what defines a typical day! I teach Epidemiology to master’s nursing students, Community Concepts for Advanced Practice Nursing, and Qualitative Analysis (one of my passions) in an inter-disciplinary, PhD-level course for students in nursing, public health, psychiatry and speech pathology. I am also involved in several research projects: two qualitative studies on barriers to care experienced by veterans and another, also qualitative, on HIV testing and entry and linkages to care in rural areas.

What experiences or learning gained at UAMS or elsewhere have you found most beneficial professionally or helped you qualify for what you do?

I also have two bachelor’s degrees – in nursing and psychology. Professionally, I started out at a hospital in White County. I did floor nursing and was, as what was called then, a ward clerk. I was given the responsibility of managing a community health program for seniors, in which I worked with stakeholders across the state, including a PhD researcher in nursing at UAMS. That led to another job as the project director for a study about dementia. It was my beginning in qualitative research – conducting interviews with clients and their caregivers. After that, I worked on a couple more studies that put me in touch with people in the community. One was on the over-use of psychotropic drugs in nursing homes. The other was on the use of stimulants, cocaine specifically, in Arkansas and Kentucky. It was exciting and different to me – actually doing a kind of ethnographic work. These studies took me outside the walls of the hospital to the larger community to connect with all kinds of people. About the same time, the COPH opened, and I applied. It was a golden opportunity. I was fortunate that that my school work and research tied together and I could integrate them. That was a huge advantage. Where I am today is because I was able to work in research in health while in school. I feel very blessed because I was mentored by brilliant, successful women researchers at the top of their field.

What is your advice for students considering a similar career path?

My advice is to get out of the classroom, become involved in what is going on in your community, with people outside your college and your discipline. Don’t be insulated. Develop connections and relationships. In public health, if your are strictly in academia and not in the community, how are you going to know what is important to people in a community, what is really going on, the problems and strengths, and what you are dealing with? How can you develop policies or things that will make a difference in the real world that will work?  If you want to be a researcher you need to get the skills. I knew that I wanted to be a researcher and a scientist and that I needed the tools. It is not that I love numbers – that is not my strength. It is not an easy way to go, but I knew that I wanted to be the PI [principal investigator] on studies, not working for someone else. I wanted to do my own stuff.

 What experiences or learning gained at UAMS or elsewhere have you found most  beneficial professionally or helped you  qualify for what you do?

I was lucky to be at a college with such an emphasis on community-based partnerships in research.

What do you find most rewarding about your work in public health?

The feeling that the work that I do can make a difference – maybe not a in big way, but a difference in a small group or community and that I am working in a field that makes a difference.