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Women's history month

Biometrist has championed AHEC programs

This is the eighth in a series of articles honoring MUSC women who have changed the face, landscape and direction of MUSC and the medical center. This year's theme is Women Taking the Lead.

by Mary Helen Yarborough
Public Relations
For more than 30 years, Beth Kennedy has worked quietly connecting people, departments and external resources to solve societal challenges. Her reach touched health care and the disadvantaged, disaster preparedness for hospitals, the allied health professions and novel approaches to data collection and use.
Beth Kennedy

The associate program director for the S.C. Area Health Education Consortium (AHEC),  describes her career as one of service through teamwork and teambuilding, while her colleagues have defined her as a true leader.
As author or co-author of grants that brought MUSC and AHEC more than $15 million, Kennedy's guidance has helped foster community-based education, workforce development, community  disaster preparedness and health care for underserved populations.
An example of her seed-to-garden performance was a federal and state bioterrorism grant in 2003. Her submission garnered the fledgling disaster response effort a first-place ranking among all other grant proposals in the country. Through that $6 million from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, she directed a five-year disaster preparedness project that trained more than 30,000 health professionals, first responders, health profession students, and volunteers in disaster response awareness and performance. The project resulted in development of the first dental forensic team in South Carolina enabling identification of disaster victims from dental records, she explained.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) also funded the project to train the state’s medical reserve corps for service in major emergencies.
The grant, which expired this year, was used to train hospitals in decontamination. Two mobile units were developed through the project: a special mobile decontamination van, equipped with tents, special gear and decontamination equipment; and a second that was used for the Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment (START) program. The vans were so effective in statewide drill-tests that the states of North Carolina, Florida and Ohio asked to use and replicate them.
A paper on the disaster response project on the S.C. AHEC Disaster Preparedness and Response Training Network was published in the March issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, and is co-authored by Kennedy, Deborah Carson, Ph.D., and David Garr, M.D., AHEC executive director.
In responding to how she was recommended as being among MUSC sterling examples of women leaders, Kennedy said, “I have asked myself this question, since I am not a great researcher, scientist or health care provider; just an administrator of a health professions education program,” said the College of Charleston psychology major who later earned a master’s in biometry at MUSC.
Her diverse set of grant developments has covered awards in migrant health, Health Education Training Centers, model AHEC programs, nurse refresher courses, rural interdisciplinary and allied health interdisciplinary education, physician assistant training and disaster preparedness training. In the mid-1990s, AHEC won a competition for a national contract for educational redesign based upon an application she wrote, and she directed the activities that included faculty from MUSC, the University of South Carolina and Clemson, and administers from other state agencies.
Kennedy began her career just after graduate school and was responsible for designing databases, reporting and evaluation. “I soon discovered my true passion was for health professions education,” Kennedy said.
In her role, Kennedy helped design the first rural interdisciplinary education experience in South Carolina and designed a program to take public health students to migrant camps to provide health promotion and disease prevention training. Her efforts have also entailed bringing nurse executives and direct care nurses together each year to learn about improving their working environment and striving for excellence.
“It really has been about recognizing talents of others and teamwork within AHEC, the College of Health Professions and the university,” she said. “Nothing I have done is in isolation.”
She credits her former director, Sabra Slaughter, Ph.D., for providing the intellectual space, training and support to spread her professional wings, and she quickly praises her female colleagues.
“As a mother of two daughters and having two granddaughters, I want women to be recognized for
 all the outstanding work they do. Young women need strong, successful role models and we must make them visible,” Kennedy said. “We must celebrate women’s victories, promote their successes, and seek to incorporate them into every level of our university, our state organizations and national initiatives.”
Kennedy cites the AHEC statewide system as having a significant cohort of women leaders today,  a change from 30 years ago when she began working with AHEC as the only female administrator in the system.
“Health care and health professions education in South Carolina have made significant advances in elevating women, but we still have fewer CEO’s, deans, and executives than men even though we represent the largest working group in health care,” she noted.
“My love of education comes from my mother, the best first grade teacher ever; and my father who always made learning fun,” Kennedy recalled. “My love for health care comes from my grandfather, a country physician.”
Kennedy will retire in May, butsaid she still has a lot to offer and teach others.
Collaboration has been critical to her success.
“I have always felt that in order to lead one must first serve. This philosophy has served me well and this is what I have tried to teach the junior level personnel with whom I interact,” Kennedy said.


Friday, March 27, 2009

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