Marlo Vernon is a force to be reckoned with.
For 10 years, Vernon, a wife, mother of five and now a PhD, worked as a research coordinator in the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia where she focused on finding ways to improve health and health care. Then, she transferred to the Institute of Public and Preventive Health at Augusta University where she was able to put her Master of Public Health in health promotion education and behavior to work as a public health analyst.
But it wasn’t enough.
Passionate about maternal-child health and health services research, Vernon wanted to do more to move the health care needle in Georgia. When the College of Allied Health Sciences announced a new PhD program in applied health sciences, she knew she had to apply. The program combines advanced health care education with excellence in research to produce graduates with innovative research skills required for health care problem solving.
“I’ve worked at Augusta University for 15 years but had always wanted to get my PhD,” Vernon said. “When Allied Health announced this program, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me.”
When Vernon began the program, she learned it was possible to finish within nine semesters, though the average time it takes to complete the degree time is 4-5 years.
“I worked my tail off and finished in nine semesters,” she said. “It was hard. It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t impossible.”
She credits some of her success to small class sizes, knowing what type of research she was passionate about, and the encouragement received from professors Dr. Andrew Balas and Dr. Vahé Heboyan.
“Dr. Balas encouraged me to finish the program faster,” Vernon said. “I started the program as a part-time student and finished as a full-time student. I wouldn’t have done it without his encouragement. I’m very thankful. Dr. Heboyan was also very straightforward and encouraging. I always knew he would give me honest feedback.”
Vernon credits the rest of her success to her family, and another seemingly less likely source: maternity leave.
“I had two children while I was in the program,” she said. “I’m a mother of five, and it was a lot to juggle working, being a student and a mother. It required a lot of commitment from my husband to help so that I could close the door and work but being on maternity leave was helpful. It gave me a break from work responsibilities. With my first maternity leave, I had time to focus on biostatistics, and with my second leave I was able to focus on writing my dissertation.”
Aside from her passion for health care, the desire to set an example for her children provided the motivation Vernon needed to complete the program.
“My kids understood what I was doing, and they liked that I was going to be a teacher,” she said. “It was good for them to watch me do well in the program from start to finish, and that even when it got hard, I never gave up.”
On June 25, 2018, Vernon defended her dissertation, which focused on indicators of innovation within a university environment.
“I’m interested in reducing waste in research,” she said. “It’s not only difficult to get research funded, but you must make sure the money is used appropriately. You must make sure the things you do with your research dollars are beneficial to society. That’s what my dissertation really focused on, ways to ensure that research is beneficial not just to other scientists but to improve public health and improve the economics of the community.”
Although the dissertation defense was nerve wracking, Vernon enjoyed sharing her work. When she was finished, she finally heard the word she’d waited three years to hear: “Doctor.”
“It took a long time to set in, because for a long time I thought I would never be done,” Vernon said. “It felt awesome to go to the lake with my family, without my computer, and celebrate this accomplishment.”
On December 14, the celebration continues. Vernon will officially graduate from Augusta University with her PhD in applied health sciences, but her career at Augusta is not over just yet.
Vernon is now an assistant professor in the Department of Undergraduate Health Professions in the College of Allied Health Sciences and plans to continue her research.
“I’m hoping to explore maternal mortality within the state of Georgia,” she said. “I want to examine risk factors that women experience. Maternal-child health has always been my passion.
Congratulations, Class of 2018!
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