The daughter of a pediatrician from Poplar Bluff, 2011 graduate Mary Katherine Montgomery has been immersed in the healthcare system from a young age. While she intimately understood the importance of medical delivery, there was one facet she always wanted to explore: access.
Montgomery, known as ‘MK’ to her friends and family, recently earned her Masters in Public Health (MPH) from Yale. But health education, especially for youth, is where she has found her stride.
Before starting grad school, Montgomery fulfilled her interest in equity and health disparities while working as a seventh grade science teacher with “Teach For America” in Baton Rouge, LA. Here, she thought a lot about how to achieve long-term, sustainable solutions that would allow kids across the country to thrive.
“I’ve realized that there’s a whole slew of things that determine outcomes for children. Two of them are education and healthcare,” said Montgomery. “But oftentimes, there are other systemic things that are entrapped with one another, and I was really fascinated by this system.”
One instance, Montgomery said, was with one of her students originally from New Orleans. He had been displaced to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina, and still had a cleft palate which was never fixed. She said this had impacted his development, growth, and was now affecting his peer interaction.
“I realized that when his family was displaced from the storm, his entire network of people who are supposed to help you make sure that these things get taken care of, weren’t around,” said Montgomery. “And when that happens, a lot of kids fall through the cracks.”
She said this was a “tangible example” of when one system breaks.
“I thought about my students in the classroom, and how getting the highest grade on the next test and things like that were going to be great for them. But in the long term, there were so many systems at play outside of my classroom that they were still going to face, and they would potentially fall through those cracks,” said Montgomery.
This has caused Montgomery to focus on pushing change and measuring outcomes by intertwining healthcare, law, and education. She hopes that with her understanding of each system, she will be able to show others how to think about them as “interconnected, as opposed to individual pieces.”
“I’m thinking about how traditionally, when we follow these systems, we get really great at being professionals within those spaces. And we don’t have a lot of folks who can build the bridges between those systems, because they just don’t have the same comprehensive knowledge or understanding of each of those different faceted areas,” said Montgomery.
In her endeavors, Montgomery recently worked with a group of other MPH candidates and local neonatologist, Dr. Alan Barnett, on an HPV vaccine campaign in the southeast Missouri region. They delivered the project manual, which promotes disease prevention, on June 1.
Other projects include her work with All Our Kin, a non-profit organization which creates child care programs for vulnerable children. Montgomery has also informed state policy in pediatric care at the Yale Child Center.
Montgomery is slated to return to school next fall at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to receive another Masters, this time in education, policy and management.
Career-wise, Montgomery doesn’t have a specific goal. But she’s expressed interest in combining healthcare and education at a local level, and eventually hopes to work with people who are thinking about doing the same on a broader scale across the country.
Montgomery is also interested in policy, where she said she can make the most change.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in healthcare and education, and how we set them up in the political arena,” said Montgomery. “Sometimes it looks like government policy, and sometimes it looks like non-governmental organizations like foundations.”