After graduating, Kayla Brenner became a quality improvement specialist with Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
La Follette School student Kayla Brenner is spending her summer convincing businesses to do more to improve the health of people in Wisconsin communities.
Brenner is engaging businesses in population health improvement projects though her project assistantship with the University of Wisconsin–Madison Population Health Institute.
"My job includes promoting evidence-based work-site wellness initiatives. I have been conducting informational interviews with businesses around the state that are taking innovative ways to improve the health of their workforce," Brenner says. "I am writing articles that will be disseminated statewide to highlight the best practices that Wisconsin businesses have been using to maintain or reduce their health insurance costs among many other benefits."
This fall, Brenner will start her second year of the La Follette School's dual-degree program in public affairs and public health. She completed her bachelor's degree in community health education at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse in 2011 and then worked as a health promotion coach for Group Health Cooperative and at UW Hospital as a department assistant.
"Through my work experiences, I became very interested in health-care administration, quality improvement and patient safety," she says. "I have always been interested in health and was surprised by the strong influence policies play in shaping our environment and, in turn, the overall health of the individuals living in that community."
"Becoming educated in health policy is giving me the knowledge and skills to advocate for policies that will likely improve the health status of individuals and decrease health disparities," Brenner says. "Public policy plays an important role in affecting the health of individuals and communities, and I really want a stronger background in policy analysis."
The dual-degree program in public health and public affairs, coupled with the diverse options for elective courses, drew Brenner to La Follette. "The La Follette School program recognizes that public policy encompasses a wide range of topics and gives you room as a student to tailor your education so that it aligns perfectly with your needs and interests," she says. "Many of my graduate elective courses are offered through the industrial and systems engineering department, and upon completion of my program I will have a certificate in patient safety."
Brenner expects this blend of systems engineering, public health and policy analysis to be the best training to prepare her to serve the public through her work in health care. "Public service issues are highly complex and need to be solved with a multi-disciplinary approach," she says. "Lack of access to health care results in an increase of health disparities among many different subgroups, such as rural, urban, black, low income, and the like. By making health systems and care more efficient, we should be able to be to contain health-care costs and ensure people with coverage are able to access and utilize these services."
The La Follette School's small class settings and personalized attention from staff also are benefits, says Brenner, who started out as a freshman at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities' campus and transferred to UW–La Crosse. "At La Crosse, I become accustomed to the individual attention from all of my professors and appreciated the close connections that I established," she says. "I knew going into graduate school that I wanted a small teacher-to-student ratio so I could receive better advice about my academic and career goals that were centered around my interests and skill strengths."
Through her work with the Population Health Institute, Brenner says, she has practiced honing her writing skills. "One very important skill that I use daily is conveying messages to other people; these messages need to be thorough and concise so that the listener can understand the message," Brenner says. "I became much better at conveying my message and articulating clearly through the various writing projects at La Follette."
Once Brenner graduates, she hopes to work in health-care administration, "for a health-care system working on quality improvement and patient safety measures," she says. "In addition, I envision that health-care systems will continue to play an integral role in population health improvement measures within their community due to the Internal Revenue Service community benefit requirement. I am interested in collaborating with public health initiatives to reduce duplication and to strengthen health initiatives."