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Q&A with M.S. in Community Engaged Medicine Director, Dr. Rachael Bowers

Community Engaged Medicine director, Dr. Rachael Bowers, sat with Furman University’s Graduate Studies department to talk about her educational experience, call to social work, professional background, and history with Furman. 

As an Anthropology and History major, how did you decide to pursue a career in health sciences?

I actually chose to pursue a career in social work because my interest in anthropology came from my interest in other people. People confuse anthropology with archaeology or think about the physical anthropology aspect of it, but I took social and cultural anthropology courses and global cultural courses, which married with history and led me to thinking about people over time. I discovered during my undergraduate education, while I was doing internships and service learning programs through the Center for Social Concerns, that I felt a call to serve, which accompanied my curiosity about other people’s ways of living and their experience of the world. This was a natural progression into a Masters of Social Work. When I was in my master’s training, I wanted to be involved in work that helped children, so I had internships in that area. My first jobs were all in youth serving organizations because that was the population that spoke to my heart and who I wanted to see life be better for. This got me into community mental health and community health care for pediatrics. 

What was your professional background before Furman?

I worked in social work for about 15 years in a variety of different settings. I was in some residential facilities for children who were interacting with the juvenile justice system, as well as group home living, foster care, and adoption services. Then I also have experience in outpatient community mental health and home based mental health. Additionally, I worked at the Community Health Center doing pediatric social work in the pediatric primary care setting. There, I helped to create and manage an integrated behavioral health and primary care division within pediatrics. Eventually, my family and I moved to South Carolina in 2014 because my husband got a job at Clemson, so I pursued my Ph.D. in international family and community studies at Clemson. I finally started at Furman when I completed the coursework for the Ph.D. program at Clemson and was beginning work on my dissertation. 

Where did you get your bachelor’s and master’s degrees?

My undergraduate degree is from Notre Dame in Anthropology and History, and then my master’s degree is from the University of Pennsylvania in Social Work.

How did you become involved at Furman, and what drew you to this program? 

When I was approaching the end of my coursework, I just happened to be looking at local job openings. At the time, I wasn’t going for my Ph.D. because I wanted to become a traditional faculty member, and I was definitely not going to uproot my family. 

I didn’t enter doctoral work thinking I could be a researcher and a faculty member, but what drew me to getting my Ph.D. was evaluating programs and using the data that programs naturally collect to showcase the small innovative solutions and impact that they’re making, which often get overlooked traditional research or overly critiqued by traditional research methods. I wanted to find a way to give voice and learn from programs that are doing great work but might not get the academic credit that larger research projects do. This essentially explains why I was looking for a job before I had finished my program because I knew I wasn’t looking for a traditional academic job.

When I started at Furman, I was the education coordinator for the master’s program. My first charge was to lead the field work portion when the program was about to be approved. I was excited to see a program that was looking to raise the profile and attention to social determinants of health in health care spaces and not just look to train more traditional health care providers. Admittedly, when I moved to South Carolina, I could not find a job that was as dynamic and progressive as the job I had in Boston, and I did not have the energy to restart in an organization and possibly help lead them that direction. I saw what the master’s program is doing, which is innovative work in a region of the country that is not necessarily known for having such innovations in healthcare. Naturally, I was excited about the opportunity, and, geographically, it was a great fit because I did not have to move. But, I realized I could find a way to incorporate my professional work and my new doctoral training to keep moving the needle. 

What’s something important you’ve learned over the years that you believe would benefit students considering this program from knowing?

In American health care, we have a tendency to blame the patient when interventions don’t work, and we look for the things that the patient might not have done to the best of their ability to follow a treatment plan. Ultimately, what I hope students gain is to project some of that blame onto the system that’s been created. Our healthcare system has evolved and there’s been a lot of forces on what’s created the system as it stands now, but I think that shifting the focus to the system also has a larger magnitude for change. You can shift some of your approaches and in one-on-one provider patient interactions, but if you can shape shift the processes and the barriers in healthcare, you’re making life better for more people. I think it helps to forge better relationships between providers and patients, and it also helps to reduce their future professional burnout, if they can help see more influences outside of the individual patient as to why the medical interventions that they’ll get trained won’t solve everything. 

Are you interested in a career in community engaged medicine? Furman University’s Masters of Science in Community Engaged Medicine is a multi-disciplinary program that provides students with the required knowledge and skills in order to make an impact in diverse communities through public health. For more information about Furman University’s Masters of Science in Community Engaged Medicine program click HERE.