Community Health Student Works to Create a Brighter Future for Patients with Diabetes

Melissa Duschanek already has a clear plan for the future. Pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Community Health at Clarkson College led her to complete fieldwork with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), exposing her to a $1.6 million fundraising effort to secure a healthier future for those affected by diabetes. Following graduation in August, she hopes to continue working with similar non-profit organizations.

Duschanek’s entrance into health care began at Iowa State University where she majored in Kinesiology as part of a pre-physical therapy track. Following two years in the program, she shifted focus and enrolled in the Clarkson College Community Health program in 2016. “I transferred into the program after realizing that I was really interested in the broader aspects of health care,” she said. “I don’t enjoy the ‘blood and guts’ side of health care, so I decided to pursue a career that did not include any of that.”

The program’s broad focus wasn’t the only aspect drawing her to the College; she also appreciated the flexible career opportunities a Community Health degree offers. She experienced one of these career options during her 135-hour fieldwork, which is a required component of the Bachelor’s degree. The hands-on component allows students to work in and observe all parts of an agency, develop advanced skills, apply concepts and gain practical experiences. Students must complete a Capstone course following their fieldwork in which they conduct research and propose a project in their area of professional interest. The course product should serve as a professional proposal, initial steps in graduate-level research or scholarly article.

Duschanek completed her fieldwork at the JDRF Omaha-Council Bluffs Chapter, which is part of a national organization dedicated to funding research, advocating for policies to accelerate access to therapies and providing a support network to people impacted by type 1 diabetes. Both professional and personal aspirations drew Duschanek to the organization.

“I wanted to learn more about large health care non-profit organizations because of the fundraising and services they provide to the communities they serve,” she said. “I was particularly interested in JDRF because I have several family members living with type 1 diabetes, and I knew about the organization’s powerful reputation for researching cures and providing care to the community.”

The Executive Director of the local chapter worked with Duschanek and allowed her to create a project focused on building awareness for the Young Leadership Committee (YLC). This group of young professionals between the ages of 21 and 40 host various fundraising, networking and social events to support the organization. Duschanek worked with staff members to create an awareness campaign for the committee. “I contacted colleges and organizations throughout Omaha to spread knowledge about YLC and also helped with several events hosted by the committee,” she said.

While completing her project, Duschanek also helped plan the JDRF Promise Gala, a large-scale fundraising event held this past February. She operated as the event’s lead volunteer, assisting with scheduling and ensuring that other volunteers knew their duties and responsibilities.

As luck would have it, the Omaha area experienced a blizzard during the event, which prevented many volunteers and guests from attending. Duschanek showcased her flexibility and problem-solving skills by helping lead the gala to a successful outcome in spite of setbacks. “We had to be creative and figure out a way to pull everything off smoothly, despite the horrible weather!” she said.

Overall, donors raised $1.6 million for type 1 diabetes research during the gala. “It was so inspiring to be part of this event,” Duschanek said. “You could tell its success was due to the passion that all of the employees, volunteers and guests had for finding a cure for type 1 diabetes.” 

The experiences at JDRF inspired her to pursue a career with non-profit health care organizations following graduation. She feels prepared to work with the vast populations that these non-profits serve thanks to the Community Health curriculum. “The Community Health program brings together so many different areas and populations that we serve in health care,” she said. “It provides a broader exposure to several aspects of health care, both with direct patient care and behind-the-scenes care.”

Students choose their areas of concentration within the program. Duschanek focused her coursework in public health, women’s health, gerontology and human services, all of which will allow her to pursue her professional goals. “The program lets you tailor your coursework to meet your interests,” she said. “I love that there are so many different areas that you can work in based on those interests.”

Duschanek has a clear idea about her future career path thanks to her preparation within the Community Health program. Her experiences at Clarkson College cemented her desire to care for others and work toward a brighter future in health care.