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Public health student gets $41,000 annually for med school, aims to make Delta healthier

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Graduating master’s student Kierra Jones wants to return to the Mississippi Delta as a medical doctor because she’s seen how a lack of education impacts the health of many people, and two scholarships totaling $41,000 annually will help her achieve that goal.

Kierra Jones wants to wipe out some of the health disparities throughout the Mississippi Delta and especially her hometown of Cleveland, Mississippi. She will advocate preventive measures when she eventually specializes in family medicine. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Kierra Jones wants to wipe out some of the health disparities throughout the Mississippi Delta and especially in her hometown of Cleveland, Mississippi. She will advocate for preventive measures when she eventually specializes in family medicine. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Jones, a native of Cleveland, continues her journey when she earns her degree from Jackson State University’ School of Public Health, which is the only one in Mississippi. Her concentration is in Behavioral Health Promotion and Education within the Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health.

Commencement Series logo-01She applied to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2017 but didn’t get accepted the first time. A car accident had fractured six vertebrae, prevented her from supplying adequate information to UMMC and took her three months to recover. At the time of the accident, Jones had been en route to assist her boyfriend who had been injured in a shooting incident. Both are now physically well.

Today, she’s looking ahead to an even brighter future.

She was recently accepted into UMMC for fall 2019. She has been awarded $30,000 per year toward her tuition by the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program and $11,000 per year by the Robert M. Hearing Support Foundation Minority Scholarship.  Jones is also a Daniel Hale Williams Scholar in the Jackson Heart Study Graduate Training and Education Center.

“I plan to specialize in family medicine and return to a rural area of Mississippi to practice. As many who’ve led the path before me, I plan to integrate public health and clinical care in my practice. I want the legacy of my career to be labeled as a physician who considers influences of my culture and who aims to generate understanding among my patients,” Jones said.

Leaning on her Delta roots

The daughter of a single parent said her passion for helping people results from her Delta roots, working with Girl Scouts, mentoring and being crowned Miss Tougaloo College (2017-2018).

“Communities are riddled with health disparities, lack of health education and health maintenance interventions,” Jones said. She bemoans the failure of experts to follow up with patients and their neglect to educate patients as science evolves.

Even though coronary heart disease is a huge problem in the area, Jones has observed a rise in kidney disease, especially in Cleveland.

She sees preventive measures as the best way to prolong life and promote health in underserved sectors of Mississippi.

Jones said people don’t have to suffer from similar problems such as behavioral health issues that have affected grandparents and other relatives. She urges individuals to trace their lineage to see where a disease started and learn how that knowledge can help prevent future issues.

The importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCUs have played another important part in her life, having graduated from Tougaloo and now earning her master’s at JSU.

“I love HBCUs in regards to its communication and representation. They have faculty and staff who represent what you want to obtain.” She especially appreciates the one-on-one conversations with academic scholars.

“I’m not the smartest, so I had to study a lot more than other people. I don’t really have skills or natural talent; I have abilities. But even that’s been a struggle, too. You have classmates who pick it up quickly in class, and I’m studying three hours after class to obtain the same knowledge.”

While pursuing her ultimate goal of becoming a physician, she’s also teaching at Forest Hill High School. She said she wants everyone to understand that “circumstances shouldn’t determine your future, and don’t be afraid to dream outside of what people decide your realm is.”

There were many doubters around her, Jones said. “A lot of people never thought I would not have had a child by the age of 18 because my grandmother and my mother did. So, I was expected to have a child by then.”

Instead, the future doctor said she has proved that dedication, family support and resilience can help an individual compete and succeed.