'Service Will Be the Foundation of My Life'

Posted on January 4, 2017
Joy Washington

Karen Finklea, a physician assistant graduate student at South, is one of the recipients of the 2016 National Health Service Corps scholarship. data-lightbox='featured'
Karen Finklea, a physician assistant graduate student at South, is one of the recipients of the 2016 National Health Service Corps scholarship.

This Christmas, as she does every year, Karen Finklea’s mother, a nurse, made and delivered fruit baskets to her patients and to elders at the family’s church. With that example, it’s not surprising that Finklea chose healthcare, and service to others, as her career path.

“My mission is to be the best person I can be while helping others,” said Finklea, a graduate student in USA’s physician assistant program. “I grow when I see others grow. I love to serve and give back.”

Finklea is now guaranteed an even greater opportunity to serve. She recently was named a recipient of a National Health Service Corps scholarship, a program that was created to help bring healthcare to areas of the United States with limited access to care. When she graduates in two years from South’s PA program, Finklea will serve as a primary care provider in an NHSC-approved site for two years.

“I could not be more proud of Karen,” said Cheryl Nicholls, educational outreach specialist in the Pat Capps Covey College of Allied Health Professions at South. “She is a dedicated, caring and hard-working young woman who enjoys making a difference in the lives of others. She is very deserving of this national scholarship.”

Finklea, a native of Monroeville, Ala., was surprised to be selected for the scholarship, which completely covers her tuition and includes a living stipend that helps pay for room and board, books, school supplies, and technology expenses.

“When I first applied for the scholarship, I was not expecting to receive something so phenomenal,” she said. “It felt amazing. Before, I had to pay for my tuition and expenses with the help of a small scholarship and student loans. I am so relieved now that this scholarship will allow me to have less stress about money, and I can totally focus on studying and completing my graduate degree.”

Finklea first heard about the scholarship in summer 2015. She had earned her undergraduate degree in professional health sciences from South and was volunteering through AmeriCorps at the West Central Alabama Area Health Education Centers. She had to write three essays and secure two recommendation letters to apply for the NHSC program.

“In my essays, I was able to weave in my experience as a volunteer member of AmeriCorps,” Finklea said. “I taught youth mental health first aid to help families identify when a child is going through a mental health crisis. Although I grew up in a rural area, my eyes were truly opened to the desperate need in the communities I served.”

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree at South Alabama, Finklea was active in many student organizations, including the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Women of Excellence and the Pre-Physician Assistant Society. As a graduate student, she’s just as active. She recently traveled to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip with other South Alabama students from the PA, nursing, and medical programs. The trip was organized by Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama, and Finklea and other students provided basic medical services while working with medical professionals.

“I’m excited that I am studying in a profession that was created to serve areas that have limited access to healthcare,” she said. “Once I am a PA professional, my job will be to fill that gap. I love that focus. I want to make a positive impact on my patients. Service will be the foundation of my life.”

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