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Kirkbride discusses campus life


After four weeks at MIT Medical, Maryanne Kirkbride, clinical director for campus life, talked with Michael Glover, MIT Medical's communications manager, about her background, her new role, and how she hopes to strengthen the links between MIT Medical and the MIT community. (See the Aug. 28 issue of MIT Tech Talk for the announcement of her appointment.)

Glover: What is a "clinical director for campus life?" What are you actually going to do here?

Kirkbride: My position is a new senior liaison position at MIT Medical, with a broad mandate to build stronger connections between MIT Medical and the many different peoples of the MIT community.

What will your approach be?

It's like we have a computer system that has a lot of individual applications, but they don't connect to a common operating system. What I hope to do is to work with many people here to develop that operating system, so all the resources that support health - using the word 'health' in its broadest sense - can be coordinated and used to their best advantage.

Is your work going to be only with students, or will you work with faculty and staff as well?

We are one community - students, faculty and staff working to fulfill the educational mission of MIT. If you have a faculty member who's worried about how to take care of his or her sick child, that faculty member probably isn't going to have his or her full attention on students. We need to use an integrated approach.

As a newcomer to the MIT community, you have a perspective on health care that many of us who've been here a while may not. How do MIT Medical's health care services look to someone who's coming in from the outside world?

One important reason I took this job is the amazing excellence of what is available at MIT Medical. I tell MIT students that they will never, in their lifetimes, in the United States, have more highly qualified, specialized medical expertise at their disposal for free.

The experience of most people in the world outside MIT Medical is that they have to fight hard to get various insurance gatekeepers to allow them to get the kind of service MIT students and MIT Health Plan members can access with one phone call.

Whatever the barriers that prevent students or others from taking full advantage of these services (and we know there are some), I hope to connect with many MIT people to work with me, our health education team and the rest of MIT Medical to face those barriers honestly, and to work together to lower them.

What did you do before coming to MIT?

For the last eight years I worked to build a community health program at the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, a mixed-income, very diverse neighborhood at the other end of the Red Line. We started out with one part-time worker, and when I left we had a staff of about 25 in many different programs. Most importantly, we did it all in the spirit of service to, respect for, and partnership with the many different communities in the neighborhood.

You have an amazing background as a mechanical engineer, a nurse and a health care administrator. Were you planning all along to come to MIT Medical?

I wouldn't have dreamed I would be so lucky, but I already feel that I've found a home here. I was originally a nursing student in a science class, and my TA suggested that I might pursue a technical career because I was doing very well in the sciences. I eventually switched to engineering. When I graduated, I worked for a medical device company and they wanted me to complete my nursing degree, so I did.

And how did you move from there into community health?

I wanted to have acute-care experience as a nurse. I worked at Boston City Hospital during a time when the teenage gang violence problem was at its peak, and I became very interested in community health strategies so that tragedies could be avoided.

How do you go about figuring out what a community's health needs are?

Public health professionals have a great toolbox for data collection, research and analysis. But listening and creating solid partnerships are an important first step. We also know what issues people bring to MIT Medical - how many asthmatics we see, how many people with heart disease and so forth. (It's important to note that all the information we work with is aggregate; patient privacy is paramount.)

It's also very important to consider what people are worried about, which often is not the same as what's making them sick. And so that's when survey data are important, to help understand how people choose risky behaviors and how we might help them protect themselves by making better decisions.

How do you hope to support the implementation of the recommendations of the Mental Health Task Force?

I was amazed when I started at how much had already been accomplished. I also will be a part of the Mental Health Task Force Implementation Team that's charged with working on those recommendations.

One of the task force recommendations was for increased outreach staff. We now have approval to create two new health education positions to do just that, and we will have those staff do some or all of their work in the evenings and weekends. We also plan to work very closely with the new Mental Health chief, Alan Siegel; the Mental Health Service staff; and others at MIT Medical and across the Institute to find ways to reduce barriers to seeking mental health care.

Why is this position a good fit for you?

Where else could you work in health care and hear the word orthogonal used in a sentence?

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 25, 2002.

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