Public Health Hero: Jessica Jolly


Jessica Jolly uses her passion for public health to create partnerships in the New Orleans community as a Clinical Operations Manager for the Internal Medicine and Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology departments at the Ochsner Health System. She works with underserved patients to help give them better care, and also helps community health workers become more involved with the New Orleans community and with minority groups.  She has also taught a course on public health program management to over 40 employees, helping to make public health efforts more effective, and also visible. “Many people don’t see public health,” she says. “Many people don’t understand what public health is.”

Jessica Jolly’s, MHA, MPH, path to public health began during her undergraduate education at the University of Michigan. Hailing from Detroit, Jolly aimed to become a doctor to provide healthcare to her community. But after meeting a health administration professional, Jolly became interested in community health through education, outreach, and management. Upon receiving her undergraduate degree in Psychology, Jolly began a Teach For America assignment in elementary education in Atlanta. As a teacher, she saw many students with asthma, dental problems, obesity, and other preventable and treatable issues; this was the experience that prompted Jolly to pursue a formal education in health administration and public health at The Ohio State University.

While at Ohio State, Jolly participated in many community health education and outreach programs.  She helped women utilize prenatal care, worked with patients with HIV/AIDS on making their clinic appointments, and worked on an infant mortality reduction project.  One of the issues central to Jolly’s work is the social determinants of health.  Many of the people she worked with had health issues that resulted from their social standing. For example, some of the patients were unable to receive regular health check-ups and screenings due to lack of insurance, making them at-risk for health complications. Jolly also founded the Multicultural Public Health Student Association to promote discussion and education on issues of inclusiveness and diversity in public health. She believes that health disparities need more awareness in the healthcare community: “There are too many physicians and administrators that lack understanding of how your background affects your health, and we need to be more aware of the social determinants of health.”  

Jolly sees a need for more funding for both public health education and public health programs, including mental health. “There’s a huge funding issue in public health,” she said. “Health behavior programs are desperately needed, and we need to raise more awareness of mental health issues, but there’s a lack of funding.” She also believes that more needs to be done to base public health on the whole person, ranging from oral health and fitness to socioeconomic status and diversity. “I think it’s really important for anyone interested in public health to understand that background of the population they’re working with,” she said.  “I strongly suggest that people think about how background and diversity affects public health and become aware of the social determinants of health.”  

Jolly currently mentors several public health students and would be interested in teaching more about public health in the future, or perhaps taking on a higher level executive role to help shape public health programs on a larger scale.  As it stands, she is excited about what the future holds, and couldn’t be any happier with her decision to work in public health: “I absolutely love public health.”

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