Devotion to community health brings nurse back to research roots in rural Mississippi
By Matt Westerfield
Kayla Logan's passion for working in the Mississippi Delta was born in the townships of South Africa.
While volunteering at a school and orphanage on the outskirts of Johannesburg in 2006, Logan, an English major at the University of Mississippi, was asked by workers at a local community clinic to help take patients' blood-pressure readings.
"They taught me how to put an automatic blood pressure cuff on, and that was kind of my first taste of public health," she said.
The experience inspired her to change her major and pursue a nursing career in community health. Four years later, she graduated with her B.S.N.
Today, on top of a part-time job at the Winfred L. Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants and working on her M.S.N., Logan serves as the school nurse for the Mercy Delta Express Project, the grant-funded School of Nursing program she contributed research to as an undergrad.
A graduate of Ridgeland High School, Logan was accepted into the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at Ole Miss.
"As part of our graduation requirements, you have to do exploratory research and then a senior thesis," she said.
Her exploratory research led her to South Africa, where her experiences inspired her to change her major to nursing. After a second visit in 2007, she transferred to UMMC to complete her B.S.N. and to finish her thesis in public health, which is how she connected with Dr. Lisa Haynie, professor of nursing and director of the MDE project.
"You choose your own advisor, and Dr. Haynie was just starting to work on the grant for Mercy Delta Project," Logan said. "I knew she was doing a lot with public health and community health, and the (W. K.) Kellogg Foundation has a focus in South Africa, so I knew a little about them."
At the time, Haynie said she was beginning to assess the need for school-based health services in the Delta, and Logan helped her collect data that were used for the grant application.
On her first visit to the delta, Logan said she encountered a different world.
"We drive up U.S. 49, and when you get past Yazoo City, the world changes drastically. There's one grocery store servicing two counties," she said. "We see a lot of different health problems there: We see a lot of asthma, a lot of allergy problems with all the pesticides and farming. And of course teen pregnancy has been a big learning experience for me."
But she says she was quickly encouraged by how welcoming and receptive the people of the region were.
"Even though physically they may be spread so far apart, there's a sense of community that I don't even know that we have here," she said.
In collecting data for the grant, Logan worked closely with her classmate, Margaret Hines, also a Barksdale Honors College student. She said Hines' focus on barriers facing access to care for children complemented her research on the need for school-based clinics.
The classmates graduated in 2010 and both entered the UMHC nursing workforce.
"The information we gathered showed there was a need. It was just up to us at that point to apply for funding to make this happen," Haynie said. "We applied for the Kellogg grant and used a lot of their data."
Last summer, the School of Nursing was awarded a $450,000 grant to provide health services to students in the South Delta School District and Ripley Blackwell Head Start through the Mercy Delta Express mobile clinic. Included in the grant was funding to hire a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner.
"The first people who came to mind were Kayla and Margaret," Haynie said. "Kayla had a part-time job and was interested, and she had always said she wanted to come back and be a nurse in that area. She started Oct. 1."
To fill the nurse practitioner position, Haynie hired Kathy Rhodes, formerly a nurse at Brown Elementary, where one of the SON's school-based clinics is located.
"Kayla and Kathy have been fantastic. They've taken charge and gotten the ball rolling," said Haynie. "They have totally embraced the project, and the more we spend time up there, the more the community is embracing us."
As a nurse graduate, logan bucked the trend by opting to work in rural health in a region with daunting health-care disparities.
"When we graduate, a lot of nurses want to go into critical care, we want to see the fast-paced trauma and exciting stuff you get to see," she said. "But rural health to me offers different types of challenges. You have to get to know an entire community's health needs instead of just one patient."
Long-term, Logan says she would love to remain with the MDE project, and she would also like to work with undergrads.
"I love to help students see rural health and see community health as an option," she said.