When Justin Kelley was 16, he became a lifeguard at his hometown YMCA. He never dreamed that lifeguarding would lead him to medical school.
“I wanted a job, and I thought being a lifeguard was cool,” said Kelley, a fourth-year medical student at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. “Lifeguarding was rewarding, exciting and full of responsibility.”
At 17, he became a lifeguarding instructor. “I found something that filled my life with purpose and meaning,” said Kelley, who is from Washington Court House, Ohio. “My work as a lifeguard and instructing health and safety courses for the American Red Cross led me to medicine.”
After graduating from high school, Kelley attended Wright State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences in 2013. He enjoyed studying biology and participating in the University Honors Program, where he was a University Honors Scholar. During his undergraduate thesis project, he learned about the M.D./M.P.H. dual-degree program at Wright State.
“When I explored the Master of Public Health degree, it seemed like a perfect fit,” Kelley said. “In lifeguarding, the focus is on prevention. You strive to prevent drownings and injuries. I was already in public health. I knew I had to pursue the M.D./M.P.H. dual degree.”
Through his undergraduate courses, he learned about the Boonshoft School of Medicine and took a few classes in White Hall.
“The Boonshoft School of Medicine professors also taught some of my undergraduate courses,” he said. “I thought they were excellent teachers.”
He applied to the Boonshoft School of Medicine.
“I was happy and excited to be accepted to the Boonshoft School of Medicine,” Kelley said. “I feel I have benefited from connections and opportunities at the Boonshoft School of Medicine that I would not have had at other schools.”
Scholarships have eased the burden of paying for his undergraduate and medical education. He is the first person in his family to pursue a medical degree. His mother and stepfather are small business owners.
“Neither my family nor I have the resources to pay for medical school, let alone a dual-degree,” Kelley said. “I am grateful for the scholarships I have received throughout my years as an undergraduate student at Wright State and now as a medical student at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.”
After his first two years of medical school, Kelley took a year to earn his M.P.H. degree through the Physician Leadership Development Program (PLDP), a dual-degree program in which medical students obtain a master’s degree in public health or business while pursuing their medical degree over five years.
As part of his M.P.H. experience, Kelley worked closely with local and state public health professionals on reducing the diabetes burden in the Dayton area. He developed a continuing medical education activity for physicians to increase referral to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Diabetes Prevention Program. He also was inducted into the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health. He continues to work in public health as a member of the Clinical Health Section Committee of the Ohio Public Health Association.
“My ultimate life goal is to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Kelley said. “I believe that my involvement with the PLDP and work in public health training taught me leadership skills and gave me extensive experience in planning programs and systems thinking that will serve me well as I pursue a medical career in health policy and management.”
During his M.P.H. year, he promoted LGBTQA health as president of Boonshoft Pride. He partnered with university and community advisory boards, created a human sexuality curriculum for the second-year reproduction course and presented a poster on improving sexual health competency at the Ohio Public Health Combined Conference.
“I have worked to integrate my clinical and public health knowledge to address health disparities and improve health statuses of all individuals,” Kelley said.
Kelley has started his fourth year of medical school and will graduate in May 2018. He plans to apply for a residency in pathology.
“Pathology combines my interests and preferences, including problem solving, analytical thinking and collaboration,” he said.
However, public health will be a fundamental part of his profession.
“As a physician, you are limited to the patients under your care,” he said. “As a public health professional, you impact the lives of the entire population and future generations.”
Kelley believes public health is where he can do the most good.
“I want to keep the population healthy and well, prevent illnesses and injuries, and enable healthy lifestyles,” he said. “The Physician Leadership Development Program, the Boonshoft School of Medicine and the scholarships have enabled my journey.”