School of Public Health

UNTHSC student, JPS Trauma Services find the perfect match


Published: July 11, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Practice Experience Jps1A UNT Health Science Center student found the perfect match and mentor when she was connected to JPS Health Network, Tarrant County, for her professional internship.

Now one year later, 2019 UNTHSC graduate Ashley Lamar, MPH, CPH, CHES, works full time in the department where she learned the ropes and contributed in a meaningful way toward community health while pursuing her degree.

As a Trauma Injury Prevention Specialist, Lamar works with Mary Ann Contreras, RN, Violence and Injury Prevention Manager, JPS Trauma Services.

Contreras served as her site supervisor over the last year and said she “nearly cried” when the internship was coming to an end.

The two hit it off so well, that when Contreras’ department was able to expand its role and fund a new employee, Lamar was the first candidate considered.

UNTHSC and JPS have worked together for years to help students gain real-world experience and give added perspective to their degree programs. The UNTHSC School of Public Health represents one such partnership.

The Public Health Practice Experience is part of the Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program that links students to community organizations fitting their areas of interest, where an opportunity exists to meet the needs of both.

It’s a learning experience for students and a way to bring their coursework to life. For partnering organizations, it’s a way to gain assistance and an added perspective to some of their most pressing public health challenges.

Through their roles at JPS, Contreras and Lamar focus on prevention, a major component of healthcare today.

“As a Level I Trauma Center accredited by the American College of Surgeons, we have seen an important trend over recent years, to view healthcare through a wider public health lens,” Contreras said. “In looking at what can cause injury and how to help people prevent it, factors like environment, behavior, policy and education are all key.”

As a member of UNTHSC’s Academic-Community Partnerships Advisory Board, Contreras expressed an interest in mentoring a student to begin the match process.

As she completed a survey, Lamar and fellow students were completing a questionnaire of their own.

The next step involved speed interviews, where potential matches met on the UNTHSC campus. Through various 15-minute conversations, students and organizations learned about each other and scored their preferred choices.

“My top pick was Mary Ann,” Lamar said.

Contreras’ top pick was Lamar.

A match was made.

From there came the onboarding process, including orientations on both sides to get students ready for work, with badges, pre-employment requirements, trainings, goals and guidelines for supervisors, an assigned UNTHSC faculty advisor and other tools to support the match over a full year, from May through the following April.

Being able to work with a student for that long, Contreras said, was of real benefit and enabled the pair to accomplish more than just a single semester’s work. In all, UNTHSC public health students log about 600 hours by the time their internships are completed.

Lamar’s work analyzing crime data on community violence within high-risk Tarrant County zip codes led to focus group meetings and, ultimately, recommendations for prevention.

“As Ashley grew in her role, I was also able to take on more in mine,” Contreras said.

For the nurse manager with a longtime career in trauma services, the combination of her background and the enthusiastic, public health mindset Lamar brought to the job has worked well.

Over the coming year, UNTHSC public health students and other organizations around and beyond Texas will benefit from similar matches, to help students prepare for their futures and find healthy solutions for the communities they serve.

While students have the option of finding their own match, Lamar said she’s happy for the process that led her to Contreras and JPS.

“We didn’t have to go far to find each other,” Lamar said. “Mary Ann is the best boss I could have asked for, and I’m grateful to be a part of the work JPS is doing.”

When a connection is right, it’s right, and it spurs even greater opportunities.

For next year, Contreras and Lamar will share what they’ve learned and go one step further, with another new UNTHSC intern.