Student views nursing through the lens of public health

Karelle Webb; nursing student

“It’s not just about the patient, it’s about their family, community, where they live and go to school,” Karelle Webb says. “That’s what really shapes health.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin


Karelle Webb, who plans a career in nursing, took a big step toward that goal when she attended the prestigious Columbia University Summer Public Health Scholars Program.

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the intensive 10-week program started with a weeklong orientation at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, then moved to New York City.

Webb was one of 42 students from 41 schools (Oklahoma State University had two), all juniors, seniors or recent graduates. They were taught three courses: introduction to public health, health disparities and epidemiology.

Instruction was by the faculty of the Mailman School of Public Health, partners in the program along with Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, College of Dental Medicine and School of Nursing. “It’s the fifth in the nation,” said Webb, a senior in nursing. “It’s an incredible, incredible school.”

Each student was paired with a mentor at sites across New York City. She was an active living intern with the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“It was all about the built environment’s impacts on health outcomes — the places in which we live, work and play, Webb said. “We got to see how the Department of Health focuses on schools, for example, increasing the number of water fountains — some of the schools in New York have none.” School playgrounds were open on weekends because many local parks are not safe.

The summer program “is by far one of the best opportunities of my life,” Webb said. “It helped me to grow in significant ways. I am more aware of issues of social injustice and how this impacts health outcomes.

“This program helped to further shape my career plan; I am confident that public health will always be a large part of my career. Simply, this program changed my life. Beyond learning in the classroom and my internship, I had the honor of learning from 41 fantastic peers from all backgrounds.”


Enjoying the challenges of the Honors College

At UIC, Webb is in the Honors College. “It’s a wonderful support program for students,” she said. “Honors core classes are challenging, and you network with other Honors College students.”

They do independent research with a professor — “anything that we like to support our professional and academic growth.”

As an honors ambassador, she mentors 10 students. “I give them advice on assimilating in college, and tips on how to do well in classes, network with professors and social activities at UIC — basketball, clubs,” Webb said.

“One activity I really support is the Peer Health Exchange. It’s a great program where we teach students to go into Chicago Public Schools high schools and teach freshmen about health topics such as safe sex, drugs and alcohol, and nutrition and physical activity.” As a leadership council member for the program, Webb trained and led six peers to teach a workshop on abusive relationships.

The summer after her freshman year she was an orientation leader for the Honors College. “It was the best thing ever,” she said. “I really loved it. It was a great way to tell students how I love UIC and give them ideas for how they can really create a home here.”

Her enthusiasm was noticed. Webb won the Student Orientation Leader of the Year Award. She also won the President’s Award Program Honors scholarship given to incoming Honors College freshmen, the Chancellor’s Student Service Award and the National Residence Hall Honorary Student of the Month award. This year she is president of the College of Nursing Student Council.

“My first interest was in being a medical doctor,” Webb said. “Then I thought about the role I really wanted in the patient’s care, and realized nursing is a better fit for me.”

Born in Jamaica, she came to this country at age 5. She grew up in the suburbs and has made her home in Aurora for the past 13 years. “Coming to UIC was a big transition, but I love the urban environment,” she said. “It’s the best way to learn.”

After graduation, Webb plans to work as a hospital nurse “to get some experience — hopefully in pediatrics, one of my favorite areas,” she said.

Her goals are a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in nursing practice. Webb is interested in bringing together public health and nursing.

“It’s not just about the patient, it’s about their family, community, where they live and go to school,” she said. “That’s what really shapes health.”

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