Faculty You Should Know: Michele Devlin

UNI professor Michele Devlin is all about hands-on application when it comes to her chosen field of health promotion.

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she also serves as the executive director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities, which works to address and reduce health disparities among minority, immigrant and medically underserved populations in Iowa. The center, which is located on the UNI campus, was created in 2003 when the university received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Since then, it has become one of the state's leading organizations on health equity issues.

Michele Devlin
In the summer of 2013, Devlin spent nearly three months on a deployment with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan as a non-combat supportive staff member.

"Iowa, as a rural state, has a significant number of counties that are medically underserved or facing provider shortages," said Devlin. "We also have percentage growth rates of immigrants and minorities that are among the largest in the country, so we are becoming extremely ethnically diverse as well in the state. For instance, we now have more than 180 languages spoken in Iowa. Many hospitals, clinics and schools are serving families from 40 to 50 different nationalities. Cross-cultural health is therefore becoming a major priority."

The Iowa Center on Health Disparities conducts work all across the state, and it is especially active in meatpacking towns and rural communities. Devlin's work allows her to meet with people in these communities, listen to their stories and help them with their challenges.

Although Devlin does a lot of work within the state, one of her greatest passions is public health work that addresses disparities internationally. In her 30 years of working in the public health field as a specialist in serving refugees displaced by conflict and disasters, she's had many opportunities to use her skills on a global scale, traveling to more than 50 countries.

Recently, Devlin had the opportunity to work abroad again, but in a slightly different setting than what she was used to.

In the summer of 2013, she spent nearly three months on a deployment with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan as a non-combat supportive staff member. Her background in working with displaced populations was crucial, as she spent a lot of time helping strategic planners better understand the needs and concerns of the Afghan people for the future of their country. She was also a health educator for hundreds of refugee women and children through coalition-sponsored outreach projects and served as a volunteer medical transport assistant for wounded soldiers.

"Serving in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army civilian was the most transformative and humbling experience of my life," said Devlin. "The deployment was very intense and fulfilling. I miss it very much and really enjoyed the opportunity to work with both the U.S. troops and the Afghan people."

After returning from her deployment to Afghanistan, Devlin is still traveling around the world to help those in need. In December 2013, as a doctor of public health, she spent a month working with the international Red Cross Emergency Response Unit. She was stationed in Tacloban, the epicenter of where a mega-typhoon and tsunami killed an estimated 7,000 civilians in the Philippines. Devlin assisted the Red Cross with logistics, relief distributions, community damage assessments and program evaluation. Devlin says it was definitely the most different Christmas she's ever had, but she loved every minute of the fulfilling work, despite the utter destruction and devastation there.

Devlin isn't the only one who gains experience from her time abroad. Her hands-on work, on a local, national and even global scale, benefits her students as well. Devlin is able to bring the knowledge she gains back to her classes at UNI. As the adviser for the UNI Global Health Corps, her experience helps her prepare a new generation of students to be leaders in addressing health disparities in their own communities and around the world.