A lifelong learner makes her parents proud and puts herself on track to become a hospital epidemiologist.

Posted by Tamara Chumley
Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Deborah Ellis
Deborah Ellis

Dr. Deborah Ellis is a lifelong learner. After earning two bachelor’s degrees, in chemistry and medical technology, she went to work in a clinical laboratory as a microbiologist and became interested in infectious diseases. Her interest in an advanced degree in public health led her to Walden, where she completed her M.S. in Public Health in 2008 and earlier this year earned her Ph.D. in Public Health with a specialization in Epidemiology.

Dr. Ellis is currently the director of laboratory services, infection control, and employee health at a Nevada hospital. She is responsible for the daily management of the on-site laboratory, contracts for reference laboratory services, and the hospital’s infection control and employee health program.

Spotlight on Walden asked Dr. Ellis about her motivation behind pursuing an advanced degree and how earning her Ph.D. has made a difference in her life and career.

Why did you decide to earn an advanced degree?

I always wanted to earn an advanced degree. Dr. Benjamin Carson, a role model of mine who at the age of 33 became the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said that “when pursuing your education, do not think about how long it will take, because you can do it as the time goes by, or don’t do it and watch the time go by.”

Putting the Ph.D. behind my name made me realize that I have the tenacity and knowledge to get where I am today. I feel that what I say now has a little more credence, especially when it comes to speaking with the doctors at my hospital. I am on track to become the hospital’s epidemiologist, a position traditionally held by physicians who specialize in infectious diseases.

Have you been able to apply what you learned at Walden in your profession?

Absolutely. One day I was in an executive leadership meeting for the hospital when they distributed statistical data to compare hospital process improvement standards. No one seemed to know how to read the statistical data, but this was an integral part of the coursework for my MSPH at Walden. I was able to walk everyone through the data and interpret exactly how the data was calculated, why the particular statistical model was used, and how we compared with what was being reported. That was the moment I realized that what I was learning had relevance and a very practical application to my job and the community that I serve.

Where has your motivation come from to be a lifelong learner?

My motivation came from my mom. She didn’t finish high school originally but that didn’t deter her from going back to night school and getting her high school diploma. I can remember my brother and sister and I sitting in the back of the classroom doing our homework while she was in class doing her work. My dad also didn’t have more than a high school education, but he did correspondence courses and trained himself. He passed away in March, but before he passed away, he was able to refer to me as Dr. Ellis. I saw a small smile go across his face when he said it—he knew I accomplished what I set out to do.

I hope that I am setting a similar example for my daughters. I don’t know if my accomplishments have yet registered with them, but I want them to know that success should not be feared. They will be joining me at commencement in August, and it’s one of the reasons I want to go. I want them to see how hard work pays off.

What would you tell Walden students who are just beginning their academic journey?

Be prepared to enjoy your learning and academic experience. If you can dream of your academic success, use Walden as the platform to get there. The knowledge you gain through Walden is invaluable. It has permeated all areas of my life.

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