Serving Global People in Rural South Carolina Communities

Caitlin Kickham builds cross-cultural connections to provide underserved populations with access to healthcare

Caitlin Kickham ’11, ’13, M ’19 is the Associate Director of Clinical Operations for Clemson Rural Health. As a bilingual, board-certified family nurse practitioner, she personally cares for patients across the state and while managing the University’s stationary health care facilities and mobile health units.

Currently, Clemson Rural Health has three physical central clinics and seven mobile health units (five full-size clinics and two vehicle units). His role includes overseeing clinical processes and procedures, staffing fixed and mobile clinics, developing and maintaining relationships with 190 associates across the state, and supervising students at these clinics.

Caitlin Kickham ’11, ’13, M ’19 oversees various clinical operations to meet the multicultural needs of South Carolina patients.

Supporting the Rural Health Mission in Clemson

Provision of clinical services

Clemson Rural Health’s clinical service delivery includes three tenants:

1. Reduce avoidable hospitalizations.

For people with chronic conditions and without access to primary care, conditions that can usually be treated by outpatient care result in hospitalization.

Caitlin’s work with collaborators to provide health care in rural communities provides routine points of contact with health care providers that enable South Carolina residents to manage their conditions without hospitalization.

2. Reduce premature deaths.

Any death before age 75 is considered premature. Most often, early deaths are due to drug overdoses, poorly managed chronic illnesses and construction accidents.

Caitlin works with mobile clinics to educate South Carolina citizens on how to work more safely and how to manage chronic illnesses.

3. Improve healthy behavior.

Through primary care, many citizens can reduce preventable hospitalizations and premature deaths. “We also want the citizens of South Carolina to have a quality of life,” says Caitlin.

What’s the point if we keep you out of the hospital and alive until you’re 75, but you still don’t feel well? We therefore also focus on the social determinants of health, such as connecting patients with dieticians for healthier eating and prescription production, and behavioral health clinicians for coaching and therapy.

Caitlin Kickham, Associate Director of Clinical Operations for Clemson Rural Health

One of Clemson's seven Tiger-branded mobile health units
Clemson’s mobile clinics help educate South Carolina citizens on how to work more safely and manage chronic illnesses.
A nurse wearing Clemson orange treats a patient inside a mobile health unit.
Rural Health Services serves patients across the state through its mobile health units.

Academic mission

The academic mission of Clemson Rural Health is to train future health professionals with the belief that giving students early exposure to rural health care will inspire them to graduate and then come back and serve their own rural communities.

Historically, this teaching mission has focused on Clemson students, but as Clemson Rural Health expands its footprint across the state, the academic mission is expanding to include other university, college, and high school students. Clemson Rural Health is already working with medical students from Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) and medical students from Prisma Health.

Rural health research

Clemson Rural Health, and Caitlin in particular, aim to bring research to rural communities. Their goal is to bring cutting-edge research to patients so they can actively participate.

“Most patients in rural areas don’t know there are research trials they can participate in,” says Caitlin. “They don’t know they can access these drugs or get paid to participate, so we want to bring in the research. These may be projects that our own team develops, but there will also be projects that our collaborators will develop and that we support. .”

In addition to clinical trials, Clemson Rural Health conducts research as a sponsored activity.

Hepatitis C research

Currently, one of Clemson Rural Health’s largest projects is supporting the World Health Organization’s Hepatitis C elimination goals by providing screening and treatment at managed mobile health units. by nurse practitioners. Historically, HCV patients are referred to infectious disease physicians for treatment, which usually means they are on a waiting list of months before receiving treatment.

“Our nurse practitioners are able to manage the disease through outpatient care, and we have secured funding to be able to care for uninsured people with HCV,” says Caitlin. “Thus, we are able to provide free testing and treatment in at-risk communities, including prescription assistance for ongoing care.”

In fiscal year 2022, 84 clinics traveled 3,776 miles to improve health equity, and HCV treatment was an important part of that work (Clemson Rural Health, 2022).

Link with 190 associates statewide

Clemson Rural Health’s 190 associates are separate entities that work with the University across the state to provide health care in their local communities. Currently, this includes faith-based organizations, local hospital systems, free clinics, federally licensed health centers, food banks, Veggie RX, Foodshare, Foodhub, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and farms.

Giving patients their best chance

Through the Best Chance Network, Clemson Rural Health partners with mammography facilities to provide comprehensive cancer screening in one location. Mobile health clinics park outside mammography facilities (or next to mobile mammography units) to provide free breast and cervical cancer screenings to women without insurance coverage so that they can receive comprehensive services in one place. This allows women to receive life-saving screenings free of charge and reduces women’s burdens, such as childcare coordination and travel time, required for annual checkups.

Expanding Clemson’s Rural Healthcare Footprint in South Carolina

In addition to increased student development through educational partnerships, Clemson Rural Health reaches underserved populations through three physical clinics in strategic locations across South Carolina.

The first location serves the Clemson community on the campus of the Joseph F. Sullivan Center. Opened in 1978, the Joseph F. Sullivan Center provides employee health and primary care services to the Clemson community.

The second site provides primary health care in Walhalla, South Carolina. This clinic is the largest primary care facility in Oconee County, and although Clemson Rural Health has served this location with mobile clinics since 2010, they will have a permanent presence with a physical clinic with the grand opening of the Walhalla Clinic on September 29, 2022.

The third physical clinic will be in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The University secured a lease in July and is on track to open the Orangeburg clinic in mid-October this year.

Driven by a life-changing experience

As demonstrated by the significant impact and scale of her professional endeavours, Caitlin Kickham finds not just a career, but a calling in rural health care. It’s a mission she began while pursuing her first undergraduate degree at Clemson, language and international health.

Traveling to care for rural populations in Costa Rica

“I studied Spanish and lived in Costa Rica,” says Caitlin. “Until that time, I thought I wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor to earn a lot of money. While living in Costa Rica, a developing country, I worked with l equivalent of home nurses, and every morning we would take a bus for an hour and then walk for an hour to get to a river where people lived in lean-tos with dirt floors and were happy as hell. clams! We provided simple screening and education to pregnant women and their families, and despite the fact that they had no money, they were able to survive and they were happy. ‘Pura vida’ or ‘life pure/simple’ is their saying, and they loved their life.

“…When I came back, I had already decided that I didn’t want to go that route anymore, but I wanted to figure out what I could do here in our own state. I got involved with the Walhalla Clinic so I could practice my Spanish, and my eyes opened to realize, ‘There are developing areas right here in Oconee County and South Carolina.’

Returning home to reach rural patients in South Carolina

From that point on, Caitlin became fully committed to serving the people of rural South Carolina. She then graduated as a nurse practitioner so she could provide care to rural patients in mobile clinics, remained at Clemson as a wellness coordinator, and became director of outreach programs for Clemson Rural Health to establish relationships across the state. She is currently the Associate Director of Clinical Operations, conducting research and working toward a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree through Clemson.

I love my work. I have always loved my job and never wanted to work anywhere else because I have the opportunity to write grant applications, do research, or teach students. I get to do something different every day, and that fuels my passion because there are a lot of people to take care of, and we have to.

Caitlin Kickham, Associate Director of Clinical Operations for Clemson Rural Health

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