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Janice Probst (HSPM) named 2016 NRHA Volunteer of the Year

May 18, 2016

Health Services Policy and Management (HSPM) Professor and South Carolina Rural Health Research Center Director Janice Probst has been named the 2016 Volunteer of the Year by the National Rural Health Association (NRHA). And the honor surprised no one but her.

Rural health has been the focus of Probst’s academic career, which began 25 years ago with her dissertation research into the effects of rural hospital closures. Her interest in rural health started early on during her doctoral studies at the Arnold School when she observed that rural populations, and particularly rural persons of color, experience significant disparities in health and access to health care and are markedly under-represented in the worlds of research and advocacy. “Rural health seemed like an appropriate area for someone with a public health mindset to dig in and start working," Probst says.  

In 2000, she contributed to the establishment of the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center, which she has helped lead ever since. During the past 25 years, Probst has received numerous grants, authored over a hundred publications and mentored countless students. She’s also picked up several awards for research and teaching excellence, including the Researcher of the Year Award from the South Carolina Rural Health Association, the Outstanding Researcher Award from NRHA, and the Arnold School’s James A. Keith Excellence in Teaching Award.

Dr. Probst’s infectious enthusiasm for rural health is effortlessly diffused through her teaching, research, and service.

-Amy Martin, MUSC

But still, she has found time and energy to dedicate to NRHA above and beyond her official role in the association as a member. Among her many contributions, some of her volunteer activities for NRHA include: reviewing research abstracts for Annual and Health Equity conferences, assisting with grant development  for the assessment of community health workers in rural communities, serving as a member of the Health Equity Council and on the editorial board for the Journal of Rural Health, participating in leading the NRHA Border Health initiative and the preparation of the NRHA’s annual Rural Philanthropy meeting, developing an NRHA policy statement on HIV, and promoting NRHA with students by encouraging their involvement at NRHA sessions. 

These are only Probst’s NRHA volunteer activities and do not include her volunteer work with S.C.-based rural health organizations. And yet, she is still modest about her contributions. “NRHA staff work with a lot of talented, dedicated and hard-working people across a year,” she says. “I’m humbled that they believe my contributions might be worth noting.” Probst’s colleagues and students, however, believe the award is well-deserved.

“Dr. Probst’s infectious enthusiasm for rural health is effortlessly diffused through her teaching, research, and service,” says Amy Martin, an associate professor in the College of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. “In addition to furthering rural health advocacy through science, she has directly influenced the professional purposes of literally hundreds of health professions students to include a strategic and compassionate prioritization of rural community health. This will be among her greatest legacies as a scientist, instructor and rural health advocate.”

Dr. Probst has a passion to serve the most vulnerable and at-risk people in our country, which she does by seeking out opportunities to illuminate their needs and giving them a national platform.

-Kevin Bennett, USC School of Medicine

Indeed, numerous current and previous students gratefully count Probst as one of the most important mentors they have had the privilege of working with during their public health education and careers—particularly in the area of rural health. “Dr. Probst has a passion to serve the most vulnerable and at-risk people in our country, which she does by seeking out opportunities to illuminate their needs and giving them a national platform,” says Kevin Bennett, a previous student who is now an associate professor in the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine and continues to work with Probst. “Without her work, there are many who would not have a voice in the national, state or local policy discussion.”

Probst was honored for her Volunteer of the Year Award on May 12 during the NRHA’s 39th Annual Rural Health Conference, which is the largest gathering of rural health professionals in the nation—according to the organization’s press release [pdf]. “We’re especially proud of this year’s winners,” NRHA CEO Alan Morgan said in the release. “They have each already made tremendous strides to advance rural health care, and we’re confident they will continue to help improve the lives of rural Americans.”