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Arnold School of Public Health

Alumnus Nathaniel Patterson mixes practice and research for a well-rounded career in public health

August 8, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, 

Too often, students from all disciplines believe they have to choose between a life of practice or a life of scholarship for their careers, and that simply isn’t true—especially at the University of South Carolina where graduate students in particular are prepared to engage in all aspects of their fields. Many Arnold School graduates achieve careers with a blend of research, practice, teaching, and service. Nathaniel Patterson, a two-time alumnus of the Department of Health Services and Policy Management (HSPM), is doing all of it. 

Patterson majored in physical education and health promotion as an undergraduate at the College of Charleston and then earned his certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT) the following year. At that point, he moved right into the Master of Health Administration (MHA) program within the HSPM department. Then he began working on a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree while working full-time as a program manager on a multi-million dollar grant within the Arnold School.

Part way through his doctoral program, Patterson was recruited to join the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) where he has served in project, policy and program director roles related to service delivery models of care and statewide health services programs and policies. In his present position, Patterson is responsible for the development of Medicaid program policies, Managed Care Contracts, and the advancement of public-private stakeholder engagement and collaboration efforts linked to the DHHS’ Coordinated and Integrated Care programs.

His role at DHHS has allowed him to gain insight and learn how researchers and policymakers can co-produce policy and research. It has other benefits as well. “I joined DHHS for three very simple reasons,” he says. “One of them is that it has allowed me to become directly involved in improving the system of care for all of us. Another is that the scope of work somehow magically aligned with my vision of what policymaking should be for public health practitioners…you’re ‘on-the-ground’ or ‘in-the-trenches’ every day solving problems with all types of stakeholders. And the third reason is the the potential for mentorship from some very qualified and impressively accomplished professionals like Sam Waldrep, Roy Smith, Brenda Hyleman and Roy Hess.”

Throughout his career, Patterson has engaged in teaching and scholarship in addition to his practice roles. Currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the HSPM department, he teaches courses in Health Politics (HSPM 711) and Health Planning (HSPM 718). He also continues to engage in scientific research, publishing on topics ranging from citizen perspectives on preparedness to food contamination, and he serves in a variety of workgroups and committees (e.g., Healthy Outcomes Plan, Integrated Care Workgroup, Long-Term Care Task Force Service Delivery Committee).

Earlier this year, Patterson presented a workshop on Medicare and Medicaid integration at the World Congress Summit on Managed Long Term Services and Supports. This summer, he provided an invited talk on the impact that collaboration has on strategies and operational outcomes at the Population Health for Medicaid, Medicare & Duals National Forum. At the 2016 Academy Health Research Meeting, in collaboration with other USC faculty, he shared posters on high-charge use and overall use patterns among dual eligible beneficiaries in emergency departments. Why does he do it?

“There is a constant demand for legitimate and relevant scientific information and a limited supply of resources available to help us identify that information and make meaningful use of it,” says Patterson. “Policymakers and researchers must have a strong partnership so evidence can influence policy in a positive and objective way. Teaching allows me to preserve that connection with research as well; it affords me the opportunity to share my experiences with the next generation of policymakers, and it promotes integrity and objectivity towards policymaking.” 

Patterson credits his mentors, HSPM Professor Janice Probst, S.C. Institute of Medicine and Public Health Director of Operations Lee Pearson, and Political Science Professor Mark Tompkins, for inspiring him to be a better person and serve his community. He has advice for current and future students as well.

Whether graduates choose a predominately academic- or a predominantly practice-focused career, Patterson believes that all public health graduates can continue to engage in the various aspects of their fields in some capacity after graduation. “Get out there and talk to your political representatives and policymakers,” he recommends to current and prospective students—particularly those in HSPM. “Most of us don’t realize how much influence we truly have as citizens and public health practitioners. You can’t be lazy or timid and fail to expose yourself to the political, economic, and social forces that influence today’s healthcare system—specifically at the local-level. Also, don’t fail to equip yourself with a range of professional skills—the essentials and those near at hand. Adapt and stay relevant!”


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