PA Students awarded National Health Service Corps Scholarship for Rural Health Advocates

By Ellee Sidebottom
CHS Contributor

Jaley Caudill and Wes Wattenberger have been awarded the 2021 National Health Services Corps (NHSC) Scholarship for their passion and dedication for providing rural healthcare.

Jaley Caudill is currently a Physician Assistant student in UK’s PA program, class of 2023. She is originally from Whitesburg, Ky., located in Letcher County. She also attended UK for her undergraduate degree and was a Human Health Services major. She was also a CHS Peer Mentor and Ambassador during her time in undergrad. After falling in love with the College of Health Sciences, learning about the PA Program, and building a support system in Lexington, she decided to continue her academic journey where it started, at UK.

“The CHS and PA Program professors are kind and caring,” she explained. “They strive to build relationships and connections with their students while uplifting and supporting them. They genuinely care about our success, academically and personally.”

After being accepted into UK’s PA Program, she applied for the 2021 NHSC Program which awards scholarships to students pursuing eligible primary care health professions training. In return, the recipients commit to working as a provider in primary health services in health professional shortage areas. On Sept. 27, Caudill received an email that she was selected as a recipient.

“I was so surprised that I was selected but I am overwhelmed, joyous and so thankful,” she said. “I want to say a huge thank you to my family, friends and CHS family for their support. I also want to thank my advisors and mentors who wrote letters of support. They always believed in me and have been critical in my success.”

Caudill is a first-generation student and the first member of her family to receive her high school or college degree. Additionally, Caudill saw and experienced poverty and lack of healthcare access first-hand.

“I may not be able to singlehandedly change or impact the barriers that exist in my hometown, but I am going to try,” she said. “I want to make healthcare more accessible, strengthen the population’s health literacy, help educate on social determinates of health, and show empathy and kindness as a provider. The more that I can give to my town, the better.”

When asked if she had advice for any first-generation students, Caudill said, “It is possible. Anyone can do it — it will be hard, but you can do it.”

Finally, Caudill wanted to thank a few more people.

“I want to thank my Nan, who raised my siblings and I herself,” she said. “Without her and the sacrifices she made, I would not be where I am today.”

Wes Wattenberger is currently a PA student at the UK CHS Morehead Campus. He is originally from Winchester, Ky. He attended Morehead State University (MSU) for his undergraduate degree and was a Psychology major. After living and attending undergrad in Morehead, he decided to attend UK’s PA Program at the Morehead Campus, which was specifically created to accommodate individuals interested in enhancing medical care for rural Kentucky.

After being accepted in the PA Program, Wattenberger also applied for the 2021 NHSC Scholarship.

“After receiving the email that I was a recipient, I just felt a sigh of relief because this scholarship meant that I am financially supported while being able to pursue my goals and dreams,” he said.

Wattenberger, who is also a first-generation student, was raised in an environment where he did not know much about college or academia. Wattenberger explained how this impacted his journey so far.

“There is a skillset needed in healthcare and caring is a huge part of that,” he said. “I have gone through hardships and those will help me relate to patients and understand their communities better than other people may be able to do. Those hardships have also motivated me to further my academic career and work hard to pursue my goals.”

Wattenberger explained that his goal is to create a nonprofit in Eastern Kentucky or internationally to be able to serve people who may not have access otherwise.

A large motivating factor is his faith and mission work; he has a passion for applying the knowledge and skills he has learned in his academics directly to underserved populations.

“I have been part of missions in many countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Mexico,” he said. “I served on these missions because I cared and recognized a need that I could help meet. I am living for a purpose greater than myself. That motivates me to reach others where they are at either physically or spiritually.”

When asked if he had advice for students interested in becoming a PA, Wattenberger said, “Find your ‘why.’ Reflect on your goals and values to find out what motivates you. That will help you understand who you are as a provider and how you want to practice medicine.”

Finally, Wattenberger also wanted to thank a few people.

“I want to thank my mom and grandparents for showing me resilience and teaching me perseverance,” he said. “I also want to thank Bill Grimes for mentoring me and helping me gain experience through the New Hope Clinic. Finally, I want to thank Professor Shelley Irving, MSPAS, PA-C, and Professor Joshua Burkhart, MSPAS, PA-C, for their continued focus on rural health and their devotion to the program.”