The incredible story behind Doctor Hutchison's tough, yet enjoyable, journey to a PhD in Health Services Research.
In 1998, Jenny Hutchison had just moved to Charlotte, North Carolina with her family. After graduating from business school an impressive five years after starting in an undergraduate program at the University of Rochester, she picked up a job in New York City working in sales on Wall Street. Now, after moving to Charlotte, she found herself in a new job, one she just didn’t love as much. As Dr. Hutchison put it in an interview with The Charger, “I found that I wasn’t really very happy with what I was doing; I really liked being in sales when I was in New York, but I didn’t love being on the buy-side, and I thought, 'I could be home with my kids instead of doing this.'” After careful thought, she decided it was time to quit her job and move on to bigger and better things--her kids. Little did she know that this was the first step she would take towards getting a PhD in health services research at the ripe age of 50.
Hutchison and her husband Neil after graduation. Photo courtesy of Annette Giardino
Dr. Hutchison says that she found herself not as intellectually challenged on a daily basis as she would have liked to be; as she put it, “I loved staying home and taking care of kids, but it wasn’t entirely intellectually challenging, and as they grew up, I found that I needed a new challenge in my life.” So she began to explore opportunities with the sole idea in her mind that, as she took the next step in her life, she wanted to use her skill set to help people. Dr. Hutchison was not set on going back to school from the start; her first thought was to use her background in finance to help people who don't know how to manage their money. However, after talking with many different people, especially some representatives at UNC-Charlotte, she felt encouraged to take a completely different route, one that she had never thought of before—public health.
“You kind of have more of an appreciation for learning when you’re older because you aren’t forced to do it like when you are younger.”
First, Dr. Hutchison started with a certificate program; she took masters level classes that helped her ease back into school. Interestingly enough, Dr. Hutchison said that originally she did not plan on getting her doctorate. She felt that it would be too daunting of a task, especially thinking about having to write a lengthy paper at the end. Writing is the part that she says she had the hardest time with; she remembers simply struggling to write a single paragraph that was assigned to her early in her process. Aside from the schoolwork, Dr. Hutchison had the usual first day jitters. She remembers thinking that she thought she would be the oldest one in the group but was pleasantly surprised when she found that the group was fairly mixed in age. The early years of school proved to not be as daunting as Dr. Hutchison thought they would be; she says, “you kind of have more of an appreciation for learning when you’re older because you aren’t forced to do it like when you are younger.”
Hutchison and her academic advisor. Photo courtesy of Neil Giardino
After getting over her fear of writing, Dr. Hutchison settled into school and started working on research with her professors. She mainly worked in low-income clinics looking at the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle and its correlation to high blood pressure. She also looked at comparisons between free clinics and federally supported clinics. Dr. Hutchison says that she found it fascinating how the free clinics are forced to focus on more preventative measures because they don’t have the resources to treat illnesses once they have already happened.
Now out of school and the owner of a brand new PhD in health services research, Dr. Hutchison’s plate is still full. She is working on a few different things, the first of which is publishing one of her articles which she does in her free time. She also holds two other part-time jobs, the first of which she actually started working on while she was still in school. This job involves working on a project that looks at the idea of a “structured recess” which hopes to keep kids in public schools throughout the county healthier. Her second job, which anyone can tell is her favorite just by discussing it with her, consists of working with one of her former professors on a citywide project to house the chronically homeless. Dr. Hutchison loves that she gets to combine the factors of working with and meeting new people from all different corporations around the city--Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and some select community organizations just to name a few--while also getting to work with data numbers and statistics which she says are more her style.
When asked about what her future plans are with her new title, Dr. Hutchison says that she simply does not know. She says, “I know I am on a path, I’m just not really sure what that path is.” Her housing project just got extended another year, so she knows that she is committed to that for at least another year and a half. However, other than that, the only stipulation she has for her future is that she would love to continue to work part-time. She says that she has learned through this whole process that it is hard to know what you want, even five years ahead.
Hutchison and her daughter Annette after graduation. Photo courtesy of Neil Giardino
Hutchison never saw herself going back to school. She doesn’t know if it was because she really loved what she was doing in banking or maybe it was just that she wasn’t thinking that far ahead. However when asked if she was happy with her decision and the turn her life has recently taken, she answers back with an undoubted yes. She says, “it was hard at times, but it helped me grow and I think there is value in stepping outside of your box and making yourself uncomfortable.” Although she was doubtful at the beginning that she would end this whole process with a PhD, it’s no surprise to anyone who can tell two things from spending about 10 minutes with Dr. Jenny Hutchison: one, it is not uncommon for her to not only meet, but exceed her goals, and two, she is absolutely ecstatic about the new journey she has started.