Deborah L. Jones MA '15
Columbus, IN


Director, Health Advocacy Program

E-mail Bridget


What prompted you to pursue a graduate degree?

In 1985, I signed up for some chemistry and biology refresher classes preparatory to applying for medical school; I had been out of college for more than a decade at that point. But life impinges, and I never did apply. For the next 26 years—through careers in broadcast journalism and corporate communications—I harbored a desire for a role somehow associated with health care. I searched the web and found the Health Advocacy Program at Sarah Lawrence. It would be another two years before I applied. In fall of 2013, I was a first year Health Advocacy student, having retired from my corporate job in Indiana. In short, it’s never too late.

How did graduate school fit into your life at the time?

I was fortunate to be able to live initially with my sister in Brooklyn, then rent my own apartment in Yonkers, while my spouse maintained our house in Columbus, Indiana. Because of the high probability that I would find a job in yet another locale, he passed on the idea of moving twice in two years! Consequently, I could study full-time. I was always impressed by members of my cohort who held jobs while they completed the program. Fitting it into a busy life requires a commitment from nearly everyone in the student’s life, but the program is flexible, allowing students to complete the degree on a part-time basis.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence College for your graduate studies?

Sarah Lawrence had, at the time I started my research, the only master’s program specifically in health advocacy. And it remains the only one with a broad definition of health advocacy, supporting a field that ranges from individual patient representation to national health policy.

What role did the Sarah Lawrence faculty play in your time here?

What stood out in bold relief among faculty members was enthusiasm. The professors’ belief in what they were contributing to a well-rounded understanding of advocacy was a revelation and a pleasure for me to absorb.  Consequently, I held myself to a high standard in order to match their commitment.

What experience as a Health Advocacy student had the greatest impact on you?

My most memorable experience is in two related parts: first, there was the syllabus in History of Health Care in America; second was the final history paper that led to an invitation to present at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM). The syllabus was a bit daunting at first glance, especially for someone who had been out of college for more than 40 years. But the readings and lectures were so interesting that the final assignment, a 30-page paper, turned into an exhilarating quest centered in the Rose Reading Room at the Stephen Schwarzman Building in Manhattan. Professor Rebecca Johnson asked several of us to submit our finished papers to the New York Academy of Medicine for possible inclusion in their annual History Night. NYAM was so impressed that it created a second night specifically to feature student work. In all, four of us, including Professor Johnson, were invited to present. Subsequent cohorts have also achieved this honor, establishing the Health Advocacy program as a source of excellence.

What is life like as a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence?

The answer to this question lies in the nature of my particular cohort. At the start of the two years, we ranged in age from 21 to 64; three of us out of an initial 14 were 55 or older. There were no men. In spite of, maybe because of, the differences in age, place of origin, professional and personal experience, family dynamic, and every other human dimension, we coalesced into a mutually respectful and supportive group almost immediately. We wanted to learn from each other as we explored health advocacy together. We shared ideas about where to find fieldwork experiences and capstone topics; we laughed and cried (everyone cries in Narratives class) together; complained about the workload even as we did the work. From what the professors and staff said, we did that work exceptionally well. I feel fortunate to have been a part of such a gathering of strong, smart women.

What impact did the proximity of New York City have on your experience?

The proximity to New York City meant more time with my relatives who live in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Since my home is in Indiana, it was great to hang with my family. I am originally from Massachusetts and have been going in and out of NYC and its environs with family and friends all my life. With a longer stay of two years during the program, I was able to do a few “touristy” things I had not done before. My favorite places? The aforementioned Rose Reading Room and the High Line.

What advice can you offer to prospective graduate students?

Prepare to be amazed at the amount of work you can handle successfully and at the help you can get if you are struggling.

What is the strongest attribute of Sarah Lawrence's Health Advocacy program?

The Health Advocacy program's strongest attribute is the breadth of the curriculum. It is a professional program, geared to the acquisition of specific skills, but the program does not neglect the theoretical or the philosophical. The Ethics and Advocacy class delves into ethical issues in a way that makes you explore deeply your own values and beliefs. Health Law gives students the tools to understand the origin and evolution of seminal cases, the adjudication of which still shapes how health care in the U.S. is delivered today. The Health Advocacy program opens your mind to the breadth of choice in a health advocacy career.

What are you up to now?

Sometimes you have to make choices when the theoretical becomes the personal. I am now working on issues of end of life care planning through a local (Indiana) institute focused on aging and through Sarah Lawrence’s new professional certification program. I never imagined that I would move in this direction, but that is the surprise of the Health Advocacy Program.