Though it takes a bit of a walk to get from the residence halls to the Health and Counseling Center, UNC Asheville’s newest medical director, Dr. Martha McKay, makes students feel right at home. Her whole-health approach to care combined with her enthusiasm for students’ well-being makes McKay a perfect fit for the friendly and caring staff at the Health and Counseling Center.
As medical director, McKay oversees day-to-day operations at the Health and Counseling Center and works closely with students and faculty to ensure the residents of UNC Asheville get proper care.
Beginning with an early interest in science, McKay decided to transition to healthcare to communicate modern science on a more personal level. “It made sense to do primary care,” McKay explained, “where I get to link all these fantastic scientific discoveries with everyday situations. The people who know how to do amazing science don’t always have time to explain it. We need these brilliant folks out there doing research, but then someone has to explain it to the rest of us.”
Operating in a university setting exemplifies McKay’s school of thought. With undergraduate research taking place right here on campus, she gets to experience these discoveries first hand. As for UNC Asheville specifically, McKay says she was drawn here by the lure of the mountains. “In North Carolina, there’s a lot of old wisdom, which we link to the mountains. There are people here who have known about health in quiet ways, and it’s nice to bring their knowledge into the current day.”
Combining this “old wisdom” from the mountains with current research and technology is where McKay really shines. Her enthusiasm for the Health and Counseling Center’s newest technological innovation, the Student Health Portal, speaks to her drive and vision for the future of UNC Asheville.
“Because of the electronic health record, students get better care and we do a better job,” McKay said. “Anything that’s happened to somebody previous to coming to UNC Asheville or anything that happens off campus can get over to us through permission from the user. It’s quicker care, more easily accessible, and super private.”
Her fervor for technological and scientific advances combined with her whole-health approach to healthcare allows McKay to give students the care they deserve. “Everything impacts health,” McKay explained. “Finances, relationships, transportation, exercise, travel—all of that impacts your health. Looking at health as a whole, rather than picking and choosing what impacts your health and what doesn’t, makes more sense to me.”
McKay believes that the trust between students and healthcare professionals is of utmost importance. Looking forward, she aims to make sure “that everybody feels confident here—that they feel like they can seek help from any of our staff and feel confident that it was private, respected and well thought about.”
Confidentiality and trust are key components in McKay’s approach to healthcare. She holds the belief that proper healthcare is not only an ongoing effort, but a collaborative effort as well. “Just as you would with your fiscal health—you’d ask a banker or a financial consultant—you can ask your health providers for the same kind of assistance. You’re still in charge but you’re going to want some trusted advisors, and you can practice that in college. Building a collection of personal advisors that students can draw on is very important.”
Along with visiting the Health and Counseling Center—free of charge, as students pay a health services fee as part of their tuition and fees—students also have access to variety of programs and organizations on campus that can help them build that personal healthcare cabinet. Organizations like PEPAH (Peers Educating Peers and Advocating Health) give students the opportunity to promote a healthy lifestyle in all aspects of life, including mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and sexual wellness. Students are also encouraged to take advantage of the BULLDOG Health Link, an after-hours support line that allows students to speak one on with a licensed medical professional after the Health and Counseling center closes.
As for staying healthy in the modern world, McKay believes there is no one single answer. “Healthcare is always a journey. Common sense helps a lot and you have to be willing to try new things. You need to follow what works and what makes sense and then you’ll end up with a plan for yourself.”
Whether they’re seeking medical attention or just stopping by to say hello, McKay says students are always welcome in the Health and Counseling Center. “I’m happy to see students whenever they need help and I’m really just glad to be here.”
For more information on PEPAH please visit: https://healthandcounseling.unca.edu/pepah
To reach the BULLDOG Health Link, call 1-888-267-3675.
by Matt Dershowitz '20