10 Questions With New UHS Director Micah Griffin

In the past year, Dr. Micah Griffin has undergone some of life’s biggest changes all while in the middle of a pandemic.

He’s moved to a new state, become a father for the first time, and taken up the role of Penn State University Health Service’s new director.

Griffin has spent more than a decade in leadership roles in college health enterprises. Most recently, he served as director of health programs at the City University of New York’s Kingsborough Community College. Prior to that, Griffin worked as the director of Student Health and Counseling Services at Alabama A&M.

Onward State virtually sat down with Griffin to talk about the importance of college health and his stances on pivotal issues like racial justice and mental health.

Onward State: What made you want to come to Penn State?

Micah Griffin: I think it was one: the opportunity. With Penn State being such a large university, serving such a large student population, I thought it was a great opportunity to influence the health outcome for these students and to be able to play a leadership role in how our ambulatory health care services work, but also support the larger conversation around health and well-being.

When I looked at what the student health center looked like here at Penn State from just the history of it to the size and scope and services offered, I thought it was a great opportunity to come and contribute my services here and help grow what we’re doing.

OS: How have your prior life and career experiences shaped your goals or vision surrounding health care?

MG: I started off my career in public health. If you know anything about public health, or for those who don’t, public health has a mission to actually improve the health of individuals and communities. When I decided to enter health care, I thought that was a great way to impact underserved or marginalized communities.

From there, I grew that into a career that impacted student health. A lot of times we don’t think about how student health is directly related to public health. But when you look at a college campus, it’s essentially a community. I love being able to connect with students because I feel like I’m young enough where I can still connect with students but old enough where I can bridge those gaps and have informed conversations with senior administrators to be able to advocate for student needs.

OS: What is your favorite part about working in health care specifically in a college atmosphere?

MG: I think college students are at a prime age where we aren’t dealing with chronic diseases for the most part because most college students are relatively healthy, so when you talk about delivering health services to a relatively healthy population, you have to be very strategic in how you talk about that.

I think a lot of times what is missed in college health is that we aren’t necessarily trying to change your specific behaviors right now, we’re just trying to instill better health-seeking behaviors. So that way, when you graduate and you get in your 30s, 40s, and 50s, you’re making more informed decisions then, so you prevent or lower your chances of seeing some of those diseases we see show up later in life.

OS: What does racial and economic equity in the world of health care mean to you?

MG: It means almost everything. I don’t think you can have a conversation about health outcomes without considering the role that racial justice, racial discrimination, and economic discrimination have played in health outcomes.

I think what we’re starting to see what COVID-19 has shown is just that — that COVID doesn’t discriminate, but some of our neighborhoods, communities, and states do. A lot of times, the environment structures where you live or the community you live in directly impact your health outcomes. That was prevalent or shown so much during COVID. I think it highlighted the racial and ethnic disparities we already knew were there, but I think it just heightened that.

I think it’s very important to not separate those two but to recognize that we have a history of racism in this country in a lot of communities. I think it’s important for not only providers and practitioners but also health care administrators and advocates to recognize those things and to create programs to combat that and close that disparity gap.

OS: What do you think is the biggest challenge that students are facing in the realm of health care?

MG: I think it goes back to…

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