Student News

College of Public Health master's graduate finds resilience amid grief

Victoria Hamilton
Victoria Hamilton graduated with a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Kentucky's College of Public Health. Photo provided by Jonathan Greene

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 15, 2024) — Victoria Hamilton’s world was turned upside down with the sudden loss of her grandfather in August of 2023, just a month before she was to start her final year in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the University of Kentucky. The overwhelming weight of grief made the upcoming year of the graduate program seem nearly impossible. Yet, the familiar routine and support of her College of Public Health mentors, professors, and classmates helped her successfully navigate the most challenging year of her life.

Victoria grew up in the small town of Springfield, Kentucky. In 2017, she moved to Lexington to study biology on a pre-med track at the University of Kentucky, hoping to become a physician. However, she soon found a passion for public health, leading her to complete her bachelor's degree in public health and begin the master’s program in the fall of 2021.

Only a month after losing her grandfather, Victoria dreaded returning to her classes and attempting to carry on with normal life.

“Honestly, it was overwhelming for the first few weeks,” she said.

Victoria soon found solace in the familiarity of her studies. Attending classes, completing assignments and meeting with professors helped her regain a sense of control and stability, she said. The studious environment became a source of healing, providing her with structure and support.

Navigating Rough Waters

Victoria used several coping strategies to manage her academic workload while dealing with her loss. She knew that self-care had to come first, so she took time to rest and refuel when she felt overwhelmed. She also set small, achievable goals to maintain a sense of progress.

“Sometimes that would only be writing one sentence on a paper or doing one load of laundry," she said.

This strategy helped her navigate the emotional turmoil without becoming overwhelmed.

Gradually, as she settled into her routine, Victoria began to take on more responsibilities. Her resilience was further strengthened by her CPH professors.

"I was very lucky to have wonderful professors and mentors in this program," she said. "Dr. Sarah Cprek and Dr. Jay Christian provided me with skills and experiences that surpassed the classroom. I truly believe their support made all the difference."

Reflecting on her experience, Victoria expresses gratitude for the supportive environment at CPH.

"Dr. Cprek once told me that a master's degree is essentially documentation of one's endurance," she said. "That perspective helped me navigate the many emotionally taxing events I faced throughout my master's program."

Silver Linings

“Experiencing hardship in your personal life is guaranteed. I believe the ability to adapt in those situations is learned,” she said.

Victoria's hardship has helped shape her outlook on success and resilience. She said she believes that experiencing adversity is key to understanding success.

“Real success doesn't stem from title or wealth; it's about achieving your goals despite challenges," she said.

This mindset has prepared her for a career in public health where adaptability is crucial.

Victoria’s advice to other students facing similar challenges is to take things one day at a time and utilize the support systems available at the university. She said students should use the resources around them, especially their professors and faculty.

“CPH has been a great place to develop my academic and professional skills, but it has also been a great place to learn about myself. I am thankful for my time here,” she said.

After graduation, Victoria plans to continue her work as a data quality analyst for the Kentucky Immunization Registry at the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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