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Begin With Connection  Caitlin Kickham

Caitlin Kickham '11, '13, M '19, the associate director of clinical operations for Clemson Rural Health, builds cross-cultural relationships to provide underserved populations with health care. See how the connections she makes with rural populations, statewide collaborators and national research entities improve quality of life for South Carolinians.

Trees shade an empty bench in front of a sun-drenched brick building Caitlin Kickham stands with hands in the pockets of her medical uniform under shade trees on a sunny day
Caitlin Kickham stands with her hands in the pockets of her medical uniform under shade trees on a sunny day
Caitlin Kickham sits in a backstage video area speaking to the camera. Caitlin Kickham sits in a backstage video area speaking to the camera.


Begin with South Carolina

Connecting patients to lifesaving care

Caitlin landed in Costa Rica as a language and international health student, ready to master the Spanish language and gain experience as an aspiring doctor for affluent communities. In this developing country, she lived an unexpected life — waking up before the sun, riding a bus for an hour, then walking for an hour to provide simple screenings and education to pregnant women and their families.

Caitlin sits on a concrete stoop with a child who is wearing a stethoscope. Caitlin points to the diaphram.
Caitlin and friend hold a tiger rag while standing in front of a large mountain.

“Despite having no money, they were able to survive, and they were happy,” she says. “‘Pura vida,’ or ‘pure/simple life,’ is their saying, and they loved their life. … When I came back, I had already decided that I no longer wanted to become a doctor and make a bunch of money, but I wanted to figure out what I could do here in our own state. I got involved with the Walhalla clinic so I could practice my Spanish, and my eyes opened to realize there are developing areas right here in Oconee County and in South Carolina.”


Mobile health unit patients
from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022

Top diagnoses:

  • Hypertension
  • High Cholesterol
  • Prediabetes
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Type 2 Diabetes

(Clemson Rural Health, 2022)

Rural health access across
South Carolina

Clemson Rural Health operates three brick-and-mortar clinics at strategic locations in South Carolina: Clemson, Walhalla and Orangeburg.

Meeting the medical
needs of our state

Seventy percent of areas designated as primary medical health professional shortage areas were considered rural or partially rural. (Council on Graduate Medical Education, 2022)

Reaching rural communities in South Carolina

From that point on, Caitlin’s career goal switched from the pursuit of money to the pursuit of meaning.

She was fully committed to serving South Carolina’s rural populations. She went on to earn her nurse practitioner degree so that she could provide care to rural patients on the mobile clinics, stayed on at Clemson as a wellness coordinator, and became director of the Clemson Rural Health outreach programs to build relationships across the state. Now, she serves as the associate director of clinical operations, conducting research and working toward her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree through Clemson.

“I love my job. I’ve always loved my job, and I’ve never wanted to work anywhere else because I have the opportunities to write grants and do research or teach students. I get to do something different every day, and it spurs the passion I have because there’s lots of people that need taking care of, and we get to do it.”

Two people entering the Clemson Rural Health mobile clinic.

On the Mobile Health Clinics, Caitlin is one of the nurse practitioners providing clinical service to more than 1,450 South Carolinians each year. Her goal, and Clemson Rural Health’s mission, is threefold:

1. Reduce preventable hospitalizations by providing routine health care touchpoints in rural communities. Bringing primary care to the community allows South Carolinians to manage ongoing conditions through outpatient care.

2. Reduce premature deaths, which are most often caused by drug overdoses, poorly managed chronic diseases and worksite accidents, by educating South Carolina’s citizens about how to work more safely and manage chronic conditions.

3. Improve healthy behavior so that South Carolinians can enjoy their lives.

Improving quality of life for South Carolinians

In mobile health clinics and three brick-and-mortar clinics across South Carolina, Caitlin writes prescriptions and connects patients with multilingual health care providers, dietitians for healthier eating, behavioral health clinicians for coaching, and therapy and wellness events for education about health and fitness.

“We want South Carolina’s citizens to have a quality of life,” she says. “What’s the point if we keep you out of the hospital and alive until you’re 75, but you still don’t feel good?” So, she focuses on the social determinants of health to serve patients in their physical, emotional and relational needs.

Caitlin Kickham consults with another health care professional in an exam room.
The Clemson Rural Health vehicle parked in front of the Walhalla Health Clinic.

Bringing cutting-edge research to rural patients

Clemson Rural Health, and Caitlin specifically, aims to bring cutting-edge research into rural communities so that patients and students can actively contribute to new treatments. This looks like offering patients the opportunity to participate in paid research trials, training nursing and pre-med students to assist with hepatitis C screenings, and sending teams of students to conduct surveys and provide educational opportunities across the state.

Connecting Clemson with 190 statewide collaborators

At present, Caitlin maintains relationships with 190 distinct entities in South Carolina to provide health care in local communities. These collaborators include faith-based organizations, local hospital systems, free clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers, food banks, Veggie RX, Foodshare, Foodhub, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and farms. Mobile Health Clinics park at these locations to administer primary care to seasonal workers, provide lifesaving screenings to women and connect patients with both the education and food they need to live healthy lives.

The Clemson Rural Health mobile clinics parked side by side.
Caitlin Kickham consults with another health care professional in an exam room.

Clinical experiences for students across South Carolina

Caitlin Kickham stands smiling in front of the Clemson Rural Health Mobile Clinic.

You might say Caitlin’s Clemson Journey comes full circle as she connects students in multiple majors, and from universities across the state, with opportunities to serve South Carolina’s citizens. She invites graduate students to conduct research with her and mentors them along the way. She recruits undergraduate volunteers and interns to serve as translators, take vital signs and assist with patient care on Mobile Health Clinics and in brick-and-mortar clinics. And she invites medical students from Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine and Prisma Health to partner with Clemson Rural Health, all with the hope that their experiences in the developing areas of South Carolina will open their eyes, like hers, to the abundant opportunities we have to serve our state with a Clemson education.

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