Julia Z. Miller '73

Protecting Public Health,
One Patient at a Time

 

Julia Z. Miller BSN ’73, a public health nurse and administrator in rural West Virginia, insists on going by Julie, a lack of pretense that belies her long history of healthcare leadership.

 

 

Miller, who grew up on Long Island, moved to West Virginia right after graduating from D’Youville to work across the Kentucky border as a hospital nurse. She first discovered public health as a consultant for West Virginia county public health departments. Nearly four decades later, she lives in Williamson, West Virginia, and works in neighboring Boone County, a former coal-mining region battling serious chronic and acute health issues including opioid addiction, diabetes, and lung disease.

 

As a busy public health administrator for Boone County, Miller balances tight budgets, writes grant applications and constantly reshuffles her staff to best serve the county’s 21,547 residents. She notes that number down to the last person because public health, she says, is about reaching everyone.

 

“We are members of your community,” says Miller, who credits D’Youville for instilling a cooperative, close-knit culture during her undergraduate years. “I don’t live in the county where I work, but I know exactly what’s going on. We pray with people on the phone about their relative on a ventilator. Folks yell across street to me about their test results. I try to foster that one-on-one contact to affect the entire family, not just the patient.”

 

In addition to her administrative role, Miller is one of only two nurse practitioners staffing Boone County’s health clinics. “We do well-child checks, STD screening, women’s health, immunization and much more,” she says. “We try to educate about diet and health, and about the pandemic, but it’s challenging with our small department. We get out there at festivals, on weekends, handing out pamphlets. We have done a lot of flu shots.”

 

More shots are coming as Miller prepares for the COVID-19 vaccine. With a strained state public health budget and a staff of three during the first five months of the pandemic, Miller says, “stress is getting to a lot of us.” Grants and other funding eventually let her hire another nurse, a part-time environmental clerk, a full-time sanitarian, and another part-time sanitarian. The team helps respond to COVID outbreaks and also handles the county’s ongoing health needs.

 

“First responders say they’re going to come to us for the vaccine, which makes me feel good,” she says.

 

Recognized for her dedication, Miller was named 2013’s West Virginia Public Health Nurse of the Year by the West Virginia Public Health Association and is the organization’s president-elect. Previously, she served three times as head of another West Virginia organization representing the state’s 48 local public health departments.

 

Her education also armed Miller with a determination to advocate for herself and her work. She says her time at D’Youville, which was then an all-women’s college, “showed me I can do just as much as anyone else. It’s an important thing, not to let yourself feel like a little old woman and get pushed around.”

 

Miller has supported D’Youville for an impressive 41 consecutive years. “I give because somebody helped me get the college’s aid, and I want to do the same for someone else.” Her career is proof that public health can be a good profession for diverse fields, including education, environmental studies, nursing and teaching.

 

Although many public health workers are out on the front lines, as Miller puts it, “if you don’t hear about us, that’s a good thing.” Her story, however, illustrates the impact public health efforts have on a community’s well-being, one patient at a time.

 

By Lauren Newkirk Maynard