Communications graduate Lucy Covington parlays internship into job with College of Optometry

by | Feb 7, 2022

UMSL Eye Care Credentialing and Outreach Specialist Lucy Covington began working with the College of Optometry as a student intern focused on social media outreach.
Lucy Covington

Lucy Covington, UMSL Eye Care credentialing and outreach specialist, started with the UMSL College of Optometry as an intern fulfilling a requirement for her Communication and Media BA. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Finding an internship was wearing on Lucy Covington.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis student couldn’t take just any position – she needed one with a health care focus to fulfil the requirements of her health communication certificate as well as her BA requirements.

“I was looking and looking, and I was applying and getting interviews,” Covington said. “It was an unfortunate time with the pandemic. It was really soul-crushing to constantly either get ignored or get told that they’re pushing off interns or get rejected overall.”

Covington leaned on resources available to her as a Department of Communication and Media student. She consulted with Associate Professor Stephanie Van Stee, director of the certificate program, and Assistant Teaching Professor Ryan Krull, coordinator of the internship program, who suggested that Covington reach out to the UMSL College of Optometry.

She took Krull’s advice, landing an internship with UMSL Eye Care. That opportunity turned into another, and Covington joined the college as a full-time employee in January after graduating in December.

“I was so relieved that I was going straight from graduating to having a job in a field where I wanted to have a job,” she said.

Covington’s interest in health communication started early – her mom’s work as an oncology nurse at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital – and she thought about becoming a doctor. But listening to her mother’s stories of her workday, Covington eventually realized that working directly with patients would be too emotionally draining.

Unsure of her career path and desiring to continue to live at home to help take care of one of her sisters, Grace, who has autism and is nonverbal, Covington started school at St. Charles Community College. She then transferred to UMSL on the advice of her mother and brother, a fellow UMSL student, drawn by the affordable tuition.

While at UMSL, Covington discovered health communication.

“I knew that if I couldn’t work in medicine in the way that I thought that I wanted to, that I would do something in English,” she said. “I didn’t want to do the creative part of English, even though that would be really nice. I didn’t think it would be a tangible way of living, especially with other obstacles that I had in my life.

“I actually Googled the highest paying English job, and communications was at the top, and I realized that I really liked the idea of that.”

Covington realized that she could combine her interest in health care with communication. As she dove into classes, she opted to take health communications courses and work toward the certificate but also to work on health care issues, when possible, in the other communication offerings.

When Covington reached out to the College of Optometry about a possible internship, she was able to synergize what she’d learned in all her classes with what the college needed. She showed up for her interview with UMSL Eye Care Assistant Director of Clinical Operations Angel Forsha with a plan.

“I had a content calendar in hand, and my ideas were already laid out,” Covington said. “I told her that I had looked at the platforms, how they were before I had started the position, and they looked for lack of better words, a little dry. I basically told her that you have this many followers on all these platforms, and they’re not being reached ever. You’re missing a really great tool that you could use to let people know about UMSL Eye Care.”

That plan sold Forsha on Covington.

For the semester of her internship, Covington ran UMSL Eye Care’s social media platforms, trying various techniques to engage followers and bring attention to the clinic.

A conversation with her brother, who thought UMSL Eye Care was entirely student run, spurred Covington to think about what potential patients might want to know. In response, she developed Physician Friday.

“Every Friday, I would highlight one of the physicians that we have here in the clinic to introduce them to the audiences,” she said. “I tried to highlight who they were as an optometrist, what their role was in the clinic and then what their role was in the community. It was so people would know there were doctors here, not only students.”

A few months before graduation at their weekly check-in, Forsha asked Covington how the job hunt was going and let her know that a position would be opening up at UMSL Eye Care. It would involve, in part, medical records and credentialling but also community outreach communications.

“I told her that I absolutely wanted to apply for that,” Covington said. “I was really excited. I think I left that meeting that day and immediately called my mom, and my mom was so excited. We were super happy.”

After interviewing, Covington officially starting as credentialing and outreach specialist in January. She helps with releasing medical records, credentialing providers and scheduling the Mobile Eye Center at schools.

She likes all aspects of the work but finds the community outreach especially meaningful.

“It’s really rewarding,” Covington said. “A lot of times the schools that we work with are low-income, and it’s nice to be able to have these kids receive eye exams because vision is so important in early learning. That’s my favorite part, seeing that whole process and see these kids get glasses and know that they may be able to learn better now that they can actually see clearly.”

In addition to her daily work, Covington is looking forward to enrolling in an online masters of health administration program at the University of Missouri–Columbia, taking advantage of the tuition reimbursement benefits of being a staff member.

With that degree and experience from UMSL Eye Care, Covington hopes she’ll be able to impact health communications in an even bigger way down the road.

“I’d like to see what I can do,” she said. “That’s the next big thing.”

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen