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Registered nurse Laura Elzey has always had a passion for helping others in underserved communities.

Armed with her knowledge of health care and the Spanish language, Elzey spent two years in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer before enrolling at UT this fall.

Elzey, from Markle, Indiana, joined the Family Nurse Practitioner MSN program in the College of Nursing through the Peace Corps’ national Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program.

“The College of Nursing is thrilled to support our first Coverdell Fellow”, said Dean Victoria Niederhauser. “Ms. Elzey’s experiences working as a Peace Corps volunteer will be an asset to her advanced practice educational experience here at UT.”

The Paul Coverdell Fellows program provides financial assistance to returned Peace Corps volunteers attending graduate school. All fellows complete internships in underserved communities, allowing them to bring home the skills they learned as volunteers.

For two years, Elzey served as a health extentionist in San Juan, teaching classes to prepare women to make community presentations about childhood development, respiratory infections, sanitation and water, nutrition, hypertension, diabetes, reproductive health, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.

“Although my role as a registered nurse and a volunteer was significant in many ways, I was not able to treat people once they became sick because I was not yet a certified advance practice nurse with a license to prescribe,” Elzey said. “Seeing the lack of access to health care in the small community motivated me to further my education so I can help break down the barriers to health and wellness as a family nurse practitioner.”

Elzey also facilitated outreach programs to help improve the general health of a community with limited resources. She taught sexual education and leadership-building skills classes for the youth and coordinated efforts to educate the community about newly built safer cook stoves that would improve the health of the families and decrease deforestation in the area. Through her experiences during her undergraduate career and those abroad, she has learned much about effective patient care in underserved communities.

“I will be able to incorporate my goal of working with marginalized populations with advancing my career as a Coverdell Fellow at UT,” said Elzey.

The program prepares graduates to work directly with or on behalf of underserved communities through providing direct services, promoting social change and justice, developing programs, and researching best practices.

Elzey will serve as a graduate teaching assistant for undergraduate nursing students and will complete her family nurse practitioner academic clinical preceptorships in rural and underserved communities in and around the Knoxville area. As a Coverdell Fellow, she also will develop an end-of-program service project and related learning objectives to reflect her chosen area of interest. After completing her education, she hopes to continue working with underserved rural communities.

Through the Coverdell Fellowship program, she also will have the opportunity to partner with Peace Corps representatives on campus to share her story, promote programs and recruit other students to volunteer with the Peace Corps.


Emily Kissel (865-974-2755,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,