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Headshot of Caroline Hoover

Growing up in a small town instilled in Caroline Hoover how important it is to invest in your community, a value that has shaped her Carolina experience. (photo by Donn Young)

From Appalachia to the Research Triangle, Caroline Hoover is striving to improve rural health care access, particularly birth and pregnancy services.

Growing up in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, senior Caroline Hoover saw firsthand how social issues like health care access disproportionately affected her community.

After personally experiencing the impact of these health care disparities at the beginning of her college career, Hoover started seeking answers about the limitations of rural health care through an internship with the Office of Rural Health in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Those experiences led her to a medical anthropology major at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she is working on a thesis that will examine what factors impact birthing choices and pregnancy experiences in rural Appalachia.

So far, Hoover’s interviewees have presented reservations about both hospital births, given the limited resources, and home births, given North Carolina’s many legal barriers to having one.

“A lot of the commonalities come back to people wishing that they had more choices,” Hoover said.

Hoover has been inspired to see how much her interviewees are willing to share their stories; she even had one ask her to put a copy of her finished thesis on the desk of a hospital CEO.

With a desire to study health care access and experiences from different perspectives, Hoover added a peace, war and defense major and a minor in Slavic and East European languages and cultures. She was delighted to find that the Russian authors she’s studied through her minor wrote stories with prominent themes of public health. Her second major has allowed her to examine the world from a global perspective, to dig into issues of legal ethics and to discuss people’s experiences with human rights struggles.

“Health is so personal and intimate, but it’s also global,” she said.

“Social justice and public health needs don’t live in a vacuum,” she added. “They connect back to the lived experiences we focus on in medical anthropology and the systemic and legal forces we talk about in peace, war and defense.”

After graduation, Hoover will continue her studies at Harvard Law School, with plans to become a rural health lawyer and help protect and improve birthing care at hospitals. She also hopes to go abroad in the near future and gain experience in public health outside of the U.S.

While she plans to eventually return to Appalachia, Hoover has cultivated a strong community at Carolina. She has volunteered with Carolina Mock Trial for all four years of her undergraduate career and with the Carolina International Relations Association as well as the Compass Center for Women and Families in the larger Chapel Hill community. She has taken leadership positions in both campus organizations, which has helped her develop a personal mentorship style.

Through CIRA, Hoover acted as the secretary general of the Model United Nations at Chapel Hill, the largest high school model UN conference in the Southeastern United States. Model UN was an important part of Hoover’s high school experience, and she credits it with helping her build both her public speaking skills and self-confidence. However, she saw how many rural students’ opportunities to participate were restricted by financial limitations. As secretary general, Hoover designed a comprehensive financial aid program to cover travel and accommodations costs.

“I think that my favorite part of all the organizations I’ve been a part of is wanting to make things more financially accessible for students of low-income backgrounds and making spaces that maybe they don’t think are built for them more accessible to them,” Hoover said.

In reflecting on her leadership positions, she added, “I think having a leadership style that’s warm and empathetic and friendly is sometimes undervalued, but at UNC I’ve been affirmed that’s the right way to be — as a person and as a leader.”

By Andy Little ’24

Published in the Spring 2024 issue | Student Up Close, Tar Heels Up Close

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