Everyone's an Educator is a series of articles highlighting campus community members' unique contributions to the education, well-being, experience, and personal growth of students.

Kanitta Charoensiri is a health practitioner with an educator’s mind and a mother’s heart.

“I have a student here now and one who graduated from Virginia Tech,” she said. “So all these students could be my kids. I want the absolute best care for them. I really think about what they need and want.”

The director of the university’s nationally accredited Schiffert Health Center knows that part of what students need is services to cover a range of injuries and illnesses and broad health education.

“That’s where we can have a real impact,” said Charoensiri, pronounced chair-en-siri. “In addition to providing care, we share best practices and teach them how to be health consumers.”

It is easy to see certain strengths – accolades as a top-tier research university, unique degree programs, a global footprint of service, and an unmatched, electric atmosphere – and overlook what she calls one of the true gems of a Virginia Tech education: its mission to educate and care for the whole person.

The university is part of an innovative consortium of institutions in higher education reimagining how to improve the overall health and well-being of students.

“This means thinking about well-being from a broader perspective,” said Chris Wise, assistant vice president for student affairs. “It’s everything from health care in the traditional sense to new integrated programs and services that can help students experience and learn about optimal well-being.” 

Charoensiri coordinates clinical, managerial, and educational activities for the center and leads a team of 72 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, office managers, and staff in radiology, laboratory, and health information management to accomplish her part of the mission.

Education focuses on disease prevention and processes, treatment, proper use of medications, advocacy, and managing personal data. Last year alone, more than 21,500 students visited the center.

Charoensiri leverages partnerships on campus and beyond to help students.

“We work extensively with Cook Counseling Center, Services for Students with Disabilities, Recreational Sports, and Hokie Wellness to promote programs and services,” she said. Other partnerships and collaborations include the Office of Emergency Management, New River Health District, and academic deans.

Ensuring students have the best care possible also means continually improving services.

“We perform assessments to ensure we meet and exceed all health and safety standards as set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” said Charoensiri. “Additionally, we perform quality improvement and peer review studies, benchmarking our results with peer institutions, to ensure that we are providing the best care and meeting student needs.”

Staff members attend conferences and trainings to stay current and improve performance.

All patients receive a survey that allows them to share feedback. Charoensiri is proud of the high marks – a 99 percent satisfaction rate for cleanliness and confidentiality and 95 percent or higher for helpfulness, friendliness, and ease of scheduling. The current overall satisfaction also earns an “A” with a rate of 93 percent.

“I am especially proud of how we have worked to change the culture of the health center to be more inclusive and customer-service oriented. Even the décor reflects those efforts,” said Charoensiri.

A bright orange and white welcome sign and smiling faces greet students.

Charoensiri came to Virginia Tech in 2004 after serving as the University of Pittsburgh’s medical director of student health services.

“I fell in love,” she said. “Having come from an urban university, I liked the strong sense of community. The love students have for this university never ceases to amaze me.”

She holds on to notes students and alumni send. “One alumna was getting ready to move overseas and didn’t want to leave without expressing her appreciation for care she says essentially saved her life,” she said. “The note was very moving. What we do is so important.”

Coworkers describe her as compassionate, tenacious, intelligent, and calm. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with family, traveling, cooking, and learning new skills and information. 

She works hard to be an educator who leads by example.

“I exercise regularly and try to make healthy food choices,” she said. “I carve out personal time and try to live by the advice I give students. We each have only one amazing body. It is important to take care of it and strive for wellness.”

Photo by Christina Franusich

Written by Tammy Tripp

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