University Health Services celebrates International Women’s Day

March 08, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State celebrated three University Health Services (UHS) physicians for International Women’s Day on March 8. Senior Director Robin E. Oliver, Infectious Disease Manager Michelle Haffner and LIONS Team Lead Physician Yvonne Patterson were recognized for their work as women physicians at UHS.

International Women’s Day is an annual day to celebrate women globally, a day of showcasing the achievements and value that women bring to communities culturally, socially, economically and politically. This year the 2019 campaign theme was #BalanceforBetter. A global movement for women’s rights, a gender-balanced world, and collective action are all at the forefront of International Women’s Day.

Dr. Robin E. Oliver

Oliver, senior director of University Health Services, was celebrated for her leadership in women’s healthcare. Oliver’s story began on her family farm located in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania, where she found her love for the medical field when delivering baby calves on the farm with her father. In 1986, Oliver earned a bachelor of science degree in microbiology from Penn State and then completed her residency at the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Center City Philadelphia. After graduation she returned to her roots in Central Pennsylvania, which led her to the field of obstetrics and gynecology back in State College.

Later in her career, Oliver thought she could do something more with her skills, administratively. She joined UHS as the director of women’s health and ultimately ended up in administrative management as the senior director. In this position, she oversees all departments within UHS and takes care of patients a half-day a week.

“I have the best of both worlds," said Oliver. "I get to take care of patients and oversee all of the women providers. I am proud to be the leader of such a great organization."

Oliver said she never thought when she was younger that she’d end up back at Penn State, especially in an administrative leadership position.

"Now that I’m in this position, I think it’s a statement that whatever goals you set and whatever opportunities you have as a woman that you should take them, make the most of them, make your own opportunities and achieve the goals you set for yourself," she said.

Michelle "Shelley" Haffner

Haffner, UHS’ infectious disease manager and campus liaison, was recognized for her commitment to Penn State’s public health. In grade school, Haffner knew she wanted to be a nurse. She followed her dreams to Penn State, where she graduated from the nursing program. Haffner began her career in the medical field at JC Blair Hospital in Huntington on the Pediatric and Psychiatric Medical Surgical floor. Soon after, she went into nursing administration which sparked her interest in creating public health programs for the community.

After moving back to State College and working at a group practice within women’s health, a position opened up at UHS as a supervisor for the women’s health department. Twenty-four-and-a-half years later, she’s still at UHS but is now the infectious disease manager and campus liaison.

Haffner prepares Penn State’s campuses against infectious disease outbreaks by communicating the steps for staying healthy, educating about vaccinations, and preparing students for the threat of diseases. She said she is "most proud of bringing awareness to the fact that infectious disease outbreaks are serious on college campuses, because these diseases can have significant health, psychological, academic and financial impacts."

As the campus liaison, Haffner stays in communication with all of Penn State’s campuses’ health centers, nurses and clinicians. She said it is vital for the health of Penn State’s communities that she stays up to date on disease outbreaks, and communicates effectively. She continuously researches multiple times a week to stay informed on what may impact Penn State’s campuses.

“I love a challenge and finding solutions,” Haffner said. 

Haffner said that any women student trying to make it in this field post-graduation, "should make sure it’s your passion and make sure it’s something you really want to do, because it can be a tough field. But If you enjoy it and really like it, it’ll probably be one of the most rewarding professions you can have.”

Dr. Yvonne Patterson

Dr. Yvonne Patterson, UHS physician and Lions Team lead physician was celebrated for her support of diversity and transgender care at Penn State.

Patterson decided she wanted to be a doctor at a young age. Due to her mother working as a hospital medical technologist, Patterson was continuously exposed to a medical environment. Her dream was reinforced when she saw her grandparents getting older and not receiving the best healthcare due to, she said, “their age and racial makeup.” As she got older, she worked in a hospital’s cafeteria, preparing food and trays for patients. There Patterson, the only African American, was exposed to physicians who became her mentors and took her under their wing, helping her to succeed.

Following her passion, Patterson attended Northeast Ohio Medical University, and later got married, had children, and started working in pediatrics. Patterson said that this was the first time she saw support for a female physician.

“The hardest part of being a female in medicine is having a family,” Patterson said.

She had a flexible schedule which allowed her to be a hands-on mom while doing what she loved. Years passed, and she continuously was asked to be involved with college health. After working at numerous universities, including Kent State, in 1992 she began working at Penn State.

Patterson continues to embrace diversity through her various roles at UHS. Along with regular physician duties, she is the lead physician for the Lions Team (Living In Our Natural Selves). The Penn State Lions Team supports transgender and non-binary individuals through counseling, medical advocacy or referrals, and other support services. Patterson brings in new initiatives to this group such as bringing together local providers who care for the transgender community.

As an African-American woman, she endured hardship in the medical field, such as challenges with receiving housing while at medical school, as well as in not making it as a doctor. Patterson has now been in practice for 32 years and is not ready to retire yet. She is proud to “be a role model for female patients and our daughters.”

For more information about UHS and what medical services it provides, visit the University Health Services website.

Last Updated March 12, 2019