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UMGC Alumni AssociationRamatoulaye Keita ‘19: Advocating for Inclusive Healthcare

When she was just seven years old, Ramatoulaye Keita ‘19 and her family emigrated to the U.S. from Guinea, West Africa. They came here so Keita could receive medical treatment for sickle cell anemia. Although their visit was supposed to be temporary, in the end the family decided to settle in Maryland so they could have access to the ongoing treatment Keita would need for the foreseeable future.

During this time, Keita experienced first-hand the struggles minorities in general and foreign-born people in particular can have as they navigate the healthcare system. 

“English was not our language,” she explains. “We are native French speakers. That made it challenging.”

The difficulties caused by language and cultural barriers made a lasting impression, spurring in her a passion for making public health as inclusive and accessible as possible for everyone.

Launching a public health career

After high school, Keita earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from University of Maryland Global Campus and began what would become a fulfilling career helping others. She landed her first job in the industry as an operations coordinator and program associate with Mautner Project.

“We provided services to LGBT women facing a cancer diagnosis or unable to access healthcare,” she explains.

She gained her footing in the field in this multi-faceted role, where she did everything from grant coding and billing to book keeping and volunteer relations. 

“I did fall in love with it,” she says. “My passion for the LGBT community grew. They understand the same barriers I faced, and that made me want to remove those barriers and increase access to knowledgeable care. I knew this was the space I wanted to grow in.”

Evolving to meet the needs of the community

The year after she began her career, Keita learned Mautner Project was merging with Whitman-Walker Health, an organization committed to offering affirming community-based health and wellness services to all, with a special expertise in LGBTQ and HIV care. She accepted the role of community health educator and began the next phase of her public health journey. 

“My focus was on women’s health for LBT women,” she notes. 

After a few years, Keita began to feel stagnant and felt compelled to learn more about management.

“I thought, let me enhance myself and build myself through education,” she recalls.

In 2016, she enrolled in a master’s program for healthcare management at UMGC while working full-time and managing her chronic health condition.

“It was a monumental commitment, but I knew this was the right route,” Keita says. 

She graduated in 2019. Armed with and enhanced skill set and the confidence gained by earning an advanced degree, Keita was ready for a new challenge. Although she was looking for a position outside Whitman-Walker Health, she ended up accepting a manager role with the organization, which eventually grew into a senior manager position.

Rising to the challenge

In her newest role, Keita provides creative leadership for community health planning activities and resource development for community health improvement projects. She oversees, creates, coordinates and monitors a wide range of community health programming, including HIV/STI testing, mobile outreach, sexual health education, and program and grant management.

Because she started from the ground up, Keita knows every job inside out, something that has helped her earn the respect of her team members.

Every day, Keita is faced with obstacles, which only motivates her more. Within Whitman-Walker Health, she is always advocating for a healthcare system that is inclusive.

“I love what I do, I love the barriers,” she says. “Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. There’s no one way to deliver care. We have to be patient-centric.”

She hopes she is making an impact by making healthcare accessible for marginalized communities, and her goal is to continue doing just that.

“I feel like I’m helping, even on the hard days. I feel like I am on the right side of this, the right side of change, the right side of support,” she says. “I want my voice to be very reflective of people who don’t feel seen. Everyone should know their voice matters.”

Read more Alumni News.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives strengthen and enrich organizations by providing multiple perspectives and talents. Click here to watch a recording about the findings and best practices from the May 18 DEI career webinar led by UMGC Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer and Ombudsman Blair Hayes, alumnus Vernon Green '10, '12, and other employers.