In one sentence, what is public health to you?
Whether it be through advocacy, programming, or by simply lending a helping hand, public health to me is about addressing the barriers and needs of a population in order to enable them to have optimal physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health.
What inspired you to study public health?
During my junior year of my undergraduate career, I was inspired to study public health in my graduate studies. One of the requirements for completing my B.S. in Nutritional Sciences was a senior honor thesis project. I was studying how an individual’s knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes towards dietary fatty acids impacted their blood cholesterol levels. Fancy words aside, I wanted to see what individuals knew about their diet, how their knowledge impacted the decisions they made, their attitude and feelings towards these decisions, and how that ultimately impacted their cholesterol levels. My findings revealed a huge knowledge gap and an opportunity for future nutrition education and public health efforts. A lot of my nutrition work I focused on the individual, the case study, one person at a time. My research revealed an opportunity, a need for nutrition education in an entire population which inspired me. Through discussion with some trusted mentors, I learned of the field of public health and the opportunity to address these gaps from a population level. The idea of being able to use my knowledge and passion for health at a population level, to help groups of people at a time instead of just one, inspired me to pursue my MPH and soon PhD.
What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?
The most rewarding experience of my graduate studies has been through my position working with FitWorth. FitWorth is a program that was founded by Mayor Betsy Price in 2012 to help create programs and events to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity in Fort Worth. FitWorth works to encourage children and families to get outside, be active, and engage in physical activity. I am currently the Graduate Research Assistant for the organization and in this role have been given the opportunity to drive the development of public health and nutrition programs for the community. I am at the table in the meetings discussing budgeting, marketing, and timelines; I am developing the lesson plans and activities, as well as releasing the content through our social media channels. This position has given me the chance to be involved at every stage of program development from start to finish line. The most rewarding part of this whole experience is not only being so engaged in this organization, but seeing the program be implemented. I have been a sous chef at a children’s culinary class, I have cheered on families at fun runs, I have delivered helmets to children who received bikes for perfect attendance. Each event I had an opportunity to connect with people throughout the community and learn a bit about them. Having the opportunity to represent FitWorth and my school, while having the freedom to develop lessons and games for the community has been, well frankly, so much fun! Seeing a little girl throw chopped spinach into a pasta dish because “greens have vitamins” or watching families ride bicycles through downtown Fort Worth dressed in Halloween costumes have all been some of the most rewarding experiences of this journey.
One piece of advice I wish someone would have given me when first starting my public health studies is the importance of self-reflection. Each person pursuing public health comes from a different background with different professional and personal experiences. There will be individuals who studied chemistry, some who studied business, and others who have already been exposed to the public health world. If I have learned anything in my first year studying public health, it is that every life experience, the subject I studied, every single one of my random jobs from a daycare teacher to a business desk job gives me an opportunity for self-reflection. When I am thinking about food deserts, I reflect on my rural upbringing. When I think about fitness programs for offices, I think of my time working at a business office and how a program could be implemented. When we discuss vaping in adolescents I think of how my younger sister and her friends interact on social media and how that could be used to educate a population. Self-reflection on my professional and personal experiences has not only made me more successful in my assignments and class discussions, but more passionate. When you find a way to self-reflect on your life, a family members’, or a friends’, you find a way to relate to individuals that would be entering your program or reading your policy brief and that helps you show empathy, kindness, and understanding at a whole new level.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
I think the biggest challenge that the field of public health needs to address is the accessibility and affordability of care. We often place more of an emphasis on clinical care rather than preventative, which translates to decreased funding for public health programs. When problems are not initially addressed like food deserts, safe public transportation, or access to primary care physicians, more problems arise downstream that have physical and financial consequences. This cycle contributes to the accessibility and affordability struggles individuals are facing when seeking care today.