What inspired you to study public health?
The importance of social context in health was first made clear to me as an undergraduate research assistant where I studied factors such as socioeconomic status, that exacerbate or attenuate the effect of prenatal maternal stress on birth outcomes like birth weight and preterm delivery. We found the quality of communication between women and their midwives affected the frequency of salutary health behaviors by reducing anxiety from mid to late pregnancy. After I graduated, I began a career in psychiatric research and currently I am the lead clinical interviewer on an epidemiological study of psychotic disorders and serious mental illnesses. I have met individuals that seem to flourish despite the severity of their symptoms. In nearly all such cases, strong familial and community support contribute to their success. The culmination of my undergraduate and post-baccalaureate work has shown me that while everyone has their own unique experiences and needs, there are shared obstacles to mental and physical health, especially for those who may not have the ability to advocate for themselves. Additionally, clear communication, strong patient/provider relationships, and community support are integral to improving health and quality of life, something that can only be addressed through organized efforts in society. This has inspired me to study public health as the field will allow me the opportunity to better understand and address the needs of underserved groups, such as those with serious mental illness, as well as work with the communities in which they live to improve upon quality of life.
What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?
As a clinical interviewer, my job is to assess individuals’ psychiatric status and quality of life by asking semi-structured questions about their symptoms, occupational functioning, and interpersonal relationships. Many participants share their most sensitive and personal thoughts with me and this opportunity to interact with individuals on a deeper level has been extremely rewarding. More recently, many participants have been unable to attend recovery programs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In preparation of the unfortunate effects of lock-down, I compiled a list of virtual mental health resources and meetings for our participants. This list was then shared across different projects in the department. It was particularly rewarding to check in on one participant some weeks after our interview, to learn they have been using such resources and felt a bit less isolated being connected with others again. As a public health professional, I would like to further strengthen the bonds between individual and community.
Coming from a psychology background, it had been drilled into my head that you need specific questions with specific hypotheses and specific outcomes. One of the things I love about the public health field is that it covers all aspects of health which can be quite terrifying at first. I wish I had been told that it’s okay to be overwhelmed initially, and that after some time you might still be overwhelmed but also more passionate about all the different things you can study and eager to explore all of the pieces. While I am especially interested in mental health, the last year of public health courses has expanded upon my interests in ways other programs could not. I am excited to work as a TIPH ambassador and reach out to more potential students and offer some advice from my own transition to the field.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
I think the public health field should focus on diversity and communication. The field faces the challenge of understanding the needs of groups and communities that are made up of completely different individuals. To address the public, we need to understand the communities in which they come from and the experiences that they have lived. The BiPOC community has long fallen in the cracks of our health care system either by oppression, discrimination, or negligence. As public health professionals, we need to do better. It is our responsibility to better understand cultures and racial disparities, as well as other factors that impact health and well-being. We must address our own implicit biases and educate ourselves to best serve all people. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to meet groups where they are now, and work with members of the community to address their specific needs. By doing this, we can give communities a platform to use their own voice, not over talk them. Additionally, working with communities will allow for a partnership between public health and the public.