In one sentence, what is public health to you?
To me, public health is the opportunity to extend humanity towards others and connect individuals, community and populations together through shared compassion and recognized interdependence.
What inspired you to study public health?
Growing up in South Africa I was exposed to the immense health and wealth disparities experienced by the majority of citizens in my country. Both my parents instilled the notion of servant leadership in me from a young age. Having this value led me to various volunteer opportunities, such as the American Red Cross, which highlighted the power of collective action and community. Here, my curiosities sparked for what kind of field I could pursue that embodies the notion of servant leadership. Then in my junior year, I found exactly that when we traveled through southern rural African communities and spoke to locals about their experiences and challenges. It was in those conversations that I grew an intense frustration and passion to seek out a field that held people at the center of its mission. Looking back, I was always interested in public health in some way, but the field only became wildly apparent to me then. I’m grateful for the opportunity to study public health and gain the tools necessary to go beyond just having conversations about what needs changing.
What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?
I am most grateful for the opportunity to not only learn about the challenges various communities face but be able to connect with them and hear directly from individuals about their experiences. Public health has allowed me to connect the science to actual people and the combination is powerful.
Embrace what you don’t know, question what you think you know and be open to constantly changing the way you approach public health challenges.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
A major challenge that needs to be addressed in the public health field are the inequities and disparities in healthcare, health services and interventions for populations that are underserved and historically marginalized. In the words of Thomas Reid, we are only as strong as our weakest link; a nation is only as healthy as the amount they invest in their most vulnerable populations. For that reason, the U.S. and other countries need to focus on achieving equitable healthcare systems based on the needs and disparities experienced by their most vulnerable populations.