Melissa Otterbein

Melissa Otterbein, MPH

George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health
Physical Activity

1.       In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Public health is the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual empowerment of individuals and communities.

2.       What inspired you to study public health?

As an avid athlete, I was inspired to study public health to enhance my program design and evaluation skills to use physical activity as a social, physical and emotional source of empowerment in the lives of all people, especially those who have been underserved or often excluded from society.

3.       What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?

As a 2014-2015 Global Health Corps fellow, I had the privilege of hearing stories from friends and fellow social justice advocates from all over the world. These stories showed me that there are powerful, transferable lessons each person and country can share with one another and that stories matter. Specifically, I credit my friends in Rwanda who have shared the stories of Rwanda’s process of gacaca, a reconciliation tool. This inspired me to incorporate peace and reconciliation platforms for dialogue in my public health practices and coursework.

4.       What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out in public health?

I wish someone would have told me to not be afraid to start the journey in my master’s coursework sooner- as a strong quantitative and social science researcher, I often let fear of my quantitative abilities limit my potential. Public health is an interdisciplinary field and my classmates have been collaborative, not competitive, in helping each other through our strengths and weaknesses to help us become the most effective practitioners we can be.

5.       What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

I believe that we should focus the strongest on equity- if we are truly passionate about creating social change through health, we must focus on practices, policies, programs and tools that create equity so that those who have most often been historically excluded from resources can achieve access to education and all components of health empowerment.