Rianna Murray, PhD

Environmental Health

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

Public health is improving the physical, mental and social wellbeing of all humanity, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, religion, or otherwise.

2. What inspired you to study to public health?

In public health the focus is placed on helping populations, and not at the level of the individual. The ability to help improve the health of entire communities or populations is what inspired me to study public health. It isn’t just the interaction between a physician and their patient but an entire system of policies and practices that influence the health of nations. I was also intrigued to learn about the extremely wide range of environmental factors which can influence disease or adversely affect human health, and how these overlap and intertwine with other aspects of public health.

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

I traveled to Sierra Leone with a team of fellow students and professors to work with a rural community in that country. We conducted community health needs assessments, taught adults in the community how to make oral rehydration therapy solutions and taught basic health principles such as hand washing and oral hygiene to children in the community. This was a defining experience in my path of study, because it allowed me translate the public health principles I learned in the classroom, and to see how public health in action can make a difference in the real world. I also learned so much from the community that we went to help, and left the experience feeling enriched and renewed to continue my studies and career in public health.

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

The field of public health is extremely broad and interdisciplinary! You will need to learn many different skills that you may not have expected were necessary, and collaborate with many different people and organizations. However, the interdisciplinary nature is also what makes the field exciting. You will also need to be dynamic and adapt yourself to various situations. Don’t confine yourself to any one area or aspect of public health; instead immerse yourself in the experiences and opportunities that arise.

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

Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. The public health field should focus on eliminating the disparities that exist in access to healthcare. We also need to work towards reducing the inequalities that exist in the distribution of environmental hazards across communities and populations. There are many communities that are disproportionately burdened by harmful environmental factors such as coal-fired power plants, incinerators, and landfills, and some of these communities also face limited access to healthcare. Our quality of life and life expectancy should not be determined by where we live or our socioeconomic status.