Without a doubt, it was when I was able to attend the Sixty-Second Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 62) at the United Nations with the Athletes United for Peace NGO. Watching practitioners from various disciplines, from so many different countries advocate for women and girls in their communities on a global stage was awe-inspiring, humbling and incredibly intimidating. Here I am a student, still adjusting to my graduate program, having the opportunity to sit in on sessions and lectures at an international conference. As a person, who has always wanted to work in health care, but lacked the constitution for clinical work, I am happy to have found my passion in the mission of public health. This experience confirmed that I was on the correct path and solidified my desire to advocate for communities who are the most vulnerable, who have had their voices silenced or those who voices have been ignored. The experience validated that each professional’s unique perspective is needed to advance that work, whether you are an ambassador at the UN or a grassroots community organizer.
So much of what influences our health occurs outside our interactions with medical professionals. Discriminatory social and structural factors contribute to health disparities and health inequities that severely limit an individual’s ability to achieve good health. Certain groups face inequalities in housing, employment, education and income, which all impact health. What has become clear is that even the best clinical care cannot improve population health on its own. Public health initiatives and interventions need to acknowledge social barriers, be culturally humble, evidenced-based and created targeting communities who require extra assistance. We must not only help meet the needs of our communities in the short-term, but empower and support them to maintain good health in the future despite social barriers.