What inspired you to study public health?
My personal struggle to find culturally responsive mental health and substance use resources led me to public health. Roughly 10 years ago, I realized that public health programs existed to prevent poor health outcomes, but these interventions were neither accessible nor effective to address the needs of Filipina/x/os. Since then, I have been committed to creating more equitable conditions for Filipina/x/o Americans and other communities of color.
What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?
Everything can be connected to public health. Whether you’re changing your major or changing your career, your lived experiences and transferable skills can be used to improve public health. People find their way to public health at various stages of their education and careers, but certain norms limit people’s ideas of their possible contributions to the field. For example, because of my business background, an admissions officer discouraged me from applying to their MPH program in health behavior. Further, I did not see myself as a researcher because I was not exposed to that career path in a culturally responsive way when I was in college. It was not until I participated in Dr. Marjorie Kagawa-Singer’s Minority Training Program in Cancer Control Research at UCLA that I realized that I could use my unique perspective to conduct research on racial health disparities. Relatedly, although mainstream public health continues to focus on specific health outcomes, several critical scholars prioritize understanding social and structural exposures that affect multiple health outcomes. My advice would be to think creatively to push the boundaries of the discipline.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
Public health needs to focus on understanding the different ideological perspectives that obstruct health justice. Whether we want to address immigrant injustice, anti-Blackness, settler colonialism, sexual and reproductive injustice, income inequality, or climate change, we need to understand the subtle ways that our society dehumanizes and “others” nondominant people. To advance health equity, we need to question prevailing assumptions about what counts as truth and honestly evaluate whether the tools we have been trained to use actually reduce health inequities. I believe that we need to train public health practitioners and researchers to incorporate methodologies like Public Health Critical Race Praxis, tools like Natural Language Processing and autoethnography, and other approaches that help us understand how culture and structure reinforce each other.