Johnny Barba, Dual MD-MPH

Ohio State University College of Public Health
Health Behavior Health Promotion with a focus on addressing health disparities

What inspired you to study public health?

My interest in public health began with a tear and a quote: “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at in my life and never seen” -Steinbeck. It was a series of lectures during my first 2 years of medical school that enlightened my eyes to the public health crisis of my hometown region in Appalachia Ohio. Every health disparity and social determinant of health lecture showcased my home county in bright red for virtually everything. I knew Appalachia was a low socioeconomic region, but my eyes were not opened to the severity of the situation until those moments. I felt within myself a personal responsibility to take action and that is why I pursued a MPH to complement and enhance my medical degree. See, as a future physician, I can help one patient at a time. However, as a future physician with public health training—I can address the entire Appalachian population as my patient. When I see statistics about the health disparities of Appalachia, I don’t see numbers. What I see is my friends, family, and fellow Appalachians who compose those statistics. They are the ones who inspired me and continue to inspire me on both my medical and public health career journies.

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

Each new day. Let me explain. Coming from a poverty-stricken region in Appalachia Ohio, teamwork is essential as struggling families, like mine, learn to survive together. Families give firewood, share meals & lend a helping hand to those in need—this is what it means to be from Appalachia. Everything & everyone has immense value—it takes the perspective of valuing small things in life & doing small things with great love that permits us to overcome our mountains—which are just composites of small stones. To me, life is about admiring those “small stones” of sharing a smile, a thank you, a helping hand & believing that by doing so—you can move mountains. With that mindset, each day is the most rewarding experience of my career/studies so far as I continue to increase my knowledge and skills and get closer and closer to designing and implementing public health initiatives in my hometown.


The actionability of the field, no matter your level of training. Let me explain. Again, public health, to me, can be epitomized by throwing a small stone into still water. Imagine, even a tiny pebble can produce concentric rings that can radiate outward and touch all aspects of the shoreline. Public health initiatives are the stones and the body of water represents the population—it just depends on the size of the stone and where you aim to make the biggest splash. You see, all of us can make a splash in public health, no matter our level of training, because public health influences all of us all the time. Whether we realize it our not, each of our actions everyday influences public health–positively or negatively. It is up to us to be more mindful of the impact each of our seemingly small actions have on the bigger world around us.

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

The public health field should focus on moving small stones. Let me tell you why. Do you agree that mountains are composites of small stones ? If your answer is yes, do you also agree that it is more actionable to move small stones versus large stones ? Small stones, right !? See, in public health, I feel that the issues are mountainous. So, if we all, and I mean each and every one of us, just moves small stones consistently–day in/day out–I believe that we can overcome many “public health mountains.”