In one sentence, what is public health to you?
This is so hard to say in one sentence, but public health, to me, describes a public system–an overarching umbrella–which is made up of specialists trained in specific areas with the common goal: to keep the people it serves, including the environment and all its creatures, safe, and efficiently running without prejudice, without hate, without political bias, and with a constant eye on how we can do better, be better, and prepare better in the future.
What inspired you to study public health?
I was inspired to study public health from my microbiology professor, Dr. Pandey. I ended up doing post-undergraduate research with her and through our conversations, she encouraged me to seek my Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree. I ended up taking a few more classes from her, including Introduction to Public Health, and simply fell in love with it. I love advocating for those under-served, I love focusing on how little decisions and programs impact a bigger picture, I love the people and country of Uganda so focusing on global health and Indigenous health is something very important to me, and I love the idea of combing my MPH degree with medical training by going to Physician Assistant school so that I can serve more people while being respectful and using my skills to help guide them in health no matter their background.
What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?
Being able to work hands-on with the novel Coronavirus pandemic has been probably been the most rewarding experience of my studies and future public health career so far. I work as a COVID-19 contact tracer as a graduate research assistant with the University of North Dakota and the North Dakota Department of Health. It has been so amazing to get into putting policy into practice, working with something monumental in our history, and making professional connections. I have been personally impacted by COVID-19. My dear grandmother passed away in late April from COVID-19. Working as a tracer and talking to individuals who are cases or contacts, has been somewhat cathartic in my healing from that loss. I am able to put my passion about education and prevention from this horrible virus into action and educate individuals on how to stay safe themselves and keep their loved ones safe, as well. I cheer when I release cases or mark that they have recovered because I know the impact it has on their family to have the opposite happen.
Public health is involved in so many things. I first heard about public health through a professor I did post-undergraduate research with. Seeing my love for the people in Uganda and advocacy for those under-served, she encouraged me to seek my Masters of Public Health degree before continuing on in Physician Assistant school. I took an Introduction to Public Health course from her and fell in love with it. That is where I learned that Public Health is involved in everything: transportation, public service professionals, seat belt laws, vaccinations, research, regulations on tobacco use, etc. I wish someone had told me that public health had so many layers to it and to take as many opportunities as given. As I am learning, my scope is getting wider and I am seeing all that I can be a part of because of my training in public health. And I am so excited as to what comes my way in the future and how I can use the skills I’ve learned and experiences I’ve had to make a difference. One thing I regret from my time in college is that I didn’t take up opportunities that came my way, nor did I seek many out any. Getting my MPH, it’s a whole different story. I am so passionate about public health where I am finding ways to be involved. I am so excited about this program with This Is Public Health and to be apart of it, I am looking forward to completing my practicum with an organization I’m passionate about in Uganda (once it’s safe again), I was awarded a grant to study Systems Dynamics in Bergen, Norway, I am doing COVID-19 contact tracing–all this to say: these opportunities would not be a part of my story in public health had I not taken the leap to apply or ask or be open to taking with seeking my MPH.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
“Politics is definitely the biggest challenge in the public health field right now. We need to focus on how to make issues NOT political issues. They are health issues. “”How do we keep or get people safe?”” should be the question we ask and our number one priority.
Specific issues that come to mind that we need to focus on now are: continued racism in our country, reassessing where public funding is being put, continued COVID-19 fighting, prevention, and education efforts, preparation for new viruses, biological attacks, etc., tobacco use in pregnant women is a rising issue I’m passionate about, and finally making sure that our public professionals have adequate training, education, resources, support, and funding behind them to keep us and them safe and effective at their jobs.”