Marshae Nickelberry

Marshae Nickelberry, MPH

Vanderbilt University Institute for Medicine and Public Health

What inspired you to study public health?

Coming from a family with a myriad of chronic health diseases, many of which were preventable, I realized from an early age the ways in which disease can be a significant burden not only to those impacted but their loved ones. I became adamant that one day I would help families like my own, as the “sherlock holmes of public health” working to understand the etiology of diseases, targeting modifiable factors to ultimately reduce the burden of various chronic health diseases. Beyond that, I strive to be an advocate for communities where health disparities exist, a bridge between research and translation, and an educator to empower those same communities to take back their health for the better.

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

Attaining my first real research position in college, as a fellow in one health summer program was perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences, as I strive to be a competent and effective public health researcher one day. I was able to spend the summer investigating issues with the community, designing a research question, a research protocol to study the question and carrying out a full project from inception to presentation with minimal oversight. I was amazed at how capable I was, and also how incredible the world of research actually is. Beyond that being able to collaborate with other students from different fields and exercise giving a voice to public health and articulating the importance of understanding the research and ultimately future implications and suggestions for the community from a public health lens was also great practice.


Public health is broad, and encompasses so many things–and I believe that that’s what makes it such a unique field. At times we feel that we need to pigeonhole ourselves into one specific track, focusing on one area of research or impact, when public health is broad and there is room for interdisciplinary thought. As a result, it is okay to be multifaceted, to have many interests, and to connect dots where there have been no lines drawn before. Get experience and education where you can, but don’t feel compelled to settle into one subfield, be knowledgeable about them all!

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

Translation of research into action for communities beyond broad policies. I believe it is a shift we are seeing emphasized more, with funding sources and grants requiring a detailed impact plan for research, with intentionality towards the communities the research is centered around. For quite some time we have seen pushes for research and today we have a wealth of information, with still very many of the same issues still persisting or even worsening. As a result, I hope to see greater efforts from the field to not only produce ethical and groundbreaking work that helps us to better understand and pinpoint issues but also substantial groundwork being done for the populations in need: through education, culturally competent translation, and community interventions.