Sarah Andrea, PhD

Oregon Health & Science University/Portland State University School of Public Health

What inspired you to study public health?

My interest in public health, and epidemiologic research in particular, began in my first research role after just graduating with my undergraduate degree. Formative projects focused on understanding the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among children and incarcerated women and demonstrating the utility of minimally invasive and highly sensitive diagnostic methods in these vulnerable populations. As a woman from a blue-collar family who has experienced gender and class-based disempowerment, working with data from these populations was edifying. My early research has aided providers in effectively diagnosing STIs and has shown that these tests can serve as evidence in a court of law for child assault victims. This experience catalyzed my fascination with the impact of political and social factors on health outcomes and, likewise, the power of these forces as levers for mitigating health disparities. I’ve since found myself working with a variety of populations in content spanning infectious disease, neurology, mental health, obesity, and more.

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

Honestly, it would be impossible for me to pick just one thing. There is so much about my personal and professional journey that has been incredibly rewarding: from being engaged in projects with a measurable positive impact on the communities I serve, to supporting other students from marginalized backgrounds in their personal journeys. I also just genuinely enjoy playing data detective!

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out in public health?

I wish someone would have told me to come up with an action plan for how I will also take care of my own personal health and well-being and make self-care as important of a priority as my studies/work. I know it sounds cheesy, but I couldn’t be more serious!

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

As a self-identified social epidemiologist, my attention is drawn to the likes of racism, socioeconomic status and other fundamental causes of disease. As such, my personal focus is on investigating strategies to mitigate gender, racial, and class-based disparities in health that originate early in the life course. The more distal our efforts, the better our chances at mitigating a variety of health disparities.