Sydney Chaves, MPH

Colorado School of Public Health
Health Systems, Management and Policy

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Challenging inequities to create a better life and health for the greater good.

What inspired you to study public health?

During and following my undergraduate studies, I was personally impacted by the ever-growing opioid epidemic sweeping the country. I began researching the inequities surrounding the War on Drugs over the decades, and realized there was a great need for policy change at all levels. With 80% of heroin users reporting their drug use originated with a legal prescription, and a lack of mental and behavioral health parity, I knew I found my niche. Our system was, and still is, setting our people up for failure, and now my passion is addressing those inequities.

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

For my current practicum, one of my assigned tasks has been working with local public health, and law enforcement agencies in rural Colorado to get naloxone into the hands of more individuals. So far, I have engaged with 9 agencies to ensure they have the appropriate documentation, and ordered naloxone for them. These agencies are able to utilize the naloxone when responding to calls, or pass it on to individuals who may be at risk of overdose. It is amazing that one of the simplest tasks of my career has made such a tangible and truly life-saving difference.


Question everything. Dig into the details of programs and policies, ask WHY they are being done, and most importantly, why they are being done THAT way. I’ve seen so many inequities built into programs and policies that could have easily been written away just by asking more questions. Who is this benefiting? Who is this harming? What is our purpose? Does that fit into the perceived needs of the targeted community? Everything we do should be to improve the life and health of the greater good.

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

Reevaluating the policies and programs that feed into systemic discrimination. Education, housing, and employment are the greatest social determinants of an individual’s health, yet seem to built upon policies that are inequitable to people of color and the poor.