Many its importance in underserved communities. I

Many people think of healthcare as something that occurs in a hospital.

While patient care is a vital part of health infrastructure, I believe the interventions implemented outside of hospital walls often have the biggest impact on a population’s health, and without quality information on the population and the illnesses that affect it, these interventions wouldn’t be possible.  I want to pursue a graduate education in epidemiology so that I can contribute to this critical process. My coursework, research, and experiences abroad have ignited in me a passion for public health, especially for its importance in underserved communities.  I believe that the School of Public Health at the University of Arizona will equip me with the skills and expertise I need to follow this passion and to attain my career goals. Starting in high school, I began to teach myself about demographics.

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 I avidly read Wikipedia articles about demography and later, disease statistics and etiology, without ever realizing that there was a specific discipline in academia dedicated to this study.  In the process, I stumbled upon online videos from the Swedish physician Hans Rosling.  I watched every talk I could find, and was inspired by what he did with data; the Trendalyzer software, which he helped develop, incorporated vast amounts of information into dynamic graphics which showed the relationships between demographic determinants and health outcomes, especially in the context of development.  His speeches and graphics alike were responsible, accessible, and convincing, and they sparked my desire to learn about public health and data analysis.

Several years later, I took the opportunity to study abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa.  The country, ravaged by the policy of apartheid, suffers some of the worst inequality in the world, and Stellenbosch is a microcosm showcasing this. Merely ten minutes from the university district, a tourist hub littered with upscale restaurants, lies the Kayamandi township, where families live in metal shacks.  I became familiar with Kayamandi through a community service project where I and other students visited a primary school in the township to give lessons.  Each session combined elementary topics like safety, health, or colors with English vocabulary practice.  One day, while practicing the ABC’s, I noticed something surprising on the classroom wall.  For each letter of the alphabet, there was a picture of a common item whose name started with that letter.

 For C—cigarette.  I had to take a moment to comprehend this.  Why would a cigarette be chosen for such casual display in a children’s classroom? In a later unit on healthy and unhealthy activities, we learned that several of our young students were unaware that smoking was unhealthy.

 To me, this highlighted the unjust lack of coherence in health education in the township.  Later, I encountered similarly unnerving gaps in the health literacy of adults. Tasked with planning a health intervention pertaining to HIV/AIDS in Bellville, SA, we spoke with peer educators at a local university to determine what they perceived as the greatest areas of need.  Most of their answers alluded to the pervasiveness of misconceptions about the virus, modes of transmission, and availability of a cure; consequently, we planned a public event at the university with the aim of directly challenging some of these misconceptions.

 Through our interactions with students, it became clear that the lack of an accurate understanding of the disease was a significant barrier, and likely a key reason why SA has one of the world’s highest prevalences of HIV.  As daunting as that was, it was also exciting to me, because I knew that there was much work to be done and that, importantly, it was very possible.  Although the inequality and misinformation may not be as severe in the US, these issues translate directly to health problems we face, especially when it comes to underserved populations and how they are affected by both infectious and chronic disease.

The research I have taken part in has been another exciting aspect of my undergraduate experience. I have worked with Dr. Matthew Sullivan in the Department of Microbiology at Ohio State for nearly two years, where we study adsorption and burst patterns of bacteriophages that infect Shiga toxin-producing (STEC) and Enterotoxigenic E. coli.  The phages we discover are candidates for phage therapy, a potential alternative to chemical antibiotics. This is increasingly sought-after due to the rise of drug-resistant infections, and especially in STEC, which becomes more virulent when exposed to common antibiotics.

This research was incredibly rewarding for me because of the knowledge that these infections affect hundreds of thousands of people each year and cause thousands of deaths, mainly in children. I have long been pursuing academic advancement in public health; at the beginning of my undergraduate career, I completed a minor in the subject. This was valuable because it introduced me to many different topics, including behavioral and environmental health, comparative healthcare systems, and epidemiology. Epidemiology was by far the most captivating to me, so I pursued similar elective coursework, including a graduate epidemiology course on modeling infectious disease outbreaks, which solidified my interest in this concentration.

All of these experiences have greatly influenced my desire to continue my education in the field of epidemiology.  I believe that pursuing an MPH at the MEZCOPH will help me to achieve my goals of working at a public agency monitoring disease and informing health interventions in the U.S.  I am mainly drawn to the school’s strengths in disease prevention and rural health due to the interest I have built in these areas over the years.  Furthermore, the multitude of other strengths that the school possesses provides an opportunity to gain knowledge in some of my yet-unexplored interests, such as nutrition. The school’s commitment to underserved populations, as evidenced by its focus on rural southwest communities and Border Health, has made a great impression on me.  All of these factors have made the University of Arizona stand out to me as exceptional institution that I would be fortunate to attend.


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