Maureen Clark, 2nd Year BSHE Student
My long-term career goal, both before I came to Rollins and now as I prepare to graduate, is to improve quality of life for marginalized populations. While my aim has not wavered, the potential paths I see to make a difference certainly have. This post will attempt to explain how a health education student ended up working in policy, with a touch of global health.
My journey towards policy work began with an internship between my first and second year, at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. University Hospitals (UH) is a non-profit hospital system that includes eight hospitals/medical centers, which all share an advocacy office, the Department of Government Relations. Some of my tasks in Government Relations included developing an evaluation plan for UH’s community benefit activities (a new requirement for non-profit hospitals as part of the Affordable Care Act) and updating data on children’s hospital graduate medical education. My favorite responsibility, however, was organizing our participation in the Children’s Hospital Association Family Advocacy Day. I had the amazing opportunity to accompany hospital staff and a patient family on an advocacy trip to Capitol Hill. I served as the primary liaison to the patient family who accompanied the hospital team, scheduled meetings with legislative offices, composed talking points for our meetings, and provided social media updates. Our team met with nine legislators in just one day! Through this experience, I saw the real impact that a passionate advocate can have on policy decisions.
My practicum inspired me to pursue further opportunities to understand, explore, and hopefully affect, public policy. Enter the Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response (GDDER) branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I applied to this position out of a desire to become more familiar with the federal budgeting process. My first project was working with another Emory MPH student to develop a 10-year legislative history for the Global Disease Detection (GDD) branch, tracking changes to the proposed GDD budget from the president’s budget report, to the House and Senate budget reports, to the enacted legislation. (In case you’re wondering, the funding hasn’t changed too dramatically, with a few exceptions, but the budgeting process for the past 10 years has been nothing but dramatic!) My work within GDD has now shifted to working on monitoring and evaluation reports for the ten GDD centers located around the world. You will be happy to know that the CDC is very much on top of emerging diseases!
So what does all of this mean for prospective students? First, the divisions between departments at RSPH are not strict. Yes, your core coursework does vary, but at the end of the day, all of public health is interconnected. You can be a global student who is passionate about behavioral science, an EPI student worried about the impact of policy decisions, or an environmental science student who loves biostats, and you can find a way to pursue all of your interests. Above all, be open to the new paths that await you in grad school – they’re more than worth exploring.