Caitlin Allen, 1st Year Behavioral Sciences and Health Education Department
I spent the first two days of my spring break attending the Georgia Public Health Association Conference (GAPHA) in downtown Atlanta. Proudly wearing my “student” ribbon, many people asked why I chose to spend the first part of my break at a conference. Having never been to a public health conference, it seemed like a great way to get my feet wet and learn more about professional public health organizations. Many people have advocated for joining professional organizations as a student and after attending the GAPHA conference I now understand why.
I went to GAPHA expecting to meet a few people and listen to some talks about public health. What I got was a reminder of why I am studying public health. I sometimes look back at my admission essay for Emory. I wrote excitedly about my hope to “help empower and challenge individuals to change the trajectory of health through a cooperative and community based approach,” and my hope that public health would allow for me to become a “ servant leader in the field in order to solve the complex issues and help empower communities to solve health problems.” While these notions of social justice and health for all are always driving me, they sometimes get lost amidst the busyness of school and work. The GAPHA offered me a moment to step back and awfully absorb my field.
While I listened to such distinguished speakers, I was taken aback at the professionals’ commitment to students and the “next generation” of public health leaders. I was reminded of how nice people are in public health and how genuinely they wish to help others. And most importantly I was reminded of the importance of story telling. One of the reasons I love public health is because it combines hard, evidence-based science with people-centered outcomes. GAPHA reminded me of this and emphasized the importance of telling stories. While public health deals with population level issues, it is often time the individual stories that really bring home the message. Not only is it important for public health to tell stories as a discipline (i.e. in grant writing, health promotion), but it is also important to know your own story. One speaker sadly retold the story of a mother banging on his chest and sobbing over her dead son. Another speaker told her reason for joining public health, to honor her mother and two brothers who died at young ages due to health disparities and preventable chronic conditions. And it was these stories that these leaders in the field remember and recall so vividly. Numerous times throughout the conference we were encouraged to think about our stories and how we came to the discipline. And ultimately, we are all here because of the people: past, present, and future, in hopes of illuminating their stories and making health better for individuals and society.