A Voice at the Table

A Voice at the Table

SPH alumna and Washington resident June (Grube) Robinson, MPH ’88, knows what can happen if communities fail to immunize at appropriate levels, and she’d like to make it tougher for Washington parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children. A program manager at Public Health Seattle & King County and a member of the Washington State House of Representatives since 2013, Robinson recently sponsored legislation to eliminate personal-belief immunization exemptions in her state. Although the legislation did not pass, it did generate a lot of important discussion, both locally and nationally, and Robinson isn’t giving up. Earlier this year, she spoke to SPH student Peggy Korpela about her overlapping careers in public health and politics.

What first led you into public health?

After college, I went to Jamaica as a Peace Corps volunteer. My focus there was in maternal-child health and nutrition. I worked with public health nurses and community health aides in their public health system. Our emphasis was on young children 0-3 years old. I went on home visits with the women who were trained as community health aides, and we would weigh the babies and talk with the moms about nutrition. My experience as a Peace Corps volunteer is what turned me on to public health as a career choice.

Do you still think back on that experience?

Yes, I thought back to Jamaica when I was working on the vaccination bill, about the mothers who carried their babies for miles on small mountain paths to get to the clinic to have their babies immunized. I just think, by comparison, that complaints in the U.S. are sort of ridiculous. My experience in Jamaica continues to motivate me to work on issues of equity and justice. It’s powerful to have the public health platform to help make broad connections between all the different influences on health. It’s the perfect way to view policy and say, “How will this affect people’s health and lives in a broad way?” Nearly everything we do as policymakers influences health. It’s important for more people who are trained in public health to get into policy, to get engaged and not be afraid of the policy process.

What led you to expand your public health work into policy and politics?

I’ve worked for a long time in advocacy for affordable health care and services for individuals so they can live a healthier life, and so I was always banging at the door, so to speak, asking for services and money from policymakers. Public health is always trying to influence policy in some way. I eventually wanted to bring my voice to the table, so this is a continuation of my career in public health.