I AM FPHLP 2016: Ismael Byers

Ismael ByersWhile translating for Spanish speaking patients at a free health clinic, he began to recognize recurrent barriers to the care they received. He wanted to learn how he could improve their access to quality healthcare. After a quick Google search, he found a program that would introduce him to the field of public health and the ways he could be an advocate for change.

Ismael Byers was part of the 2016 FPHLP cohort. He is a rising senior at Hope College, where he is double majoring in Biology and Spanish Literature and Language with a Pre-Med and Public Health minor. Last summer, Ismael's field placement was with Detroit Community Health Connection. His role at the clinic involved assessing staffing efficiency as well as assisting in health outreach and marketing. Ismael was also able to contribute to research on models of clinical-administrative staffing ratios, and he produced a comprehensive report on the clinic's staffing efficiency for its five campuses. Ismael recalls the challenge of balancing the workload between his field placement and the rest of program. He says, "It can be taxing and frustrating, especially when you feel you could have done better on an assignment. It taught me not to be so harsh on myself and to use my mistakes as lessons."

Among the many highlights of his experience, Ismael especially enjoyed visiting the CDC. "There we had the opportunity to see what the highest professionals in public health were doing," he explains. "It was there that I felt I was touching the sky and that there were no limits; it made the whole public health career seem much more tangible and achievable." Ismael was also moved by the service he did in Flint, Michigan. Living in an unaffected community only minutes from the epicenter of the water crisis, he was shocked to realize the extent to which the situation remained unresolved. Hearing from a panel of community leaders and from residents while distributing water, Ismael describes feeling awakened.

Since completing the program, Ismael began working with Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine as part of an initiative to produce research that drives legislation to end the water crisis. During the months that he worked there, Ismael conducted a review of literature to inform a public health approach among Flint's faith-based community and to explore both historic and current perspectives on trust in the broader community. Currently, Ismael is studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, with a public health program that is assessing the county's healthcare system and comparing its public and private facilities. He has also been doing research at a local university, Universidad Católica Pontificia de Chile. He and a classmate interviewed indigenous Mapuche communities to ask about their use of herbal based complementary medicine. Ismael hopes to publish an article on his findings.

After he graduates, Ismael would like to either apply to medical school or a PhD program for public health. For the moment, he is leaning toward medical school with the goal of practicing in Flint to address public health issues and to help move research related to the water crisis. Eventually, he would like to work with communities in Latin America. Ismael describes how he has been inspired by his FPHLP mentor, Dr. Kent Key, who is chairing and managing several public health boards and coalitions in Flint. Ismael says, "I hope to carry the same vision he does closing health disparity gaps and inspiring youth of color to pursue careers in public health and medicine."

For current and future FPHLP participants, Ismael recommends that they always focus on the now and invest 100% of their energy. "The work that you put in speaks a lot about your character and teaches you along the way," he explains. "Some of the work that FPHLP will have you do may seem kind of strange at first, but in the end, it will provide a great learning experience and you will see your potential."