Marie Kaniecki, Epidemiology Student
March 4, 2020, Epidemiology, Practice
When I remembered today that I’d be stepping on a plane in about a week to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands, I could not believe that the semester had passed by so quickly. It felt like I’d only found out yesterday that I would have the opportunity to deploy with PHAST to participate in a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER). But I think time passing in the blink of an eye makes sense for a grad student constantly busy with work, classes, and a capstone project. I think being so busy has really helped me not to worry or overthink the way I usually do in advance of the trip; whenever I think about it, I’m usually just excited about completing another public health field work experience and escaping the Michigan winter. In many ways though, I wish that thinking about Public Health Practice were more integrated into our experience as grad students at the School of Public Health. Even though I plan on pursuing research in my future career, public health and epidemiology research benefit greatly when rooted in community and practice.
Participating in PHAST has been one of the more rewarding experiences in my time in the University of Michigan School of Public Health. I expect working on the CASPER survey will allow me to build on the skills I’ve learned from other PHAST projects in community engagement and public health practice. However, I also recognize that this deployment will be unlike anything I’ve done previously, for a variety of reasons. For example, I have never been to a U.S. territory before, and I think a lot of people in the U.S., myself included, do not know enough about our fellow citizens. I hope to gain perspective on what public health practice is like in the U.S. Virgin Islands, given their distinctive position as a U.S. territory. In addition, my previous field experience was working in water, sanitation, and hygiene in a Bedouin village in Israel. While I expect my experience as a global health epidemiology student will be helpful in terms of flexibility and adaptability while working in the field, the U.S. Virgin Islands operate within a very different cultural context and are part of the United States. Beyond the need to be adaptable, the logistical planning, and the desire to understand more about public health in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I am trying my best to avoid having too many specific expectations, so that I can truly listen and learn in the moment during the program.