Ethics of Public Health: Reflections from the Field


Irving Suarez

1st Year MPH Health Behavior Health Education Candidate

“We’re their guinea pigs. That’s why they call it practicing medicine” is what a participant from my focus group said. Other voices in the room echoed this idea. Like many other individuals from vulnerable populations, there was a clear distrust towards the medical system, researchers, and academia. They mentioned often feeling like they are there to be studied, for academics to write a paper and call it “lessons learned”, and yet, nothing ever changing.

Despite this, the community members I met were incredibly resilient. They keep pushing forward even when their situations remain unchanged. It’s largely because the community learns from itself, and therefore takes care of itself.

This specific encounter was particularly impactful for me since part of the reason I wanted to go on this trip was to figure out the best ways to serve a community. The other part was to gain an understanding of my skills and see how I could improve as a student. 

Interestingly enough, I expected to rely largely on the academic experiences I have gained over the years, yet I mostly found myself relying on my personal lived experiences as a way to connect with this community. And constantly pondering, “Am I doing this the right way?”

I will likely continue to wrestle with the idea of ethical public health practice and how to incorporate my lived experiences into my work, but with this experience, I am reminded of the importance of striving for improvement. It is crucial to engage in work that goes beyond academia and truly benefits the communities we serve. The experiences gained during this trip will undoubtedly shape my future endeavors in public health, serving as a guide for my actions and decisions.

For now, I want to say thank you to the community of San Antonio for welcoming us and participating in our events. Thank you South Central AHEC for hosting and collaborating with us. Lastly, to Michigan’s PHAST team for creating the kind of real-world experience that students can learn from. Your guidance has been invaluable, and I'm excited to take what I've learned and apply it to my future endeavors in public health.