Calling and Career: Shaping Public Policy to Improve Population Health and Advance Equity
Master’s Student in Health Management and Policy, Kimberly A. Purvis Scholarship
November 16, 2018, Health Management and Policy, MPH, Students, Advocacy, Child Health, Graduation 2019, Guns, Health Care Policy, Policy, Practice
Since I was young, I have felt a calling to make a difference in the lives of others. To me, a career in public health is just that—advancing well-being for everyone. I didn't always know it was possible to find a dream career like this, one that would allow me to shape policy to improve population health and advance equity.
I first began to understand public health through my work with the California Department of Health Care Services, California's Medicaid administrator. I worked in several capacities and with each new role learned more about serving vulnerable populations. My mentor there challenged me to explore opportunities in Washington, DC, and I was able to secure an internship with Senator Dianne Feinstein working on the Affordable Care Act and other health policy issues. The experience was magnetic, drawing me into the world of public policy.
Policy work is not easy, especially when you take up a topic like preventing firearm-related injuries and suicides.
Another mentor challenged me to consider formal education in public health rather than law. I knew I was drawn to the work and decided to expand my experience, joining Health Leads, a national health care organization that connects low-income patients with basic resources. I worked in a health clinic in a low-resource area of Washington, DC, connecting families with community resources to meet their most basic and pressing health needs.
I began seeing and understanding how social determinants have profound impacts on a family's health. With every interaction, my desire to pursue public health grew. I'll never forget working with a single mom in her mid-twenties with two children under the age of three. They were homeless, and she had just received an HIV-positive diagnosis. She was scared and had no idea where to turn. I worked with her to get her connected to community HIV-support programs. We were able to get her registered for affordable housing and helped her find a women's shelter in the interim. We also were able to find some winter clothing for her and her children. None of these things were permanent solutions to the realities of her life, but they were immediate solutions to her most critical needs.
Connecting for Good
I'm studying health care policy at Michigan Public Health because public policy in the context of health care is where my skills and passions can have the greatest impact on the health of families.
Starting with my exploratory campus visits, Michigan stood out because the school is so approachable, so passionate, and so engaged. I was looking for a community focused intensively on health equity across departments and disciplines, and Michigan shines in that regard. Peers in other departments and schools on campus are regular collaborators and provide insights and challenges I need to broaden my thinking and advance my capabilities in a variety of areas, including how to develop an interdisciplinary team that can create effective solutions to improving population health.
Fundamentally, policy is an intervention.
The entire school, but especially the Health Management and Policy department, has an incredible network of alumni and industry professionals who have already connected me into the world of practice. I have found that meaningful connections are about a lot more than getting the job you want. Professional networking equips you with information and contacts across the health care landscape bolstering your ability to do the best job you can once you're in an administrative or policy-making role. It ensures you're current with public health research, medical and scientific developments, policy data, political climates, and any social trends that affect how patients think and behave. Building a professional network allows us to continue learning from one another and serve our communities as effectively as possible.
Policy Is Interdisciplinary
Fundamentally, policy is an intervention. Faculty here at the school encourage us in our exploration of complex health care topics and guide us through the tough conversations and meetings that are part of addressing those topics.
Policy work is not easy, especially when you take up a topic like preventing firearm-related injuries and suicides. I've spent a lot of time in recent years thinking about these issues. Several years ago, my grandfather took his life using a gun. His suicide and prior service in the military made me think more broadly about addressing suicides among veterans, a population that is at higher risk for suicide than others. In looking at proposed legislation during last year's Advocacy Day, we decided to tailor research to improve policy around suicide prevention in the veteran population. In doing so, I learned how to articulate legislative needs in personal yet optimistic ways. My grandfather's death is very raw issue for my family. Knowing my experience and research can help other families in similar situations is a huge motivation for me.
Policy work happens in health management, of course, but is so significant to everyone who works in public health.
My summer internship was at a safety-net hospital in Martinez, California, called Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. Though I'm on the policy track, my time at the hospital informed my perspective of health delivery, particularly to vulnerable populations. This was another important step for me in understanding processes across disciplines.
Policy work happens in health management, of course, but it is so significant to everyone who works in public health, from environmental quality to communicable disease to food access. Everything that is studied at this school relates to human health, so whether I become a hospital administrator or a policy maker, I need to understand all of that. That's an exciting challenge, and meeting it requires the many tools I've gained here at Michigan as I pursue my dream career.