Motivating a New Generation to Address Health Inequities

Amani Echols

Amani Echols

Master's Student in Health Management and Policy, Kenneth E. and Patricia A. Warner Endowed Scholarship

This is a common story, but I started off at the University of Michigan thinking that I was going to be a pre-med major. But pretty quickly in undergrad I realized that pre-med wasn’t what I wanted to do. A part of that realization was personal — my mom has lupus, which disproportionately affects women of color. Learning that she was disproportionately-affected and then having conversations with her as I got older about how expensive her treatments were changed my focus to wanting to work on a population level rather than an individual level. I also minored in Gender and Health as an undergraduate, and through my Women’s Studies courses learned a lot about inequities in health outcomes and access to healthcare. That shifted my view, and I realized that in public health I would be able to impact the most people. I joined the first-ever class of Michigan Public Health undergraduate students soon after.

I didn’t want to be in an office crunching numbers all day. I wanted to be making an impact, engaged with the community, talking with constituents at the local level and using their voices to inform my work.

The Summer Enrichment Program made it clear to me that everything we do in public health is connected to health equity. When I started that program before my junior year at Michigan, I was interested in health policy but wary of health management, in general. I saw it as too detached from the reasons that I had entered public health, which are to address racial inequities and the social determinants of health.  I didn’t want to be in an office crunching numbers all day. I wanted to be making an impact, engaged with the community, talking with constituents at the local level and using their voices to inform my work. During SEP I finally saw firsthand a way that I could do that through health policy, health management, and public health work.

I returned to Michigan Public Health for my graduate education because of the people and the support here. For me, a big thing when I was considering graduate schools was that I knew I needed a support system — that having one was something I valued for my own well-being. I needed faculty that were familiar with me and would support me. I’ve really felt that from the Health Management and Policy department, both the students and faculty, starting with the SEP staff and Dr. Ebbin Dotson. They’re so supportive of everything I do. I won a campus award while I was an undergraduate student at Michigan Public Health, and the chair of HMP reached out to congratulate me. Seeing that they were watching their students and they would remember your name and keep you in mind when opportunities arose, even before I was officially their student, was incredible. 

My work focuses on maternal-child health and sexual and reproductive health. Coming from a Women’s Studies background, I’ve always been interested in the intersection of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, specifically the ways that black women and other minority women are disproportionately impacted by poor maternal and infant health outcomes. I feel very fortunate that at Michigan Public Health I’ve been able to have internships that touch on all of those areas. I’ve been able to see the issues I’m passionate about through a lot of different lenses - in the University of Michigan hospital, with community-based health workers, at state health departments, and even within the legal system. I actually spent this past summer in New York City at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) working in their Women’s Rights Project, exploring maternal mortality from a litigation perspective.

I started the Health Equity High School Summit to create a space where high school students could learn about health equity and to motivate a call-to-action for those at a young age to realize the urgency of eliminating health inequities.

I help run a doula program at the University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital called Dial-A-Doula. We connect women who come to the hospital for labor and delivery with trained volunteer birth doulas who provide non-medical care for before, during, and after labor and delivery. It’s a free, safety-net service that helps increase social support in a big way. We actually have doulas on call 24 hours a day! Knowing that I would be able to continue working with Dial-A-Doula, and that what I was learning in the classroom would be closely tied to that work, was one of the reasons I stayed at Michigan Public Health for my graduate education.

Right now I’m doing research that I love in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at Michigan Medicine. They’re trying to increase their reproductive justice education and knowledge throughout the department, particularly among their residents, physicians, and staff. For one of the projects, I’m helping a research fellow conduct interviews in Flint to learn how the Flint Water Crisis impacted the reproductive health decisions and outcomes of Flint residents. For another, I’m creating a learning module that helps providers think about the ways populations are criminalized and over-policed, and how surveillance impacts reproductive health-seeking behaviors. Finally, I’m working on a small initiative improving the reproductive justice curriculum for a class at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

I am a co-founder and former co-chair of the Health Equity High School Summit, a free, day-long event that introduces high school students to the discipline of public health and health equity. In 2019, nearly 100 students came to the School of Public Health on a Saturday to take part in community-building exercises, mini-workshops on health disparities, listen to amazing speakers, and practice solving real-world public health problems through a case study competition. I started the initiative with Tiffany Loh, a graduate of the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy, to create a space where high school students could learn about health equity and to motivate a call-to-action for those at a young age to realize the urgency of eliminating health inequities. It’s been so affirming seeing how the students have found meaning in the event. We traveled to the American Public Health Association Annual Conference (APHA) this year to present on it. The room our session was in was completely full!

More about Amani

Amani was part of the first-ever graduating class of undergraduate students at Michigan Public Health. 

Outside of her public health work, Amani likes to hang out with her friends, make her own jewelry, attend plays and musicals, and write about pizza! While she was in New York City for her summer internship, she started a blog about the NYC pizza scene.


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