Recent Epidemiology graduate channels her passion for public health into action
Kaitlin Schwarz, MPH ’23
Like a lot of other students in public health, Kaitlin Schwarz was a pre-med student during her undergraduate studies.
“I was pretty set on taking the MCAT and applying to medical school,” said Schwarz, who graduated in April with a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “However, a course I took unexpectedly gave me my first exposure to public health.”
This course, Public Health: Local to Global Perspectives, which she took as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, changed how Schwarz viewed health and well-being, and challenged her to look at health from a population level. She credited this large-scale view of health issues as what drew her into the field.
“I remained stubborn for a while,” she said, “but I eventually realized that public health was more aligned with what I was seeking in a career.”
In my mind, epidemiology is at the cornerstone of public health. It allows us to analyze and understand data and quantitative information and present it in a digestible way."
Schwarz believes that one thing that unites everyone in the field of public health is passion. She felt this passion at Michigan Public Health and enrolled in the Department of Epidemiology.
“In my mind, epidemiology is at the cornerstone of public health,” she said. “It allows us to analyze and understand data and quantitative information and present it in a digestible way. This helps the necessary stakeholders design appropriate interventions that take an upstream approach and mitigate health disparities.”
Schwarz believes that health disparities are one of the biggest issues facing public health today, and—through public health—she has found a way to channel her passion into action and increase health equity and access to care. Like many others in the field, Schwarz said she saw firsthand how prevalent these disparities are among marginalized populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much of Schwarz’s research at Michigan Public Health has centered around mitigating health inequity and understanding health issues that coexisted with the pandemic, such as the high number of opioid overdoses seen during that time. She has worked closely with Lindsay Kobayashi on her research and capstone project and said the faculty at Michigan Public Health have been more than willing to support her endeavors.
“There is no one here who hasn’t been supportive of me in some capacity,” she said. “Everyone I’ve reached out to has been so helpful and has guided me in the right direction. It’s easy to tell that the faculty really care about developing every student both personally and professionally. There is an overarching culture of support at this school.”
Schwarz has also cultivated her love for public health practice while at Michigan Public Health. She joined the Public Health Action Support Team (PHAST) and found that she was able to get involved in the field at both local and international levels.
“PHAST was one of the things that drew me to Michigan Public Health; it’s something that I didn’t find at other schools,” she said.
PHAST is one of very few programs in schools of public health that allows master’s students to be deployed to health and nonprofit organizations nationally and internationally to assist with public health projects. These experiential learning opportunities help students like Schwarz ground and enhance classroom learning while tackling emerging public health challenges.
Through PHAST, in the spring of 2022, Schwarz participated in a virtual project with government officials in Grenada to develop infectious disease protocols. This gave her the opportunity to apply the things she had learned through her coursework to the real world.
PHAST was one of the things that drew me to Michigan Public Health; it’s something that I didn’t find at other schools.”
“It was so impactful to expand upon my skills and work with different stakeholders in the communities there,” she said. “We created a meaningful product that would actually be used in Grenada, and that meant the world to me.”
In addition to PHAST, Schwarz said she found plenty of opportunities to join different communities and groups at Michigan Public Health.
“I often felt lost during my undergraduate program, and I didn’t feel like I had found my place,” she said. “It’s been a total 180-degree difference here at Michigan Public Health. I’ve met some of my closest friends in the program through a study group I joined right off the bat, and I’m the president of the Epidemiology Student Organization. These connections have been vital for me.”
As for what’s next, Schwarz said she plans to follow her passion for practice and find her niche within the field of public health.
“I feel very well-positioned to build upon the knowledge and skills that I’ve acquired here,” she said. “I entered this field and program because I wanted to pursue a future in which health is more accessible for everyone, and I’m ready to dive in and begin working towards that goal. Learning in this field is going to be a lifelong journey, and I’m eager to use and apply the skills I’ve acquired here at Michigan Public Health.”