Senior advocates for holistic, public health-centric approach to healthcare

Shichi Dhar

Shichi Dhar

BS student, Public Health Sciences

By Bob Cunningham

Shichi Dhar is a pre-medical student who one day wants to be involved in delivering a more holistic approach to healthcare.

To Dhar, “traditional medicine can only do so much,” and that’s why public health is so paramount in her eyes.

“I think it’s really important to understand how a person’s health is impacted by things outside of a clinic,” said Dhar, who graduated in May from the Bachelor of Science program at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Especially after the pandemic, I realized that so much of your health is impacted by what job you have, your access to nutritious food and your access to a healthcare system. Being aware about these factors is important if you want to deliver authentic and accurate patient-centered care.

“Not only is it important, but it’s not something we typically learn in our other prerequisite pre-medical courses. Public health is equipping me with those valuable skills.”

During her freshman year, she learned a meaningful statistic in the introductory class Public Health 200 taught by Emily Youatt, clinical associate professor in Health Behavior and Health Education.

I realized that so much of your health is impacted by what job you have, your access to nutritious food and your access to a healthcare system. Being aware about these factors is important if you want to deliver authentic and accurate patient-centered care.”

“Recently, our life expectancy has increased by 30 years, but only five of those years have been because of medicine,” Dhar said. “The other 25 years have been due to public health interventions. That has always stuck with me.”

Dhar learned a lot about healthcare and accessibility during her travels.

She was born in Jammu, India. Her family moved frequently when she was younger. She lived in the United Kingdom and New York before relocating to Midland, Michigan, in 2011.

“I've always been interested in health and well-being,” Dhar said. “I learned a lot about how access can differ based on where you live and what is accessible to you.”

Shichi Dhar on the steps of Kerrytown

That’s especially true being an immigrant in the United States, she said, because there’s so much one must navigate to understand how healthcare systems work in general, but also access to healthcare varies depending where one lives. In each country—and state—that Dhar has lived, the healthcare systems have been vastly different.

“It’s really important to learn about things like cultural competence and how to advocate for yourself and your family members who may have language barriers and why that matters, especially being a foreigner in an unfamiliar country,” she said. “It also taught me the importance of community and staying true to where you come from, even if you don't always see the representation of your hometown or your mother country. Living in so many different places has shown me the beauty of diversity and how we really thrive as a community when we have a lot more representation and voices.

“I think all of those things have come together to really make me interested in health as well as public health.”

When Dhar graduated from high school, she was set on being a pre-med student. The COVID-19 pandemic unraveling around the globe during her freshman year at the university, however, made quite an impression.

I’m really interested in learning how to strategize and implement community-tailored interventions that are also sustainable for a community such as improving dietary choices, reducing health risks or by promoting healthier options like including more green spaces so people can exercise to increase their physical activity.”

“I already was taking Public Health 200, but I was also seeing public health play out all around me,” she said. “And through this independent project that I did while I was taking the class, I specifically looked at how Black Americans had a disproportionate burden of hospitalization and death rates during the pandemic.”

Dhar worked closely with then graduate school instructor (GSI), Molly Mulcahy, MS ’18, PhD ’23. That collaboration helped reinforce her growing passion for public health.

“We had a lot of conversations that were related to this project, but also about what I wanted to do, why I was interested in this and if public health was a path for me,” Dhar said. “She mentored me through the whole experience, which took about a semester.

“Through those conversations with my GSI, I realized that public health may be the future for me because I’m really interested in community-centered interventions and research related to that. That mentorship helped drive me in this direction.”

Preventative medicine appeals to Dhar and her pre-med track and because its practice is at the heart of how public health improves quality of life.

“I think the best disease is a disease that you never get, and public health practice has a huge emphasis on that—or the earlier you catch a disease, the better the outcome in the long run,” she said. “I’m really interested in learning how to strategize and implement community-tailored interventions that are also sustainable for a community such as improving dietary choices, reducing health risks or by promoting healthier options like including more green spaces so people can exercise to increase their physical activity.”

Outside of the classroom, Dhar is an active participant in public health advocacy. She is co-editor-in-chief for the Undergraduate Journal of Public Health. She also is the undergraduate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion co-chair for the Public Health Student Assembly. In addition, she is involved with a volunteer service-learning organization called the Detroit Partnership.

Dhar also has delved into undergraduate research at the School of Public Health, specifically with Carrie A. Karvonen-Gutierrez, associate professor of Epidemiology.

“She’s looking at postmenopausal women and how hypertension risk increases dramatically,” Dhar said. “I think that’s putting together a lot of my medical interests and then also bringing together my public health interests in one lab, which has been really amazing to be involved in and fun so far.”

After graduation, Dhar plans to attend medical school and further her public health education simultaneously.

“I really want to be able to take my public health education with me moving forward in whatever field I end up choosing,” she said. “I also really hope to continue research because it is something that has been a constant with me throughout my undergraduate years. It also provides a lot of meaning to what we learn in class.”



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