Posted by: asprockett | February 23, 2013

Why Study Public Health?

Eight hours: six by boat, two in the back of an open truck. That’s how far 30 women traveled from their remote Nicaraguan village to get a mammogram and medical check-up. As a volunteer interpreter working alongside a group of intrepid American surgeons and radiologists, it was my job to guide these courageous women through an unpredictable Nicaraguan health care system that had let them fall through the cracks. This group followed a handful of women from the same distant village who had traveled to the clinic the previous year. Local practitioners reached out to the village with culturally sensitive educational programs on mammograms, breast health and the importance of cancer screenings.

For many of the women, this was their first mammogram. Such invasive health exams often evoke feelings of nervousness and uncertainty, feelings reflected in the questions they asked as we completed the paperwork. One woman asked if she would still be able to nurse her baby after the screening. Another timidly asked if the machine would hurt, then proceeded to tell me about her neighbor who had been diagnosed with cancer the year before but couldn’t travel to the Nicaraguan capitol of Managua for treatment because she had no one to take care of her children.

Despite limited education or access to health care resources, these women understood the importance of preventive screening to such an extent that they spent days away from their home for a 15-minute yearly check-up. My interactions with individuals like these women broadened my understanding of public health and health education initiatives that such diverse populations need, and cemented my desire to work in international public health to bridge cultural and educational health care gaps.

My future public health career will address these gaps through a two-tiered approach. I will focus on educating health care providers about the varying needs of culturally and linguistically diverse patients and how these needs must inform how care is provided. At the same time, I will strive to empower these often marginalized patient populations to take an active role in accessing and receiving quality health care through educational campaigns and the production of health care materials in the patient’s native language and at the appropriate educational level.

But that is only the start of my dream. Formal education will teach me how to develop the educational campaigns, engage key stakeholders, and involve target communities in proactive health care. Armed with the tools to create educational programs, evaluate community health programs and needs, and better understand international health care systems, I will be prepared to examine cultural aspects of health care and how to form positive physician-patient partnerships. Formal public health study at the University of Sydney will allow me to build on my understanding of culture and language to provide health care for diverse and underserved patient populations, both nationally and internationally.

My career in public health will be one dedicated to service, diversity and leadership through partnership and community. My passion is to work with underserved and culturally diverse patients through public health initiatives and education. I will strive to develop multidisciplinary and collaborative approaches to health-related problems, positioning myself in a public health leadership role.

The need for culturally and linguistically sensitive public health professionals grows increasingly important in our globalized society. It is important to understand how to cooperate with health care providers, policy institutions, and other countries to provide the best possible care and to promote healthy lifestyles. A Master’s Degree in International Public Health from the University of Sydney is the start I need to begin addressing key health issues while increasing global compassion and understanding.

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