Reflecting Upon My First Year in Public Health

By: David Bowser, MPH

The sphere of public health is wide and ever-evolving. As a professional endeavor, it has a niche for nearly every interest. An English major with a Master’s in Public Health, for example, could serve as a marketing officer for any number of health-centric organizations. Likewise, a math major could enter the field with an MPH and become an epidemiologist, a lucrative and rewarding profession to say the least.

My MPH journey started with an interdisciplinary pre-med major called Medicine, Health, and Society. My interests in health policy, psychology, and sociology all came together under this course of study, and Creighton’s Master of Public Health program funneled these interests into a career,  giving me the educational background and practicum experience to land my first job in the field. My first public health job was as a Prevention Specialist at a treatment and recovery center in Charlotte, North Carolina. What I quickly learned was that though my job description included some very specific duties, the ebb and flow of issues within the community really defined exactly how these duties were to be carried out.

My place of employment was, in part, a base of operations from which specialists communicated with community leaders, developed health curriculum, and devised community health strategies, before delivering this information as facilitators to populations through Mecklenburg County. Curricular themes had previously been set in stone to maintain fidelity; however, I saw that over time, my own role in the community began to depend on and change with the issues that affected the community itself.

One of the first examples of this dealt with the nationwide opioid epidemic. Its very real and seemingly very sudden local manifestation in Charlotte not only increased intake numbers at the Treatment Facility, but necessitated my own Prevention Department’s major push to develop programming aimed at school children to educate against drug use. In addition to increased training, we received emergency Naloxone kits and immediately learned how to identify and resuscitate overdose victims. It had been revealed through dire circumstances that this public health center was not only proactive in its directives, but necessarily reactive according to the state of our community.

Another more recent example dealt with the racial tensions in Charlotte that boiled over after a shooting by police of an African American man in the city. While community violence may not come to mind as an obvious public health issue, specialists like me were called upon to use our community relationships to confront this issue. We devised an open forum so that our program participants within the city would not feel alienated by these events, integrating personal wellness and cultural awareness information with our typical curriculum dealing with Stress, Stereotypes, Decision Making, and Conflict Resolution. The week of September 20th in Charlotte was in every way a trying time both professionally and personally, and it still has continuing reverberations in the city today. But, I learned that not only does public health require a material knowledge, but it also may have a tendency to draw from your own empathy and personal experiences in order to enrich the lives of community members around you.

This lesson in fact epitomizes the beauty of the field as a whole. In addition to the traditional scientific, administrative, and sociological interests shared by many in the field, if you have any sort of artistic, social, mathematical or otherwise seemingly innocuous predilection, there is a niche in public health where it is appreciated. While the Masters in Public Health Degree is the key, it is the talent, determination, and willingness to share yourself with your constituents which opens doors to your career and determines the true impact that you have on society.