If you remember, one of the issues that my future DrPH advisor and I talked about the other day was the low numbers of African Americans involved in public health. This issue has been percolating in my head since Friday. On my way home from work, I thought about it even more. Here’s what I would do, if I had enough time and resources.
First, I would go to high schools in Baltimore City and start “public health clubs.” These clubs would be for kids interested in a career in public health. Sure, there might be one or two kids, but that’s one or two more than there are now. Anyway, I’d start the first meeting of the club by screening the movie “Contagion.” If you haven’t seen the movie, here is a good review of it by an epidemiologist. In that movie, one of the main characters is played by Laurence Fishburne, an African American actor originally from Georgia. He plays a head honcho at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Okay, so I’ll screen this movie for the club and then have a chat with them about careers in public health which may lead them to be epidemiologists fighting a pandemic and saving millions of lives at a time. I’d them show them, step by step, how they can go from high school to college to graduate school in order to become professionals in public health. See, careers in public health don’t have to wait for them to have a master’s degree in public health (MPH). They can go right after high school and become sanitarians, working with local health departments on disease investigations. In Maryland, you can take a course and then an exam to be licensed, and the license requirements are not impossible.
Of course, there are a couple of other jobs they can hold at health departments while they begin to work on a bachelor’s degree (or even an associate’s degree that will lead to a bachelor’s), and I would work with them to get them into health departments (Baltimore City or the state) as interns or apprentices. If I were able to do this over the four years or so that it will take me to get my DrPH, and afterward as well, we might just have a group of young African Americans getting into public health. And I were able to get my tweeps and colleagues in public health out there to do the same in their cities (e.g. Philly, New York, or Los Angeles) with disadvantaged and underrepresented groups within public health…
Well, we would all be better for it. Wouldn’t we?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a crazy project proposal to draw up.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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