Profiles in Public Health


Katie Kuhns

PhD, Environmental Health

1. In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Public health is a field where scientists and practitioners unite to tackle current challenges, regardless of how big or small, that threaten to compromise the health, safety, and welfare of our people.

2. What inspired you to study to public health?

“What” is really more of a “who” for me. During my senior year of college, my undergraduate research friends and I were discussing what we wanted to do after graduation. A dear friend named Mattie discussed how she wanted to pursue a MPH. Although I knew that “MPH” stood for master of public health, I never really had a grasp as to what public health stood for. As Mattie described the essence of public health, that light bulb moment happened and everything just clicked and I knew that public health was the field for me.

3. What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?

The fact that I can walk into lab each and every day and be excited about what I am studying despite the common challenges faced by lab science PhD students.

4. What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out in public health?

I would recommend that an individual who is new to public health remains open-minded and never stops asking questions. Public health is the culmination of several integrative fields uniting to protect the health, welfare, and safety of our people. In order for us to uphold this charge, we can never assume that we have found all the answers. Being curious challenges our level of thinking and drives us to find better methods of prevention and care.

5. What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

I believe that we should continue to focus our endeavors on elucidating gene-environment interactions in diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and cancer. Considering these diseases are at epidemic status in the United States, we are at a juncture where we cannot avoid the interface of environmental and occupational exposures’ influence on these diseases’ mechanisms. Identifying these putative sources will help us develop better prevention strategies.