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Profiles in Public Health

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Marjorie Larson

MPH, Global Health

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

Public health is the force dedicated to the advancement of the basic human right to health in all communities, local to global.

2. What inspired you to study to public health?

I pursued a global health minor in my undergraduate studies, but it was really the three years that I spent in the health sector with the Peace Corps that solidified my interest in making this my career. I worked in Mali and Burkina Faso, two West African countries struggling with very serious burdens of maternal and child mortality. I lived in isolated rural communities working to support the primary health structures, first as a health education specialist and later as a nutrition specialist and trainer. This period of my life, and the sense of energy and purpose I derived from this sort of work, pointed me in the direction of health and development, and I haven’t looked back.

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

It is difficult to choose just one experience, but since beginning my graduate studies, one of the best opportunities I have had was getting involved with a professor’s research and projects on family planning in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This experience has fit beautifully with my interest in reproductive health, and I have had the chance not only to support the projects from a distance, but also to assist on the ground. Engaging in work that professors are doing is immensely rewarding, and I have found it as important to me in my graduate school trajectory as any of my courses have been.

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

Approach choosing public health coursework as a key opportunity to build a real professional skill set and strengthen weaknesses, and not only to be exposed to interesting topics. It’s important to be methodical about course selection, especially at the graduate level, but since public health has so many distinct sub-fields it is often easy to focus mostly on one area. Seek to learn skills that are not necessarily inherently easy for you, develop knowledge and experience across sub-fields, and talk to as many professionals in your field of interest as possible to identify what essential skills to develop. Keep an open mind and seek out a diversity of experiences in the field—you never know where they may take you!

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

We need to focus on closing the gap on health disparities, both on a global scale and here in the United States. Vulnerable populations still face much higher morbidity and mortality based on a variety of often preventable illnesses and conditions, and this is a key concern for equity and social justice. On a global scale, we need to keep working towards that “grand convergence” in health status in lower and lower-

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