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Alexis Donaldson

MPH, Epidemiology, Virginia Commonwealth University Graduate Public Health Programs

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Public health takes a scientific and data-driven approach to ensuring the mental and physical health and safety of the public.

What inspired you to study public health?

I was inspired to pursue a career in public health after working in adventure based counseling for three years serving veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Topics like anxiety, depression, and even suicide became part of every-day conversations; it made me realize that I wanted to focus my efforts on preventative measures that address these adverse health outcomes.

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

Prior to entering my MPH, I did not have any research experience. I have always been (and still am!) a bit intimidated by statistics and building models. Over the past year, I worked closely with my advisor and a PhD student on a project focused on traumatic brain injuries and employment outcomes. We submitted an abstract of my project to the APHA conference and it was accepted. The process of evaluating what statistical methods to use, what covariates to include, and the countless hours I spent learning from great mentors who took me under their wing made the acceptance all the more meaningful.

Advice:

Network! That word used to make me cringe. It seems to have built a negative connotation but it is incredibly important. Networking is simply building relationships and it doesn’t always mean there is an expectation on either end. When guest speakers came to our class to present, I always followed up with a thank you note and added them on LinkedIn. Since then, I have met with at least 3-5 guest speakers on my own time to learn more about their careers and help me figure out what I am interested in. I have also done the same with some of our PhD students as well. Now, I find myself crossing paths with these individuals through projects, events, and even in seeking help. One meeting even turned into an internship opportunity, which then led to a part-time job. Additionally, my cohort made an effort to be very collaborative and help each other out. Knowing I can lean on my classmates, and vice versa, for help has made the program much more enjoyable and I’ve made some great friends!

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

I think one of the biggest challenges that public health should be, and will be, focusing on in the coming years are the social determinants of health. Many barriers that prevent groups of people from being successful are rooted in the history of America. The more we can provide data points that highlight the needs, gaps, and disparities, the greater power our advocacy efforts will have.

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