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Profiles in Public Health

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Ana Francisca Soares de Castro Mendes

PhD, Nutrition and Allergic Diseases , University of Porto Institute of Public Health

What does public health mean to you?

For me, Public Health is a science that promotes, protects and prolongs the health and well-being of people and communities, while preventing the development of disease and injury, through the implementation of strategies and policies oriented in the communities, the environment in which these communities are, and the relationships that are established between them.

What inspired you to study public health?

As an undergraduate student of Nutritional Sciences, I realized the importance of nutritional adequacy through healthy diets, as a powerful determinant of health. Although the progressive changes in dietary patterns are associated with the development and burden of several non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and allergic disorders, other health determinants, such as environment, poverty, and education, influence this complex interplay between diet and disease. I believe that understanding how these determinants change over time and associate with each other can help design public health strategies, guidelines, and recommendations for disease prevention and treatment.

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

Overall, I believe that every day is a rewarding experience because I have the opportunity to learn and work with brilliant people in several areas. Both my colleagues and supervisors create a very stimulating multidisciplinary environment for sharing knowledge, driving me to challenge myself. Specifically, I highlight the opportunity to do research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, US last year. This experience was important not only because of the extraordinary teaching, which is undeniable but also for the opportunity I had to contact people from so many different cultures. It certainly made me look at public health from other perspectives.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing public health today?

There are several major challenges, but considering the current context, I believe that climate change, food insecurity and emerging and re-emerging infections are a priority. There is also the need to implement and improve knowledge translation and to encourage discussion and participation of different stakeholders on public health issues.

What advice would you offer someone who is thinking about a career in public health? 

I would tell that person to get involved at various levels to get a more complete picture of the problem, be curious, think outside the box, and never give up on her/his ideas.

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