Navigating the Public Health Journey

If you are pursuing a degree in public health, the uncertainty in answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” may be all too familiar.

Other pre-professionals get off easy. They say doctor or police officer or teacher and the folks are satisfied. I mean it’s understandable, those jobs are clearly defined and easily comprehendible. But you say Public Health Professional, and the inquirers are stumped.

I often get the follow up question, “what are you going to do with that?”. This is a kind way of asking, “Are there jobs?”, “How will you get paid?”, and “What is public health?”. As you know, the answers are “yes, yes, and it’s like what doctors do, but on the community level!”

Public health can seem abstract or lofty, almost like a degree in philosophy. It is not until you are studying the science, when you realize there is structure and there are jobs, but you are not limited to one setting, to one population, or one skill set. Public health provides satisfying work opportunities for improving the health and quality of life for millions. And as I have found, there is no one-way to “navigate your public health journey”.

For me, coming into public health was like going downstream from the source of a river. It started with tributaries coming together to form the prominent body of water. I am currently a 1st year Master of Public Health student, but that was definitely not in the 10-year plan when I started college. In undergrad I switched my major multiple times, tried classes in various departments, and took opportunities that strengthened more than my GPA. At some point I started to make connections between all of my experiences, and I realized the perfect career needed to blend my interests.

I didn’t want to give up advocating for those with disabilities to be in the healthcare field. I didn’t want to compromise social justice activism in order to teach. I didn’t want to forgo leadership opportunities to work directly with people.

Public health was my gateway to merging these professional goals.

But even now that I have made those connections and I am working on my master’s degree, I have found that 10-year plan to be even more irrelevant. Since public health offers such diverse opportunities and is constantly changing, it is impossible to plan the next step. I now look toward the long-term goal. My vision is to improve health care delivery for deaf and hard of hearing individuals by educating health professionals on how to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services to this population.

Therefore, I do not look for the perfect job, so to speak, that fits these parameters. Rather, I keep my eyes open for opportunities that shape my skills and competence in these areas. Last summer I worked for a victim support service agency that served deaf and hard of hearing individuals, which increased my cultural competence. Through my involvement with the American Public Health Association, I am a member of the Disability section and have recently filled the Accessibility liaison student co-chair position. Although it is not specific to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, I am meeting professionals working with the ADA and advocating for improved accessibility for all within a healthcare setting.

The same mindset comes into play when thinking about what I will do after I graduate. I could put blinders on and say a Ph.D. is the best route; but funnel vision can be limiting. Maybe working at a non-profit organization would serve me better or getting a clinical degree so I can be a leader in disability advocacy through my own practice. Whatever route I end up taking, I believe my vision is achievable.

You may not know exactly “what you want to BE when you grow up”; I know I don’t. But within the dynamic world of public health, curiosity, an open mind and a broad vision will offer you diverse experiences that elevate your professional skill even the office of career services cannot contend with.

But once you have some of those experiences, don’t forget that the Office of Career Services is here to assist you in highlighting them on your resume or CV, graduate application, or job interviews. Also if you need further guidance in navigating the public health journey, you can always visit us in the lower floor of SPH. In conclusion, I encourage you to come up with a personal vision today and see where it leads you!

I TRI for Longevity, so one day we can CHANGE the World!
–Mackenzie Jones

By Mackenzie Jones
Mackenzie Jones Navigating the Public Health Journey