This past year, my feet and my mind have transversed three major cities.
I departed New York, my home, to seek an MSc in Public Health at the School back in September 2015 in London. I spent an incredible 9 months there in growing both professionally and personally and making friendships and relationships that would ascend time and distance. Come time to decide around my summer project and where I would spend my last couple of months of what has amounted to an incredible year at LSHTM, I was proposed with the idea to apply for the Harris County Public Health (HCPH) by my statistics professor, who knew I had a passion working for health equity and social justice. I applied for the opportunity here and got it.
In the last couple of weeks in June, after a huge mental and emotional push after exams, I packed up my bags for hot and humid Houston. I entered HCPH on my first day, both lost in a new big city and lost in a new work environment. My summer project from June to September of this year has focused on how to advance arbovirus policy through using a One Health lens and also how to plan better for vulnerable populations that reside in Harris County. One Health is an interdisciplinary approach to public health that marries the different disciplines of human biomedicine, veterinary medicine, and environmental services. My project entailed carrying out key informant interviews with professionals across a wide range of sectors, like the legal sector, the government sector, the non-profit sector, and the healthcare sector to gauge their perceptions and opinions in adopting a One Health approach to promote and protect the right to health for all the residents of Harris County.
A month and half later, as I write this piece for the alumni blog, with a totally different view on how I expected my summer to be, I thank all those who could make this opportunity possible. I have been offered to see public health from both a local and governmental standpoint and have had opportunities to visit most of the divisions here at the Department, like the Mosquito Control Division and the Refugee Health Screening Program, that has both enriched and revitalized my passion to work in public health.
But my summer here also brought challenges with it too, besides the Houston heat! Challenges in the nature of learning inter-HCPH lingo, adjusting to working in a policy driven environment, and engaging with stakeholders that HCPH has strong relationships with but who saw my face for the first time. However, the biggest challenge this summer has been keeping up with the news on the Zika virus coming to the U.S. While my project came at a very opportune time amidst the anticipated emergence of Zika, it also has been a very hectic and very anxious time in seeing what the impacts of this disease could mean for those in Harris County.
But as with any challenges, I have grown tremendously too as an aspiring public health professional, amateur researcher, and young woman.
By Stefanie Mercado Altman