What is your public health story?

“The place that I lived in had a significant influence on my life and was related to public health topics. The transition between my childhood and being a public health practitioner provides deeper meaning and understanding of health and human life to me. When I was growing up in China, there was an outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002. My school was closed, and we had to stay at home. Every kind of rumor went around my city, such as how people were dying in my neighborhood or food was out of stock. My parents, who work as police officers, had to wear special gear when they went to public spaces and arrested people who violated the curfew. The people who violated the curfew might have been running away from being contained and segregated from society because they may have caught the virus. I woke up every night with a nightmare that my parents had been quarantined after being infected, as reported in the news on TV. That horrible episode of public panic and the societal shockwave left a deep mark on my childhood memory. The outbreak from 2002 to 2003 spread globally and killed hundreds of people, and the social turmoil it caused was extremely significant. Ever since then, I was terrified about how an invisible enemy like a tiny virus could have such a profound impact on human society and how humankind is fragile when confronted with such an enemy. Across human history, we have faced different disasters from natural or human activities. I keep on wondering about how can we deal with another SARS- or HIN1-like disease effectively as a society? Will something even nastier than SARS or H1N1 come around in the future? When will it arrive? Are we, as a society, with tens of thousands of airplanes linking every village to another on the opposite side of the world, ready to handle such a catastrophic event? Ultimately, this experience changed my life view, and my passion for public health began.”

Why do you care about public health?

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Addressing health disparities is crucial as the population becomes more diverse in our society. Poverty, poor educational attainment, lack of policy support, lousy living environments, insufficient healthcare, precarious employment, prejudice/discrimination, and other upstream or downstream factors influence health over a lifetime, often creating unhealthy existences in each stage. Cultural sensitivity is also critical because we live in a diverse society. The potential impact of cultural differences can cause inequities in health care, such as the disconnection between physicians and patients in the form of language barriers and cultural insensitivity. Disparities in health care induce not only poor health outcomes but also limit overall gains in quality of care. As public health practitioners, we need to strive to be a voice for those marginalized groups who are unable to speak up. Working with sustainable partnerships between government, organizations, communities, and individuals are needed for the elimination of health disparities by multilevel preventions and interventions. I want to fight to ensure marginalized groups have equal opportunities to prosper and to be part of eliminating inhumanity and injustices.”

What is your proudest public health moment and why?

“During my last semester of MPH, I had the opportunity to intern at San Mateo County Health Department. My entire internship focused on message development and delivery; the first part was focused on the elderly’s mental health during the pandemic, while the second part focused on information about the COVID-19 vaccine. The information focuses on how to maintain mental health, especially for the senior isolation during an outbreak, including coping tips, related resources, available support, and relevant knowledge. Since older adults are a particularly susceptible population who come with more barriers during this pandemic, I have gained a better understanding of the importance and necessity of providing more help and support to the elderly. In the second part, the content of the messages was added to some vaccine-related information to reduce people’s knowledge gap and fear as well as increase the rate of vaccination. After this internship experience, I have become more aware of the significance of social media campaigns during pandemic outbreaks. If the message or information is poorly designed and not tailored to the context setting, people are less likely to look at it and receive the valuable information being conveyed. Developing context-specific and culturally tailored information, then using social media to deliver the critical message is effective for extraordinary times. Besides, since information shifts and progresses extremely fast, it is also essential to learn how to select and prioritize the proper contents of the information that aligns with the current situation for delivery to the public. Although my contribution may be a small one, I am proud that as a health practitioner, I am able to help more people at such a special time. Although it is just a tiny drop of water, it can become a confluence into an ocean.”

What has been your most challenging public health experience and why?

“I am an international student, and English is not my first language. Thus, when I communicated with others, wrote papers, developed ideas, or delivered information I was concerned about whether my wording was correct, the messages were meaningful, and the content made sense to my target audiences. Fortunately, my professor and preceptors gave me a lot of help and guidance to learn and get used to the proper wording, tone, and format of the message delivery.”

What is your favorite public health experience and why?

“The world seems to have pressed the pause button after the outbreak of COVID-19. At the same time, I realized that some in society politicized a dangerous pandemic by associating it with bias/stigma. In this case, I only see the freedom of stereotype, bias, isolation, and bullying. Sadly, racist manifestations of disease-related panic don’t confer any public health advantage; instead, they stigmatize racial groups. Diseases don’t discriminate along racial lines, but people do. Stigma is not going to fight this outbreak, but people can. Although death and rumors are terrifying, there are still many people who stand out in the front-line, no matter what race, age, gender, jobs, sexual orientation, cultural value, and property they have. Simultaneously, public health and medical teams around the world began researching and figuring out how to fight it. What the virus has done is cruel and will not last, but what the people have done is touching and will be remembered forever. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Even though a tiny virus could have such a profound impact on human society and humankind is weak when confronted with such an enemy, we are staying strong and keep growing up. I was touched by how public health practitioners are using their intelligence and courage to battle these disasters and protect human beings. I appreciated my experiences during daily life, studying, or working in the public health field. Learning about health is a lifelong topic. I always remind myself: human life is not a number on a report but a meaningful and respectful existence. The virus itself was not selective in its victims, the country of origin/race does not signify that people with an association with that area or race are contagious or sick. Each individual has equal rights to be supported in society, especially if they need health care resources. Hostility and stigma are inappropriate public responses to any disease and only bring adverse impacts to the society. The loss of this outbreak was tragic and sad, but it also made me re-examine the core value and mission of being a public health practitioner. I realized that it is essential to implement strategies to improve wellness but also to eliminate the root causes of health inequity and disparities. This is the reason that I want to fight to ensure people avoid harm and death from illness and to be part of eliminating inhumanity and injustices in society.”

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