Elizabeth Peña

What is your favorite public health experience and why?

“My favorite public health experience was conducting research and outreach in rural communities in the Central Valley to assess people’s level of knowledge and barriers to proper oral hygiene. It was so much more than providing a survey, I also provided health education to community members on basic preventative oral hygiene care and symptoms of periodontal disease.”

What is your proudest public health moment and why?

“My experiences working at the intersections of public health and medicine have always made me the proudest. I was a part of Bay Area Youth Agency Consortium AmeriCorps for 2 years, worked in East Bay School-Based Health Centers by providing individual and group health education on nutrition and sex education. A part of my experience included leading HIV/AIDS community-wide awareness events. I also put together my first needs assessment on nutrition and physical activity on youth in Alameda County’s unincorporated areas for the planning department for La Clinica de La Raza.

This experience led me to the California Based Health Alliance and a big part of my role there was to provide training and resources for medical providers and school staff throughout California on ways to support youth success by training on mental health screenings, drug use cessation, and improving reproductive health services. These experiences helped me realize the power in reaching entire communities and populations and the long term benefits health education has.”

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

“Creating behavior change in youth has been the most difficult yet rewarding experience I’ve had. Working directly with youth populations from my own community has taught me the trauma and resilience that youth carry. When working with youth sometimes it felt like I wasn’t making progress fast enough. However, I’ve learned that it’s all about planting those seeds and providing youth with guidance.”

Why do you care about public health?

“I strongly believe that having a public health background will help me become a better medical provider. Public health will play a huge role in my ability to promote population health and working towards reducing inequalities in health. I also hope to start my own community health initiative in the Bay Area one day.”

What is your public health story?

“I always knew I wanted to become a medical provider, however, during my undergraduate experience I became involved in public health research. As I became involved in community health and learned about the importance of health justice I realized that these two fields weren’t independent of one another. I’m currently completing my Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies and Master’s in Public Health and I chose my program because of its emphasis on public health and primary care. I feel confident that I will have the proper skills and training to meet the needs of my community on a personal and community level.”

What public health advice would you like to give?

“Working in public health requires a lot of persistence and resilience. Know that change will come, and your efforts will reach individuals, families, and communities. It’s important to stay motivated and inspired!”

Anything else you’d like to share?

“At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic I worked as a case investigator for hot spots in Oakland. This experience highlighted how critical and powerful contact tracing is. I’m so thankful for everyone that works to improve the quality, safety, and health of our Bay Area communities!”

Instagram: @Ep.the.pa

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