Exploring Public Health at APHA

Liston 1It’s been nearly five years to the date that I realized my passion for public health. In the time between reading Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone (about the Ebola virus)—a pivotal moment for both my future plans and my appreciation for that ninth-grade biology class—and coming to college, I read as many accessible public health books as I could get my hands on, from And the Band Played On to Mountains Beyond Mountains. I spent hours browsing the Centers for Disease Control’s website. I convinced my teachers to let me write research papers about health care reform and biological warfare. I explained to everyone I met the difference between practicing medicine and working in public health, and I recited the definition of “epidemiology” more times than I could possibly count. However, for all my independent research when I graduated high school, I had still never met a person who worked in the field. My conviction that I would someday work as an epidemiologist was based entirely on my best guesses as to what public health actually was.

Beginning my Health Science coursework through Bouvé has given me an official—and much more informed—understanding of what, exactly, is public health. But the experience I’ve had since arriving at Northeastern that has best helped me be able to picture myself in a professional context was attending the American Public Health Association (APHA) 2013 annual meeting, thanks to a travel grant through the Honors Program. I spent three days at Boston’s Convention and Exposition Center, listening to research presentations and exploring the massive exhibit hall to learn about different campaigns, organizations, and graduate programs across the nation and globe. For the first time, I was able to learn from and speak to professionals actually doing the stuff of my dreams—implementing health education programs, researching the effectiveness of different public health policy initiatives, and tracking the spread of new diseases. As one of the youngest attendees to this nationwide gathering of public health educators, medical professionals, researchers, government workers, and students, I was both overwhelmed and inspired by the countless different ways I can work towards the APHA’s goal: “Making the US the healthiest nation in one generation.”

The conference gave me the first opportunity to explore my interests within public health in a real-world context. It also inspired me to learn more about public health in Boston, and to start exploring ways that I can be a part of the work being done, while I’m in classes and on co-op alike. My understanding of the role I want to play in public health is no longer confined to what I’ve read and what I’m learning in class. I’m ready and excited to get involved in the efforts to make Boston a healthier city.

Casey Liston, Health Science