As part of their final steps in the UC Master of Public Health program, nine students delivered presentations detailing their summer graduate degree completion projects during an event Aug. 5.
"Many UC MPH students complete international practicum experiences and research projects,” says William Mase, DrPH, director of the MPH program. "This summer, Shannon Brown and Charity Bashore traveled to Sierra Leone and Panama, respectively, to lead truly transformational public health initiatives. Their experiences capture how stepping outside of one’s comfort zone can profoundly change not only your life course but also impact entire communities in tremendously positive ways.”
Below, Brown and Bashore summarize their experiences, how it shaped their view of public health and why a project like this was so important.
Name: Shannon Brown, 25
Concentration in MPH Program: Leadership Management and Policy
Title of Project: The Public Health Burden in Sierra Leone
"In May, I traveled to Freetown, the capital of the West African nation of Sierra Leone, for an internship with the Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone. In the 11 weeks I spent there, I participated in mobile clinics which handed out free family planning materials, including birth control pills, implants, shots and also condoms and other medicines. I took part in community meetings, board meetings and in-school presentations. During my time, I also collected surveys and set up interviews with various health officials and key players. It was difficult to live and work in a place without running water, functioning toilets or much electricity, not to mention the chaos that is a developing city, but I learned so much about public health and the challenges that currently exist. I met people from all over the world and discovered a beauty that most overlook. This experience has firmly shaped where I want my career to go, and I have already been applying to permanent positions back in Sierra Leone. I would tell students that opportunities for original research and data collection are vast, and that in the developing world, every skill you have is needed. Anything you want to teach, you will have a student, and anything you want to learn, you will find a teacher.”
Name: Charity Bashore, 29
Concentration in MPH Program: Leadership Management and Policy
Title of Project: Beyond the Horizon - Panama
"I was looking for internships throughout my two semesters in the classroom, (fall 2012 and spring 2013) and knew I wanted to do something abroad or at least not local—somewhere I had never been before to work with a population I had never experienced. I've been to a couple of countries in Africa and lived in Europe for five years prior to coming to UC, so I kept looking for something on the African continent. During the tail end of the spring semester, the opportunity came for me to go to Panama with the Army. I'm a staff sergeant in the Army Reserves as a medic, and it was really a beautiful combination of timing and opportunity; I'm really glad that it worked out in my favor. I flew into Panama City, was based out of old Camp Sherman, not far from Colon, and did work in Varaguas, Panama East region, the Darien, Escobal and Achiote.
"I was in Panama for two months, and we had a two-fold mission: to provide medical relief to the people of Panama as well as construction and renovation projects that would create a long-term positive health effect on the people in the areas that we served. We ran three Medical Readiness Training Exercisesin eight different locations spanning 31 treatment days where we saw 13,143 patients; we pulled 2,032 teeth and gave out 4,734 pairs of glasses. That's just the tip of the iceberg. From the public health perspective, we saw a lot of younger-than-should-be adults with cataracts from UV damage. The country, as could be imagined, has a lot of sunny days and for some reason the people wear brimmed hats that they fold the front up, rendering them useless for their function of protecting the eyes from the sun. The glasses mostly came from the Shiners, so if you ever see a place asking for donation of old glasses, they really do go to use.
"I also got my hands in the construction piece where we were able to go into the village of Achiote, near Colon, and build a leach field, water tank and five stall latrines for their school. The school had no such system and a lot of gastrointestinal health problems were stemming from waste water mixing with the drinking water in the school. We also built a health clinic beside the school, as that town previously had no such capabilities. In Escobal, we built an extension to their already existing clinic which now affords them capabilities for obstetrics and gynecology services and minor surgery. We also built a women's dorm to house expectant mothers and health workers who live remotely. The implications of the lasting effects in this village are major. Their health services capabilities are now largely expanded and those remote workers will be able to stay on site for more continuity of care as well as stabilization for the community.
"At the end of our time in Panama, I was able to meet with the key leaders at the Ministry of Health in Panama City who told me that we helped build their relationship with their federal government and restored some trust in them with the Panamanian people. To me, these things have the greatest impact as those relationships are vital to the success of the Ministry of Health in reaching the people in their public health efforts. Public health is all about building relationships and establishing foundations for the communities.
"There are so many health burdens beyond the borders of our country that many people cannot even fathom. I did similar work in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as in Afghanistan. Each country has a unique burden, and to reach them through a myriad of cultural hurdles takes a differently trained public health official. My experiences with the Army over the past decade have allowed me to see worlds vastly different than the one in which I grew up. That experience can't be replaced or ever taught within the walls of an institution. I'm thankful for the education I received from UC and feel that their public health program is rapidly expanding in a positive direction. I think combining (my public health education and time in the Army) is perfect chemistry for affecting a larger population and doing work bigger than me. I'm seeking federal public health jobs in the DC area. I'd love to work for USAID as my heart is all over the world it seems, but right now, I'm waiting on an answer from the DEA about a safety and occupational health position. Those are immediate plans, but ultimately I'd like to end up back in Europe or Africa.
"(I would tell other students that) international work will change your life. It's that simple yet that huge. In one trip, your world view will shift, and you realize your concepts of black and white are filled with so much gray. If any student ever has the opportunity for international work they should take it.”