Progress and Passion From the Perspective of a Student in Public Health

BY LAURA BAKER

Laura Baker and a Northeastern University student, pictured here presenting at a fundraiser for neglected tropical diseases.

Laura Baker and a Northeastern University student, pictured here presenting at a fundraiser for neglected tropical diseases.

I've always been fascinated by what makes people happy. It helps to accomplish goals and feel successful, but happiness also stems from appreciating little joys in life and interacting with people we care about. Needs like shelter, food, health, and basic human rights are incredibly important to being able to appreciate the world around us; without them individuals are automatically put at a disadvantage in their pursuit of happiness.

Health in particular is interesting to me. A person's health is impacted by dozen of factors, ranging from individual choice to environmental conditions and genetics. Health is tied to their socioeconomic status, education level, geographic location and access to resources. Health has direct and indirect impacts on a multitude of areas as well; healthy workers contribute to stronger economies, healthy children are more likely to go to school, and healthy citizens are empowered to advocate for themselves and others.

It is encouraging that the field of health has progressed tremendously in the past century. Developments and advancements in sanitation, surgery, imaging, vaccines, antibiotics, birth control and drugs have had profound impacts on the importance of healthcare in society. Advancement in communication and transportation have completely altered historical views of what it means to be a global citizen and new technologies and tools make it possible to continue making advancements. In my own lifetime, deaths from malaria have dropped by 66% and we are close to completely eradicating Guinea worm, which after smallpox will be the second disease ever eliminated.

Even with its many successes, healthcare has a long way to go. It will take even more energy, innovation and resources from the current generation and future generations to reduce disparities and improve care. I want to be an active participant in creating this change.

I decided to take an internship at the Millennium Campus Network for similar reasons: 1) I wanted to get work experience that will enable me to be even more impactful in my career after I graduate from college and 2) I believe in MCN's mission of training future leaders in global development. Investing in future change-makers is surely a way to assure positive change in the future.

Although I predict my passions will direct me towards domestic healthcare rather than international development, I think the two fields are very similar in a lot of ways. They are both very broad in that there are hundreds of different approaches to improving outcomes. Within the intersections of socioeconomic status, health, education and infrastructure there is a lot of room for improvement both domestically and internationally. These are also two fields that are full of compassionate, driven people. Literally millions of minds around world are contributing toward making the world a better place.

I will forever remember the first day of my anatomy lab during my very first college semester. My professor passed around a femur bone, which I held in my very own gloveless hands—a real femur, which had at some point belong to a real, living human being. I was the only one in the class who wasn’t thrilled by the experience—and, incidentally, the only one in the class who'd never aspired to become a doctor.

Situations like that made me occasionally feel out of place in the Health Sciences major, which acts as a catch-all for students interested in health. Certainly it was disconcerting being one of the rare few who didn’t want to treat patients for a living. However, my peers felt the same urge to help people that I did. These future doctors were like me; they saw the importance of a person’s health to their happiness. The difference between me and many of my peers is scale: they are interested in the health of individuals and I am most interested in the health of populations. All the same, their passion and commitment to health is encouraging. I look forward to working people like them throughout my career.