Public health works in countless ways to make our world better. Find out how public health makes a difference by getting to know a few APHA members. We asked them: What public health work are you doing in your community right now, and how do you hope it will make a difference? Why did you decide to work in the field of public health? What value do you find in being an APHA member?
LAURIE ELAM EVANS
Boosting vaccination coverage
I am currently the Lead Health Scientist and Team Leader for the National Immunization Survey Family of Surveys in the Immunization Services Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These surveys are used to monitor vaccination coverage among children 19-35 months (NIS-Child) and adolescents 13-17 years (NIS-Teen) and to monitor flu coverage among children 6 months to 17 years (NIS-Flu). It is very rewarding to use my epidemiologic skills to provide data that are used to assess vaccination coverage, identify gaps in coverage and assist with efforts to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases in children and adolescents.
Finding her calling
As an adolescent, I thought I would become a medical doctor. However, during matriculation at Spelman College, I met an amazing professor (Bill Jenkins) who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He described his work as an epidemiologist and the endless opportunities as a public health professional. This area seemed to embody everything that I was interested in, including biology, statistics, computer science, helping people and problem solving. It was as though a light bulb had gone off! I knew from that day on that public health and epidemiology were my calling.
Together, we can accomplish so much
Being a member of APHA has been an amazing opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals that care about people and health outcomes and want to make a difference in the world. Attending the annual meeting is great. However, interactions with the Epidemiology Section between meetings and leadership opportunities this provides are equally rewarding. I’ve learned so much being a member of APHA and encourage others to join and become an active member of the organization. There is never a shortage of work that can be done. Working together, we can accomplish much more than anyone can accomplish individually.
Addressing tobacco and obesity as social justice issues
I am the founding director of APPEAL, a national non-profit organization dedicated to working with the diverse Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community and other marginalized communities to address tobacco and obesity as social justice issues. We have focused on community capacity building, health education and advocacy to counter the role of industry in targeting our communities and to work toward eliminate health inequities. In particular, community leadership development has been key in building community power to advance health equity and create the systemic change we want to see in our country.
Addressing health inequities
From the beginning of my career, public health was a way to become actively engaged in my passion for addressing health inequities and social injustices. One of the greatest rewards in public health has been working with and learning from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by tobacco and obesity-related diseases and other inequities. I have been inspired by how communities and public health advocates build movements to create social change and to see the ripple effects of all our collective public health work. Public health represents vision and hope. Hopefully, we can make the same strides forward with other key issues like health equity.
Bringing together bright minds, progressive voices and actions
I've been an APHA member since 1990 and have had the great opportunity to be engaged on many levels. I first became involved with dedicated community activists through the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus and then through the Health Equity Committee. APHA is a premier organization that brings together the brightest minds and progressive voices and actions of public health leaders through the annual meetings and leadership bodies like the Governing Council. Now, being actively involved in my Section (PHEHP) has allowed me to work with amazing health education leaders on critical issues like health equity. APHA has also helped to nurture long-lasting friendships and relationships.
Reducing the impact of addiction
I envision a world where substance use disorders are recognized as a population health problem affecting some groups disproportionately and are treated with compassion. I advocate for research-driven policy and innovative practices like expanding the availability of medication for treatment, risk reduction programs, and overdose prevention. I believe substance use disorders need to be viewed like any other chronic health condition. My hope is that by addressing health and criminal justice disparities we can reduce the impact of addiction on our communities by lessening stigma, expanding prevention, and addressing risks to support behavioral health, recovery, and wellness across the lifespan.
My career started in youth work and moved to psychiatric, reproductive, and college health nursing. Working with pregnant and parenting adolescent women and experiencing the advent of HIV/AIDs in the late '80s inspired my move into public health promotion and education. As my awareness of health disparities and risks have grown, so has my interest and commitment to addressing inequality, addiction, stigma, abuse, and violence toward women and minorities. My commitment to advocacy for addiction treatment and recovery is grounded in being a survivor of sexual assault and coming from a family in recovery.
Working together to make a difference
For me, public health is about working on issues too great for any one person to address alone. As a member of APHA, I join a network of professionals who care about working together to make a difference. The annual meeting keeps me up to date on research in the field, and challenges me to approach my work with innovative ideas and concepts that are grounded in research and best practices. This has inspired me to take a leadership role as Chair of ATOD where I am contributing to and guiding new ideas in our field.
Exploring how discrimination impacts health
One of my passions is exploring how race and discriminatory experiences based on race can affect one's health. I am currently working on my dissertation which focuses on how discriminatory experiences effect glucose control in American and Caribbean Blacks. I am hoping to advance our understanding of the various health disparities that are prevalent as discriminatory experiences may be an underlying factor. In the future, I hope to develop a measuring tool to better quantify discriminatory experiences that do not directly affect an individual such as the various shootings of unarmed black individuals and the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A public health calling
To be honest, God called me to this profession. Chronic disease prevention has always been a passion of mine. However, prior to the last year of my Master's program, I was sure that I would be fulfilling this passion as a physician. Before I knew anything about public health, I was a pre-med student determined to go to medical school. I decided to pursue my MPH first and fell in love with public health. My mentor, Dr. Sara Plaspohl, introduced me to doctoral degrees and various careers in public health. That was when I realized that I was exactly where I was always meant to be.
Advocating and connecting
Being a member of APHA and, even more so, being involved in APHA has greatly enriched my public health experience. It has allowed me the opportunity to advocate for issues that I am passionate about and connected me with thousands of individuals who are like-minded. I have had some of my best public health experiences through APHA such as serving as a private sector advisor to the US delegation for the 67th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. Being in APHA surrounded by so many amazing people and their innovative work keeps me inspired!
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