Why I Chose Public Health

Portrait of Michelle Teti

Dr. Michelle Teti is an Associate Professor and the Director of Bachelor of Health Science in Public Health Program at the MU School of Health Professions.

 

Q: Why did you choose a career in public health?

 A: While I was getting a BS in nutrition, I took a few classes in community nutrition, public health, and women’s health – and was just blown away by the work to be done on the policy and planning side to reach communities and prevent problems before they started, instead of waiting to work with people once they were already sick. Based on these insights I started working outside of the nutrition lab to expand my horizons and took a job in the local women’s center. This changed my life and my passion for public health began. I knew we needed to address barriers in policy and education so that we could focus on protecting women and preventing health issues before they start. I started taking small roles designing education programs to prevent violence among girls and doing research to better inform laws and policies that were not fully protecting women. I decided to pursue an MPH with the goal of having a lead role in developing policy and education plans to educate, protect, and advocate for women and facilitate their empowerment. I believed in the idea that if we could protect women’s rights and create environments and policies that facilitated their empowerment, this would improve women’s health. Eventually, I started working in the field of HIV, which was quite similar. I realized that many people infected and affected by HIV suffered loss of choices in their everyday lives that drove their risk.

 Q: What does public health mean to you?

 A: When I think about public health I think about preventing diseases, not just putting Band-Aids on them. Putting plans in place to make it easier for people to achieve their health goals (making the environment healthier, not just the person), and I think about creating services for communities and not just individuals. Central to treating communities is eliminating health disparities and inequities. Health promotion is not just the responsibility of the health sector but goes beyond healthy life-styles to well-being.

 Q: What are the benefits of having a degree in public health?

 A: The versatility. So far I’ve worked in many great jobs and settings. As I mentioned, I have worked as an educator in a domestic violence shelter, a court advocate in a sexual assault center. I’ve worked in HIV and LGBT health centers creating education materials and interventions to prevent HIV. I’ve developed public health websites. I’ve developed health programs for women with HIV. I’ve worked with international agencies to create HIV prevention policies. I’ve evaluated health programs for a Latino health center. And now I work in research and public health education.

Q: In your opinion, what is the most rewarding or valuable aspect of your career or education?

 A: Health is really important to people and public health is essential to our individual and community well-being. I get to be a part of improving people’s lives every day. And the public health perspective allows me to think beyond just the individual and why they might make certain health choices…to the environment and consider questions like, what policies can be put in place to help people make healthier decisions. I’ve gotten to know the world and understand people better via public health. And I LOVE working across different groups of people and disciplines. Public health problems are so complex and involve people in medicine, nursing, sociology, environmental health, etc. and that is a great way to solve problems.

 Q: What is something you wish you would have known when you were attending college or beginning your career search

 A: To enjoy the journey and not just focus on an end result, to be open to how much I would learn through the journey. To de-stress and take care of myself so I could be my best self for the work!