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Public Health as a Responsibility

Erica Koegler is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at the MU School of Health Professions. She earned her Master’s in Social Work Degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and a Doctorate in Public Health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Q: How did you choose public health as a career?

A: It’s been an interesting path that led me to research in public health. Originally, I thought I would become a child psychologist. Then, I joined the Peace Corps and worked as an HIV educator in rural Tanzania, in sub-Saharan Africa. This experience changed my worldview. I realized that an individual does not have that much of a chance at optimal well-being if the environment that they live in cannot sustain their basic, let alone higher, needs. I was still interested in mental health, but decided to approach it from a social work perspective, which is more about community systems to improve mental health. I then worked on a global health project and realized that I needed additional training in public health to be able to make a larger impact and be even more fulfilled in my work. My advanced training not only taught me how to conduct rigorous and ethical research, but it also taught me that it is critical for interventions to be evidence-based.

Q: What does public health mean to you?

A: Public health is about a higher responsibility to keep communities healthy so that individuals have the greatest chance to be healthy. For example, communities must have access to clean water, primary and preventative health care, nutritional food, etc. Public health ensures that communities have access to key items so that individuals can have optimal health.

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

A: I knew I wanted to get an advanced degree in public health after years of experience with ground-level public health. My public health training allows me to apply various methods to approach community health needs. As a public health professional, I know my training, coupled with the expertise of the community I am working with, can make a major impact on the wellbeing of people in the community.

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

A: For me, the best part about working in public health is that in someway, even if it is not directly related to the care and treatment of people, I am able to impact individual and community health in a positive way. My work is meaningful to me and I am grateful that I get to do something that I am passionate about every day.

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

A: I didn’t even know what public health was until after I was doing it as my daily work. I think it is great that public health has gained a lot of attention in the past decade. I think the most important advice for people in college or at the beginning of their career is to get a good amount of work or volunteer experience in what they are interested in before committing to a degree or long term career in the subject. I’ve seen many people go directly from undergrad to getting advanced degrees and when they are finished, they have very little practical experience so it can be hard for them to find a job.