Knowing which career path to pursue after graduation can be a challenge. And that’s especially true for public health graduates, who have a vast number of career paths before them.

students talking at tableOn Saturday morning, public health students from around the country gathered at the APHA Student Assembly’s National Student Meeting in Philadelphia — held in conjunction with APHA’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Expo — to learn more about two important career avenues in public health: global health and health equity.

The meeting included a panel discussion about career possibilities, with several speakers encouraging student attendees to look deep and pursue their passion.

“You can carve your own path,” Mary Bassett told hundreds of students. “But the key is to find out what you are passionate about. It’s hard to be good at something unless you are passionate about it.”

Bassett, who has 30 years of experience working in health equity, is director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She said that students pursuing public health careers involving health equity should build their knowledge of the history of racism in the U.S., which will help them better contextualize issues they face in the field.

Bassett shared information on the social determinants of health and structural racism, and asked students to speak up when they see and hear racism, both in their personal and professional lives.

“We have to challenge racist ideas,” Bassett said.

Students also learned from Leslie Roberts, professor of population and family health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Roberts, who has spent decades in global health, talked about the thrill he had, at age 26, of getting a call from the World Health Organization to work overseas and help fight a deadly infectious disease. 

If a student is looking for a career sitting at a desk, global health might not be the right path, he said. Students should be prepared to work in many challenging environmental conditions.

“Nothing has to do with sitting behind a computer,” Bassett said.

He also told students that when researching global health, they should be aware that there’s a lot of bad information online. Most of it is unintentional, but some may be fabricated on purpose.

“We’ve had fake data before, but never on the level of today,” Roberts said.

Even so, the field is gratifying, and amazing strides have been made, he noted.

“We are getting really good as an international community from keeping people from dying,” Roberts said.

David Klodowski was one of the hundreds of students at the National Student Meeting. An MPH and MD student at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Klodowski said he attended the event to broaden his knowledge on the practicalities and the current state of public health.

Also attending was student Lydia Homandberg, who’s pursuing a master’s degree in human development and family studies at the University of Auburn in Alabama. Her goals for the session were networking and learning more about the social determinants of health

“I have a lot of interest in that,” she said. 

Above, attendees at the APHA Student Assembly's National Student Meeting in Philadelphia. Photo by Mark Barna, courtesy The Nation's Health