The Blog

General Health and Wellness | September 27, 2017

No Better Time Than Now

By: Lauren Leining, Student, The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston

I consider myself a late bloomer. Coming from a small, homogeneous town and as a first-generation college student, I feared pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. College opened my eyes to the buzzing world around me, of which there is still much to learn. And although my undergraduate experience was transformative, I realized as a senior that public health was my calling. No one had yet mentioned the words “public health” to me. I had no educator, mentor, friend, family member, or acquaintance who knew what public health was, nor did they have any interest in it. I read a pamphlet about public health at a graduate school fair a few months before my graduation and even that school recruiter couldn’t explain what it was. Years prior, I had spent countless hours taking personality and career quizzes for some indication of who I was and what I to become. As silly as it may seem, reading that pamphlet set my life on a new trajectory. Finally, I found a place where I belonged. Finally, something that made all of my experiences and interests make sense. Finally, a field that was relevant, even practical, and there were like-minded people who were also passionate about the same things.

But there I was, a senior about to graduate with a degree in Psychology and Criminology, and I realized my career was in public health. What then? Step one, gain practical experiences after graduation in public health in order to confirm my interests. And step two, get my Master’s degree. After several internships with some impressive cancer non-profits, I decided I needed more of a holistic view of public health. I wanted to understand public health on a larger scale. This took me to the Texas Legislature where I had an opportunity to witness and experience some pivotal public health issues discussed at the state level. The issues ranged from opioid addictions, child abuse and neglect, abortion, compounding pharmacies, manufactured biologics, immunization registries, NICU unit expansions, pediatric dentistry malpractice suits, insurance policies, the first Ebola cases in Texas, Listeria outbreaks at Bluebell, Norovirus outbreaks at Chipotle, and many more. While working at the Capitol, I wrote the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Public Health Interim Report to the 84th Legislature in 2014. I then worked for the Texas Senate in 2015. After session, I attended IT’S TIME TEXAS’ Summit. It was the first time I was surrounded by professionals who shared my love for public health. The Summit was the push I needed to return to school for my Master’s in Public Health. And here I am, two years later, returning to the Healthier Texas Summit, attending as a graduate student. I was given the opportunity to plan the student-breakout sessions for this year’s Summit. I’m so excited for the students who can attend this year. I can only hope the Summit motivates and inspires them like it did for me.

I want students to know that beginning a public health career can be daunting, but that’s okay. Embrace the journey and its challenges. Admittedly, I’ve viewed public health as being so broad that I’ve felt lost at times trying to figure out what I was most passionate about. I’ve feared others may view me as being indecisive because I find every discipline of public health fascinating. I’ve wondered what my niche is in public health and I’m still learning about my interests and skills. Myself and others openly admit to struggling to recognize our interests, finding mentorships, obtaining the right practicum or thesis topic, updating relevant career skillsets, and bridging the gap between academics and application. At the end of the day, many students want to know realistic steps in finding their dream job immediately following school, and for many of us, it is a scary and exhausting process. We have come to realize that getting our degree and the academic side of public health only goes so far; much of our learning has to come from acquiring valuable internships, research, and work experiences, networking with industry professionals, and obtaining meaningful friendships and mentorships that offer exposure, inspiration, preparation, encouragement, and support. You have to take control of your journey and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Well, guess what, here’s an opportunity: the Healthier Texas Summit.  

The answer to a lot of the questions and concerns that I’ve mentioned is the Summit. Many of my roads lead back to when I first attended, and I am hopeful that in the future you’ll say the same. In my experiences, it is the only place where all public health professionals of every discipline can come together and brainstorm ways to improve the health of our friends, family, schools, communities, state, and beyond. Rarely will you ever find an event, regardless of the discipline, that brings together researchers and practitioners, students and experts, and just about every aspect of your field-of-interest to collaborate on the public health issues of our society. This Summit consists of community leaders, advocates, teachers, university faculty, nutritionists, epidemiologists, safety experts, researchers, legislators, policy staff, local and state health department staff, students (both undergraduate and graduate) and many more, working together to discuss current trends and develop ways to build healthier communities and systems. The Summit is an opportunity to invest in meaningful relationships and discussions that encourage and sustain an interdisciplinary public health environment. It doesn’t matter if you’re undecided about your career or about to graduate with your health-related degree, this Summit is for you.

Attending the Healthier Texas Summit is the best investment of your time. Take advantage of this opportunity to meet others in your field and beyond, to expand your scope on public health, and to empower others to make significant changes in their lives, community, field, state, nation, and world. I hope this year’s Healthier Texas Summit changes your life like it continues to change mine. It’s almost that time!

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The Healthier Texas Summit takes place at the Hilton Austin November 6th – 7th, 2017. Register now! >>

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