Blog Global Health Center

Exploring the value of research

Written by Maya Patel, BA candidate in anthropology, global health & environment (’23) at Washington University in St. Louis, and a Summer Pediatric Research in Global Health Translation (SPRIGHT) Scholar in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Despite being an aspiring physician and science aficionado, I didn’t think research was for me. For years, I was deterred by the idea of pipetting in a wet lab, working with cultures, and observing mice. As I stumbled upon anthropology while studying at Washington University, my perspective slowly began to change. While centering my coursework on exploring the lived experiences of other groups of people, I developed a fascination with studying health issues from a population and structural level. The need for equitable healthcare grows increasingly apparent, and I learned that public health research and the policy it precedes are key agents that I hoped to be a part of.

Maya Patel hiking during her semester in Switzerland

I spent last semester studying global health and development policy in Geneva, Switzerland— home to a myriad of United Nations agencies and humanitarian relief organizations. Hearing directly from representatives at these agencies, I learned about the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, and how international organizations are combating issues, such as climate change and gender inequality, by setting agendas and through large-scale advocacy. This summer in the Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track, I have continued to learn about the Sustainable Development Goals from Washington University professionals, among others. They have shown me that beyond advocacy and agendas is research that leads directly to life-saving interventions and policy changes. Hearing the implications of this population health research through the program’s seminars has piqued my interest, pushing me to think more deeply about the extensions of my own project.

Under the mentorship of Hilary Reno, MD, PhD, I have been working this summer to assess the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operations of sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment clinics in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. The outcome of this research has the potential to directly affect the distribution of resources among STI testing/treatment providers, working towards more equitable access to community sexual health resources. Working on projects designed to ameliorate structural inequities gives me purpose and has made me more inclined to seek out public health research in the future.

Professor Reno has been a gracious mentor, guiding me through the research process while also granting me the freedom to design and carry out this study. She has provided me opportunities to meet providers in the region and explore the diversity in a career in infectious disease medicine. This summer I’ve gained not only an appreciation and drive to continue public health research, but also the mentorship of a truly admirable physician.