A foundation in public health for a future in nursing

Written by Margot Palmer, 2019 graduate of University of Georgia and alumna of the Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track

I was a participant in the Washington University Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track in 2018. As an undergraduate researcher in Dr. James Fleckenstein’s lab, I spent the summer working on the impact of mucin-degrading enzyme EatA on interaction of enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli with intestinal epithelia. I began the program thinking I had a well-founded understanding of public health, and left St. Louis with a completely transformed appreciation and awareness of what public health really means to the local community and to the world. Through seminars that highlighted topics in public health ranging from clothing design for health and well-being to the opioid crisis, we were exposed to a broad array of niches in the field that makes public health so unique. The experience of improving my bench research skills while also learning more about the field of public health allowed me to connect my research to broader themes of health, giving it a greater sense of purpose. The program activities, coupled with my laboratory bench research, made for a formative summer spent in St. Louis.

When I returned to the University of Georgia in the fall to continue studying microbiology, I found myself with a fresh perspective on the ways in which research in various different fields of study have an impact on public health. I saw bacterial virulence mechanisms and virus life cycles as more than just pathways, but rather as crucial information that may allow us to find ways to improve our global health through vaccines and treatments for disease. As a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology, I feel that the IPH Summer Research Program had a profound impact on my college experience.

I chose to spend my summer in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program because I knew I wanted my career to center on public health in some form or fashion but did not quite know how. After the program I decided to pursue public health nursing with a focus on infectious disease control. Had I not participated in the program, I would not have pinpointed what branch of public health truly excited me. When thinking about the bridge between healthcare and public health, the professions that typically come to mind are doctors and laboratory researchers. However, nurses in the public health field play a big role in caring for populations affected by disease outbreaks and epidemics. I am excited to combine my passions for public health and caring for people affected by infectious disease. I am currently taking extra nursing prerequisite courses while I apply to nursing school, after which I will begin working as a Registered Nurse! In the future I hope to gain a Master’s in Nursing to become a Nurse Practitioner.

My advice to current and future participants of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program is to take full advantage of the experience, both socially and professionally. Speaking to professors after seminars, program staff, and past program participants was the most valuable way to make connections with people in your field. Secondly, make a strong effort to get to know your Principal Investigator – they can be your mentor through not only your research, but your future career as well. Lastly, make an effort to know your fellow participants, as having a network of friends with similar ambitions is invaluable to your success and happiness!

I am extremely grateful for the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program. As expected, this program exposed me to new bench research techniques and applications of public health. Unexpectedly, however, the program made me realize what I really wanted out of a career in public health. I’d like to say thank you to the Institute for Public Health, Jacaranda Van Rheenen, and everyone that made this program as enriching as it was!