Blog Global Health Center

Leaning into multidisciplinary research

Written by Casey Allen, MPH candidate at Saint Louis University School of Public Health and Social Justice, and the Summer Pediatric Research in Global Health Translation (SPRIGHT) Scholar in the 2022 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Casey Allen outside of her host parents’ home in the Dominican Republic

Public health as an academic discipline is inherently multidimensional, working to confront systemic health challenges that make an impact on communities across the globe. This is evident in the wide array of specializations available within the public health field including things like epidemiology, global health, public policy, and nutrition – just to name a few. However, this is not where the intersectionality of the work ends. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the breadth and value of public health, but also illuminated the need for multidisciplinary collaboration.

Public health as a multidisciplinary practice has persisted since its start in the mid-19th century. At this time, the focus on sanitary health required multidisciplinary collaboration across professions like engineers, doctors, and statisticians. Over time, the field has seen some shifts in multidisciplinary practice. After the second World War, there began to be an expansion of social science in public health, especially within academic settings, incorporating non-medical statisticians, psychologists, and others into the work. This expansion has continued into present day public health research and practice, exemplified by the expansive integration amidst the COVID-19 pandemic response. This response has spanned across the various levels of health, both domestically and globally, inevitably incorporating folks like academics, policy makers, first responders, teachers, epidemiologists, and health practitioners.

Throughout the first month of my time in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track, I’ve been able to see how public health research has the capacity to embody this intersectionality. I feel extremely lucky to be working with Jean Hunleth, MPH, PhD, and her research team. In my role so far, I’ve been working on the Picturing Health among Rural Adolescents in the MidwEst (PHRAME) project to develop dissemination materials. This approach for dissemination has been a prime example of multidisciplinary practice, as my work involves pulling frameworks from the fields of anthropology, public health, and geospatial science to more impactfully share information.

The PHRAME project is funded through the Implementation Science Center for Cancer Control (ISC3). The ISC3 employs a Think Tank model that places stakeholder input as a critical piece for effectively tailoring interventions to fit within the community context. By framing the work within a justice and equity approach, the aim is to improve the accessibility of research across lines of power, placing communities as the center point.

The Think Tank model via ISC3

By applying this multidisciplinary, social justice framework to our dissemination plan, our research team is creating a deliverable that situates the findings within these key pillars of access, collaboration, participation, and community focus. The work that Professor Hunleth and her team, as well as ISC3, are doing to create an intersectional, collaborative environment to raise the voices of people who often go unheard in health context is extremely exciting. I am thrilled to be a part of this process of dissemination and look forward to seeing the project through over my remaining time in the program.