Blog Health Equity

Reflection: Public health in St. Louis

Written by Lauren Jennings, BS Candidate, University of Kansas; SPRIGHT Scholar in the 2020 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Abbreviated Track 

As a rising senior at the University of Kansas, I study Molecular Biology on the premedical track. My experiences working with marginalized groups in my collegiate career paired with my past experiences growing up in St. Louis have fostered my interest in public health.

I am especially interested in the social determinants of health, with emphasis on how geographical location and socioeconomic status influence access to care, both locally and globally. In my career, I plan to weave aspects of advocacy and public health throughout clinical practice.

Coming into the program, I was aware of some of the major health disparities plaguing the St. Louis region, such as the fact that black residents of St. Louis were 34% more likely to die of any cause compared to their white counterparts. The evaluation of the current COVID-19 pandemic brought these disparities into even brighter light as black St. Louisans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at a higher rate. Because of my interest in disparities throughout St. Louis, my favorite part of the program was listening to speakers such as Dr. Ericka Hayes, MD and Anne Trolard, MPH who tie their research to the St. Louis region. The program highlighted unique areas of necessary research throughout the St. Louis regions, such as implementing better practices for gathering data about youth intervention program and sexual health.

Additionally, I learned the importance of community-based research. Throughout many of the seminars, our speakers touched on the importance of discussing interventions with the community and listening to community members about what is really needed. What inspired me most was hearing anecdotes of small things that community members found important that previous researchers hadn’t stopped to consider. From these seminars, I will take away important skills of quiet and peaceful listening to hopefully become a louder, more impactful advocate.

My time spent in the Summer Public Health Program has expanded my awareness of the health disparities throughout St. Louis and abroad. Learning more about the health disparities within my own city has further motivated me to pursue public health service within St. Louis. The research and community work performed by students and faculty at Washington University has inspired my future practice of medicine and has instilled values and lessons that will ultimately influence my career.

The different backgrounds and experiences that my peers bring to the public health sector allowed me to see new perspectives and I am eager to see how they change their communities for the better. I am especially thankful to the faculty and staff at the Institute of Public Health and Global Health Center for navigating the complex challenges posed by COVID-19 to host this year’s summer program in a new exciting, virtual fashion. Finally, I am incredibly grateful to my mentor, Dr. Jason Newland, and peer, Laasya Vallabhaneni, for their genuine conversation, unique experiences, and heartfelt service that has ultimately shaped my view on public and community health.

This post is part of the Summer Research Program blog series at the Institute for Public Health. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.