Blog Global Health Center

Shaping a diverse future in public health: Empowering diversity and inclusion

Written by Michael Vega, MPH, CPH, 2023 Saint Louis University graduate, and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Throughout this summer, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program, specifically in the Research Diversity Program in Cardiovascular Disease & Hematology (RADIANCE) track. Working under the guidance of Karen Joynt Maddox, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and co-director of the Center for Advancing Health Services, Policy & Economics Research, I embarked on a comparative study of pre- and post-COVID periods, analyzing allocation patterns of Medicaid-funded mental health spending in Missouri.

Reflecting on my past experiences in various other summer programs, I often found myself to be one of the few multilingual and participants of color. This trend persisted as I progressed in my academic and professional endeavors. However, to my amazement, the RADIANCE program defied this norm entirely.

Every day, I engage in conversations with my family and friends using Spanish and French. These languages are not only part of my culture and background, but they also offer a sense of privacy in crowded settings, where multilingualism is oftentimes a rarity. Recognizing the value of this skill in the realm of global and public health, I have come to appreciate its significance even more. Therefore, when I first stepped into the on-campus apartment and found myself greeted by three roommates who spoke Spanish, along with several other multilingual cohort-mates, I was completely in awe. Encountering so many multilingual, racially-, and ethnically-diverse individuals in the field of public health has been both refreshing and eye-opening.

Never before in my academic or professional career have I been surrounded by such a racially, ethnically, and linguistically-diverse group of colleagues. This experience has deeply impacted me, and I know it will stay with me forever. It has reinforced the importance of representation in the field of public health. Having professionals who understand and can relate to the communities they serve is crucial for addressing health disparities and inequalities faced by diverse groups. Culturally competent experts can bridge gaps in communication and build trust with underserved populations, resulting in more effective health care services and tailored interventions. This program has not only allowed me to collaborate and learn alongside like-minded public health professionals, but also to connect with individuals who share similar backgrounds and experiences, an enriching and transformative experience that I had never before encountered to this extent.

In today’s world, the significance of having a diverse workforce in public health cannot be overstated. By embracing diversity, we can gain a comprehensive understanding of the unique challenges faced by different communities and work towards equitable solutions. Cultivating an inclusive environment not only improves the quality and effectiveness of health care services but also empowers underserved populations, fostering a healthier and more resilient society for all.

Author, Michael Vega outside the Institute for Public Health building at Washington University in St. Louis