Written by Gabriella Schmidt-Grimminger, BA, MPH, CPH from Saint Louis University School of Public Health and Social Justice, and the James A. Harding Scholar in the 2022 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program
Two years ago, I held two bachelor’s degrees my hand, hundreds of patient care hours under my belt, and I still felt unsure about what career path I wanted to take. At that time, the plan was to become a physician. I had my next steps all planned out; study for the MCAT, apply for medical school, become an OB-GYN. Simple. As graduation approached, my drive to pursue medicine slowly died. I began to think, “Do I really want to spend the next 8-12 years of my life, investing my time and money in a career that I may not find fulfilling? Would my day-to-day schedule be flexible enough to balance my personal priorities in the future? Is being a physician the only way to make an impact on the health of the communities I care for?”
After realizing my bachelor’s in biology was getting me nowhere, I decided to apply for an MPH program. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about public health before applying. I simply understood many medical school applicants often pursue a master’s in public health to make their application more competitive.
Starting my first semester at SLU, I was introduced to public health information, which I am still surprised I was never formally educated about earlier in my education. As someone who wanted to pursue a career in medicine, how had I never been formally educated on social determinants of health, life course theory, or simply the importance of preventative care services? As I made more friends in the program, I realized I was not alone. There were several students in our program who had similar academic backgrounds, and many pursued an MPH for the same reasons as me. Why were we not exposed to the field of public health until we came to a detour along our paths to becoming physicians? How did individuals who studied public health in their undergrad know what public health was, and we did not?
Now with an MPH, I am often asked, what jobs are available in public health? I find this question challenging to answer because every aspect of society affects community health: law, clinical research, advocacy and policy, urban planning, entertainment, education, healthcare, etc. This is also something I have learned to love about public health. Throughout my master’s program, I was able to explore areas of maternal & child health, global health, sexual health, and urban planning. I am currently exploring dissemination & implementation research under the mentorship of Ginger McKay, PhD, assistant professor at WashU’s Brown School, and in collaboration with other faculty through the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program- Public and Global Health Track. Deciding to pursue an MPH was one of the best decisions I made while trying to figure out what I wanted to do professionally. Recently in a seminar lead by William Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health at WashU, students were encouraged to pursue their dreams. I definitely agree with that statement! Make opportunities to explore your passions and if you want to improve any aspect of any community (economically, socially, physically, mentally, sexually, etc.) there is a spot in public health for you.