Blog Global Health Center

Public health career requires broad base of knowledge

Written by Karthik Rohatgi, MD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis and alumnus of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research ProgramPublic & Global Health Track

I’ve felt called to work in public health ever since I picked up an epidemiology textbook in eighth grade and started making connections with the world I saw around me. Over the next four years in high school, I expanded my academic knowledge through classes in public health and statistics at the local university, and augmented it with practical experience from starting a fruit and vegetable voucher program for low-income families. My first glimpse into global health research came after my freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis while working with Dr. Indi Trehan on the ARTMAM study through the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program. The study sought to determine the clinical effects of simultaneous nutritional rehabilitation and antiretroviral treatment in severely malnourished, HIV-infected Malawian children (in Southeastern Africa.) While I didn’t travel to Malawi, I came to appreciate the realities and challenges of clinical research in an under-resourced setting.

The Summer Research Program also exposed me, via seminars, to topics that I hadn’t previously thought of as “public health”, such as antibiotic resistance and health policy. I left the program with a hunger to explore the vast field of public health and more specifically, use population-level approaches to reduce health disparities.

This past summer, I graduated from college and moved across Forest Park to continue my Washington University journey as a newly-minted medical student. One of my goals has been to immerse myself in different areas of public health. Last fall, Dr. Aimee James and Dr. Graham Colditz brought me onto their team for the I-STEP trial, an implementation study of lung cancer screening. Through working on this primarily rural-focused trial, I’ve learned how inner city neighborhoods aren’t the only areas lacking the social factors and economic resources needed for good health; rural areas are often equally, if not more, challenged.

More recently, I was inspired by a randomized trial in Philadelphia studying the link between green space and depression, and reached out to Dr. Deborah Salvo to inquire about doing similar work in St. Louis. We have begun a Geographic Information System (GIS) project to quantify factors affecting green space access in the St. Louis metro area.

While research provides the satisfaction of answering questions and adding to our collective store of knowledge, it lacks the immediacy and engagement of hands-on intervention. After attending the WashU Medical Plunge (WUMP) (a weeklong foray into our region’s health disparities), I joined group of fellow medical students to start Narrowing the Gap—an initiative to reduce maternal and infant mortality in Spanish Lake, a community in North St. Louis County. This summer, we will be conducting focus groups within the community to understand their needs, while facilitating lessons on health topics of interest. Subject to community input, we envisage providing a mobile prenatal care van in the future.

The different aspects of a society’s health—its nutrition, access to healthcare, the health of its children—are intertwined in so many ways that one needs a broad base of knowledge to grasp even a single issue. As I develop my knowledge, I also hope to venture beyond the academic realm and explore public health in governmental, philanthropic, and community settings.