Written by Amanda Lee, MPH, public health research coordinator, Division of Public Health Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine, Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program alumna
When I started the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program in 2015, I had never worked in public health research before. As an undergraduate, I worked in biology labs and as a public health graduate student, I worked in community outreach. I was eager to utilize the skills I gained from these multifaceted experiences in my final step toward completing my Master’s in Public Health, making the Institute for Public Health program ideal for my practicum. I had no idea how much I would come to appreciate research in a public health setting.
Under the guidance of Dr. David A. Patterson Silver Wolf, I evaluated electronic health records from a local behavioral health facility to investigate what social factors could be influencing addiction treatment program completion. I enjoyed learning about the quantitative data cleaning and analysis process and was able explore two software programs I’d never used before, SPSS and ArcGIS. Fortunately, I got a job in the Division of Public Health Sciences here at Washington University in St. Louis right after the program ended, so I have been able to continue learning about and working in public health research since then.
In the past couple of years as a Public Health Research Coordinator, I have worked on a variety of projects ranging from health insurance literacy to medication adherence and more. Though I still use my quantitative data analysis skills on occasion, I have discovered a new passion: qualitative research. I began in Dr. Rebecca Lobb’s lab assisting with a study asking women about their experiences with abnormal mammogram follow-up in Southeast Missouri and helping with the conduction and analysis of qualitative interviews using a program called NVivo. I had never done qualitative coding before but I came to deeply appreciate the process of finding themes among the study participants’ stories and thinking critically about the implications their experiences have on the health system. I have since been able to lead the qualitative analysis on another study, assist with writing up study findings for multiple manuscripts, and am working on becoming a Certified NVivo Expert.
Currently, I work full time with Dr. Aimee James on a project investigating the impact of financial strain on medication adherence. We are collecting data for this study by administering a survey and conducting narrative illness interviews with participants about their experiences paying for medications. I work with an amazing and supportive team and greatly enjoy talking with people about their health care stories.
I have also been able to spend some of my free time volunteering at Planned Parenthood and the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program here in St. Louis. My roles on these research projects and through volunteering have been very rewarding and I am excited to continue learning about qualitative research methods and how to turn academic research into policy change as I move forward in my career. I plan to go back to school for a PhD in Anthropology and hope to focus my research on chronic illnesses in immigrant communities. I am grateful that the Institute for Public Health program opened so many doors for me that led to my current position and that I was able to meet some incredible people in the program who have helped me grow over the past couple of years.