Written by Caila Brander, Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program alumna
Much has changed since I participated in the Summer Research Program’s inaugural summer four years ago. For one, my commute looks a lot different now. Instead of hopping in the front of a truck for a forty-minute ride through the dry Haitian forest, I catch the bus to downtown Washington, DC. When I reach my destination I step out onto concrete, not dirt. I bustle by other hurried commuters rather than stopping to say “Alo!” to the neighbors I pass.
Yet there are so many connections between what I do now and the summer I spent researching pediatric nutrition in a remote Haitian village. That summer inspired me to continue exploring public health, catalyzing a series of internships and jobs that led me to move halfway across the country to Washington D.C. in January 2017 to start a fellowship in health policy. I work at the National Women’s Health Network, an organization committed to bringing women’s voices to the forefront in in Washington while supporting evidence-based policies, medical practice, and public information sharing in women’s health.
One of the most powerful connections between that summer four years ago and who I am now is the opportunity to share the stories of the women and children behind the statistics we see all the time. Before traveling to Haiti for the Summer Research Program, I had seen countless sets of numbers describing the global burden of malnutrition in health classes, but I had never looked a malnourished child in the eyes. The Summer Research Program allowed me to see the faces behind those data points, an experience I wrote about at the time. Working with the small rural community of Port Ploum, Haiti left a permanent imprint on how I think about the numbers I see. Statistics are not stale; they are brimming with stories that beg to be shared.
Today in Washington, I work to personalize the statistics that define healthcare access for women. Numbers like “22 million uninsured by 2026” have been at the forefront of the national healthcare debate. My job now is to share the faces and stories of women like Trei, whose pre-existing condition makes her fearful that if the ACA is repealed and she loses health insurance, she could no longer provide for her four-year-old daughter. Thanks to the Summer Research Program, I believe in the power of unveiling the faces and stories behind the data points. I believe that these stories make us better people and lead to better federal policy. That belief gives me the strength to continue fighting for healthcare access for all.