Through informative interviews, evidence-based research, literature, and my participation in the Delta Scholars program, I have learned so much these past few months. Growing up in the Arkansas Delta, I knew health disparities existed but had little tangible idea of how to combat them. Over the course of the past year, I have begun to understand how much work is needed to effect positive change, through the stories I’ve heard.
One of the most important lessons I have become aware of is the importance of connecting with communities. I spent ten days last summer in Mississippi State’s academic and community engagement program, the Delta Scholars program, listening and learning from local leaders in public health, education, and law. Through the HPHR Fellowship this fall, I have admired my co-fellows and the positive work they are doing in their communities all around the globe. I have interviewed people who have taken the time to become deeply invested in their own communities and are working to make positive impacts. Through each of these stories, I realize a critical piece of the solution to public health challenges is understanding the problem on a community level.
All of this insight has given a new meaning to the work I want to do as a future physician-scientist: ensuring that translational solutions and cutting-edge science are accessible for all patients and populations. The fellowship and mentorship I have received has given me tangible tools to help make a difference and increase awareness of these issues. Through the trailblazing work of others, I have a better understanding of how to engage within a community and the collaborations necessary to ensure equity.
I also have a deeper understanding of the role of curiosity in public health. Too often, statistics from the South play a disparaging role in how communities are viewed and approached. When you take time to focus on the full story and context for the problem, it becomes easier to think of innovative solutions: rather than focusing on what a community lacks, asking questions without assumptions helps to uncover the resources and assets already present in a community. Every story I have listened to has reiterated that so many people are working for positive change, and I believe there are many more who want to be a part of this work.
Writing for the HPHR Fellowship has helped me find the courage to be vulnerable about my own experience, while leaving space for curiosity about the experience of others. To change something, you have to understand the problem. To understand, you must ask questions. The past few months have underscored the importance of staying curious in all my endeavors, whether it’s questioning a statistic that doesn’t tell the full story, developing a research question, or simply having a conversation with someone new and hearing more about their journey. In all my endeavors, I will continue to seek out the story, and I hope you will, too.