My Thoughts on Community Health

by Danielle Morvan

My life as I remember it started in a studio apartment in South Florida with my mother and older brother, in a neighborhood where we were encouraged to stay inside at all times. Not having access to safe, open green spaces limited our ability as children to have respect for nature. It also meant we were forced to spend large portions of time sedentary, without getting the proper and necessary exercise children need to stay healthy. We made the most of it: like any children we loved to dance to the latest hip-hop tunes on the radio and wait for my mom to get home from work. The days were short and the nights were long, and sometimes even hungry. When my older brother started grade school, I was accepted to the local church daycare program, and my mom was able to pick up extra hours doing laundry at a not-so-nearby nursing home.

Growing up in an inner-city community in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to immigrant Caribbean parents, we rarely had access to fresh fruits and vegetables. There were no family farms and I often watched as my mother had to choose between getting fresh fruits and veggies that were more nutritious but often more expensive, or canned and boxed snacks that were more affordable but made from less than healthy ingredients. The produce at the local grocery store was usually close to its expiration date.

There were obvious health disparities in my neighborhood. Many people dreaded the idea of going to the hospital: some did not have the resources to cover medical expenses, while others feared they would not receive care from thoughtful and considerate professionals but would instead be part of some new "Tuskegee experiment". There was no access to psychological counseling or treatment and unchecked mental disorders seemed to run rampant. I dealt with extreme bouts of depression from being sexually abused throughout my childhood. I was court appointed regular psychological counseling for myself and my family, but the therapist never showed up.

It was evident that in my community there needed to be more awareness and understanding of the basic things an individual needs to survive and thrive. My understanding of how access to healthy food, proper medical care, and proper psychological treatment affects one's standard of life encouraged me to study the relationship between individuals and their environment, while learning applicable and practical skills to address my concerns.

My pre-adult years were filled with situations that no young person should ever have to experience. Living in a community filled with toxic food, deplorable housing, and lack of educational and career growth resources is definitely a public health concern. We as a society have a role to play in protecting not just our own communities, but those of our distant neighbors. As an adult I have traveled extensively through Mexico, Jamaica, Cambodia, and Thailand, and I have found that in some communities the conditions are quite similar to where I grew up, so there are indeed people in first world countries living in third world conditions.

I do not profess to know what the solutions are, but I recommend a communal commitment to public health, not only for public health professionals but for individuals as community members. Public health is at best a system of research, applied science, and of course education. My mother is a very loving, hard working individual who unfortunately was forced to stay with a man who had problems with abuse and homelessness. Recently I asked my mom why she never taught me all the things a girl should learn from her mother, like how to handle your menstrual cycle, the importance of gynecology visits, and safe sex, and she said to me, "I don't know, I thought they were teaching you about that stuff in school". As I prepare for college graduation and consider my future career goals, I only hope that I will be fortunate enough to work in public health. I would work effortlessly to help communities with limited resources heal themselves and their families.

So far I have had the opportunity to mentor a high school student and hopefully have influenced her to pursue her dreams of a college education. I was able to attend some environmental priority lobby days and use my understanding of the effects of phosphorous in the water supply to draw support for a bill in Washington State to ban the use of phosphorous in lawn fertilizers. I am also a member of the Cross Cultural Healthcare program here in Washington State.

My current scientific interests are pharmacology/toxicology and public health. I am scheduled to graduate in August 2011. I will complete my major coursework at the end of the spring quarter in early June, but will join a professor from the University of Washington Tacoma to complete my last research project in Costa Rica from August 1-22. The necessity for me to study the relationship between individuals and their environment is even greater than before. I hope to become a scientist so that I can study environmental pollutants and contaminants that affect human health.

I am eagerly applying to work in public health-related research labs for the fall. After working for a while and hopefully having paid some of my student loans, I hope to enter graduate school to pursue a PhD in a global environmental health, with a focus on epidemiology or toxicology. As a future public health professional I hope to address many of the issues I experienced as a child. I will promote communities having access to "green spaces" where their children can play, help in food reform so that grocery stores will have to be more responsible about what they put on the shelves, encourage local farms to increase communities' access to fresh food, and promote the need for adequate access to health care by increasing the number of health professionals from underserved communities and educating the community on the benefits of preventative health care practices.

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