Grad stories: Lucy Nevanen
Master of Public Health student shares her background and experience.
Lucy, what is your hometown?
My hometown is International Falls, Minn. which is located about four hours northwest of Grand Forks, right on the Minnesota-Ontario border. We're also known as "The Ice Box of the Nation."
You did your undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. The U of M has quite a large Public Health School. How did you come choose UND for your graduate degree?
I chose UND because I wanted a more personal experience from my graduate education. I knew that UND was a great school, as my Dad graduated from college here, and so when I heard about the MPH program, I applied right away. UND's program attracted me because of the small class sizes in our program, the experience and knowledge of the MPH directors and professors, and the University's positive reputation.
You are in the Public Health graduate program, which is relatively new. Did you have any reservations about undertaking an advanced degree in a new program?
Not really, I actually thought it seemed exciting! It's really fun to be a part of something new, and to help create this program that is a lot bigger than just myself-it is exciting to be part of the founding class. The Goldsteens allow us so much input with the program and really make me feel that my feedback is appreciated and listened to, which is something that I may not have gotten other places.
I guess the only thing I worried about was if such a new program would have high-quality professors that I would be able to connect with and learn a lot from. I have to say that all of the professors this program has brought together from across UND have been amazing. I feel that I have been able to learn from them not only the subject matter, but also really valuable information about working in public health and all the options that are available to me. I feel very lucky to have been in their classes and have learned so much.
Why should we, as a society, be concerned with public health and how could such a program impact our communities?
A quote that has really stuck with me is "Health care is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time" -C. Everett Koop. For me, this really helps to summarize the importance of public health that we all take for granted. Some of the most basic public health interventions ― sanitation, clean water, vaccinations ― have greatly contributed to our country's increased life expectancy. Public health impacts us every day ― the fact that we have safe and clean food, safe roads, and overall healthier lives. In our community, for example, the health department does a great job controlling the mosquitoes. Without all the work they do, there would be so many more mosquitoes, and possibly more outbreaks of West Nile Virus. That is just one of many examples of a prevention effort that public health does.
Can you talk about some of the research you have been involved with?
Last year I assisted Dr Goldsteen with some of his research projects. These have included looking at the public health effects of the oil boom in western North Dakota. For example, what are the public health effects of so many people living in temporary housing as far as hygiene, physical health, etc.? Also, what are the effects on physician shortages in these rural communities with huge influxes of new residents?
We also looked at why North Dakota had such a drop in the national health rankings this past year, as well as the drop in life-expectancy for un-educated white women. I've really enjoyed assisting Dr. Goldsteen with his research, because we are looking at real-life issues.
Do you have an area of specialization?
I am specializing in Population Health Research and Evaluation, which focuses a lot on qualitative and quantitative research methods. But knowing that I want to move back to a rural area one day, I'm planning on taking electives in health management so that I can become a well-rounded public health professional capable of leading a rural health organization.
You are also the president of the student public health organization. What types of activities does the organization get involved with?
We are a really new organization, so it is a small group of us working hard to raise money and get the word out about who we are. So far, we have attended a lot of health fairs, as well as held a "healthy bake sale." The UND MPH program has adopted a portion of Highway 2 as well, which factors in to the "environmental health" aspect of public health. We hope to attend national public health conferences this upcoming year.
In addition to Public Health Departments, what types of careers can this degree lead to?
The more involved in public health I get, the more I realize that an MPH can lead to so many different careers. It really depends on what you are interested in. You can go the route of research, or health management as a public health department employee. There are also a lot of emerging jobs in the environmental health industry, as well as the occupational or "worksite wellness" industry that I think is going to grow. For those interested in physical health, there are so many health prevention programs for people of all ages. I could go on forever, the options really are endless.
Where do you hope your master's degree in Public Health will take you?
Well right now I am hoping to continue on to dental school after getting my MPH, and I would love to become a public health dentist. However, I am hoping that no matter what I end up doing, I can move back to a small, rural area, as that is where I feel most at home. I feel that earning my MPH has opened a lot of doors for me, and I can only imagine where it will take me. Public health is such an important topic that isn't going away, and so I know I will end up doing something helping others and improving the lives of many people.
What should a prospective student of Public Health know about UND's program?
I think a prospective UND MPH program student should think about what they want to get out of a graduate degree program. If they are looking for somewhere they can make a big impact, have program leaders appreciate their ideas, and really get to know high-quality professors, I think this program would be a great choice!
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