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How I Chose Public Health

We are in the midst of the coronavirus crisis right now. And, I have been posting a lot on social media and talking a lot about public health. My first job in healthcare was about 24 years ago, in 1996. I started off as a medical records clerk in a family practice clinic in Nebraska. In case you don't know, medical records back then weren't electronic. It was all paper. Literally, I was a paper shuffler, all day every day. I didn't care for it that much and was deciding between continuing to work at the clinic and becoming a history and government teacher. I had a B.A. in History and a Secondary Education Endorsement from Graceland University and had my teaching license. The clinic administrator met with me one day and asked if I would still try to become a teacher if I was given a promotional transfer to be a medical transcriptionist at the clinic. I said no. I was going to get a raise and was going to make more than substitute teachers made (back then I believe subs made $40 a day).

After about a year there, I decided to go back to school to become a physician's assistant. I liked working in healthcare, but I knew I didn't want to be a medical transcriptionist for the rest of my life. Anyway, the doctors I worked with convinced me that I shouldn't be a physician's assistant. They told me that, instead, I should consider medical school. So, there I was, already on Plan D. Plan A was to be a lawyer, and I didn't apply to law school out of college. Instead, I went back an extra year, and I received my secondary endorsement to become a history teacher. Plan B was to be a history teacher but after my student teaching experience, I didn't want to do that. (Lesson there is please don't base your decision on whether or not to become a teacher on your student teaching experience.) Plan C was a physician's assistant. Plan D was to become a physician.

I mentioned in one of my recent posts that at that time I had a go-go-go-go-go until I passed out lifestyle. That took a lot of toll on my body. I started having health issues in my late 20s that normal people have when they are in their 50s and 60s. I didn't want to slow down, but my body told me I had to somewhat. And, I realized that if I kept doing this to myself for another 7 years through medical school and a residency, then I might have some even more serious health issues. I don't think a lot of people realize that being a physician is actually really physically taxing.

While at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (that's where this all takes place), I took several graduate courses even though I did not receive my graduate degree from there. I took Counseling Skills, Employment Law, Business Law and Ethics, and Sociology of Health and Illness. I really loved the Sociology of Health and Illness course, and it was about the most public health-like class I think I had taken to date. The course focused a lot on HIV/AIDS, and I also did the research for my final project on marketing and the tobacco industry. That's where I learned that the tobacco companies were marketing to young children, so I was not shocked when the government sued the tobacco industry a couple of years later. Seriously, pay attention to government documents, news, and reliable and reputable public information, and you can learn a lot.

In my research, I noticed a lot of the experts had this degree, master of public health. Several of the journal articles were from public health journals. I went to the library and looked up public health on the internet. Yes, we had the internet in the mid and late 90s. I thought public health was a great combination of my background in history/political science and my work experience in healthcare. Also, it tied in some of the other business courses I was taking. I had already taken the GRE when I lived in New York, and I had scored well. I didn't need to take it again. I applied to the University of Iowa, and I was accepted. I was also accepted into the Master of Health Administration (MHA) program. I later dropped the MHA degree after a year and a half. In August 2002, I graduated with my Master of Public Health (MPH) with an emphasis in Policy and Planning (Administration).