Big picture thinking: Therese Zink’s MPH broadens her approach to health care
The group of Minnesota college students, all pre-health majors, climbed out of the old yellow school bus. The temperature that January afternoon in Nicaragua registered 35 degrees Celcius (95 Fahrenheit), much warmer than back home. They paired off, linked up with their interpreters, and tromped in different directions down the dirt roads of the village to begin knocking on doors.
The students were spending their J-term with Inter Faith Service to Latin America (ISLA), and I was coordinating their weeklong activity. Thanks to the skills I’d gained through my Master of Public Health program, I suggested that ISLA do a community needs and assets assessment so we could better understand the region’s health issues.
Over and over again that week, people in the village welcomed the students into their homes. One of the important findings from our community assessment was related to asthma. Students noted that locals cooked in kitchens without ventilation. Mothers reported coughing among their children, but were unaware of the relationship between the cooking fumes and their children’s health.
Later, the students and I discussed the findings. We could treat the children’s asthma in the clinic, but addressing the problem from a public health perspective would achieve broader results. Eventually, ISLA identified a Nicaraguan stove with a pipe ventilating to the outside that could be installed in homes for a reasonable price.
The experience also reminded me of why I chose to pursue an MPH after working as a family physician for five years. I wanted a “big picture” perspective and the skills to affect health on a scale broader than one person at a time.
Having an MPH has benefited my work globally and locally. It has helped me address the sources of health problems, as we did with the childhood asthma issue, rather than just treat their symptoms. In my practice in a small rural community in southeastern Minnesota, it is equally important for me to consider health beyond the clinic’s walls.
–Therese Zink , MD, MPH, earned her degree from SPH in 1992.
PHOTO BY PATRICK O’LEARY