25 August 2009

For everything there is a season...

Those of you who have known me for awhile or who have heard my life story know that I've been through several evolutions. I grew up wanting to follow in my mom's footsteps and teach. Then I wanted to be an attorney. Then I thought I wasn't smart enough to put together a case in 60 minutes minus commercial time. So I went back to the idea of teaching. Then I was raped, and I learned first-hand that a D.A. really has (sometimes) nearly two years to put a case together. And I decided I could do it. I worked my ass off, got into a Temple Law School... and nearly failed out because of an undiagnosed learning disability.

I left feeling stupid, my self-esteem was shot, and I felt like I couldn't return home. Despite what my mom told me... I HAD failed. I WAS a disappointment. Even though I know NOW that with my learning disability there was no way I could have passed law school without accommodations, to this day, it STILL stings. So I floundered. For years I was a social worker, an office manager, an administrative assistant, a legal secretary, and a teacher. I worked for non-profits, for corporate offices, for plumbers, and for a court-reporting school.

Then through a rather odd series of events, I decided to get a Master's degree in Public Health. I studied in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. While I was there, several of the professors assumed I was going to concentrate in Health Management and Policy. When I talked to them about it, they said I just had a "policy vibe" about me. When I dug deeper, one of them admitted that it was probably because of the law background. I said that was a large part of why I DIDN'T want to go that route - been there, done that. It felt like a step BACKWARD. I was returning to school at the age of (then) 31 to go FORWARD with my life.

Well, it seems like things kind of go full circle in my life sometimes. My current boss is TECHNICALLY the "interim director" of our department and her ACTUAL job is in regulatory compliance, which means that she works with policies all day - writes them, reviews them, meets about them, etc. All of the other people in my department get to go to meetings about and help write policies, and I'm DYING that I'm not in there, too. And while I really, really like my job, I also DO miss the policy aspect of public health.

I've always been involved in activism and lobbying. Since I've blogged about my rape anniversary and helping change Missouri law, I've been thinking about how lil ol' me put into action a policy intervention that had HUGE implications for incest victims/survivors in Missouri, and I think that MEANS something. I think the fact that I'm working with a boss who happens to wear two hats and one of them happens to be a policy hat MEANS something.

My research areas of interest haven't changed. I still basically have two areas that I'm currently interested in. I know that before I start applying for PhDs, I'll have to narrow them (or I may apply to different programmes based on these two areas and see where they EACH get me). I'm interested in the health disparities of adoptees; research indicates that adoptees (especially in their teens) have higher rates of depression and suicide attempts. I'm also interested in health disparities of prisoners/prison populations. Prisoners tend to have a different set of health issues than that of non-prisoners because of over-crowding and ... well, other issues that I won't get into now because it'll lead to a soapbox moment.

My MAIN career goal also hasn't changed. I still want to teach at the graduate level. I believe that I would make an excellent professor. I believe that I would make a great advisor, and I believe that every once in awhile a student and I would connect on the same level that Dennis (my unoffical advisor/mentor throughout my MPH) and I have connected.

What HAS changed is that I now want to approach the aforementioned issues on a macro level instead of a micro level. So I visited Dennis today for an hour-long chat. He gave me some reading material and some GREAT advice. He said to stop thinking about "health policy," and start thinking in terms of "health services research," which is a sub-category of health policy. He told me to remember to shift my thinking to APPLIED now. Epi and biostats was about "what can I learn from this?" Health services research is about "what can I DO with this?" He said to always keep in mind that the overarching goal is the policy intervention on the applied level.

He gave me a four-point to-do list, and I won't bore you with that. He gave me volume of articles to read through from the Health Services Research journal. And he asked me to keep him informed of my progress. And he implored me to think VERY seriously about applying for PhD admission for Fall 2010. And then he asked me to pick my jaw up from the floor. (No, seriously, that wasn't the to-do list.)

I asked him how difficult it would be to make the jump from epi/biostats to policy, and he said that since it's still public health, since it's still looking at solving health issues, it's not even crossing the street - it's just strolling down the block a little bit. And he assured me that any smart policy department would welcome someone who had an epi/biostats background since most policy-types shy away from the data analysis.

He ended by telling me that he thought I would be GREAT in this field, and he would do anything he could to answer questions, help me along, etc.

I feel very, very, VERY good about this.


  1. Reassure your accountant that you're keeping your job during all this...

  2. Dennis to the rescue again! I think this is a good move for you -- I'm excited for you!

    I too am on the verge of a monumental transition. At the end of this week I will end the heme block and begin cardio. ....See, that's funny, because my life is really just all studying all the time and there's never actually any change or anything remotely monumental. Irony.

  3. That sounds great! I'm glad you have someone like Dennis to bounce off of. someday I'll figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

  4. First isn't it great to have someone who can be unbiased and listen to you AND has the background to help you make a decision like this? You're very blessed to have Dennis in your life. Second, WOOHOO!!! Sounds like things are coming together and you're making a plan. Yeah you!