Isabel Walker – Student Spotlight

Isabel-Walker-headshotIsabel is a first year campus MPH student in the Public Health Practice concentration.

What is your name?
Isabel Walker

What is your concentration/specialization?
Public Health Practice, campus

What public health areas are you most interested in?
My public health interests include community outreach and epidemiology, specifically pediatric health disparities, more specifically minority/immigrant health disparities and pediatric chronic disease health disparities.

What did you study in your undergraduate career or post-graduate career prior to beginning the MPH program?
I studied Anthropology, with a concentration in Medical Anthropology and a minor in Health Disparities at UF prior to my MPH. During my undergrad years I worked for a program called Streetlight at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. It is a psychosocial palliative care program for teenagers and young adults at the hospital with chronic and/or terminal illnesses. I also worked as a patient care assistant and the monitor support tech on the inpatient pediatric unit. In 2018 I joined the Pediatric Critical Care Medicine research team in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

What first prompted your interest in public health?
It was through my hospital experience in Streetlight and working on the floor as a PCA/MST that I first got a glimpse into certain health disparities and social determinants of health that our patients had to navigate in addition to their physical ailments. While I was studying about these health determinants in my medical anthropology and health disparities classes, I also had uninsured and underserved patient with chronic disease trying to navigate our very complicated healthcare system. I would talk about these issues with my health disparities undergraduate professor, Dr. Guyer, and she mentioned how I should study public health before pursuing a degree in Physician Assistant studies. She advised that having a big picture understanding of how our current healthcare system works and impacts the specific environment our patients have to navigate their health in was going to make me a more informed and resourceful physician assistant that could better empower her patients. So I did just that and I am so incredibly thankful. I am only in my second semester, but the lessons and experiences I have learned even in this short period of time are priceless and insurmountable.

What interested you in the UF Public Health program?
The UF MPH program is so unique in the number of resources available to its students. Like I mentioned before, I have been able to volunteer and work in a pediatric palliative care program unique in the nation, do actual clinical research in the pediatric intensive care units, and acquire direct patient care experience in the inpatient pediatric unit at one of the nation’s top children’s hospital. Because we are a top 10 public university, we have a selection of world class research opportunities, professors, and community programs. As a GRA in the PICU I have had the amazing opportunity to be a part of multi-site national and international clinical research projects that aim to improve clinical care. We also have incredible programs that impact our community like Streetlight and Mobile Outreach Clinic, a mobile clinic that goes out into the community to provide free healthcare to the uninsured and underinsured population. Gainesville is such a unique and beautiful community that embraces the diversity of its citizens and natural environment. We are a community of small businesses that make an effort to protect our surrounding state parks, rivers, springs, and wonderful trails because we understand the importance of environment in promoting health equity. This is why we have free nature parks and trails, along with a multitude of affordable farmers markets and community gardens. It’s a city that allows us to put forth the innovative solutions and programs we create at UF into action.

What has been the most impactful course you have taken at UF? If you cannot identify one–what is a lesson or message that has stuck with you?
I was blessed enough to take Psychological, Behavioral, and Social Issues in Public Health with Dr. Hart my first semester. I had learned about health disparities and various social determinants of health through my health disparities minor at UF, but this class went further and taught us theories and models used to create and implement effective and innovative programs and interventions to increase health equity. It opened up my eyes to the importance of impacting patient’s lives outside of the clinic room, for providers only get a limited amount of time with patients It’s the public health professionals that study and work to improve persons social determinants of health that impact their everyday lives and health choices. I have not only used the theories and lessons learned in this class in many of my other classes, but I also use them every day in clinic and in the hospital, when I am trying to find the most efficient solution/resource/program to improve my patient’s overall health status. I know the lessons learned and way of thinking instilled in me by this class is going to carry on with me after graduation as I work as a public health practitioner.

What has been your favorite/most memorable moment in the program?
Besides meeting some of the most amazing, kind, and intelligent people I know through the professors and fellow students in this program, I think being able to apply my patient care experience from working at the children’s hospital with the public health knowledge learned during my MPH classes and being able to put all of that experience and didactic knowledge into a community outreach program like the Mobile Outreach Clinic (MOC) has been the most rewarding experience. MOC was started by UF students and it provides free medical care to those in our community un/underinsured. We provide free healthcare in the form of preventative health screenings and management of HTN, Diabetes, STDs, and family planning and mental health services. We also go one step further, as we don’t just give patients medications, but we follow-up with them to empower them to navigate through their own social determinants of health by walking them through various resources: linking them up with local resources that offer legal help, transportation assistance to and from appointments, and specialized pediatric and women’s clinics.

As a Venezuelan immigrant myself, my most memorable moment so far has been working with the Mobile Outreach clinic during this past immigrant health fair. Because of the current political situation going on in Venezuela right now, we are experiencing one of the worst migration crises of our regions history, and a lot of these Venezuelan refugees are fleeing here to Florida. Even now I continue to follow-up with my patients trying to assist them with local resources like free dental care, vaccination updates, and women’s health services. It is a privilege to be able to help out my people in this way.

What advice do you have to someone who is interested in this program or someone who is just starting out in this program?
My main advice for anyone interested in public health is to get involved in the community. Public health isn’t a field that one can learn by just reading a book, it has to be applied. Like I’ve mentioned before, my most memorable and thought-provoking moments have been out in the Gainesville community putting into practice what I learn in class every day. Moreover, get involved on a research team! Through the Pediatric Critical Care Medicine research team, I have been able to bring forth aspects of almost every MPH core class (epidemiology, biostatistics, and of course social and behavioral sciences) in the design and implementation of innovative research studies that look at major public health issues like sepsis, pediatric TBI, and delirium. There truly is nothing like real-life scenarios and problems to help cement the incredible lessons we learn through this program.
My last piece of advice to make friends. You will spend a lot of time with your cohort, and the classes are challenging. The friends you make will become your support system as you complete the program.

Isabel was recently awarded the UFHealth Shands Auxiliary’s Grace Winslow Scholarship, based on above average grades, a strong commitment to the ideals and endeavors of the applicant’s profession, and service/volunteer excellence. She was also recently recognized by the staff and healthcare providers of the Mobile Outreach Clinic where she volunteers with the Provider Recognition Award, which “awarded by MOC staff to Care Coordinators that have been recognized as having grown heavily in their job’s capacity, shown initiative in their duties, incorporates feedback into their routines, and is an overall asset to our program.”