I have spent a lot of this summer realizing how impactful research can be for social change, and how many vastly different ways there are to serve socially just causes. There are so many channels: conducting research, participating in community activism, working on political a campaign, working at a non-profit, becoming a social worker (to name a few). Considering the multitude of ways that people fight for progressive change and justice, particularly through their careers, is mostly exciting, from a social perspective, and somewhat daunting career perspective. When I started this internship, there seemed to be two clear career routes within the realm of public health: being an epidemiologist or other type of researcher, or working in policy and advocacy. While this internship has taught me so much about how research contributes to social justice and serves as a tool for improving public health policy, it has also made me question whether I would like to conduct research for the entirety of my working life.
As the CHIBPS summer internship program has started to wind down, the staff has organized several career-related talks for the interns. Yesterday, I attended the masters in public health seminar. One of the directors of CHIBPS discussed her trajectory through public health, her schooling and various jobs. It made me feel even more indecisive about my career path. But at the end, she left us with one last piece of sage advice. She said, “everything is public health.” This means that every industry and field of work has an impact on public health. In addition, all social justice work relates back to health, even if it is not explicitly discussing the physical or mental health of the people it is fighting for.
Public health is a prominent topic in the mainstream political discourse at the moment. For instance, the senate’s turbulent plans to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act that potentially threatens 22 million Americans’ health insurance coverage. Or the recent tumultuous debates surrounding women’s reproductive health and Planned Parenthood funding.
These issues are obviously explicitly public healthcare related, and thus the social justice activism surrounding them is focused on the goal of improving (or preserving) the health of at-risk populations. However, social justice activism aimed at issues related to LGBTQIA rights, police brutality, sexual violence, immigration, the environment, etc., are all tied to health. This is because identity greatly influences people’s access to healthcare, and how the healthcare system and healthcare providers interpret individuals. As for the environment example, it should be obvious that without a healthy environment, there are no healthy people (not to mention environmental racism’s impact on negative health outcomes, i.e. Flint, Michigan). Outside of activism, industries have a massive impact on the public health both economically and culturally.
From this standpoint, the biggest piece of advice I would give someone looking to pursue a social justice-related job or internship is to keep this in mind and consider how your career passions might work to serve causes you are passionate about. Consider the ethics of organizations before you apply to them. Decide how closely you would like to work with the community you are working with. I am lucky to have found an organization that improved my research skills and allowed me to interact with community members. However, the downside of research is that the results of our labor are not immediate and that is something that I sometimes struggle with. Despite that, I am happy to have interned at CHIBPS and so thankful that the WOW allowed me this formative summer in New York.