2018 PFIG Recipient Shadelle Gregory

Career Administrator
Shadelle Gregory

Journal Entry #1

During my first month here at the Center on Society and Health, I have learned an extensive amount of information about data analysis and data collection. More importantly, I have been able to assist my coworkers in ongoing projects. The team at the Center are overwhelmingly informative and knowledgeable about their jobs and roles, and have essentially taken me under their wing. Public Health falls under a plethora of fields and this internship has showed me the various roles I can play within this field. The first month of my internship has been fairly slow due to the types of projects occurring in the Center as of now. However, each project reinforces the importance of the social determinants of health, which are the main reasons for an individual's health status and health outcome. Within the Center, there are various individuals who make up the team to function accordingly including epidemiologists, a community engagement team, biostaticians, a community engagement team, and an individual that handles the logistics of the Center. More importantly, the Center works closely with various stakeholders in the city of Richmond, including the residents of Richmond. This fosters a collaborative and trusted foundation for creative, engaging projects that target pressing issues within the community.

There are various projects happening at the Center, but there is one in particular that I have been working closely with called the Health of the States (HOTS) project. The HOTS project is assessing “the health of the states”, by comparing all 50 states and the District of Columbia on 39 health outcomes and their correlation with 123 factors across the socioecological framework that could serve as an explanation for disparities across states; these factors are the social determinants of health such as the neighborhood one lives in, education, race, gender, income, access and coverage to healthcare, etc. Most of these factors are assigned to an individual at birth and are irreversible; however, there are ways in which to change systems to alleviate the burden of disease and inequity among disadvantaged individuals. This project broadens the scope beyond Richmond and creates a national story about health disparities and inequities. I am responsible for collecting and organizing data to create a database for the Health of the States (HOTS) project. I am using two databases called CDC Wonder and WISQARS, which allows me to pull information on different causes of mortality by state and race/ethnicity. Once this data is organized, I will analyze the data by comparing the death rates between and among races.

I am also responsible for creating weekly blog posts about different organizations and people who are working towards improving the social determinants of health, whether it be indirect or direct. Many of these organizations work with the Center on past and present projects. There is an amazing effort being made by community members and organizers within the city to combat the negative effects of poverty and the domino effect of such that impacts health. One stakeholder in particular that works closely with the Center is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been working with communities to help achieve health equity and to provide Americans with the opportunity to have a healthier life. In 2017, Richmond received the RWJF Culture of Health Prize because of their work in building wealth, establishing healthier housing, and advocating for food equity. All of these issues contributes to the health of individuals, families, and essentially generations. The work done by the Center and community stakeholders are necessary and highlights the important work of Public Health. More importantly, this internship solidifies the need for individuals to serve as a voice for disadvantaged communities. I am looking forward to learning more from this experience and how I can serve as that voice for my community!

Journal Entry #2

In the short time that I have been interning at the Center on Society and Health, I have learned a wealth of knowledge and have gained long-lasting relationships with my coworkers and boss. More importantly, this internship has helped solidify future work that I want to do. I have worked alongside the graphic designer, community outreach chair, and a data analysis team member to discuss and expand on various projects that the Center is working on. Beyond creating a database for the Health on the States project that I was previously assigned to, we have worked to create a MAP of the DMV area. The purpose of creating these MAPS is to see the vast difference in life expectancies between different areas of DMV, particular Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland. MAPS gives an image to the story behind the Health on the States (HOTS) project. I did extensive research for this project relating redlining and life expectancy in the DMV area. Surprisingly, I learned that there is a 15 year difference between some areas of DC and Prince George County. The history of redlining, coupled with current discriminatory housing practices correspond to the areas of lower life expectancy. These areas suffer from food deserts, lack of or limited transportation, lack of job opportunities, high rates of chronic disease, and inadequate access to healthcare. There are many stakeholders involved that can have a lasting impact on these communities. They include policy makers, school teachers/professors, health care providers, community members, and more. I am so grateful to be a part of a team that works diligently to address these issues. 

My other recent work consists of working with the community outreach team to research and create a Community Research Hub. These research hubs are composed of community members, sociologists, professors, health professionals, software developers, government, schools, and activists. A diverse community enables more enriching thought and creativity to create a global health community. The goal of a community research hub is to provide a transdisciplinary setting to develop, implement, and manage a program of strategic policy research to explore how policies, laws, and regulations can support building a culture of health. In providing this space, individuals are necessary for it to function correctly. Building collaborative communities with entrepreneurial, diverse individuals at the center where each stakeholder/partner has an equal say in the formulation of shared goals and decision making is integral in this development. Ultimately, in creating a global health community, there needs to be a space for technology, expertise, and community building to address relevant issues that subsequently affect population health. This research hub is necessary for the Center because it embodies all of the Centers goals and mission. Moreover, it gives the Center more capacity to handle projects.

This experience has opened my eyes to the various roles Public Health serves in creating a community of health. Although I have gained so much knowledge from this experience, I now know that I want to expand my knowledge beyond domestic health. All countries are facing similar health issues and injustices, and I want to take my knowledge abroad to connect all the ways in which health relates to different regions of the world. My coworkers are supportive, innovative, and long-lasting mentors who have helped me figure out how I can use my newly learned skills. The work that I have done to help the Center reinforces the need for community collaboration on all efforts to improve societal and health issues. Although some of the work can become slow and it takes substantial time to see results, the outcome is always worth the wait. I am excited to see how much more I will learn at the conclusion of this internship.

Journal Entry #3

As this internship has come to a close, I feel grateful for this experience and the people that I have met along the way. The Center on Society and Health embodies the core values that I believe are necessary to serve any population while trying to improve health outcomes. My co-workers were phenomenal and offered me mentorship that will last beyond the duration of this internship. I appreciated the flexibility and leinance that the Center offered, while also offering me insight and guidance about future careers and life opportunities. Towards the end of my internship, I was offered a free class for a program called MAPS, which provided me with some skills on how to create and customize maps of the United States based on different health measures. This program can classify disease and health outcomes by race, ethnicity, and gender. The programming and Microsoft Office skills that I have acquired and improved upon during my time at the Center will be beneficial in this upcoming school year as well as for future Public Health careers. My main tasks this summer were providing research support for innovative grant funded research, assisting the data team with translating findings of products from projects, and conducting literature reviews about community participatory research hubs and the history of redlining and racism. I have learned how to better use data language in research writing. I have also learned more about the grant writing process and the editing skills that it requires. Working in an office, surrounded by mentors and peers who all have one passion in common, created a diverse and collaborative experience for me where I always felt valued and understood. As I look back on this internship, I will be able to take a few important life lessons with me to carry into the future.

One important lesson that has been indirectly emphasized during my time at the Center is that diversity is much more than race and ethnicity. Diversity should embody gender, religion, thought, work and travel experience, family structures, partnerships, and more. The community and stakeholders involved in the work at the Center have different backgrounds, belong to different social groups and socioeconomic groups, and hold different values. Those whom I worked with at the Center understood their role and the value of their work. The research that is happening at the Center is vital in understanding the core elements of health. In order to write about the health of a population, the Center recognized the need to understand the social problems that shape one's health: the social determinants of health. In doing so, they have taught me the importance of the use of language. It is difficult to translate research findings to words that can be understood by both the community and academics. Research funded publications should be tailored more to the audience that will read this information; however, research done about the community should be accessible and understood by that same community. Language and translation of findings about disadvantaged groups is critical for various reasons. One being that academics sometimes do not receive the message as intended. For example, although race accounts for 50% of poor health outcomes due to centuries of systemic racism and discrimination, some would view this as a “black person’s problem” rather than a national problem. Those who are conscious of racial issues and the systems in place that reduce opportunities for certain groups of people are able to accurately understand the message being sent by the work produced by the Center. Another reason being that the community being addressed in these research findings should be able to comprehend the findings. I have learned that language needs to be catered to the audience so they can fully understand the message being sent.

The Center has allowed me to put Public Health in a real-world perspective. Public Health has to consider all the factors that contribute to one’s health. The Center actively engages with the community and attempts to relay information about their projects in ways that everyone can understand. More importantly, this internship has solidified my need and passion to remain a steadfast activist for all people who deserve and need a voice in this world. I will forever be grateful and thankful for the wonderful team who opened up their office and heart to me, who listened to me rant about my indecisive options about lunch or life in general, and who gave me more of a reason to pursue the injustices of a healthcare system that has failed too many deserving people. I would also like to thank the Parents Fund for allowing me to pursue this amazing opportunity.