By Breniss Duffy
Before the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2019, I gained an interest in Maternal and Child Health from attending a documentary screening which featured “Laboring with Hope”, a look into the rising maternal mortality rate and healthcare injustice amongst African American women presented by Dr. Nakeitra Burse. This documentary alongside the rise of COVID-19 influenced my decision to pursue Public Health in the Fall of 2020. While working toward my Master of Public Health from Jackson State University, I served as a full-time high school science teacher at an urban high school in Jackson, MS. A lot of my students had no understanding of what public health meant, its significance and how it directly impacted them. They often questioned my reasoning for studying public health and how it related to education. To some, leaving education for a career in public health seemed farfetched and unrelated.
Not only did I achieve my goal of pursuing a career in public health – I took it a step further. I took a deeper dive into a field that serves as the driving force for ethical research practices, how services are rendered, their effectiveness and its impact on the general public’s wellbeing: Evaluation.
Two-for-One? I’ll take “Research Evaluation”, please.
The Fall 2021 semester (with one more semester to go) placed things into perspective for me-I would soon leave my life as an educator and walk into a new world: Public Health. I am a graduate student with two internships under my belt but really had no clue on what to do next with my career. Our department would send opportunities via email to all the public health students regarding jobs, internships, scholarships and conferences — I applied to them all.
One November evening, my mentor forwarded me an email containing a job posting at Ole Miss for a project manager for the Center for Research Evaluation. My first thoughts were – research AND evaluation? This is what I have been looking for!
And that is when it all clicked for me. Until this point, I didn’t have a description of my passions for public health, but here it was in the field of evaluation. I interviewed, CERE offered me the position, so I stepped out on faith, resigned as a teacher (first REAL job) and began my new journey. “I’m starting all over again”.
Education + Public Health = Evaluation
Since working with CERE, I’ve learned how to conduct structured observations and create evaluation protocols. While working on projects in the fields of education and healthcare, I analyze quantitative and qualitative data, conduct interviews with clients and investigators, compose interim and yearly reports for clients, assist in evaluation processes of healthcare services and programs and educate clients on how they can improve the programs and services they provide. I have had the opportunity to learn about the countless opportunities and programs provided by local universities, hospitals and public health agencies and their alignment with the ten essential public health services.
Most of all, I have met and worked alongside some of the best scientists and professionals in education, healthcare and evaluation Mississippi has to offer. I am grateful for the chance, experience and growth as an educator, evaluator and public health professional. I look forward to working on projects that encompass my research interest in youth risk behaviors, industrial hygiene, disease surveillance and environmental toxicology. In the field of evaluation – I’ve come to realize the opportunities are endless.