Healthline 2021 scholarship winner: Anne Jean Baptiste

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Anne Jean Baptiste accidentally fell into the public health program at the University of Miami (UM).

But the introduction of his first public health course proved transformative for Jean Baptiste, broadening his understanding of health inequalities. It helped her see that she didn’t need to become a doctor (a profession she wasn’t passionate about) to positively impact the health of people in underserved communities.

“Becoming a major in public health set my life in place,” says the 21-year-old, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health when she graduates.

In the meantime, she has already started to put her passion into action. She provides education and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to young adults as a community outreach coordinator in Miami-Dade County. She is also the general youth representative for The AIDS Institute.

We asked John the Baptist about his studies, his goals and his obstacles. Here is what she had to say.

This interview has been edited for brevity, length and clarity.

What prompted you to start your field of study?

Growing up as a first generation immigrant in a minority community, I had few resources and guidance, especially when it came to navigating academia.

Before enrolling at UM, I was unaware of the different [career paths] that were available in health care. I thought my only option was to become a doctor, but I was not passionate about this job.

I applied to UM as a major in biology and was kind of accepted as a major in nursing. I knew I didn’t want to be a nurse. So, I hastily told my advisor that I would like to change my major in public health, thinking it was the same as health sciences, a popular major among premedicine students.

Thanks to the Introduction to Public Health course, I realized that this specialty exceeded the limits of my previous understanding of health. I learned about intersectionality, the social determinants of health, health disparities and the ways I can implement change in my community.

It made me realize that I wanted to dedicate my life to public health.

Can you tell us about the work you have already done in public health?

I am a screening counselor and community awareness coordinator for adolescent care and screening services in the Unified Messaging Health System. There, I offer free HIV and STI testing and education for teens and young adults in Miami-Dade County.

I’m also the Miami-Dade general youth representative for The AIDS Institute. I have the opportunity to provide an overview of the sexual health needs and concerns of young people. I plan to continue my studies on HIV and STIs and expand my scope to other infectious diseases in the future.

What obstacles do you plan to encounter as you move towards your goals?

The main obstacle I imagine myself encountering is complacency.

I realize that the road to my goal of becoming a public health professional will be strewn with pitfalls and that I will face pushbacks from all angles when trying to implement change. But I never want to feel like I’ve done enough. For me, that’s enough, it’s the bare minimum.

I plan to go above and beyond each goal I set for myself. There will always be someone or something that I can be of use to, and I always hope with passion to embody the role that they need me for.

One hurdle I have overcome as I move towards my goal is to convince others that I, as well as other medical professionals, want the best for them. Mistrust of the medical industry continues to grow, but I cannot allow this to deter me from doing meaningful work.

Why is it important to reduce health inequalities in the black community, and how do you plan to do it?

Racial inequality in health is a public health emergency that has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Americans are on twice as likely die of COVID-19 than white Americans.

This staggering trend highlights a health disparity that is present in virtually every aspect of [healthcare] in the USA.

The inequalities that the black community faces are rooted in systemic discrimination in health facilities, limited access to quality care, and social determinants of health, such as education and access to healthy food. .

While tackling racial inequalities in health will require large-scale changes in our health care system, I can still make an impact.

I plan to reduce health inequalities in the black community by using my privilege of being in spaces from which we have historically been excluded to advocate for the needs of my community.

What message would you like to send to the black community?

The black community has struggled with systemic oppression and abuse for centuries, and many of us have reached a point of exhaustion or feel our efforts are wasted. I want to remind the black community that we have overcome great injustices and will continue to stand up for our rights.

The events of the past year have shown that we must unite to dismantle the systematically racist and exclusionary institutions in this country.

The conversation about inequality often centers around the oppressed rather than privileged individuals who can use their place in society to effect change.

Those who are in a privileged place should not be afraid to speak on behalf of the black community – otherwise, they are complacent to us.

Use your voice, your resources and the spaces you represent to advocate for marginalized communities.


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