From Case Study to Real World: Getting an MPH During a Pandemic | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
MPH Student Ugbaad Ali
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From Case Study to Real World: Getting an MPH During a Pandemic

I remember first hearing about COVID-19 at the start of the spring semester in my “Power and Politics in Global Health course.” 

As a Global Health specializer, my innate sense of global responsibility immediately took heed. A mysterious illness displaying SARS like symptoms appeared in Wuhan, China. The reports were minimal and most of the world was left in the dark. During class, I remained pragmatic as we discussed the what-ifs of global health security and disease outbreaks, but like most students, I was preoccupied with the ebbs and flows of daily life. 

Today, there are more than three million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and nearly a third of those cases are in the United States. 

If you’ve kept up with news and social media the past few months, you may have also endured the social and political chaos accompanying the outbreak. Conflicting information from federal and local officials left people with little time for measured emergency preparedness. Instead, people began to stockpile essentials and the panic of hoarding bread and toilet paper ensued. 

To effectively convey risk communications to the public, public health professionals and professionals-in-training must walk the fine line between panic and preparedness. 

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are four phases of emergency preparedness mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. Leading public health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have explicitly have pointed out that decisions made by the executive branch have curtailed all four phases. Policies to dismantle the National Security Council Pandemic Response Team and delay enactment of the Defense Production Act. These policies and decisions certainly have the capacity to impact the health of Americans far beyond the end of this pandemic. 

Getting an MPH during a pandemic has overwhelmed me with feelings of helplessness and disarray, but has further strengthened my innate purpose in public health. 

Helplessness lingers seeing hospitals experience equipment shortages due to bureaucratic red tape. Or the feeling of defeat reading early reports confirming African Americans are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, further exacerbating racial health disparities. I’m overcome with disarray as moments of celebration like graduations are canceled for close friends, only for thousands to defy physical distancing practices to protest for their “civil liberties.” 

This pandemic is far more than a classroom case study, we are actively witnessing the success and failures of public health interventions in real-time. Though I am not an expert public health advisor (yet), this pandemic has made me grasp the value of my public health knowledge and skills. Even as MPH students, we can actively strengthen the well-being of our social networks by offering both emotional and informational support during this time. Whether it's explaining epidemiological surveillance methods or translating prevention tips to family members in their native languages, we serve as liaisons bridging public health knowledge gaps of those closest to us. 

I never considered earning an MPH amid a pandemic, though experiencing a pandemic in any capacity wasn’t in my plans either. But, living through COVID-19 during my first year at the Brown School has fostered skills of perseverance, flexibility, and Zoom proficiency. Through it all, I continue to find purpose in cultivating sustainable public health practices to preserve global public health for all.