My call to public health came shortly after I finished my bachelor’s degree. I was planning to become a doctor, so I was busy preparing to apply to medical school — studying for the MCAT, working at a local hospital and shadowing a primary care physician.
One of the PCP’s regular appointments was with a severely obese two-year-old and the child’s mother. Despite the doctor’s guidance on healthier eating, the toddler’s weight stayed the same week after week. Eventually we learned that most of the family meals consisted of prepackaged foods from the convenience store near their home. With two jobs, three young children and a two-hour bus ride to the closest grocery store, it was almost impossible for the overweight toddler’s single mother to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
It was this patient interaction that inspired me to change course and pursue a career in public health. I saw firsthand the impact I could have by focusing on health at the community level — reducing obesity by eliminating food deserts, cutting cancer deaths by promoting screenings, curbing preventable diseases by helping people get vaccinations. Instead of treating sick people, I wanted to keep people from getting sick.
As a quality improvement consultant at Qualis Health, I get to do just that. I’ve been able to work with hospitals, health systems, medical associations, doctors, patient advocates and community members on unique projects aimed at improving the lives of Idahoans.
My current project has brought together a passionate group of health care organizations to take on a serious public health issue: pneumonia. Each year, about one million people in the United States get pneumonia. Each year, it kills thousands. Those who survive often face weeks or months of recovery. And yet, it can be prevented with proper immunizations.
A few months ago, the Southeastern Idaho Public Health District, Idaho State University, Portneuf Quality Alliance and Bingham Memorial Hospital, among others, partnered with Qualis Health to boost pneumonia immunization rates. As each organization committed time and resources to this effort, the value of our group became clear: together, we could have a deep impact. With this shared vision, we developed a community wide approach to increase demand, enhance access to vaccination services and reduce missed opportunities to vaccinate.
This month, we launched a public awareness campaign that includes radio, transit, social media and print advertising. Additionally, we developed an educational website for clinicians that includes evidence-based interventions, immunization resources and campaign materials for pharmacies and primary care offices, as well as useful information for patients.
Join me in the fight against pneumonia! To find out more about pneumonia vaccines and where you can get yours, visit vaccinefinder.org.