Global Perspective

Yes, I Have Hope

by Honorine Uwimana

If you are in the aisles of a public health school, you probably have come across the following triad of questions:

  • Why did you join public health?
  • Do you like it?
  • What do you plan to do with your degree? Or what does one do in public health? Do you want to become a nurse? Do you work in a hospital?

Usually, the last question presents a challenge given the progression of the public health field. Furthermore, the answer to the first two questions has never been anything to ponder but a creed to proclaim unapologetically.

What brought me to Public Health?

I did not come to public health; public health came to me.

My name is Honorine Uwimana, and if that name suggests anything to an English-speaking audience, it is that I am an immigrant and an international student. Geographically speaking, I am from East Africa. In the graphic public health language, you would locate me in the red where the curve goes down when we are talking of healthcare milestones and goes up when we speak of the burdens of global health inequities. I come from a place where the word pandemic is common vocabulary and infectious diseases are a burden. In my world, child mortality is a real threat. As stated at the beginning, public health approached me before I made my way into the healthcare sciences. I grew up questioning towering disjunctures in health, and through my education journey, I have gained an understanding of systems inequalities. In the search for instruments to better understand and address the structural forces that localize certain diseases and some health opportunities, I found public health platforms and education.

I joined the public health master's program in 2021 amidst a global pandemic and the underlying global inequities it spotlighted. I was then following my social justice call with the sisters of Saint Joseph in Orange County, CA. During my work experience with elder care, I witnessed the effects of ageism, particularly the Alzheimer’s burden. I became more sensitive to the adverse effects of racial, gender, age, and income disparities on health outcomes. These adverse effects were an alarm that I could not ignore. I needed to make my contribution to equity, and for that, I needed the tools, evidence-based knowledge to inform interventions, and most importantly, mentorship and partnerships that the University of San Francisco promised and proved to deliver. USF Orange County campus sits on the Saint Joseph’s Center, which has a history of long-term commitment to social justice.

Now, reaching the end of my first academic year, anytime I am asked whether I like it, the answer comes easily, I have joined public health education with my own history and perspectives. Just like me, every student brings their experiences, hopes of what they want to change within the communities, or hopes of a fair distribution of resources and opportunities. My commitment responds to a question of hope and not a question of likes. Do I have hope for where my education is taking me? Yes, I do. I have to confess that it is not an easy journey. The blend of sciences, compassion, and activism that is public health requires a sense of direction and a lot of skills and competencies.

One of the most significant learning opportunities for me, has been in the epidemiology class. The previous statement does not suggest that I am good at statistics or that I like graphs and the calculations behind them that constantly classify my country and Sub-saharan Africa in red. However, the critical thinking and evidence-based judgment that the epidemiology class offers, coupled with mentorship from a highly skilled faculty, make complicated ideas accessible and exciting, and the promise of health equity and infectious diseases universal eradication attainable. Yes, I have hope.

Lastly, what happens after my program? After I finish my public health master's, or as I am commonly asked: What do you plan to do with your degree? What does one do with a master's in public health? Do you become a nurse? Do you work at a hospital?

Most people understand what public health is and what it is not, but only a few know what public health encompasses. I took pharmacy in college and practiced as a pharmacist for nearly two years. Through my practice, I understood that nursing, social work, medicine, and pharmacy to name a few, are all public health spheres. Public health is not only about medications and vaccine development, but also about the social constructs that determine who receives them and who does not. Public health is not only about the cutting-edge medical advancements that prolong life, but also about who has access to them.

I represent many of the minorities or at-risk populations that are discussed in most of my public health coursework: women, immigrants, Black, from a region of the world classified as low-income. It would be a broken oath not to utilize my public health skills to represent myself and the communities I belong to. I am interested in global health equity, infectious diseases epidemiology, women's health, racial disparities in healthcare delivery, promoting health for older adults, and adverse childhood experiences, among other public health challenges. Down the horizon, I see myself joining the many public health servants, pushing for adequate public health provisions, community health, and a global health equity plan.