One day, as an icebreaker, my professor passed on a lesson she learned from her undergraduate professor, who asked the class why they wanted to go into public health. Many of the responses followed the same pattern of “I’m passionate about helping people,” “I’m passionate about,” or “I have a passion for.” No matter how the sentence was structured, the word passion found its way into every response. 

Passion derives from the Latin word “pati,” which means “to suffer.” The word was used often in Christianity, referring to the sacrifice of martyrs but later changed to a positive connotation in the 1500s and started to refer to intercourse and sexual desire. 

“Be careful when you say you’re passionate about something,” she said. “Until you’ve truly suffered, you can’t truly experience passion.”

We have all been faced with the question “what are you passionate about?” It is there throughout college applications, scholarships, and proposals, trying to convince others that we are a good investment of time and money and that our goals are pure and ambitious.  

I no longer say that I’m “passionate” about public health, instead opting for the word “interested.” Since I’ve taken my introduction classes, I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole with the variety of fields public health allows me to go through, such as epidemiology, health communications, health education and so much more. In a world where we’re forced to grow up, it feels like I actually have a choice and can leisurely take my time to explore this field.  

When talking about the medical field, it seems like the only choice students are taught is to become a doctor or nurse. These occupations are romanticized and praised throughout the media with shows like Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Doctor and Chicago Med, which have contributed to our narrow understanding of the medical field.  

While we need nurses and doctors, they also experience high burnout rates and incur significant debt. Healthcare systems should not be operating on individuals sacrificing their health and well-being for others. Our current model of healthcare is neither sustainable nor conducive to work satisfaction and quality patient care. 

We cannot effectively provide care on an individual level when the system is corrupt. That is why I love that public health focuses on the community and uses upstream thinking. Upstream thinking is concerned with how to prevent and eradicate the problem on a systematic level, compared to downstream thinking which only addresses the aftereffects of problems. 

Public health encompasses all societal sectors because everything impacts health, from the built environment around you to your friends’ behaviors. You do not necessarily need to work in healthcare or the scientific field to improve the mental and physical health of yourself and others around you either. Justina Miles, who stole America’s heart on Sunday as the first Black deaf woman to serve as an ASL translator for the Super Bowl halftime show, is a great example of this. Miles’ performance showcases health equity, making the show accessible and providing accommodations so that everyone can watch Rihanna’s comeback.  

With racism being declared a public health crisis amid the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, it is more imperative than ever to continue strides towards health equity and racial justice. We need the help of everyone to contribute to the well-being of themselves, their family, and their community. 

ABIBA BIAO is a first-year Honors College student at Southern Connecticut State University and a graduate of Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, CT.