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Recognizing Future Public Health Leaders: Shankar Bhat Discusses the Role of Demographics in Addressing Environmental Health Disparities

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Research!America and leading public health organizations take the time to say “thank you” to our public health workforce who work tirelessly every day to protect us from disease, injury, and other health threats. This year’s theme “Why Public Health?” calls attention to the ways public health professionals work to promote and protect health and shines a light on their dedication to serving communities across the country. This year, we’re highlighting future public health leaders, MPH students, and recent MPH graduates, in this new blog series.

Shankar Bhat is a second-year MPH student at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. He is studying environmental health and on track to receive a social determinants of health certificate. Shankar is involved at his school where he serves as a representative for the Department of Environmental Health, a Rollins Ambassador, and a graduate research assistant. His current work involves program evaluations, data analysis, and project management. Shankar is interested in social determinants of health and how the consequences of climate change-induced pollution are impacting low-income communities of color. We asked Shankar about his journey into public health and how to inspire the next generation of public health leaders. Here are some of his responses:

Why did you choose to study public health?

“I chose to study public health because I have always believed in the power of community coming together. In public health, an inherently population level field, I can study and assist in the implementation of programs that blend community empowerment, social justice, and health sciences.”

What do you think are the most pressing issues in public health today?

“One of our highest priorities in public health has to be on the way demographics such as race, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment influence the immense range of environmental exposures we are facing. There are so many pollutants in our world that require regulation, containment, and elimination, and yet, without addressing the social disparities in exposure, we will fail to produce equitable solutions.”

Upon graduating, what do you plan to do with your degree?

“I plan on pursuing a career that is evaluations focused. I want to help public health programs be their most efficient, reach the most people, and better engage marginalized communities.”

Could you share any advice for anyone who wants to pursue a degree in public health? What have been some of the challenges you have experienced?

“My biggest piece of advice for anyone planning to pursue public health is to seek out conversations, classes, and peers that stretch your comfort zone. There are so many lessons I’ve learned from those of marginalized backgrounds, through challenging and reflecting on my own privileges, and facing difficult truths that I wouldn’t have if I stayed in my comfort zone.”

How can we inspire a younger generation to be interested in pursuing a career in public health?

“Public health is a constantly improving field. Through technology, social justice movements, and wider awareness, this is a field that is growing and evolving at a rapid pace. My optimism is grounded in the fact that so many of my peers, colleagues, and supervisors are constantly seeking out opportunities to learn.”