How I ended up in public health / by Terry Huang

I was a psychology major in college. In my final year, I worked on a health psychology thesis focused on the mental health of breast cancer survivors. That research was part of an emerging field called psycho-oncology and it helped me appreciate the interconnection between the mind and the body. As I delved into the research, I began to ask more questions.  I wondered how social and environmental conditions might influence the mental or physical health outcomes of those patients. That research experience was instrumental in pushing me to look for graduate programs that were truly interdisciplinary and that entailed research linking the biological and psychosocial sciences. By chance, I stumbled upon an applied health research program in Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California, which seemed really interesting and had many of the interdisciplinary features I was looking for. The program was offered by the medical school and qualified students could go from a bachelor's degree directly into the PhD program.  Fortunately I got in, and that was how I ended up in public health.

I initially started my work in tobacco and drug abuse prevention. Then I gravitated towards childhood obesity research as the health consequences were starting to really emerge as a major public health concern. What I love most about the field of obesity research is that it truly requires the knowledge of diverse fields, from the biological sciences to the social and behavioral sciences and even business, engineering, policy, and law. It is a perfect model to train one's mind in navigating and managing complexity and to be creative in thinking outside the box. Through my experience in the obesity field, I have come to see public health in all places and across the ages. Everything is related to public health!

I am glad I found public heath, as it has offered me a multifaceted window to critically examine the world. In the process, I have also come to appreciate that there remains so much potential in public health that is yet to be fulfilled. Doing so will require ever more intensive integration of expertise from other fields. However, the future is full of possibilities, as knowing what we don't know is the first step towards achieving the next innovation in public health.