Bridget Higginbotham

Bridget Higginbotham photographs an IRS spray supervisor and a woman whose home is being sprayed the district of Mutoko in Eastern Zimbabwe. Photo by Tiffany Clark.

May 13, 2019

When Bridget Higginbotham studied insecticides in her required MPH environmental health course, she didn’t think that just over a year later, she’d be traipsing through Zimbabwe documenting how homes are sprayed to protect against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

After graduating last May, Higginbotham started a seven-month communications internship at the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), an initiative aimed at fighting malaria in Africa and Southeast Asia and led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As part of the Global Health Fellows program, she wrote digital content and managed social media accounts — and spent two weeks in Zimbabwe writing stories and meeting with PMI’s partners abroad.

Higginbotham has since transitioned to full-time contract work for PMI as a malaria technical advisor, where she still produces social and digital content for the communications team. But she also helps guide the implementation of social and behavior change interventions related to malaria prevention and treatment, and she supports teams working on the ground in Niger and Guinea.

It’s an office job with global impact — the sweet spot Higginbotham was searching for.

“I wanted to work internationally but not live overseas permanently. And for me, everything falls under the ultimate goal of helping people and making the world a better place,” she said.

Before getting her MPH in Behavioral and Community Health, Higginbotham trained as a journalist and worked in communications. SPH helped her make the career change, preparing her to use her existing communications skills to advance public health causes.

In particular, the technical training she received at SPH — like learning the terminology of epidemiology, the vocabulary of monitoring and evaluation and theories of behavior change — allowed her understand the language of global health and tackle the social and behavior change and country support parts of her job. She still keeps the textbook from her program planning and evaluation courses in her cubicle.

And the mentorship and support from faculty members, like Muhiuddin Haider, clinical professor at the Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health, and Cynthia Baur, director of the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, helped her transition to a new field, she says.

She arrived at her internship ready to help tell PMI’s story to external audiences, including Congress, other leadership and the tax-paying public, which ultimately supports the organization’s work. Her biggest project was a story explaining the technology behind insecticide-treated bednets, which ward off mosquitoes.

“The mosquito is the deadliest animal on the planet, and malaria one of oldest diseases, so I’m grateful to be part of the effort to combat it,” she said.