Sana Haider, 2016 graduate

What is your major and what year did will you graduate?

I began at UMD as a Letters & Sciences, undecided about my major but interested in pursuing medicine and becoming a doctor. By my junior year, I declared Community Health as my major, and also pursued the new general business minor. I will be graduating this upcoming December.

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Public health is proactively taking a preventative population-based approach, rather than individual-based treatment approach, towards disease to enable optimal health and save lives.

What inspired you to study public health?  

Growing up, I believed the only way to save lives through healthcare was by becoming a doctor and treating patients. It was not until I began taking public health courses my sophomore year, beginning with “Personal and Community Health”, that my medical lens was replaced by a growing curiosity for the field of public health, which is preventative by nature.

The turning point was when I came across an eye-opening quote in one of my textbooks. The poem “Fence or Ambulance?” by Joseph Malins, a temperance activist, was written in 1895 and published in North Carolina State Board of Health’s 1913 Bulletin. Malins explained, “Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old, for the voice of true wisdom is calling. To rescue the fallen is good, but ‘tis best to prevent other people from falling.” This helped me understand the true difference between medicine and public health, and led to my paradigm shift.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

There are many critical public health challenges, but I believe one that is currently most salient to me is the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As I am currently working in an environment that implements an HIV/STD Prevention Program, I am exposed to various resources and    existing prevention strategies. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an existing medicine that can be taken daily to lower chances of getting infected, but unfortunately there is still a great lack of awareness. The greatest burden of disease is in the African continent, and it remains a controversial and stigmatized topic, often acting as a barrier towards achieving optimal health.

Why did you choose public health at UMD?

I began my undergraduate career at University of Maryland, and as I explored different majors and courses, I was immediately interested in the School of Public Health. It was CEPH accredited and the faculty, advisors, and programs stood out to me. Community Health’s required full time internship was unique, and I knew I would have great opportunities during my time here and afterwards.

How has your degree program at UMD’s School of Public Health shaped your career goals?

I have always pursued opportunities that allowed me to understand how both federal agencies and nongovernmental entities play a role in assuring health and safety to improve quality of life.  But through my courses and experiences, I eventually learned that the crossroads between global health and epidemiology is where my true passion lies. This realization prompted my trip to Estelí, Nicaragua with Aspire Global Health’s Health Ambassador Volunteer Program. So, by experiencing healthcare conditions in the U.S. and abroad, I realized the importance of addressing health challenges, especially most stigmatized, affecting populations worldwide.

After discovering the importance of data in problem solving, I explored how to apply statistics, research methods, and survey designs to accurately examine the determinants of population health. I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Zanjani with the Center for Health Behavior Research on a NIH-funded research project aimed at preventing alcohol and medication interactions among older adults.

Feeling empowered, I pursued leadership opportunities, including those where I could serve as a mentor and tutor for younger students. As president of Phi Alpha Epsilon, the SPH honorary society, I organized community service and professional development events. As a member of the Community Health Student Advisory Group, I served as a liaison between my peers and the faculty. After being recognized within the School of Public Health and across UMD for my efforts, I have never felt more confident.

The School of Public Health and the Behavioral and Community Health Department have been extremely supportive throughout my undergraduate career. Whether it was the important analytical skills or critical thinking skills I gained in courses, confidence through leadership opportunities, or advice that I sought from mentors, I was never disappointed. 

What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?

My sophomore year, I took the course Personal and Community Health, and discovered the always-cheery Dr. La Touche-Howard, who eventually inspired me to change my major. She was also my professor for both Principles of Community Health I & II, and we served on the Community Health Student Advisory Group together. Dr. La Touche-Howard strives to genuinely understand her students concerns, and incorporates group projects that create a greater sense of accomplishment. Whether it was bringing her family to the Health Fair we organized on Maryland Day, giving us rounds of feedback for our grant proposals, or helping shape our professional skills, she went beyond expectations of a professor. Her support also contributed towards me being honored with SPH’s 2016 Senior Dean’s Scholar Award. I am extremely grateful to have been given the chance to learn and grow under her for the past few years.