The COVID-19 pandemic has shoved public health—a field traditionally backstage—into the spotlight. Public health officials have been appearing daily in TV, radio, and newspaper reports since the pandemic’s beginning. The terms “contact tracing” and “flattening the curve” have become everyday pieces of our vocabulary. Dr. Fauci is now a household name.
The surge in awareness of public health has brought a corresponding flood of people wanting to enter the field. Applications to schools and programs of public health were up 24 percent for the 2021–2022 academic year as compared to previous year, according to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. And that’s after a 20 percent jump the previous year.
Rollins outpaced the national rate with a 26 percent spike in the number of completed applications for fall 2021 admissions. “We were expecting to see a jump in applicants, but this was beyond anything we anticipated,” says Prudence Goss, senior assistant dean of admissions and student services. “The pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the critical role public health plays, and people want to be a part of that.”
People also see public health as an avenue for addressing racial inequities, which were highlighted both by the disparate burden the pandemic placed on people of color and by highly publicized police violence against Blacks. Rollins already ranks No. 1 in African American applicants, admits, and matriculants among the top five schools of public health, but the school still saw a 29 percent increase in Black or African American applicants in 2021 over 2020. Hispanic/Latino applicants jumped by 60 percent.
The Department of Health Policy and Management saw the highest rate of increase in applications for admission, growing 48 percent over last year, and the Department of Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences experienced a 44 percent increase.
The surge in applications has translated into record enrollment of 681 first-year students, the largest class in the school’s history. What do these future public health professionals think about the field they are entering? Let’s take a look.
Why did you decide to get an MPH?
As a nurse on the frontlines of COVID, I saw the importance of our health system. I never completely understood the foundation it held in our society until I saw it shaken by the pandemic. I wanted to engage in it and play a more active role to not just help patients at the bedside but to help the community at large. —Benjamin Coker | Lawrenceville, GA | Health Policy and Management
During medical school, through my volunteer efforts and research experience, I witnessed how much socioeconomic differences influence patient health outcomes. My frustration with deeply ingrained inequalities in the Mexican health care system led me to public health, a field where scalable and widespread impact is within reach. —Dr. Isabella Batina | Mexico City, Mexico | Global Health
I have wanted to get an MPH or pursue epidemiology since I was 14 years old. I was inspired by the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, when I began to wonder who studies pandemics and how patterns are recognized. —Andrea Torres | Miami, FL | Epidemiology
I decided to pursue an MPH because I was inspired by the strength and perseverance of all the hard-working medical professionals around me, working day and night to combat the deadly effects of the COVID pandemic. As an aspiring physician, I want to learn the investigative skills to determine the factors that contribute to infectious diseases at the population level. The pandemic also has highlighted the gaps in the system, and many populations continue to struggle to meet their basic needs of living. I want to help close those gaps and promote new initiatives that will holistically care for communities around me. —Ryan Huang | Charlotte, NC | Global Health
During my undergrad years, I took a lot of health psychology classes that explored the link between psychosocial factors and chronic conditions. This was the first time I had been exposed to topics of racism, inequity, and marginalized communities in a STEM class setting. I became fascinated with understanding the interplay between environmental and social factors in relation to health. —Dayanna Ramirez Leon | Huntington Park, CA | Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences
Navigating the health care system as both a worker and a chronically sick patient for several years, I experienced health care in a unique liminal state. I have had the bittersweet and disorienting experience of watching the system fail some of us while working for others. Illness is uncomfortable, but it is immeasurably painful to feel abandoned while you are ill. I decided to get an MPH because I want to be an advocate for populations who have been overlooked, understudied, or left without answers in medicine. —Camille Murray | Plano, TX | Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences
At 17 I learned about pandemics and how public health was a huge factor in preventing and controlling them. I never thought at 20 I would work in a COVID unit during an actual pandemic. However, it made my choice clear that I wanted to be one of the leaders to prevent future pandemics. —Brielle Berkowitz | Oakland, NJ | Global Health
Public health is so interconnected with nearly every facet of society that it is impossible to escape its impact. From local to global policy, there is the opportunity to significantly improve health outcomes for everyone. I want to be part of that change. —Makenzie Towery | Seattle, WA | Health Policy and Management
What are you studying and why?
I am part of the behavioral, social, and health education sciences program. I have seen firsthand how lack of health literacy can affect communities and leave individuals vulnerable to stressors, so I want to make health education as ubiquitous as possible. —Anushka Anand | Houston, TX | Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences
Growing up in Birmingham, I was victim of and witness to environmental hazards such as pollution, poor food and housing options, and disproportionately distributed economic conditions. I feel called to apply myself to the concentration of environmental health. Studying housing and food policy, built environments, and methods in addressing disparities in such areas will be specific foci in my time at Rollins. —Tomorrow Bowen | Birmingham, AL | Environmental Health
My focus is environmental health and epidemiology. I am a firm believer that your environment shapes your reality. Clean air, plants, water, and food supplies are essential for our personal health and wellbeing. Not only that, but heart disease, respiratory diseases, and some types of cancers can be caused by environmental pollutants. I grew up in a community benighted of proper nutrition and exercise habits, which made people at higher risk for those specific diseases. Low-income communities suffer greater environmental consequences than high-income communities. The healthier your surroundings are, the healthier you are, and for that I am and will continue to further my knowledge and ability to protect against illness, disease, injury, etc. —Aminah Keys | Charlotte, NC | Environmental Health
I will work on health policy regarding substance abuse disorder and other mental health disease. Public support for people with psychological issues is not developed in
the US compared to other countries. I want to change this so that people can get the appropriate treatment they need.
—Hinako Unno | Shizuoka, Japan | Health Policy and Management
I have enrolled in health policy and management with a concentration in the health management track. I wanted to go down this path because I believe change needs to start from the top down. I want to help revitalize the health care industry by addressing health policy issues from a corporate or governmental standpoint. —Phillip Ndowu | Nashville, TN | Health Policy and Management
My first memory is reading Grover Goes to the Hospital with my mom. I was three years old and preparing for major surgery. That story helped me to process my journey within the health care system. Now, I’m studying BSHES so I can tell similar stories to a new generation. —Deanna Altomara | Mahwah, NJ | Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences
I am studying epidemiology because I am fascinated in gathering data and making sense of it. Especially in the last year, we have seen the importance of incidence rates and efficacy for clinical trials, and I think understanding the epidemiology behind the numbers in the papers is important for tracking progress and an important avenue for education to the public. —Kierstin Faw | Sellersville, PA | Epidemiology
My major interest areas are toxicology and climate change within the field of environmental health. As the science is progressing, we are witnessing more harm being done to the environment, which in turn affects all our lives. —Priyanka Anil Bhanushali | Mumbai, India | Environmental Health
What do you see as the biggest public health issues you will face in the next five to 10 years?
Climate change is definitely one of the top public health issues we will face, and it will only become worse. Without effectively combating climate change, a lot of other public health issues—from clean water to cancer to maintaining basic societal infrastructures—will grow to be much harder to manage. —Anna LoSecco | South Bend, IN | EMPH/Prevention Science
After experiencing my first global pandemic and witnessing the socioeconomic fallout and the resistance from the people, even politicians, to cooperate with public health guidelines, I anticipate misinformation and structural incompetencies are problems that will amplify as climate change and emergent diseases continue to escalate. —Kofi Ayeba Stiles | Jackson, MS | Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences
Universal access to contraception. It continues to be an issue for women and girls not only internationally, but here in the US. Women’s sexual and reproductive rights needs to be acknowledged and considered. —Chelsea Carlisle | Indianapolis, IN | Global Health
Inequity. We are seeing health disparities grow nearly everywhere in the world, both within countries and between them. For many, COVID-19 has only just now highlighted how wide the gap has grown in both access to and quality of health care. These inequities are leaving billions of people at risk and hindering success in preparing the world to respond to crises like climate change and future pandemics. —Noah Mancuso | Vienna, WV | Epidemiology
I believe the most pressing public health issues facing my generation are the double burden of malnutrition (the coexistence of undernutrition along with overweight, obesity or diet-related noncommunicable diseases) along with the challenge of sustainably producing enough food to nutritiously feed the world‘s growing population. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has exposed glaring holes, discrepancies, and lags in the world‘s food system and threatened to heighten both childhood obesity and hunger across the country and globe. —Lauryn Cravens | Gallatin, TN | Global Health
Rather than any new pandemic, I foresee international communication and collaboration as our biggest public health challenges moving forward. The fight to prioritize health and safety over profit margins and political regimes will only become harder and more complicated in the future. —Amanda Gaylord | Arlington, VA | Epidemiology
What gives you the most hope for the future?
My hope for the future came from an unexpected place: working as a resident physician during COVID-19 surges. We were navigating an unknown force, but the teamwork and resilience among health care professionals, public health professionals, scientists, and patients reminded me of what is best in humanity. It is an honor for me to have been trained during this time, and it inspired my current pursuit for additional training in preventive medicine and public health. —Dr. Siri Chirumamilla | Atlanta, GA | EMPH/Applied Epidemiology
I believe the collaboration between public health and technology can lead the world to a healthier place. Future health care systems may have easier access, more reliable and larger scale data, better medical equipment, faster services, more accurate surgical procedures, better health tracking systems, and much more. —Min Hsuan Chen | Tainan, Taiwan | Health Policy and Management
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public health has a pedestal in the health industry and has the world’s attention. What we do with the spotlight will impact the industry for years to come. —Mijamin Friend | York, PA | EMPH/Prevention Science
What gives me hope is the increased interest in public health. More people are going to school to get degrees in public health–related fields. Even people with degrees not related to public health are seeing how public health intersects with their current work and going back to school for public health degrees. Educate, advocate, and legislate require more than action. They require dedication and life-long commitment, and I believe more people are starting to believe the same. —Aumani Harris | Springfield, MA | EMPH/Prevention Science
In spite of increasing disparities among disenfranchised communities, I am inspired by family and friends who previously held biases and who are unlearning and relearning about systematic inequities. Although it is slow and requires great emotional labor, I believe this localized, interpersonal approach—the difficult conversations we have with people we know—can change minds to collectively dismantle oppression. —Mohinee Mukherjee | Cincinnati, OH | Health Policy and Management
My hope for the future comes from witnessing people who are determined to be change agents. Gen Z gives me hope. —Deborah Arnold | Stamford, CT | Health Policy and Management