I was supposed to be a pediatrician. I had it all figured out. After med school I was going to do my residency in Pediatrics at Loma Linda University. Then I was going to set up my practice. I envisioned the location in my head: lots of light, vibrant colors on the walls, plenty of games so I could observe the kids at play and gauge their development, fun clothes so they wouldn’t be scared by lab clothes and a sterile environment. And then I went into my internship. Long hours, anxious parents, suffering children, no life. Children coming in time and time again for the same problems, parents and doctors doing the same things the same way but expecting different outcomes.
A year later, I became the physician for a rural community of about 400 families. My task was to make sure that every individual was included in an appropriate public health program: all married women on birth control, all children younger than five years old with immunizations up to date and nutritional status in check; all diabetics with their blood glucose under control, tight surveillance of communicable diseases and prevention of chronic diseases. I fell in love with my community, knew all the kiddies by name, had great conversations with their Moms, ate with them, gained about 20 pounds while I was at it, and even developed friendships with the Dads.
It took a little longer to be convinced that Public Health was the field I wanted to dedicate my life to, but here I am, 20 years later, looking forward to at least forty more years of opportunities to serve in this exciting field. I was supposed to be a pediatrician. I’m a Public Health Professional, promoting health, preventing disease, and communicating wholeness. That’s part of my story. What is yours? How did you fall in love with public health?
Tricia Penniecook, MD, MPH
Dean, School of Public Health
Loma Linda University