By Jeffery Ezennia, MS ’18
I was drawn to the UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences master’s program to try to understand how research and public policy can help create and sustain healthy communities. I had looked at my own community and other minority communities and wondered what role I could play in addressing the systemic and structural deficits that drive health disparities.
During the program, I was mentored by UCSF’s Dr. Laura Schmidt and Stanford’s Dr. Anisha Patel, who are experts in the fields of community-based participatory research and obesity prevention. With their guidance, I constructed a capstone project that reflected the questions I had about sustaining healthy communities. We evaluated a community-led effort to promote drinking water access and consumption in parks and public spaces in low-income communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. In this research, we found that when parks had clean drinking fountains, their patrons were more likely to drink more water and less soda. Since sugary beverages are the largest contributors to Americans’ daily added-sugar intake, it is important to create public spaces that encourage people to have a healthier lifestyle and drink more water.
I presented findings from my master’s thesis to our community partners and, with them, lobbied the city to use soda tax dollars to expand public drinking water access. Our data helped support the development of an ordinance that may require installation of reusable water bottle filling stations rather than traditional fountains in newly constructed city property.
After completing my master’s degree, I wanted to continue conducting research that could support policies that address health disparities and, specifically, alleviate barriers to water consumption in low-income, minority populations. I accepted a research position at Stanford University with Dr. Patel, evaluating whether an intervention to promote water consumption through health education and improved drinking water access in low-income Bay Area schools improves children’s diets and reduces obesity. For two years, I worked in communities throughout the Bay Area examining the association between students’ perceptions of drinking water at home and school, their intake of water and sugar-sweetened beverages, and their weight status.
During this time, I realized that I wanted to have a more direct impact on the health of my community. I valued the interpersonal relationships doctors share with their patients, so I decided to apply to medical school.
I am currently a first-year medical student at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. The drive to help promote and sustain healthy communities has led me to pursue a career in primary care medicine. I see primary care as an opportunity to be involved directly in the health of my community and to be an advocate for the low-income and ethnic minority populations I will serve. I hope to employ the tools gained at IGHS not only to be a competent physician, but also to continue to ask tough questions and work toward the structural changes needed to achieve health equity.