As an undergrad, Alison Johnson learned about the social determinants of health during an internship in New Orleans. Not having solutions to address the health care problems she witnessed activated her will to pursue solutions that make a difference in people's lives.
February 26, 2020
Meet Alison Johnson, Michigan State University Master of Public Health student in the College of Human Medicine. She works at the Michigan Public Health Institute's Center for Social Enterprise as a Project Associate. In this diverse role, she helps with policy analysis and prepares technical reports, manuscripts, and presentations. She supports community partners and multi-disciplinary teams to identify opportunities for collaboration, implement project work plans, and prepare IRB application materials and reports.
As a full-time Spartan and Master of Public Health student, Johnson plans to make a difference in racial inequity, as well as public health ethics and resources. She has served as MSU's student liaison for the American Public Health Association and is an advocate for vulnerable populations.
Why are you pursuing a public health degree?
I adore public health. I am one of those people that could tie anything and everything back to public health. I initially wanted to go into healthcare, and after doing an internship in New Orleans, I was convinced to pursue public health instead. I felt conflicted when I was presented with seeing the social determinants of health and not having a healthcare solution. Through my interdisciplinary undergraduate degree, I took several health-related courses in the social sciences, which led me to a more macro level field of wanting to pursue public health.
Why did you choose Michigan State University?
I chose Michigan State University for their elective course options. I wanted the flexibility of several elective courses and felt there were numerous opportunities to "forge my own path" with my MPH degree.
What does being a Michigan State Spartan mean to you?
Being a Michigan State Spartan to me, means valuing the diverse perspectives and voices that embody Michigan State Spartans. Being a Spartan to me means being willing to address institutional barriers head-on by relying on our diverse workforce, expertise, and passion.
What topic are you most interested in exploring throughout your MPH degree?
I am delving into doing a publication around LGBTQ+ experiences in public health and healthcare. The topic area became known to me after attending the Michigan Primary Care Association's (MPCA) Annual Michigan LGBTQ Health Summit.
LGBTQ individuals experience barriers while facing social and healthcare systems that most of us cannot even imagine. Provider and workforce capacity building and competency training are necessary to work towards addressing negative health outcomes. When we look at vulnerable populations and intersections between populations, the trans community horrifying statistics arise. For instance, black transgender women have a life expectancy in America in 2020 of roughly 35 years old. That is horrifying.
What professional or educational accomplishment are you most proud?
The professional accomplishment I am proudest of was being elected Student Liaison in the Ethics Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in 2018.
How do you plan to make a difference as a Spartan in Public Health?
I plan to make a difference post-graduation from several avenues. I volunteer at the community level doing racial equity and reconciliation work, and I plan to continue in that space. In addition, through a previous leadership role in the APHA ethics section, I have opportunities to continue to push for ethics in public health practice as a necessity. Lastly, I intend to use the skills and education I've gained throughout my MPH program to analyze policies, evaluate programs, and facilitate desperately needed conversations around public health resources and possible outcomes.
If you were to share words of wisdom with other MPH students, what would you want them to know?
I would want MPH students to know that there is no "right way to be a student." As public health practitioners, we are adaptive. We are innovative. We are inspiring and resilient. We cannot let the traditional institutions or ideologies or timelines impact the critical work that we do and what must be done to achieve an equitable, just, and healthy society.
Anything else you would like to add?
Public health is interdisciplinary. We often find ourselves working alongside folks with no professional public health training, and also among those with very rigorous public health training. We must be mindful that to do effective and equitable public health practice; both voices must be represented and heard.
Alison Johnson, BA*
Michigan State University, Master of Public Health Student
*Johnsons holds a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science and a Minor in Bioethics, Humanities, and Society from Michigan State University.