Q&A with Kristine Wagner, MHS '14
After working in Kigali, Rwanda as a 2017 ASPPH/CDC Allan Rosenfield Global Health Fellow, Kristine Wagner, MHS '14, is taking some time off to decide her next steps.
After working in Kigali, Rwanda as a 2017 ASPPH/CDC Allan Rosenfield Global Health Fellow, Kristine Wagner is taking some time off to decide her next steps. While in Rwanda, Kristine was part of a team at the CDC’s Rwanda HIV/AIDS program that designed a nationwide database to track individual HIV cases throughout the country. Being able to accurately report the progress of the HIV programs meant being able to qualify for funding from PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which was the program’s primary funding source. It also was a crucial tool for epidemiologic analysis and deciding national and international policy and strategy.
We asked Kristine to answer a few questions about her experience in Rwanda, how environmental health prepared her for her work overseas, share advice for current students, and more.
What public health issues stood out to you?
As part of developing the national database for HIV statistics, we kept track of data related to infected individuals. Some of these individuals were minors who were HIV positive, and there isn’t a standard way to treat them. By developing this database to be used by health professionals, underage individuals can be targeted with successful preventative methods, or successful isolation and treatment of HIV/AIDS, ultimately protecting their health.
...I chose to pursue my master’s in environmental health at JHSPH because it was a good fit for me in terms of the rigor of the courses and quality of the professors. I was also happy to spend another year in Baltimore!
What was it like living in Rwanda?
When I went into town, people would stare at me, and every day, children would run up to me and ask for money. Initially, I found it endearing, but then I realized that these children and the people of Kigali were used to being given cash for the short-term but there was little in the way of long-term investment to help improve their financial situations. I believe that training local people in development is important, because it helps provide careers to individuals in communities like Kigali, while also spreading the importance of public health and implanting that knowledge in the community. Ultimately, the work I was doing helped ground me. It also helped that Rwandans are extremely nice and inviting people!
How did environmental health fit into your work in Rwanda?
My background in the field informed my knowledge about how environmental health impacts diseases and social systems. My education and background made me a more well-rounded person to have on staff and allowed me to see the connections between water quality, sanitation, hygiene, pollutants, and how they more significantly affect people with HIV.
What was your day-to-day like?
Most of my work was in development and data entry, however, I was able to witness my work played out in real lives with real people. I would visit with doctors, nurses, and clinic workers at health facilities throughout the country to ensure the data entry was going smoothly. It also gave me perspective that allowed me to make informed, strategic decisions while organizing data about the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, enrolled in programs, and receiving treatment for the international PEPFAR team.
I was familiar with the School and its faculty because I had taken classes there as a public health major at Johns Hopkins University. I chose to pursue my master’s in environmental health because it was a good fit for me in terms of the rigor of the courses and quality of the professors. I was also happy to spend another year in Baltimore! The professors were super effective at delivering the material in an understandable and intuitive way and the course materials were well designed. I also made sure to focus on marketable skills like data analysis to make sure I'd have a better shot at getting the kind of job I wanted.
My education and background... allowed me to see the connections between water quality, sanitation, hygiene, pollutants, and how they more significantly affect people with HIV.
What advice would you share with current students and undergraduate students majoring in public health?
It’s okay not to constantly push yourself. There is a key to balancing what you love and what you love to do. It is okay to relax and enjoy life while also pursuing your degree/working in your field of choice. You don’t have to sacrifice your youth to be successful. I also would recommend solidifying your data analysis and scientific writing skills. These are qualifications that public health employers look for in potential prospects, and they are skills you will use all throughout your career in public health.
Where are you now?
I'm currently a scuba diving instructor at Similan Seven Seas dive shop in Thailand!