Sarah Sanders (BCHS '18) chose to pursue a career in public health after working as an administrator at The Midwife Center for Birth and Women’s Health in Pittsburgh. Not only did she meet and form relationships with some of the most “powerful players” in maternal health in the city, she also was exposed to the roadblocks women and families sometimes face when trying to access consistent, quality health care.
“On a small scale I was able to address some of these barriers,” she says. “However, I still found myself staring at the office wall, wondering who I could turn to for a specific problem or how I could help. I realized that if I wanted to address issues at the macro level of health care, I needed to learn more about the systems within it and how I could gain access to decision makers.”
As an undergraduate at Temple University, Sanders studied psychology and Spanish—the former because she was interested in the mental health field and the latter so she could maintain fluency. Since graduating nearly a decade ago, she has taken periods of time off to travel and decide her next move, the most recent of which ended in 2015 when she returned to Pittsburgh to begin researching Master of Public Health (MPH) degree programs.
“To my delight, Pitt showed up consistently on top 10 lists for public health. How convenient, I thought; right in my backyard. As I kept thinking about it, I liked the idea of sticking close to the area where I had learned about health care in the first place.”
Now a Dean’s Scholar and MPH student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Sanders says she can see parallels between her undergraduate and professional experiences and her current course of study. She eventually hopes to apply the philosophy behind the midwifery model to the financing and resource support of health care, as she believes it has applications in modern understandings of insurance coverage, health literacy (especially surrounding new technology and telemedicine), policy support for preventative care, and provider education.
“The midwifery model focuses on the patient, or client as we like to say, as a whole person made of many identities and struggles,” Sanders says. “It’s a collaborative model that involves mutual trust between consumer and provider, where education and empowerment are the focus.”
Although she is still reconciling the tension she experienced on behalf of her clients at the Midwife Center, she believes enough knowledge, capability, and resources exist to solve the health care crisis in the United States—it’s a matter of simple coordination. She's planning to take full advantage of networking opportunities at Pitt Public Health that will position her to be part of the solution when it comes to equal access to preventative care as well as help her to deal with her “impatience” when that solution doesn’t come as quickly as she hopes.
“I envision a world, or at least a city, where culturally competent health care pervades on a community level, where folks are being cared for at every interval of their lives, and where there are not avoidable barriers to this kind of care.
“I have a strong appreciation for research, but at the same time, I’ve acquired an impatience over the years that directs me toward projects where I can see positive change right away. I’m still trying to strike a balance.”