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Intern's Passion to Address Health Disparities Leads to DPH's Epi Section

December 13, 2013

Originally published July 9, 2012

When Ashley Fell spent a semester abroad with a group of college classmates in Egypt, India, China, and South Korea, she had no idea this experience would eventually lead to the summer internship program at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) in the epidemiology section. 

"My studies abroad exposed me not only to exotic foods and rich cultures, but also the extreme disparities that exist in wealth, education, access to clean water and proper sanitation and healthcare," said Fell. "The stark contrasts of public health in the impoverished slums of Mumbai, India to masked faces in the immaculate subway trains of Hong Kong stuck with me."  

She had found her passion for public health and its approach to community-wide health solutions. Instead of treating an individual, Fell realized that through public health, particularly epidemiology, she would have an opportunity to impact and improve the lives of much larger communities.

"To explore this new passion further, I chose to spend my final college semester studying in Botswana, southern Africa, where nearly a quarter of the adult population is HIV-positive," said Fell. "While in Botswana learning about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, not only did my interest in public health grow and develop but I became more aware and sensitive to the importance of cultural sensitivity in public health programs. This awareness has informed my studies in public health and focused my interests to underserved populations in the U.S."

Since starting her internship, Fell has been busy learning from public health professionals throughout the organization. She said she appreciates the work that goes into running the organization. 

"Ashley is working on an analysis of risk factors for late identified hearing loss," said Brendan Noggle, M.P.H., maternal and child health epidemiologist. "After that, she will be working on defining the accuracy of hospital discharge data for birth defects surveillance."

"We are using GIS software to map pediatric audiology facilities across the state to see whether a child's distance from a facility where hearing loss can be diagnosed is associated with the timing of their diagnosis. I have been contacting the audiology facilities to gather more complete information about their services and accepted payment methods," Fell said. "We will use this information, as well as known risk factors for hearing loss and other socioeconomic characteristics in our analysis to identify risk factors for late identified hearing loss. I will also work on defining the accuracy of hospital discharge data for birth defects surveillance."

Fell's global classroom and DPH's learning laboratory have prepared her to better understand and protect vulnerable populations from health disparities in the United States and abroad.

"To address health disparities across the country, there needs to be a focus on availability, affordability and quality of health insurance, as well as stronger public health campaigns that promote healthy lifestyles and preventative care," said Fell.

She will have to wait a little while before she can put into practice her ideals and knowledge about epidemiology. Fell will complete her Master of Public Health degree from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in May 2013. She plans to focus on children's health and underserved populations as an epidemiologist. 

"I hope to remain in Georgia and work at the state or federal level as an epidemiologist in the next five years. In the next 10 years, I would love to work for a nonprofit that focuses on refugee health."