Public health student and Clark Fellow aims for health equality
Sherece Laine’s goal is to address health disparities among communities of color.
“I vehemently believe health is a right and not a privilege,” said the master of public health student and recipient of a fellowship through the Clifford D. Clark Graduate Fellowship Program for Diversity.
Laine has always wanted to learn about and help people. At Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., she earned a bachelor’s degree in African and African American studies and a minor in anthropology with a concentration in global health and the environment.
An introduction to global health course taken her first semester would further cement her focus. The course discussed health outcomes for residents of northern St. Louis, examining the interconnection between race, socioeconomic class and health. Laine, who grew up in the Bronx, immediately recognized parallels to her own experiences and those of her neighbors.
“The Bronx is New York City’s northernmost borough, nestled between extreme wealth and debilitating poverty,” Laine said. “Despite its proximity to the affluence of Manhattan, 30% of Bronx residents live below the poverty line. It is perpetually neglected, and this constant neglect has implications on the health of the people who reside in this community.”
Her undergraduate experience, combined with a desire to help underserved communities of color, made pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree the logical next step for Laine, since she felt the degree would give her the knowledge and skills to address the inaccessibility and inequity in the healthcare system that negatively impact socially disadvantaged communities of color.
According to Yvonne Johnston, founding director of the Division of Public Health at Binghamton’s Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences, increasing the number of minority healthcare providers is one of the strategies for reducing health disparities and improving health outcomes for marginalized populations. It can also improve the racial, ethnic and language concordance between individuals and their healthcare providers.
“Fostering a diverse student body creates a culturally competent public health workforce capable of achieving greater health equity for low-income and minority populations,” Johnston said.
Laine chose Binghamton for her graduate degree based on the University’s reputation for academic rigor and sense of community, but it was the generalist design and focus on population health and collaborative work ethic that attracted her most to the University’s MPH program.
“[Binghamton’s program] presented an opportunity to explore a vast array of topics as well as focus on my interests in community health, chronic disease prevention and improving health disparities for marginalized populations,” Laine said.
Laine learned she was a recipient of a Clark Fellowship shortly after she received her acceptance into the MPH program. Clark Fellowships are awarded to graduate students from historically underrepresented groups who will contribute to the diversity of the study body. Among the benefits of the fellowship are calendar-year stipends, full-tuition scholarships, health insurance, guaranteed award periods, and research and travel opportunities.
Laine said the scholarship removed the economic burden of graduate school for her and allows her to focus on her studies.
But those aren’t the only benefits.
“The ability to interact with individuals with backgrounds similar and different from my own is a unique opportunity to engage and learn through my peers,” Laine said. “Not only has the support I received facilitated my transition into graduate school, but it also allows me to take advantage of new opportunities that I may have otherwise been unable to do.”
“Sherece Laine is a role model for the type of student that the Clark Fellowship seeks and the kind of public health professional that we need in today’s healthcare environment,” Johnston added. “Her experiences with childhood asthma taught her life lessons about the role of environment, education and economics as well as race and social class. Her passion and aspiration to improve the health and well-being of marginalized individuals and disadvantaged communities are evident.”
Being part of a fellowship program dedicated to broadening diversity is key to Laine.
“Solving the societal issues we are experiencing requires varying perspectives, and learning in an environment composed of individuals with different identities is beneficial to all,” Laine said. “Students of color consistently have fewer opportunities than their wealthy and white counterparts. It is crucial that resources are given to individuals from diverse backgrounds so their voices are amplified.”
Laine is in her first year of the two-year MPH program, but is already looking toward life following graduation. She is exploring PhD programs and would like to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Her goal is to connect her interests in mitigating chronic diseases in low-income communities of color with epidemiology.
“Helping those who have been pushed to the margins of society is a responsibility we all share,” she said.