In William Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helena notes that although Hermia is small, she is quite fierce for her size. Shakespeare’s poetic observation continues to resonate even today because we have all encountered something that exemplifies this. Here at the University of Michigan, our iconic mascot, the wolverine, is a prime example of this. And haven’t we all had a similar response at some point in our lives, when we proudly demonstrate that we have much more to offer than at first glance?
In our own Michigan backyard, I came across just such an example in Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Flint, Michigan. Dr. Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician and graduate of the University of Michigan School of Public Health (Health Management and Policy). What has brought her into the public spotlight is that she has played a pivotal role in ensuring that the State of Michigan finally understood the serious public health concerns caused by changing the Flint municipal water supply this past year. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent article that dives into how Dr. Hanna-Attisha and her colleagues were able to achieve this after months of hard work.
It’s clear that Dr. Hanna-Attisha was perfectly poised to simultaneously observe the consequences of health policy changes in the poorer health of her pediatric patients. She currently serves as the Director of the Pediatrics Residency Program at Hurley Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, in addition to being a pediatrician for some of the most underserved populations in Flint.
It’s an honor to note that Dr. Hanna-Attisha exemplifies many of the characteristics envisioned in many of the top women in health leadership: persistence, courage, diligence, resilience, inquisitiveness, and drive. Although a number of policy makers, politicians, and other professionals doubted the results of her data analysis, Dr. Hanna-Attisha persevered. She repeatedly double- and triple-checked her results late into the night, driven to understand why her patients were getting sicker so that she could improve their health. Her ability to masterfully lead her team allowed her to focus in on the research question she needed, which then provided her with the statistics she required to convince policy makers.
This is an important piece of news that we as future public health professionals must carefully read, digest, and reflect on. As mentioned in the Detroit Free Press article above, Dr. Hanna-Attisha could be considered to be the “canary in the coal mine”, which is one of the many roles public health professionals embody. We must be vigilant and observant in order to maintain and improve the public health. I hope that we will all aim to emulate Dr. Hanna-Attisha and the many others like her in our future careers.
Post by Sarah S. Bassiouni, a second-year Master of Public Health candidate in the Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology Track at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. You can read more of her writing here.
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