Aisha Bhimla ties together social and public health for goals of equity

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When Toronto native Aisha Bhimla entered the USF College of Public Health, she was uncertain where her interests in global health and social determinants of epidemiology would take her.

“I was unsure about where specifically I wanted to end up with my MPH degree,” she said.  “I generally wanted to gain skills that would allow me to work in the global health field, specifically with mental health.”

Aisha Bhimla (2)

While public health can hold a variety of different meanings, to Bhimla, the practice is all about benefitting and improving the “overall health and well-being” of the community.  Her one wish would be to put an end to health inequities around the world, so that every individual has equal and healthy opportunities.

“This field is challenging to address, and study,” she said. “It fascinates me to think about all of the social aspects of our being, how they can impact our health and quality of life, and how they are the underpinning to many different diseases and conditions in society.”

For someone “specifically interested in mental health and chronic disease in developing countries and low-income populations,” spending her international field experience in Malaysia was a dream come true.

Bhimla completed her international field experience with the Epidemiology and Biostatistics department at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  While there, she was able to gain experience working on her favorite fascination – epidemiological research related to mental health.

During her IFE, one of the university professors arranged for Bhimla to spend a day with a Kuala Lumpur non-profit called Health Equity Initiatives.  The organization provides mental health services to refugees from countries like Burma and Iran, and also provides training to community health workers who are also refugees, so that they are able to take on their own clients as case workers.

Aisha Bhimla (second from right) at a staff dinner in Malaysia

Aisha Bhimla (second from right) at a staff dinner in Malaysia

“On the day I went, the clients were visiting the center, and I had the opportunity to spend time with them and do some activities with them,” she said.  “It was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my MPH degree, because it allowed me to not only see mental health from a different perspective, but also observe mental illness at an extreme end of a continuum where refugees face severe mental illness, psychological stress, and lack the opportunity to obtain treatment to endless barriers that hinder their ability to get better.”

Before entering USF’s graduate program, Bhimla earned her bachelor of physical education and health/kinesiology at the University of Toronto.  She has been in the USF COPH program for more than two years and credits the COPH for helping her along her professional and educational path.

“COPH helped to spark and develop my interests further,” she said.

In addition to her IFE experience, Bhimla believes that the courses she was able to take through the COPH, and the professors she was able to learn from, provided her with a wealth of knowledge.

Back on U.S. soil and graduating next month, Bhimla’s passion makes her a worthy adversary of the health inequalities of today’s world.

Story by Shelby Bourgeois, College of Public Health Writing Intern. Photos courtesy of Aisha Bhimla and Natalie D. Preston.

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