USF College of Public Health Alumna Candace Webb was an 18-year-old freshman in college planning to become a doctor when she lost her mother to HIV, something she had no idea her mother was even battling.
“My trajectory changed from wanting to be a clinician to wanting to work on addressing the roots of health disparities,” she said. “My family was thrust into having to deal with losing the matriarch of our family.”
She dove headfirst into her own research, trying to understand more about HIV, the stigma that prevents disclosure and its impact on the African American community, frequently coming across names of researchers with a common degree following their names—MPH.
“I decided to learn about what public health is versus just what medicine is,” she said.
After completing her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in health education and behavior, Webb came back to her home town of Tampa to earn her MPH from the COPH in the Department of Community and Family Health in 2006.
“Public health practitioners treat the community, we treat the population, we look at trends and disparities and we focus on promoting health equity and social justice in the health care system. So, I thought that I could be more impactful doing work at the community and population health level, which is why I course corrected from medicine to public health,” Webb said.
She became fascinated about political and moral issues of public health, leading her to complete her field experience with amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research’s public policy office in Washington, D.C., where she interviewed individuals working on the front line of women’s health and HIV.
“USF positioned me to get my first job before I even graduated,” Webb said.
She was offered a job as a result of her COPH field experience and starting working as a program associate for the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families before she even graduated.
Her career blossomed even more in D.C. when she moved on to work with the National Women’s Law Center, a legal organization advocating for the rights of women and girls of lower socioeconomic status, during the time the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was being written.
Webb served as a community organizer and women’s health and reproductive rights advocate while at the National Women’s Law Center, leading national outreach and communications efforts, as well as collaborating with other civil, human and women’s-rights based organizations, to make sure that the rights of women’s health needs were front and center in the ACA.
“That was a really exciting part of my career, being part of this major women’s legal advocacy organization during a really critical period of time where we had an important piece of health care legislation come into being and put into law,” she said.
She’s also worked for the National Institutes of Health, as a scientific program analyst, which opened the door to one of her biggest career milestones yet.
Webb is currently the branch chief of the western services branch in the Division of State HIV/AIDS Programs within the HIV/AIDS Bureau at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“We make sure that people who need assistance with financially coping with HIV disease get access to medical services, as well as social support services,” she said. “So, it’s really the public health approach, we remove the barriers to getting quality care and enhance the facilitators and what helps people get and stay engaged in their health care.”
Webb is responsible for the programmatic supervision and management of funding provided by the HIV/AIDS Bureau to support implementation of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009, a program that provides more than 540,000 people living with HIV with medical and support services.
She oversees the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Part B and AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) grants of 19 states in the western region of the U.S. and six Pacific Island jurisdictions, including American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and Palau.
“People in HRSA are very mission oriented, of the federal HHS family of agencies, we are very passionate about public health and addressing the roots of health disparities and the social and structural determinants of health,” she said. “Our mission is about health equity in vulnerable populations and ensuring quality access to health care.”
Webb said one of her proudest professional achievements has been working on Capitol Hill accompanying people living with HIV, coaching them on how to educate their elected officials to advocate for funding and services they need back home.
“Being able to empower people with a stigmatized condition, or people who felt disenfranchised or without a voice, and help them find their own voice and use it to talk to Congress to influence their decisions, that is always just so powerful,” she said.
It’s clear that Webb’s passion for HIV, women’s health and public health advocacy are strong and she credits her time as a graduate student at the COPH for pointing her in the direction of how to apply that passion.
“I really connected with the CFH department faculty and I still have great connections with them now, especially Drs. Ellen Daley [professor] and Kay Perrin [associate professor and assistant dean for Undergraduate Studies],” she said. “I had great support and having the graduate research assistantship the entire time I was there did help overcome the financial responsibilities of doing a master’s program.”
“Dr. Carol Bryant [distinguished USF Health professor] told me at one point in class that I was going to be a HRSA project officer one day, that stuck with me and she put it in my head, and here I am, I’m exactly what Dr. Bryant told me what she could see me becoming,” Webb said. “That’s very cool!”
As a founding member of the International Health Service Collaborative (IHSC) student group, an interdisciplinary organization run by students from across USF Health, Webb was a part of the inaugural IHSC service trip to the Dominican Republic in 2005. She also took part in study abroad programs at the University of Cape Town School of Public Health in South Africa while a CFH MPH student.
Webb said she hopes to continue practicing her public health passion in public service.
She said her public health practice is ensuring health equity for vulnerable populations, particularly women and youth, and her passion is extending the lives of people living with HIV by ensuring access to acceptable and compassionate health care for all people.
“I’m a very strong social justice advocate and I have a human rights based approach to public health. I believe every human being should have a right to quality health care and this belief, which I’m very passionate about, drives me in my day-to-day work, and is why I enjoy working in public health,” she said. “I’m able to apply my personal values and what I feel is really important, mission-driven work, and public health has a huge mission because it affects vulnerable populations.”
Fast Five for COPH Alumni:
What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
What book are you currently reading?
“Start with Why,” by Simon Sinek.
Where would we find you on the weekend?
At church, brunch and then talking a walk on the National Mall in D.C.
What superpower would you like to have?
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
“The Color Purple” and “Up.”
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health