From labor doula to lactation consultant to legislator? COPH grad runs for Congress

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After Randi McCallian graduated college with a degree in psychology and a minor in biology, she married her love of science with service and began working with young children on the autism spectrum, providing in-home and community-based behavioral therapy. 

It was work that ultimately drove her to study maternal child health.

“I often heard parents talk about their pregnancy and birth and postpartum experiences and comment how challenging the ‘systems’ had made their situations,” said McCallian, who graduated from the USF College of Public Health (COPH) with an MPH in maternal and child health in 2013. “They had ultrasounds that led to invasive tests, and tests that led to fear about possible problems with the pregnancy. In nearly every case, a healthy baby was born, but often with significant birth interventions, such as inductions and cesarean sections that the parents felt were unnecessary.”

McCallian grew increasingly more interested in maternal care and began training to be a labor doula. “I learned that just providing a comforting presence alone was enough to improve outcomes and make the birth experience better for the family,” said McCallian, who has been a doula now for the past 10 years.

McCallian, first row, second from left, with classmates during graduation celebrations in 2013. (Photo courtesy of McCallian)

McCallian said having a bird’s-eye view of health care led her to see problems with it. 

“I worked with a new mom who felt her negative birth experience was because she was a teen mom who needed a cesarean,” McCallian noted. “I saw the number of appointments—from seeing the pediatrician to getting breastfeeding support—she was required to attend, using public transportation with a newborn, in order to keep her WIC food stamps and other social services. She had to put in so much effort to stay afloat instead of resting and connecting with her baby. I felt frustrated right along with her.”

That frustration led McCallian to pursue her MPH at the COPH, in part because of its strong focus on maternal and child health. While a student, she racked up a long list of accomplishments, serving as president of the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization, being inducted into the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health, receiving a Maternal and Child Health Leadership Trainee Scholarship and working with the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative (FPQC).

It was her work with the FPQC that led McCallian to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, after which she took a position providing birth, postpartum and breastfeeding education to community health workers with MHP Salud. MHP Salud is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening underserved Hispanic and Latino communities by improving access to health care and social services.

McCallian, back row, fourth from left, in 2017 with participants in a MHP Salud breastfeeding peer counselor training program. (Photo courtesy of McCallian)

“I loved creating access to more downstream providers who work within their own communities,” McCallian said. “My favorite part of the job was organizing and co-teaching peer counselor training for members of the farm-working communities the program served.”

McCallian, now a mom of two and living in rural Missouri, says it’s the advocacy portion of public health she’s leaning heavily on these days as she campaigns for a seat in the U.S. Congress (the election is coming up in November).

“I learned in my public health classes that advocacy is an important component of the work public health professionals do,” McCallian, who lost a state senate election in 2020, said. “We work in a field that encompasses so many who cannot advocate for themselves. It’s our role to speak up for them at every level of policy.”

McCallian said she’s focusing her campaign on what she knows best—the issues of mothers, children and families, raising awareness about infant mortality, childhood hunger and equitable access to health care, among other things.

“It’s important that people with experience and background in public health get engaged in our government at all levels,” she emphasized. “I hope I can help more people see a path for themselves in government.”

Alumni Fast Five

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

Someone who makes people’s lives better.

Where can we find you on the weekends?

With my family, campaigning, or reading a book with a cat in my lap.

What is the last book you read?

“Dirt Road Revival,” by Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward

What superpower would you like to have?

The ability to heal.

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

“Practical Magic.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health