Shana Geary: public health minor to master

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Before her passion was public health, USF College of Public Health graduate Shana Geary was on a pre-med track with dreams of becoming an obstetrician. She graduated from USF with an undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences with minors in biomedical physics and public health.

Her minor in public health was her first introduction to the topic, something she had been advised to pursue to help her stand out from her pre-med peers. After getting acquainted with the field, she realized that public health would give her a much broader reach than a career as a clinician would.

“I really wanted that population perspective,” she said.

Shana Geary headshot

COPH graduate Shana Geary (Photo courtesy of Shana Geary).

Geary took a year off after to consider her options, and after looking into schools all over, Geary ultimately found what she was looking for here in Tampa.

“I kept coming back to public health because I knew that I had a little bit of exposure and it seemed like where I could make the biggest difference,” she said. “That’s kind of always been my motive: to impact lives and to help people.”

The college of public health drew her in because it allowed her to study dual concentrations of epidemiology and maternal and child health (MCH), when other schools didn’t. Another reason was the college’s environment.

Geary was a student of the College of Arts and Sciences as an undergraduate, one of the largest at USF, and she says that her graduate experience was impacted by the size and structure of the COPH.

“I don’t want to say that it was homey, because I wasn’t super involved in the college that much as an undergraduate, but you can see it from the outside that it’s more of a connected college,” she said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Here, this is what you need to do.’ It was like, ‘What do you think is best?’ I was able to bounce ideas off of different people, and they were really cheering for you to succeed.”

Through a combination of her own ambition mixed with passionate faculty, Geary was able to take advantage of her limited time here.

“There’s definitely a real interest in what students are experiencing and what things they’re pursuing,” Geary said. “They pushed me to really go above and beyond and so I think I was able to take away every piece that I possibly could from the program.”

One of the faculty members who played an important role in her success is distinguished university professor and Marrell Endowed Chair Dr. Russell Kirby, who Geary worked with to complete her independent studies and who is the faculty adviser for the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization (MCHSO), of which Geary was heavily involved in.

symposium prep

Shana Geary (left) setting up for a symposium with fellow MCHSO eboard members Nanah Fofanah, Courtney Cravens, Maria Huang, and Rema Ramakrishnan (Photo courtesy of Shana Geary).

“He introduced me to a path that would merge both of the areas that I’m interested in, epidemiology and MCH,” she said. “He shed light on how I could incorporate both together.”

Geary said that beyond that he’s also played an instrumental role in introducing her to opportunities she might not have had otherwise. At the top of the list is a federal internship with the Mississippi State Department of Health through the graduate student epidemiology program that Kirby encouraged Geary to apply for and that she received.

Her Mississippi field experience was just one hallmark of her graduate experience. Two of her other crowning achievements include helping put on the annual MCHSO Symposium this spring, and being selected as an MCH Leadership Scholar this past year.

Shana Geary presenting work she completed during her field experience at the Mississippi State Department of Health at the Epidemiology Congress of the Americas Meeting in Miami, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Shana Geary).

Shana Geary presenting work she completed during her field experience at the Mississippi State Department of Health at the Epidemiology Congress of the Americas Meeting in Miami, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Shana Geary).

The relationships she formed in these organizations and the events and activities that she was able to participate in because of them make up some of her favorite memories.

In particular, the MCH Training Program afforded her and the other scholars the opportunity to travel to different conferences in cities like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Geary’s own favorite, Albuquerque, N.M.

“That’s just an awesome memory,” she said. “Not only are we being exposed to what professional conferences are like, but you’re also able to explore the city while you’re there and make memories with fellow students.”

Shana Geary (center) sightseeing in Washington, D.C. after the AMCHP meeting with Maryouri Avendano (left) and Raven Burrell (right) (Photo courtesy of Shana Geary).

Shana Geary (center) sightseeing in Washington, D.C. after the AMCHP meeting with Maryouri Avendano (left) and Raven Burrell (right) (Photo courtesy of Shana Geary).

After graduation, she’ll be settling in to her position in Raleigh, N.C.

Geary was accepted into the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists Applied Epidemiology Fellowship, and her placement is with the Department of Health and Human Services as an injury epidemiologist.

In this new role, she’ll be identifying risk factors and learning to apply her degree to a real-life setting. A project she’s already scheming is linking emergency medical services data with hospital data to hopefully get a fuller picture.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing the role that an epidemiologist has in a public health practice,” she said. “Looking at data sets in class is a pristine example, but it’s never that easy.”

Beyond this first job post-graduation, Geary’s ultimate goal is to work as an MCH epidemiologist at a state-level health department, where she says there’s room to make a larger impact and access to individuals who have the ability to make change.

“I see myself working and finding a way to bridge both of these disciplines,” she said. “Both [MCH and epidemiology] can be applied to everything, but I want to really be applying the epidemiology skills that I have to improve the health for women and mothers and babies.”

Story by AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley, USF College of Public Health

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