Brennan Rhodes-Bratton 

I never would have thought that I’d love theory as much as I do. When I identify a problem, I want to act on it directly. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I was drawn to devoting my energy to the rebuilding efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans. So I moved to the Crescent City for a position focusing on case management and outreach with UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a nonprofit with the mission to coordinate community partnerships to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness.

When you are working in crisis mode, it’s hard to believe theory can be applicable. But I’ve learned that meaningful change takes time and careful analysis of multitude of factors, including the significance of theory. This was even more apparent after receiving my MPH at the Mailman School in health promotion, as well as my experience working at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Theory provides a deeper understanding of the causes behind health outcomes which, in turn, creates thoughtful action. I apsire to put theory into practice, which is why chose to purse a DrPH at the Mailman School.

The Mailman School has taught me to think outside the box. In fact, it may the greatest lesson I’ve learned here. Finding opportunities to collectively strive for a healthier world is the essence of public health, and that requires practical application of public health theory and interdisciplinary collaboration. To bring populations closer to health equity, we need to have people from multiple socioeconomic positions—and every sector of public health—building solutions. We have to step outside of our silos and develop news ways for approaching modern problems together. My time at the Mailman School has shown me that.

As students, we get to read and pontificate and attend seminars while growing our knowledge, so I’m using this time with my doctorate to prepare for being the principal investigator of my own research. I want to connect the silos and cultivate new methodologies to improve the quality of health and healthcare across different populations.

I’ve known since undergrad that I wanted to go deep into public health practice. An MPH was critical, but it wasn’t going to be enough. My experience getting people homes post-Katrina, combined with the perspective from my MPH, showed me the value of strategic planning and the theory that supports it. The understanding of those higher-level concepts is only going to come with a doctorate. I used to be of the mindset of getting the information and going to take action, but when programs are grounded in theory, they have a better sense where they’re going and what they’re going to be doing. Using the foundations of theory with the strengths gained from my lived experiences is my path to achieving health equity and enacting the change I want to see in the world.

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