"I first encountered public health at the University of Texas, Austin, where I was on track to go to medical school.
The keynote speaker during public health week articulated concepts I really wanted to work on — concepts of health equity, population health, environmental factors that go into health, and looking at how to fix issues at their roots. That was my first exposure to the notion that this was an entire field of study, and it completely changed my life. I ended up taking a class called Social Inequalities and Health, and it was like a light bulb went off: THIS is what I want to do! After years of pursuing a path to medical school, I took a leap of faith and shifted my focus to public health.
I’ve dedicated my academic career — and I hope to dedicate my professional career — to health equity. I’m particularly passionate about addressing mental health. My own background as a Muslim American from a family of immigrants informs my worldview, and I think a focus on mental health in my community has been sorely lacking. We have cause to believe that mental health disparities are increasing within the Muslim-American population, but we don’t currently have data to support this. There just isn’t a lot of research being focused on this group. So it’s really important for us, and for me personally to figure out how I can contribute to this field, and to do what I can to help de-stigmatize mental health care.
The impact I could have as a public health worker is a little different from the impact I would have had as a physician. The impact now happens further upstream. And I like that aspect of it! That’s where policy becomes important, because from a policy perspective we have the opportunity to identify the sources of disparities our communities face, and propose policies to fix them. At the very least, recognizing and calling out disparities is a very important step forward in the right direction.”