As a public health student working on her doctoral degree, Erin Carlson, DrPH, questioned how reaching out to one local apartment complex could make a significant impact in breast cancer prevention.
What she learned, after early detection saved the lives of several South Dallas women in that neighborhood, was that there are no small efforts in public health.
Dr. Carlson – who taught Health Management and Policy for UNT Health Science Center before joining the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in a new position – was recently invited back to campus by the UNTHSC Public Health Student Government Association to present The Last Lecture, where professors are asked, “If you could give one closing lecture, what would you say?”
“It’s important to know in public health that you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to make a difference in people’s lives, because every effort counts wherever you are,” Dr. Carlson said. “If you can touch someone’s life – help someone who might not otherwise have survived, like the women we reached in South Dallas, then you will have made a difference.”
Dr. Carlson recalled growing up in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska, where her father embraced family, community and caring for others in both his personal and professional life. His work as a country lawyer was as much about being a friend and good neighbor as it was about offering legal advice.
“His example helped me see the importance of being truly interested in the details of people’s lives,” Dr. Carlson said. “My dad didn’t just know people as clients. He got to know them. He inquired about their kids and grandkids, their interests, their goals. He cared about their farms, their lives and their livelihoods, and what was important to them. And it’s when you take the time to inquire and really get to know those details of people’s lives that you can truly begin to care about them and help them.”
To further illustrate, she shared a story of a nursing exam where the final question asked students to name the housekeeper they passed every day between classes, underlining the importance of people and relationships, especially in a profession that takes care of others.
“Wherever you go as public health professionals, get to know those details of people’s lives. Keep your eyes, ears and hearts open to opportunities around you – whether that’s in your own community or anywhere in the world – because if each of us can positively touch even one life, then that’s how we together will make a difference,” she said.
Dr. Carlson currently serves as Associate Professor for the UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation.