SIUE students completing a master’s in public health (L-R) Stephanie Bargiel, Kyana Nunnally and Aldara Henderson.Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s first Master of Public Health (MPH) cohort has spent the spring semester working diligently to complete mandatory community-based capstone projects. Despite pandemic-incited challenges, students Stephanie Bargiel, Kyana Nunnally and Aldara Henderson creatively adapted their projects in collaboration with an approved community partner.

“The students in our first MPH cohort tackled timely topics that truly reflected the challenges of these times,” said MPH program director Alice Ma, PhD, MPH. “They conducted successful capstone projects that also demonstrated their ability to persevere and be flexible. I am incredibly proud of their accomplishments, and I look forward to see what they contribute to the public health field next!”

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Bargiel, of Highland, utilized a social-ecological approach to explore resilience among emergency department healthcare providers and nurses in her timely project entitled “Resiliency of ER Healthcare Providers.” She investigated how levels of personal qualities, interpersonal connections, organizational structure, community and policy contribute to resilience.

“My primary goal was to analyze emergency healthcare worker experiences to further understand how to provide support and propagate advocacy for those who dedicate their lives to caring for the community day in and day out,” said Bargiel. “I believe in this project, and those who have agreed to participate in my research.”

Bargiel thanks the MPH program for allowing her to learn new skills, such as conducting interviews and writing a thesis, while completing a project that is personally fulfilling. Upon graduation, she aspires to begin medical school to pursue her interests in emergency medicine, gastroenterology and primary care.

Nunnally, of Chicago, pursued her master’s due to the countless possibilities within the public health field. Her capstone project, titled “Pregnancy Experiences of Minority Women,” uncovers disparities minority women face during maternal care and calls for equitable healthcare policy for all women.

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“This project was created to learn more about minority women and the struggles they face within the healthcare system,” explained Nunnally. “Racial differences in maternal mortality can be defined by definite differences in the rates of mortality between Black and white women during and after delivery. According to Howell (2019), Black women are 3-4 times more likely to experience maternal mortality compared to white women.”

Nunnally collected data on minority women’s access to maternal services throughout the stages of prenatal, childbirth and postnatal care. She hopes to discover how accessible services are and how knowledgeable women are on the options available to them. She aspires to work in maternal and child health with the goal of opening a birthing center for women of all ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Five years ago, Henderson, of Belleville, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and told she had four months to live. After enduring multiple rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries, and abdominal radiation, she returned to school to pursue public health with the goal of assisting others in a similar situation. Her capstone project, entitled “Preparedness and Resiliency of Cancer Patients,” examines U.S. cancer patient preparedness and resiliency in response to a disease outbreak such as COVID-19.

“Cancer patients are a vulnerable population, especially during a health pandemic,” said Henderson. “By identifying challenges, I hope that more efficient and helpful long-term preparations can be made so mistakes are not repeated.”

Henderson utilized social media to find study participants who completed an anonymous online survey. The survey’s open-ended questions allowed participants to explain the challenges associated with treatment delay, diagnostic procedure, office and telehealth visits, mental coping, and health costs during COVID-19.

After graduation, Henderson intends to apply to a public health doctoral program. Her ultimate goal is to utilize her research skills to work with global health organizations to help drive public policy change in the U.S.

To learn more about SIUE’s MPH program, visit siue.edu/academics/graduate/degrees-and-programs/public-health/.

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