Q&A with Aunchalee Palmquist, PhD, MA, IBCLC
Morghen Philippi, MPH global health concentration student and graduate research assistant for Research, Innovation and Global Solutions, interviewed Aunchalee Palmquist, PhD, MA, IBCLC, about her work, her perspective as a medical anthropologist, and her hopes for the future of global health.
What is your role at Gillings?
As faculty, I teach and mentor MPH and doctoral students. I conduct research and contribute to CGBI programs and projects. I also contribute to service activities in the Maternal and Child Health department, Global Health concentration, and Gillings School more broadly.
Can you tell us more about the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI) and your role with CGBI?
The CGBI works to promote increased equity in the quality and accessibility to lactation support through research, education, and training. CGBI supports a clinical lactation training program, called the Mary Rose Tully- Training Institute, for aspiring lactation consultants. CGBI currently leads ENRICH Carolinas, an initiative to support implementation of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding in North and South Carolina. It supports R.I.S.E. which is an initiative to break down structural barriers in access to clinical lactation training for people of color by creating new training programs in Historically Black Colleges and Universities. There is a communities program that works to connect people with breastfeeding support in community-based settings, including child care. CGBI contributes to the work of national breastfeeding policy through the United States Breastfeeding Committee. CGBI also contributes to global policy advocacy efforts through the WHO/UNICEF Global Breastfeeding Collective and the ENN Infant Feeding in Emergencies Core Group. As affiliate faculty at CGBI, I support a number of these programs by lecturing, leading research and evaluation activities, and doing trainings. I also have established the Lactation and Infant Feeding in Emergencies (L.I.F.E.) Initiative, which is a program designed to bring best practices and lessons learned from global infant feeding in emergencies support to NC and the U.S. I also lead several global health-focused research projects.
How does your training and perspective as a medical anthropologist inform your public health work?
As a medical anthropologist, I am interested in what public health scholars call “social determinants of health.” I use ethnographic and other qualitative methods to understand social structures and sociocultural processes that perpetuate perinatal and postpartum health inequities among oppressed and marginalized people. I work on projects based in the U.S. and internationally. One of my goals is to support participatory action research that is community-led and informs development of policies, practices, and innovations that create greater health equity, resilience, well-being.
How has the current global pandemic impacted your work?
It has been extremely difficult to do the work of teaching, mentoring, research, and service during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is so much to do, and yet, I think we all are struggling with how to juggle all of the competing demands on our time and energy right now.
What hopes do you have for the future of global health?
I hope for a future where universal health care is a reality everywhere so that all people can have access to quality public health and medical care. I believe access to health care is a basic human right. I also hope the future of global health is a future that finds solutions to address climate change.
Who is your favorite fictional character and why?
I don’t know if I have a favorite fictional character! I do love the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and one of the characters “Jen” (Yu Jiaolong) is a favorite. She’s headstrong, naïve, and learns all the most important life lessons the hard way! Once she figures out her own strength, she realizes there isn’t anything she can’t do. I think of her as a fierce warrior, and in some ways, I aspire to be a fierce warrior for health justice.