February 26, 2024

Mary Rose Tully Training Institute (MRT-TI) student Supreet Goraya is a second-year Master of Public Health student at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in the Department of Maternal and Child Health. Supreet participates in multidisciplinary, mixed methods research focused on improving postpartum care for birthing people. She earned her BA in Anthropology and Biology from UNC Chapel Hill in 2022.

What experiences led you to MRT-TI and the field of lactation? 

Supreet Goraya

Supreet Goraya

I was raised in Laurinburg, North Carolina, for a majority of my life. After attending an early college high school, I pursued my undergraduate education at UNC Chapel Hill. During my sophomore year, I took an anthropology class called Human Growth and Development with Dr. Mark Sorensen that stimulated my interest in maternal and child health. It was the first time I became aware of the importance of breastfeeding and the discrepancies in breastfeeding rates among women in the United States. I ended up pursuing a degree in anthropology and took so many amazing medical anthropology courses, such as Local Cultures, Comparative Healing Systems, Living Medicine, Research Methods in Human Biology, Anthropology and Public Health, all with amazing professors who fostered my interests. For example, my faculty mentor for my senior thesis, Dr. Amanda Thompson, is a human biologist who specializes in human growth and nutrition. Throughout that process, I was exposed to infant and child feeding.

Anthropology exposed me to such expansive topics, such as the developmental origin of health and disease, the medicalization of birth, technocratic verses holistic birth models, and the history and perceptions of midwifery care. I became fascinated by all aspects of birth and postpartum care, including lactation. That led to me pursue a MPH. I am currently in the MPH program at Gillings in the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) concentration, which has helped me grow and acquire the necessary skill sets to address health outcomes and improve postpartum care for birthing people.

What are your short- and long-term career goals, and how does becoming an IBCLC contribute to them? 

My short-term goals are graduating from my MPH program this May, and hopefully working as a social-clinical research specialist improving the continuum of maternity care in a comprehensive and integrated manner. However, there are so many avenues to promote and improve postpartum health and human lactation in the United States. Currently, I’m taking a monitoring and evaluation course, and I have a newfound interest in evaluating relevant programs and interventions and quality improvement.

Long-term, I would love to continue my role as a human lactation researcher as a medical anthropologist, using applied anthropology and mixed methods approaches. Ultimately, I want to address patient needs and improve patient experiences, and be a part of local change to progress breastfeeding outcomes in our communities and address postpartum health disparities as best I can.

     Supreet at MRT-TI (click image to begin slideshow)

What unique perspectives do you bring to your MRT-TI cohort?

That’s a hard question to answer. I feel my cohort has such profound perspectives and knowledge. For me, being born in a completely different country and culture than the one I was raised in allowed me to perceive my surroundings in a distinctly unique light. I have this cultural knowledge as a Punjabi Indian, and I am comparing and gauging the various practices and viewpoints I come across. This in turn promoted my interest in the social sciences. As an MPH student with an anthropology background, I have a unique perspective on how to conceptualize and tailor healthcare needs for individuals and communities. The pregnancy, birth, and postpartum periods and associated lactation perceptions have social implications that vary from culture to culture, and that’s so important to understand and address. So, I see the importance of community, the importance of patient autonomy, and the importance of recognizing community-cultural values when addressing patient care.

Do you want to practice as an IBCLC in a clinical, research, or education role?

I think if you are in the field of lactation, you do a little bit of all of that regardless of the predominant role you embody. While I gravitate toward the research aspect of it, I do thoroughly enjoy my clinical days and would like to have a clinical role, even if it is part-time or PRN. I have previous clinical experience as a medical scribe, and documenting and facilitating clinical workflow, which enlightened me on provider-patient interactions. But with the clinical, biomedical side of things, what I have found through my experiences and even training as a birth and postpartum doula, is that hospitals are good places to treat, but not always to heal. As a lactation consultant, I feel we are driving relationships and connection and holding space in places and systems that often don’t hold space and drive disconnection.

What inspires you?

I think my mom inspires me in all aspects of my life. She is my biggest inspiration, and I just adore her and her zest for life. Both of my parents have always encouraged me to explore. Growing up, they didn’t put an expectation on me to pursue a certain field. The expectation was for me to learn and to grow. My mom now jokes with me, ”I didn’t expect that all this learning and education would lead to you becoming my mother.“ Which I think is ultimately a comment on this blending of generational knowledge and understanding. All that is to say they emphasized financial security and independence but trusted me to pursue my interests and have supported me as I started my journey to be a public health practitioner and IBCLC. And that has been very empowering.

“As an MPH student with an anthropology background, I have a unique perspective on how to conceptualize and tailor healthcare needs for individuals and communities.”— Supreet Goraya

How do you see your future work as an IBCLC?

I am immensely inspired by my classmates and preceptors. It is such a great and supportive community. We all come from varied backgrounds and even have specialized interests within the field of lactation, but I feel a sense of belonging and community with them. This truly inspires me.

What gaps do you want to fill in the field of lactation—clinically, through research, or by way of education?

That’s an interesting question. As a researcher, I want to prioritize local knowledge and the lived experiences of birthing people and especially supporting the management of care for parent-infant dyads. Clinically, and while this isn’t a gap, but rather something I am cognizant of, the way a person is treated and cared for during their birth and postpartum period highly impacts their experience. There is power in memory and people remember their experiences. As an IBCLC, I will always want to cultivate empathy and engage with my patients in a manner where I am promoting a positive experience by providing them with the best possible physical and emotional support.

How has becoming an MRT-TI student impacted your current academic studies?

In my MPH courses, we learn about healthcare services and healthcare delivery concepts and practices that I now see weekly during my clinicals. When reviewing breastfeeding literature and presenting research critiques and case studies, I find myself practicing and utilizing public health research and presentation practices. That has been wonderful. But more than anything, it has reinforced my aspiration to broaden my understanding of how biologies and cultures contribute to this embodied experience, which impacts health and well-being.

What do you like to do outside of school and work?

As a graduate student, honestly there is limited life outside of school [laughs]. Even still, I like going to the movies, especially flashback cinema nights, and trying new food places. I don’t get to do it often, but I love going to the beach and the mountains, and I love that I grew up in North Carolina where we have both. I also enjoy reading, except if I get engrossed, I simply cannot put the book down and I will stay up all night until I finish it. In fact, over Christmas break, I did nothing except eat my mom’s food and read this entire series, which had about three thousand pages. That’s it for now, that might change after I graduate in a few months.

Housed within the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute, the Mary Rose Tully Training Institute (MRT-TI) is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs upon recommendation of the Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee. In 2016, MRT-TI earned the distinction of becoming the first accredited Pathway 2 lactation consultant training program in the United States. The program is in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

– Brandyn D. Brown-White

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