Brianna Dewitty aspires to create equitable health care systems for BIPOC and LGBTQ groups.
What’s your role in public health?
I’m currently a second year Master of Public Health student in applied epidemiology. I got my bachelor’s degree in biology, and now I’m studying social epidemiology. That has a lot to do with social justice disparities and work in health equity. My particular interest is working for equity within health care settings.
Right now, I’m working with Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA), which is the same company where I did my summer practicum. They develop measures that can be used within the health care system to make sure providers and different programs are adhering to a set of quality measures. That could mean making sure diabetes patients are taking their prescriptions appropriately, or evaluating whether patients are discontinuing their slow-acting insulin prematurely.
Can you describe your focus area in one sentence?
Improving the quality of health care in an equitable way.
I want to make sure that we’re developing measures that address any type of inequity. Not all racial groups, for example, have the same cultural background. Provider-patient interaction, prescription adherence and other things that perhaps one demographic of patients responds very well to would not work as well for another group. So, when you’re developing measures to be applied broadly, you have to make sure that they don’t actually end up perpetuating stereotypes or existing inequities.
What brought you to public health?
I kind of stumbled into it. Initially, I was more interested in the medical side of things, which is why I studied biology in undergrad. I worked in health care as a certified nursing assistant in nursing homes, at a doctor’s office and in the hospital emergency room. Across all my experiences, I encountered incidences of racism, homophobia and transphobia, and I didn’t feel comfortable working in a health care system that allows any provider to display those attitudes toward patients.
I worked with one physician as a medical assistant, and she became my mentor. She mentioned that she had gotten a degree in public health epidemiology — at the University of North Carolina, specifically. I told her that I didn’t really have the words to explain what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a doctor; I wanted to work in the medical field; but I didn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes and I did want to be a voice for equality.
She said, “Oh, that’s public health,” which was a term I didn’t know. After hearing her explanation, I was amazed that it was a perfect description of what I had wanted to do all along. She suggested I apply to the applied epidemiology program at Gillings, and I did!
Dr. Karin Yeatts is my faculty mentor at Gillings, and she’s been a great resource and listening ear. I’m involved in a couple of programs: my practicum with PQA and projects with the School of Social Work’s Inspired Lab, which is a substance abuse prevention program.
Can you describe a time where you have pivoted in your public health career?
I think my practicum experience was a pivot for me.
It took me a while to decide which practicum to pursue. When I interviewed with PQA, I wasn’t really interested in cancer research or pharmacoepidemiology, but that’s what I ended up exploring because my experience with the team there was so nice. Even though the work was meant to involve a literature review on cancer medications, they were nice enough to adjust it so it would align with my interest in social equity. Ultimately, I researched disparities in the prescribing of medications for cancer.
Through that work, I saw consistent inequities in health care access and treatment adherence among some groups, such as those with low socioeconomic status, Black people, and Native American and Alaskan Native people. These groups are less likely to be adherent to medications, and even less likely to receive a prescription for treatment. They are also more likely to refuse treatment.
These disparities might be related to cost, but provider mistrust is also a big factor. If you don’t trust your provider to have your best interests at heart, then you’re probably going to decline therapy.
This work has given me a better understanding of how broadly applicable social epidemiology can be. I really like what I’m doing now in my job. I’ve learned a lot about health care and pharmacies, which I can apply to helping the people I’m most interested in serving: LGBTQ and Black populations.
Who are you when you’re at home?
I’m essentially two people when I’m at home. It depends on the day and if I’ve gotten enough sleep!
On the one hand, I really love being outdoors — hiking, kayaking, gardening and going to the farmer’s market. Right now, I’m trying to keep an herb garden with basil and rosemary.
On the other hand, I love staying at home, playing video games and making food. Sometimes when I’m too tired or stressed, I just want to play a game to take my mind off things. During my practicum, I went back and played a lot of the old SEGA games, like Earthbound, Super Metroid and Sonic the Hedgehog. I also love Stardew Valley and first-person shooter games like Overwatch.
Read more interviews in The Pivot series.