First-generation student immersed in community outreach surrounding HIV disparities
Over the past two years, Class of 2022 Master of Public Health graduate Jimmy Nash — a first-generation college student — has spent his time at the College of Public Health honing his knowledge surrounding Black men's sexual health, and equipping himself with the tools to address health disparities pertaining to HIV and STI prevention and care. He believes his degree in health behavior and health promotion will be foundational during his next journey pursuing medical school. We sat down with Nash to learn more about his public health path.
Why did you decide to pursue public health?
My interest in public health is based primarily on understanding how health injustices regarding HIV prevention and care arise within marginalized communities, such as those who identify as Black and LGBTQ. While my ultimate goal is to become a physician, having this degree in my toolbox will make me a more well-rounded clinician. As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, public health influences so many areas of our lives. As such, providing equitable services to and advocating for underserved populations has to always be at the forefront.
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What are your goals now that you have an MPH?
I intend to matriculate into medical school. With a specialization in infectious disease or primary care, I aspire to work with HIV/AIDS patients by providing both preventative and treatment services. In addition, I want to create a comprehensive sexual health education program that can be integrated into curriculums at primary and secondary schools. Through this program, I hope to end the cycle of misinformation on the topic of sexual health and counteract the need for treatment by emphasizing preventative measures. This includes information on campaigns such as Undetectable = Untransmittable, or “U=U,” which works to destigmatize those living with HIV to encourage them to stay linked to care and treatment.
You currently work at Equitas Health, a nonprofit community health care system. What is your role there and what have you learned?
At Equitas, I serve as a prevention training and evaluation coordinator. This has changed from being on the frontline and conducting community-based HIV/STI testing to leading the team that evalautes risk- and harm-reduction programs. I serve as lead evaluator for three projects: Brothers in Unity, a CDC-funded program focused on HIV prevention for men of color; Mozaic, a CDC-funded program focused on trans individuals of color; and OHIV, an Ohio Department of Health program that offers at-home HIV test kits, free condoms and an HIV/STI hotline. This position has allowed me to connect what I've learned about program planning and evaluation with my research experience exploring HIV in communities of color.
What were your academic activities like as a student?
Throughout my MPH program, I was engaged in research with my advisor, professor JaNelle Ricks. One of our projects studied the influence of maternal caregivers on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) adherence for adolescents. PrEP is the medicine that people at risk for contracting HIV take to prevent getting infected. Another project studied the dating habits of sexual and gender minority adolescents, and how technology can influence healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Additionally, I served as a graduate mentor for the Black Graduate and Professional School Caucus.
How did these experiences enrich your time at Ohio State?
My research was directly related to my coursework, which made it easier for me to understand how to create effective health programming by putting the theories I’ve learned into practice. Considering the nature of an MPH, this is key. Regarding mentoring, I recall how difficult it was to traverse the graduate school application process as a first-generation college student and someone who is severely underrepresented in the field. It has been instilled in me that as I continue to make strides within my career, I must reach back as I climb.
What advice would you give incoming students?
“Become comfortable with being uncomfortable." This is something that a mentor told me during my freshman year at Ohio State. What they wanted me to understand is that within advocacy work, you may not always know the answer, and you may not always be in a situation in which you’ve had previous experience. There is growth that comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone and attempting new experiences. This can take many forms, ranging from emailing that professor you want to work with to making your voice heard in the face of injustice. If we want to create sustainable change within society in any field, we must be brave enough to challenge the norm if it is for the betterment of the communities we serve.