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The University of Kentucky College of Public Health (CPH) is celebrating Women's History Month with spotlights on remarkable faculty, students, and alumni throughout the month.

After bonding while pursuing their Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees nearly two decades ago, five University of Kentucky College of Public Health (CPH) alumni have remained friends and colleagues even after taking divergent career paths in public health.

Throughout their friendship, CPH alums Alisa Bowersock, LeAnne Nieters, Sabine Meuse, Shalini Parekh, and Jennifer Redmond Knight have found ways to collaborate not only with each other professionally, but with the College of Public Health as well.

One of their first collaborations, though, was during their time at CPH when they were part of a push to make Lexington smoke-free.

“It's our stamp in Lexington that we were part of creating a smoke-free environment,” added Meuse, who now is the Infection Prevention Program Manager with the Washington State Department of Health.

“I got to speak at the city council meetings and get involved in policy,” said Knight, who is an Assistant Professor/Co-Investigator with the University of Kentucky’s Kentucky Cancer Consortium. “That was amazing and was my first deep dive into advocacy.”

The friends have been able to make similar impacts in their current roles as well.

As Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Population Health Assessment at the Tennessee Department of Health, Parekh's role revolves around harnessing the power of data to inform policy decisions and drive interventions.

One of those projects included creating an interstate data exchange program that establishes legal data exchange agreements with neighboring states in sharing hospital discharge data. Parekh said many patients in Tennessee, particularly those at the border, would go to hospitals in other states for care and, up until the agreement, data on those patients’ visits wasn’t included in Tennessee’s hospital records. The innovative program aims to fill those gaps and allow for a more complete picture of hospital data.

Parekh is now collaborating on a similar project for Kentucky with Julia F. Costich, JD, PhD, who is the Peter P. Bosomworth Professor of Health Services Research in the Department of Health Management and Policy, where she currently serves as interim department chair.

“Dr. Costich heard me mention a project I'm working on in a story, and now we're collaborating on that project together,” Parekh said. “It’s crazy how these connections happen.”

Knight and Parekh also previously collaborated to bring a day-long training to Kentucky on cancer health disparities, thanks to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant Parekh was working on at the time.

“It’s been wonderful to be able to fall back on these connections and actually make our current careers thrive,” Parekh said.

The connections go beyond just projects too, according to Knight.

With some practicing in fields such as pharmacy and medicine, Knight said she can send students to her friends to show how those different fields intersect with public health.

“I can't tell you the number of people who ask whether pharmacy and public health go together. And I say, ‘Yes, it can and I will send you to the right person’,” Knight said.

Nieters, who is a Senior Clinical Pharmacist for Humana, was recently promoted thanks to her public health background after doing clinical reviews in her previous role.

“When I was talking about the clinical trial, I didn't use the big words,” Nieters said of using epidemiological principles. “I just explained the charts and what they did. And that might be something that not everyone's able to do if they haven't had that public health exposure. It just makes it easier to understand why it's important, or why maybe you don't want to choose that drug for your patient.”

Bowersock brings public health principles to her role as an OB/GYN physician with Southern Women’s Care, LLC, particularly around conversations to identify potential health issues.

“I teach physician assistant students, and one of the big things that we teach them is that there are many ways to get the information you want, but you can actually shut someone down from giving you the information by seeming judgmental when you ask it,” she said. “So that is something I focus on in teaching. Because when I ask them, ‘Did you ask them how many sexual partners they've had?’ and they say, ‘No, I'm too embarrassed to,’ I say good job, because your question should be, ‘Do you need screening for sexually transmitted diseases?’ Because it can sound judgmental to ask about those things.

“But from a public health perspective, how you get the information is really important. And to do that without judgment is the most important part.”

Bowersock credits Meuse and her friends for now being able to have those conversations with patients.

“I grew up in a rural, small town, and Sabine [Meuse] had much bigger ideas than I ever did,” Bowersock recalled. “…I had no idea how to talk about any of that. It was those nights and conversations with Sabine that helped me. And now, my small town isn't so small; not from my own experiences, but from having people with bigger experiences and more open minds.”

For Meuse, the best decision of her life was finding public health and the University of Kentucky.

“I realized eventually that I wanted to make a bigger impact than just a one-to-one connection,” she said. “And public health does that. If you get into policy and practice, bam, you have major influence on improving everybody's health.”

For all five friends, public health has allowed them to make impacts not only on their own lives but on the lives of many others across the country.