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Voices from the Field: Callie Womble, Intern Extraordinaire

Hello Blog World! My name is Callie Womble and I’m a Masters of Public Health student in the Health Behavior Department at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. My graduate program focuses on the social and behavioral sciences as a means of understanding and improving the health of populations. One of my academic passions is minority women’s health. I enjoy brainstorming innovative ways to improve wellness and reduce disparity. I first got involved with women’s health in undergrad when I co-founded the UNC Chapel Hill chapter of the Office of Minority Health’s Preconception Peer Educator program and interned at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. These experiences were invaluable to me because they introduced me to the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) field, and ignited my passion.


As a graduate student, I wanted to build on that foundation and gain more research experience. In May of this year I began my practicum at the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health. My main responsibility has been to disseminate the Women’s Voices Survey, and analyze its results. Working on the Women’s Voices survey was a great because it directly addresses health disparities (an issue near and dear to my heart) and has given me a chance to sharpen my data collection, management and analysis skills.
At the end of August we closed the Women’s Voices survey with 1,950 responses from women of all nine EWSE states and our sample truly represented a life course perspective engaging women of all ages. (How awesome is that?!)  Analyzing the data has been incredibly fulfilling – the survey validates the stories of women in our region. The daily lived experiences of Southeastern women matter, and this survey both affirmed the women as individuals and provided a space for them to share how they see the world.  For me, the most thought-provoking aspect of the data analysis was coding the qualitative responses to questions asking women what they need in order to improve their health. Some of the quotes that really got my attention included:
·         I need an accountability partner.  I have the tendency to procrastinate and put other’s needs before my own.  I need a gently forceful person to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.
·         More education and support on how to balance the many competing demands that women face today with work, family, friends, etc.
·          to have doctors treat me as a human and not just as a poor-Medicaid recipient.
·         A practitioner that listens.
·         A better job so I didn’t have to work so hard.  More time. I feel like a lot of my health issues stem from my lack of time to do things like prepare meals and exercise. I work a lot, so that doesn’t leave much time for me.
·         Access for the African American population, especially those in rural areas.  Transportation is an issue.  Fear is another issue.  Cost factors in.  Prescription costs prevent consistent medication being used.

These quotes remind me that women in our region often have many responsibilities. They are moms, daughters, friends, sisters, employees, students, church members, sorority members, girlfriends, wives and the proverbial list of “hats women wear” goes on and on. Subsequently, prioritizing others’ needs above their own is a current norm for most women. It also reminds me that the social determinants of health (e.g. where you live, work, play and pray) are REAL and they truly impact how women experience life and wellness. In order to create lasting change we as public health professionals need to strategize ways to make self-care for women the default choice, as well as ways to positively influence the social determinants of women’s health. Indeed, this is a tall order but it’s necessary to change the status quo.

As my practicum comes to close, I have started to reflect on all I have learned these past six months. While the technical skills are indeed significant to me, what resonates most to me about my practicum is the well-rounded nature of my experience. From meetings with stakeholders, to capacity development webinars, to daily in-office conversations with my supervisor and the fellow staff, this experience has been a total emersion in all things MCH. I’ve learned countless new jargon, discovered new thought leaders and followed intense political legislation alongside my fellow staff. 
The most meaningful part of my practicum has been interacting with professionals from different disciplines. It has been both informative and rewarding to hear about women’s health issues from their perspective and then share my thoughts from the HB point of view. These interactions have highlighted how all disciplines have significant expertise necessary for accomplishing our shared goal: improve the health of populations. By working together we are able to put the different pieces of the puzzle together, have a collective impact and achieve our shared goal. Although my practicum is ending, I am excited to continue this versatile experience of personal and professional development as a part of the EWSE leadership team.  As a North Carolina partner I am looking forward to continuing our work towards health equity in our region.

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