For new Lown intern, personal experience inspired a career in public health

By Emily Acker, MPH candidate, Dartmouth School of Public Health

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my path to a career in health care began shortly after my 13th birthday. I was sitting in a hospital bed at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. That diagnosis completely turned my world upside down. My best friend skipped school to be with me in the hospital and as a steady stream of doctors, nurses, health educators, and therapists came into my room, she diligently took notes. While those three days I spent in the hospital are now a complete blur, my friend’s presence and support are perfectly clear. Her support helped me navigate the complexity of a new diagnosis that would stick with me for the rest of my life. 

Over the past 12 years, I have had more interactions with the health care system than the typical teenager or young adult. My personal experiences with different providers and health care systems have helped me realize the variations in quality of care that exist. For me, these variations can be seen in something as simple as how thoroughly the physical exam is performed at each visit. 

I have also learned that a person’s health has very little to do with what goes on within the four walls of a hospital. We are all influenced by a host of social and economic factors that play a significant role in our health status. For someone living with a chronic condition, a biannual check-in with the doctor is only a very small piece of the puzzle. My diabetes factors into nearly every decision I make. Every time I want a snack, I need to calculate carbs and give the appropriate insulin dose. When I exercise, I need to make sure that my blood sugar doesn’t drop too low. 

Proper management is only possible when patients can afford the necessary insulin and devices, have space and time to get enough exercise, and have the knowledge and ability to prepare nutritious food. The doctor doesn’t see the daily thought processes and decision making that patients go through. They mainly judge management through a single indicator showing average glucose over the previous three months, which has the potential to be very misleading. 

My personal experiences with Type 1 Diabetes drew me to dedicate my education and career to public health. I want to work to bridge the gap between traditional public health and healthcare by increasing quality, improving outcomes, and envisioning a future health care system that values the health and wellbeing of the whole person, not just the individual parts to fix. The innovation mindset drew me to the Lown Institute, where they think daily about reimagining a radically better health care system. For my internship at Lown, I will be analyzing new data from the Lown Institute Hospitals Index to write blog posts for the website around overuse and equity.  

Outside of school and work, I love to play soccer, hike and ski in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, and cook with my family and friends.