Meet Manas, Lown’s public health intern

Manasvini Ranganathan is a Masters of Public Health student at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine. At Dartmouth she is a member of the Student Advisory Council, representative for  National Public Health Week, and a Global Health Fellow.

My “thatha,” what I lovingly called my grandfather, and I were playing outside before he collapsed and passed away. Early heart attack runs in my family and my grandfather fell victim at just 64 years old. This experience ignited my interest in public health, prompting me to delve into the factors behind my grandfather’s heart attack. As I searched deeper and confronted my own health challenges, I came to realize the extensive reach of public health and the multitude of opportunities available to create positive change.

Virtual college was the first obstacle in my path. When I started in the fall of 2020, classes were online only and the routine of waking up, taking classes, eating, and sleeping in the same dorm room became tedious. But after accepting an internship offer for a change of pace, I became overwhelmed with working full-time and maintaining 18 credits of coursework. 

My relief came from a new hobby inspired by one of my classes. In my Psychology of Physical Activity course, we discussed the benefits of daily exercise. I rarely engaged in this, but was desperate for change, and started running. After two weeks of running, I gained a sense of motivation and no longer felt overwhelmed. By the end of the semester, I was running three miles per day, and thriving at school and work. 

After experiencing the life-changing benefits of exercise, I dedicated my senior thesis to analyzing the association between physical activity and physical health, mental health, social well-being, and academic well-being among college students. I found that students who met and exceeded the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s physical activity guidelines had better health and well-being outcomes than those who did not. Seems straightforward enough, right? However, I also found that students of lower socioeconomic levels engaged less in physical activity, which then negatively impacted their health, well-being, and performance in school. This highlighted the link between socioeconomic status and health equity, emphasizing the urgent need for interventions aimed at addressing systemic barriers to physical activity among marginalized student populations.

I started seeing these links between class, race, and health in my extra-curricular projects. At an internship at Sigma Plastics, I found that residents under the federal poverty line were exposed to greater levels of PFAS. My work with South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control revealed to me that COVID-19 incidence was significantly higher in communities with lower household incomes.

Even my technically-based work as an R&D intern at ThermoFisher Scientific in pharmaceutical development exposed that though our compound’s intended use was to treat PTSD and depression, marginalized communities with the highest rates of these issues would not have access to the new drug for years to come due to lack of coverage. The delay in access to the new drug that could greatly improve the health outcomes for marginalized communities underscored the reality of health disparities and the importance of ensuring equitable access to innovative treatments.

These diverse experiences, all in different industries, gave me the same underlying message about the lack of health equity in the U.S. To learn more about how to combat these issues, I graduated undergrad two years early to pursue an MPH at Dartmouth. Having used the Lown Institute’s Hospital Index to develop the list of medical schools that I applied to last May, primarily based on how each hospital ranked on the institute’s equity metric, I was thrilled to find out that I now have the opportunity to intern at the institute. For this internship, I’m looking forward to conducting state analyses on hospital fair share spending and developing reports to inform equitable change!