PhD Student, Health Policy and Management
When Beth McGinty began student teaching health and physical education at an elementary school in Pennsylvania, she learned an unexpected lesson about the politics of health.
The year before, in 2002, Congress had passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which tied the funding of schools to improvement in students’ scores in math and reading tests. To gain more classroom time, McGinty’s school had cut gym hours in half and axed all health education in first through third grades. Meanwhile, more Pennsylvania kids than ever were overweight and being diagnosed with diabetes.
“It was my first experience with the tangible effects of public policy on population health,” she says.
McGinty was offered a permanent teaching job at the school, but she turned it down to earn a master’s in health and behavior studies at Columbia University. She accepted a fellowship in the Public Health Prevention Service of the CDC and took a two-year assignment with the State Department of Health in Mississippi, which has the highest burden of chronic disease in the U.S. McGinty became lead epidemiologist for asthma hospitalization and emergency room department data in Mississippi with a focus on the Mississippi Delta Region, one of the nation’s poorest areas. She is working to design research and policies to address regional variations in asthma hospitalizations.
“My assignment in Mississippi is the most critical leadership experience in my life,” McGinty says. “To design and provide preventive health services related to chronic disease, I need training in the variety of disciplines that relate to chronic disease, training I can get at Johns Hopkins.