Master of Public Health Student
Alicia Hernandez thought she had plenty of experience serving marginalized communities. The Johns Hopkins emergency department nurse worked as a health educator in Tanzania with the Peace Corps, assisted handicapped children at a community center in Guatemala and helped nursing staff at a community clinic on a small Caribbean island. She has also provided health screenings for migrant farm workers and their families in rural southern Georgia and volunteered her nursing services at a small primary care clinic in Ecuador. But none of that prepared her for the devastation and chaos following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Arriving in the country shortly after that fateful event, she received a harsh introduction to disaster medical relief.
After a mere five-minute orientation with a nurse who was leaving, Hernandez dove into the pandemonium. First she had to find the sickest patients among the droves of people hanging around the medical tents. Then she had to find basic medical resources in jumbled heaps of unfamiliar supplies and poorly labeled medicines. As she dashed between medical tents and swarms of foreign volunteers with all manner of qualifications, Hernandez had no time to reflect on the ruin that surrounded her.
“I watched three people die that day,” she remembers. “The overwhelming awareness that grew within me every day there, and that I still live with, is that I did not do enough.”
Through the MPH Program, she’s acquiring the skills and knowledge required to be a leader with the capacity to identify and solve public health problems and mobilize communities. “The ongoing devastation in Haiti from a 12-second event is largely due to its lack of health care infrastructure and is something no one should have to face,” she says. “Those of us who are capable have a responsibility to prevent it from happening again by rebuilding stronger, more empowered communities that will better survive and thrive.”