Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The great academic contradiction: Politics make an appearance

As the president of our public health school's student council, I am both responsible for the welfare of the student body and accountable to our faculty. That's fair. But I am experiencing a significant crisis of faith because of the contradiction between what our professors tell us and what they actually expect us to do.

At my new student orientation, I was told about the importance of "getting involved" in my community; how, as a public health professional, my unwillingness to assist others would portend career failure. I was admonished for not immediately accepting leadership roles (although I've since assumed a great deal of responsibility here at SRPH). Further, our teachers consistently tell us to improve our community awareness, involvement, and interaction to ensure future success in our career fields.

Yet, it seems that when we attempt to take these ideas for a test drive at our own school, politics get in the way. Professors think your strategic marketing plan steps on their toes. They dislike your initiatives that are aimed at breaking down the "silos" that inhibit public health from making a real difference in many community settings. They balk at your initiative, optimism, and enthusiasm. I resent this a little.

This prevailing attitude only reveals the true advocates in our midst. Despite the dissident population, I have received support from a few dedicated faculty who encourage innovative solutions to public health problems. They recognize the potential that our generation has to effect change in our world, in spite of our tech-based upbringing. I am thankful for these people.

I guess the point of this post is that I'm consistently shocked by the negativity leaders display when you do what they tell you to do. My professors want to break down barriers between departments and disciplines? When we start doing this in our student council, let us do it! We are an interdisciplinary group, and by golly, we ought to acknowledge that fact.

The imperative for change thus falls on those stalwart supporters and energetic motivators who truly want to change the face of health in our nation and world. Sure, we give lip service to innovative solutions to public health problems, but most of us in the academic establishment seem to want to spend time in our happy little laboratories drawing models and filling in charts, pondering our navels instead of actually making a difference. It seems like we're just spinning our wheels in so many ways because of political considerations.

It's going to be like this in the real world, I know, so it's almost better that we're facing it now, in school, but for a starry-eyed idealist like myself, this whole process takes a little bit of the luster out of the profession.

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