Student Profile: Adenike McDonald

Adenike McDonald knew she had found her true calling working as an environmental health specialist for Jamaica’s Ministry of Health. Her role advanced efforts to improve the health of communities, particularly those disproportionately affected by infectious diseases like malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS.

But Adenike wanted to do more and, one Fulbright Scholarship later, she found herself pursuing first her Master of Public Health and then her PhD in epidemiology and biostatistics at UGA College of Public Health.

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology & Biostatistics

Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health, Public Health Major, University of Technology, Jamaica
Master of Public Health, College of Public Health, University of Georgia

May 2028

Portland, Jamaica

What particular area of public health are you passionate about? How did you become involved in your field?

I am interested in infectious diseases and maternal and child health. My interest in infectious diseases developed due to living on an Island that is frequently affected by what we know as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). These include malaria, dengue, and chikungunya. I also have immediate family who are from, and others who currently live in Africa, a country still disproportionately plagued by several infectious diseases, including malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDs. I became involved in the Public Health field working with the Ministry of Health in Jamaica as an Environmental Health Specialist at a rural Health Center. At the Center, I conducted environmental assessments and educational programs to reduce the transmission of both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

The experience sparked my interest in maternal and child health. In my role, I also worked with community health aids (CHAs) based at the Health Center to complete team inspections, identify maternal and child health needs, and advocate for resources that could alleviate some of the challenges observed. Moving from an urban area to a rural one allowed me to observe first-hand the disparities in maternal and child health outcomes due to location.

What exciting projects are you working on? 

My research team, which includes associate professor and principal investigator Dr. Juliet Sekandi and fellow doctoral student Patrick Kaggwa, recently completed a tuberculosis (TB) clinical trial in Kampala, Uganda. Currently, I am working on the portion of the data related to post-TB self-reported disability and symptoms. Disability within the context of this study means impaired functioning in 6 domains: cognition, mobility, self-care, getting along, life activities, and participation. The assessment aims to identify if there is a relationship between symptoms experienced post-TB treatment and self-reported disability (also post-TB treatment). I am also analyzing data to identify if digital technology, specifically Video Directly Observed Therapy (VDOT), can be used to improve the quality of life of TB-infected individuals post-treatment. VDOT is a smartphone app that allows participants to record themselves administering their TB medication. The technology allows health workers to verify successful administration of medication without a home visit. I aim to identify if participants who received VDOT were less likely to report experiencing one or more symptoms after 6 months of treatment versus participants who self-report adherence or administer medication in the presence of a health worker.  The overarching goal is to highlight that the quality of life lived by people is still negatively affected even after successfully completing TB treatment. There is the need for a continuum of care post-TB treatment to ensure that people are able to return to the health state they were in prior to acquiring TB or even better.

I am also working on a maternal health project with the Morehouse School of Medicine’s Center for Maternal Health Equity. The project is called Project IMPACT (IMproving Preconceptions, Actions, and Choices for Tomorrow). The project spans across 3 states (NC, SC, and Ga) and engages with individuals who identify as Black or African American and reside in low-income communities served by the 10 sites across the three states. The project is a hybrid type 2 effectiveness/implementation clinical trial. The aim is to test the implementation and effectiveness of Pre-pregnancy Counseling (PC) with father involvement in community-based settings to improve cardiovascular health outcomes (specifically diet and physical activity) before and during pregnancy in Ga, NC, and SC. We are excited to be in the data collection stage of phase 2 and can’t wait to share what we learn about the impact of PC on low-income Black/African American men and women and the importance of engaging community-based organizations when serving minority populations.

What attracted you to getting first your MPH and then your PhD at the College of Public Health?

I was compelled to pursue my MPH and PhD due to my belief in the impact of evidence-based public health programs. I was positive that by earning both my MPH and PhD, I would acquire the skills and mentoring necessary to contribute to current research programs that serve the communities that I am interested in. Also, the skills gained would help me to lead my own research projects, and ultimately, carry on this work in my home country, Jamaica.

I decided to complete my MPH and PhD at UGA CPH after looking at programs offered by several great schools. Ultimately, the diversity of the classes offered, the opportunities available to join research labs that aligned with my personal and professional interests, and the familiarity I felt engaging with staff before and after accepting the offer cemented my decision to select UGA CPH as my college of choice. Additionally, having gone through the master’s program, I had already built a community and network that could help to guide me and foster the growth required to effectively contribute to my field. Therefore, remaining at UGA CPH for my PhD was an easy decision.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your time at the College (so far)?

The highlight of my time at UGA thus far was being accepted and presenting 2 years in a row at the Union World Conference of Lung Health. The conference has been established for over 100 years and accepts research that covers all aspects of lung health. For the 2022 virtual conference, my poster presentation covered findings for my research project which captured patient experiences with using the VDOT system and explored the acceptability and usefulness of the system in Kampala, Uganda for TB medication monitoring. My oral presentation at the 2023 conference in Paris shared my findings from the post-TB disability study that I noted above.

What achievements/honors during your time at CPH are you most proud of?

The achievements I am most proud of include successfully graduating from my MPH program, being given the opportunity to present and listen to presentations at several conferences over the last 3 years, and being able to be a part of research studies that have impacted the lives of many minority and underserved populations. 

Do you have any external activities that you are passionate about?

I am passionate about playing the piano. I have been playing for almost 17 years and mainly play now as a method of de-stressing whenever the semesters get a little hectic, as they do during graduate programs.

What are your career plans beyond graduation?

My career plans post-graduation include continuing my current research projects, working for a public health organization such as the CDC or WHO whose research and overall mission and goals align with mine, and lecturing part-time at UGA at the graduate level.

 What are the biggest takeaways from your educational experiences at UGA so far?

The biggest takeaways from my experiences here at UGA are:

  • You decide how well you do throughout your program. What you put in, is what you get out.
  • “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” Do not hesitate to reach out to professors. If you are confused in class, don’t wait until the end of the semester to get help. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to professors regarding opportunities to collaborate. It might not happen just then, but you will be on their minds when opportunities arise.
  • Take advantage of the resources available to you. If you are unsure if a particular service is available, reach out to your admin department. They are there to help and, especially at the CPH, they are happy to help and bridge gaps between you and available resources.
  • Your peers are your best allies. There are plenty of degrees for everyone! Create study groups, chat groups, etc. Peer-peer learning works once you are committed.

Posted February 28, 2024.