Student Profile: Hope Grismer

With an eye towards a career in outreach medicine, Hope Grismer wants to bring quality health care to communities in need. Her journey pursuing both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the College of Public Health have only helped her reinforce her passion for helping others.

“Public health’s focus on disease prevention, healthy behavior promotion, and addressing social and environmental determinants of health aligns with my personal philosophy that effective healthcare must be holistic and extend beyond a single doctor’s appointment,” she said.

B.S. in Health Promotion with a Global Health Minor
Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in Environmental Health

Undergraduate degree – May 2024
Graduate degree – May 2025

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

What sparked your interest in pursuing a degree in public health?

My passion for healthcare extends beyond biochemistry and biology to understanding how real-life complexities impact real people. Public health’s focus on disease prevention, healthy behavior promotion, and addressing social and environmental determinants of health aligns with my personal philosophy that effective healthcare must be holistic and extend beyond a single doctor’s appointment.

I love the interdisciplinary nature of public health – from epidemiology and biostatistics to health education and environmental health science. Being part of such a broad field is exciting because it always exposes me to new perspectives and individuals with diverse skills. There is never “one type” of public health professional. Likewise, the career opportunities are endless.

Why did you choose your specific concentration, certificate, or minor?

For my undergraduate degree in Health Promotion, I focused on a Behavioral Medicine emphasis which complemented my science prerequisites for medical school while also allowing me to take population health courses about the social determinants of health. I also choose to pursue a Global Health minor to enrich my cultural awareness and global health knowledge, which will complement my future goals to work with immigrant and refugee populations in urban settings.

For the MPH portion of my Double Dawgs dual degree, I chose the Environmental Health Science emphasis to explore how environmental factors influence health, aligning with my experiences witnessing the impact of environmental exposures on well-being. The courses offered, such as Cancer Etiology and Air Quality’s Effect on Health, captivated my interest and prepared me for addressing critical health challenges.

What has been the highlight of your journey as a public health student?

The highlight of my student experience has been the supportive community at the College of Public Health. The personalized attention from professors, small class sizes fostering meaningful interactions, and engaging discussions with classmates have made my learning experience enriching. Dr. Katie Hein‘s Chronic Disease Class stands out as a prime example of a collaborative and stimulating environment that encourages growth and learning. We listened to podcasts on different chronic diseases and had great class discussions.

Can you share meaningful research experiences you’ve had as an undergraduate student?

My time at the University of Georgia was filled to the brim with research projects. I was lucky enough to get to experience the entire spectrum of health research at UGA – from both a humanities and biomedical lens.

During my freshman year, I discovered the research world at UGA. I worked under Dr. Michelle Ritchie with a CURO Research Assistantship. I designed and presented my research project “Geospatial Investigation of Rurality and Health in the Context of Diabetic Pregnancy in South Dakota.” This project examined the relationships between food accessibility, gestational diabetes incidence, and rurality in my home state of South Dakota.

In my junior year, I wrote and applied for a mini-grant from the College of Public Health focused on utilizing faith-based leaders as community health advocates for early brain health/aging intervention. My team and I were granted $5,000 to conduct focus groups around Georgia in partnership with the UGA CARE Center. After we completed the project, we were invited as one of the handful of student presenters to share our research “Engaging Faith-Based Leaders in Dementia Health Education” at the 2023 Annual Georgia Gerontological Society Conference.

During undergrad, I also became a lab member of Dr. Xiaoqin Ye’s Lab in College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. This lab focuses on female reproductive biology with a focus on the molecular mechanism of the uterus receptivity and embryo implantation. During my work in the lab, I learned many laboratory techniques. At the 2023 CURO Symposium, I presented an oral presentation on the role of a protein, RhoA, in the hormonal-mediated functions in the uterus.

Most recently, I was a 2023 CURO Summer Research Fellow in Dr. Ye’s lab. I spent 30 hours a week in the lab learning laboratory techniques that included PCR and tissue histology. My fellowship experience culminated in a final forum presentation focused on progesterone receptor’s effects on the fluid dynamics and bulk absorption present in the uterus during the early stages of pregnancy.

Could you elaborate on your internship experience at Sparrow’s Nest Athens?

My internship at Sparrow’s Nest Athens exposed me to the diverse needs of low-income and unhoused individuals. This non-profit serves as a day shelter providing services such as laundry, clothing, meals, classes, and showers as well as subsidized social services such as prescription and identification vouchers to the unhoused and low-income community in Athens. This approach resonates deeply with my belief in the need for a holistic outreach approach for unhoused folks living in urban areas.

During my time as a student intern, I helped clients access our various offerings from facilitating identification vouchers, and food bank access, and helping with survey measures to gauge engagement and preferences for our vocational/emotional skills class.

It was a humbling experience to witness the impact of relatively small acts like obtaining identification documents on a low-income or unhoused individual’s well-being. I owe the most thanks to our clients themselves who impacted me profoundly through their shared stories. I believe that because as individuals we only have a singular perspective, actively seeking out perspectives of those who differ from us is the best way to understand the world.

Do you engage in any external activities that align with your passion?

I am the shift captain at the Covenant Presbyterian Church x Campus Kitchen Food Distribution. For the last two and half years, it has been hands-down my favorite part of the week.

Working with a wonderful team of church members and other UGA students, we usually serve around 140-180 clients within 90 minutes. Every week, individuals either walk up or drive through the church parking lot. We hand out a week’s worth of groceries, which often include large bags of frozen meats, fresh produce, and other staples. As a shift leader, I organize the distribution’s volunteers, acting as a point person to ensure it runs smoothly.

I am extremely passionate about this program because food is medicine. My experiences and education have shown me how negative the impacts of socio-demographic inequities surrounding food access can be on individual health status. Connecting with community members every week is also a delight. This food bank is uniquely fun in this regard because we often have regulars, so volunteers can learn clients’ names and personal stories. This has been a pivotal personal growth experience for me.

What insights have you gained from your experiences as a public health student?

My experiences have highlighted the complexity of health disparities, emphasizing the importance of tailored solutions for marginalized communities. Learning to ask the right questions has been a valuable skill, empowering me to approach public health challenges effectively. Public health has also shown me how impactful intentional and evidence-based health interventions can be on our health. Food safety regulations, vaccination programs, and clean drinking water are just a few examples of public health efforts many of us take for granted.

What are your plans post-graduation?

This summer, I am headed home to South Dakota to train for an upcoming ultramarathon race, teach some fitness classes, and spend some much-needed quality time with my family and friends. Next fall, I will be back at UGA to complete the last year of my MPH degree. During this application cycle, I am also applying to medical school and hope to be accepted after I complete my MPH. While I am certain my plans will evolve, I currently envision a role relating to outreach medicine after my medical education. I am very drawn to medicine that seeks out individuals and goes to where they are—even beyond traditional hospital walls, in a community clinic setting, or through street medicine.

Medicine in cities presents a unique challenge but also so much humanity into medicine. As someone who is getting an MPH in Environmental Health Science, different urban exposure effects on health are exciting to me. Additionally, outreach and urban medicine mean clinicians see a diverse group of patients. I find so much joy in being around individuals who are different from myself—whether that be different cultural practices, languages, or life experiences.

Medicine, but especially natural disaster work, requires clinicians to be highly adaptable. As someone who values a degree of surprise and inherent challenge in their work, this appeals to me. I currently envision myself serving in a high-need urban area, at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), or in a natural disaster relief response role. I think my education and passion for public health and healthcare outreach will work together nicely in these roles.

Posted May 6, 2024.