As both a Doctor of Public Health student and Community Impact Director for the American Heart Association, Kristi Sprowl is passionate about supporting communities that aren’t always at the table for decision-making on public health issues that affect them.
“They are communities that need a voice, and I’ve worked hard in my education and profession to be the microphone and pulse to the community’s needs and how to best fulfill them with a strategic approach,” she said.
Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), Health Policy and Management
Bachelor of Science, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Master of Public Health (MPH), University of Arizona
What is your professional background? Where are you currently employed?
I began my professional journey at the University of Arizona, where, after graduating with my Master of Public Health, I worked as a clinical researcher for the NIH “All of Us” Research Program. In this role, I facilitated health screenings, collected human samples and processed data through standard operating procedures. I continued this work at Emory University as a clinical researcher supporting clinical trials in the Winship Cancer Institute’s Oncology Department.
I then worked as a Senior Health Educator at the Fulton County Board of Health where I planned and implemented community public health education programs, community outreach campaigns and public awareness initiatives with clinics, schools, and other stakeholders across Georgia’s largest county. Today, I am at the American Heart Association, working as a Community Impact Director leading and directing health initiatives in the Metro Atlanta region to drive local policy change.
How did you become involved in public health?
While pursuing my bachelor’s degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills, I was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the program supports undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds who are committed to research, community engagement and receiving their doctoral degrees. As a McNair Scholar, I traveled across the country presenting my research centered around Black maternal health, patient satisfaction, and adolescents’ attitudes around sexual health. It was an amazing experience to know that my discoveries can contribute to the greater knowledge of science and research.
My initial step into public health involved working at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital in Los Angeles for a care coordination internship. I went in thinking that I wanted to be a nurse and sought to better understand the job landscape from day to day. Instead, I came out realizing that I am a better asset when I’m teaching and leading health-related projects.
After graduating from CSUDH with honors, I enrolled in the MPH program at the University of Arizona on a teaching scholarship. Here I continued to build on my previous work and research, studying health issues experienced by women with HIV, post-partum depression among Mexican mothers and homelessness among women and children.
What exciting projects are you working on?
As a 2021 Health Equity Fellow in the UGA College of Public Health, I was able to work alongside faculty members Dr. Janani Thapa and Dr. Grace Bagwell Adams and partners from Albany State University to understand vaccine hesitancy in rural communities among Black and Brown people. The project is ongoing and I’m looking forward to conducting a systematic review on the health strategies of vaccine uptake in rural and underserved populations.
I have also been selected as a 2022 Urban Leaders Fellow working on a summer project with DeKalb County focused on performance-based budgeting and its advantages. The project consists of developing weekly policy memos and work alongside DeKalb County’s Commissioners to organize an implementation plan for identifying specific performance measures that can be embedded in the annual budget framework.
At the American Heart Association, I am working to expand our efforts in community-based blood pressure screenings within local Atlanta barbershops and salons to provide community members with the heart healthy education to live healthier lives. I work alongside one of our community partners, Phi Eta Chi Nursing Sorority, Inc., to help facilitate the process of getting people screened, supply AHA resources, and provide clinic linkages through Federally-Qualified Health Centers to refer people for medical counsel if needed.
As a doctoral student, I am working with a mentor and friend of mine, Dr. Eboni Haynes at Virginia Union University, to research how project management tools are effective in public health practice. I am able to work with her on identifying what areas within academic preparation should students be trained to use project management elements within the public health workforce. I am also working on research to understand Black women’s upward mobility in career placement within public health organizations and strategies to be most effective in spaces of senior-level leadership. I hope to continuously find more opportunities to sharpen my research skills and heighten my opportunities for more community collaborative partnerships.
What attracted you to your graduate program at the College of Public Health?
When looking for a graduate program, I have three questions: Does the program have research opportunities that align with my professional goals?; Does the program have supportive faculty that help enrich the experiences of Black students?; and Does the program have an organized strategy for student matriculation and retention? When researching programs in UGA’s Health Policy and Management Department, I noticed those elements. Insights from colleagues from previous cohorts/programs convinced me further. Finally, I had some conversations with professors and researchers from HPAM and UGA’s Leadership Institute and was sold. The deep dive is necessary, and I’m glad I took the time to do my research to receive what the program has to offer.
What achievements/honors during your time at CPH are you most proud of?
I was very grateful to be acknowledged as a CPH Health Equity Fellow because of the dedication I have in working with communities of color. It was an experience that allowed me to showcase my skillset and abilities. I was happy to be connected with great colleagues within the College to mentor me throughout the fellowship and the Fellows in the College who were so thoughtful and genuine with the learning process.
Do you have any external activities that you are passionate about?
Outside of my work, I am a singer, songwriter and poet who loves to put my emotions on paper. I feel so comfortable when I can express myself through words or art. It restores me. I was told that my education and profession only help to facilitate my gifts. My true gifts are what lies internally. The gift of meeting people where they are and creating a safe space for their thoughts and emotions is something I take pride in. Through music and poetry, I can truly be myself and allow others to see the real me.
What are your career plans beyond graduation?
I want to take some time to travel and see the world. I’ve noticed that what I’m learning in my classes is so valuable and would be magnified even more if I can immerse myself in the communities I want to help grow. I will use my traveling experiences to formulate research ideas for projects around health equity, workplace health, and leadership development. I also want to work for research institutes or foundations that focus on areas within health policy and social justice. I love teaching and see myself being a professor in some capacity that my career allows. I also want to mentor young and upcoming public health professionals in navigating the field and finding their strengths. The sky’s the limit!
What are the biggest takeaways from your DrPH experience at UGA?
“Be open to new ideas.” “Be okay with the process of not knowing everything.” “Be aware of how to lean on your cohort as your support system.” “Be intentional about networking and stepping outside of your comfort zone.”
I am so grateful for my experiences so far. The time in the program is a day-by-day process. The knowledge and experience I will gain are worth the journey taken.
Posted on July 21, 2022.