An advocate for equity in public health


An advocate for equity in public health

Erica Stephens

Erica Stephens is getting ready to graduate next month with major in Cognitive Science and a minor in Health & Wellbeing from University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Science. She also served on the Student Advisory Board for the Center for Global Health Equity in many roles including as a member of the Case Competition committee that drew in more than 100 participants this year. Stephens spoke about her interest in global health and advised students to follow their passion.


What are your next steps after graduation?

Stephens: I am interested in promoting health equity though public health initiatives, policy reform, research, and clinical practice and plan to become a global public health professional. I am passionate about maternal and child health, increasing access to comprehensive reproduction care, and improving primary care delivery in rural areas, domestically and internationally.

Erica Stephens in Panama
Erica Stephens in Panama.


How did you get interested in Global Health?

Stephens: Coming from Southern Virginia, I have always been observant of the inequities in my community. I did not initially know the phrase “social determinants of health”, but I knew that by understanding the base level of an individual’s life we could improve the health of vulnerable communities. In my first year of University, I participated in the CGHE Case Competition which allowed me to create an intervention for a real global health issue. This opportunity connected me with students from diverse backgrounds and allowed me to present an intervention while receiving guidance from global heath leaders.

As soon as I finished the competition, I knew that global health was important to me. The ideas discussed within the case reminded me of barriers faced in my hometown. It allowed me to see the complexity of global health while understanding the collaborative approach needed to tackle these issues. I was able to receive guidance by another team member who led me to the Center for Global Health Equity where I eventually became a member of the Student Advisory Board (SAB). I was a member of the Case Competition Committee and also served as a student liaison, a role geared towards creating a supportive atmosphere that promotes global health engagement.


Tell us about your study abroad experience at UVA?

Stephens: I traveled to Panama with Global Medical Brigades in 2018. This opportunity allowed me to work with medical professional within the province of Darién and provide care within the Emberá-Wounaan Comarca. Many villagers in this region follow indigenous practices which is often different from modern-day practices. These differences heighten health disparities and leads to decreased accessibility to good, comprehensive healthcare. My work involved helping physicians diagnose individuals, prescribe medication, and perform small procedures. Seeing how the different healthcare systems operate, helped me understand the structural barriers faced by the country. Prenatal care was a major focus while a part of my global experience, and it was the initial spark of my interest in maternal health overall. This enlightening experience allowed me to see global health issues firsthand while understanding the importance of politics and economics.


What would be your advice to other students looking for a global experience at UVA?

Stephens: I would encourage students to follow their passions. At the University, there are a number of professionals and departments that are eager to help students find the right opportunity.

I would also recommend Center for Global Health Equity.  I have been involved with CGHE from my first year and it engages with the University, greater Charlottesville, and outside of these boundaries to promote equity and inclusion.