Ryan Blevins Jackson took a major step in investing in his future by completing an internship with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.. For years, IMHC has been committed to the success of young people. While formal education is critical, IMHC knows that the hands-on experience will prepare the interns for the professional world.
Please share information about your formal education.
I grew up in Northeastern Ohio in the metro Cleveland area and graduated from Bedford High School in 2008. For my undergraduate degree I attended the University of Michigan Ann Arbor where I received my bachelor’s degree in psychology. Wanting to use my career to address health disparities and inequity; I then completed a master’s of public health degree at Indiana University Bloomington. I specifically focused my graduate coursework on health policy as well as behavioral, social and community health.
What was your internship experience like at the Indiana Minority Health Coalition?
My internship with IMHC has been a very empowering experience. From my first day I was introduced as a member of the public policy team and not an intern. Throughout my entire experience my supervisor, Tony Gillespie, encouraged me to work from the perspective of an actual IMHC employee. Rather than limiting my work and exposure based on the ideology of an “intern” my role closely resembled that of an actual employee. Throughout my work I have gotten exposure to skills and knowledge that were never accessible solely through formal education. Tony continuously provided me with opportunities to not only learn new skills, but to make my academic knowledge applicable in a professional setting. My experience with IMHC ultimately served as the catalyst necessary to fully transition into a public health professional. Honestly I don’t even think the word internship is adequate for my work experience with IMHC.
How did the internship with IMHC prepare you for the professional world?
The opportunity to intern with IMHC couldn’t have come at a better time. I began my internship during the final semester of my master’s program and up until that point I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to approach a career in public health. Foremost, my experience at IMHC helped me to narrow my professional interests and gain a better understanding of the type of work I wanted in a career. From the first day I loved what I was doing and could see tangible results from my contributions. Working with IMHC exposed me to the intersections of public health, policy, and the implications of these factors on underserved populations. This unique combination of factors helped me to understand exactly how to integrate my skills, interests, and passion into a professional position. Working at IMHC also provided the opportunity to network and connect with individuals leading the public health industry. Whether it was working with state senators, or esteemed physicians, I was able to interact with the individuals excelling in my field. Within my role there was even opportunity to shadow others and gain a completely different experience outside of my designated role. Overall, IMHC provided the holistic growth and development, which taught me exactly how to utilize my formal education.
Given your experiences, what career path intrigues you?
At this point in my life I see the need to explore a career in public health policy and government affairs. Given both my academic and professional experiences, I believe that I am best skilled to work on health advocacy at the policy level. Throughout my internship with IMHC the state of Indiana underwent several controversial policy issues, severely disenfranchising specific groups of people. One thing that I have learned working in health policy is that; if you are not advocating for the issues that you find important, nobody else will. Just as IMHC has instilled me with the skills to advocate for others, I want to empower individuals with the tools to eventually advocate for their own needs. It is my belief that policy and legislation are the foundation to making sustainable public health changes. As such, I see myself in a position that would allow me to lobby for public health policies, which promote health equity.
Now that you are educated and have some work experience, what other added value do you have that would make an employer hire you?
I think one of my biggest professional assets is my ability to empathize with the individuals with whom I’m working. I can connect really easily with people to understand what their needs are and how I can meet them. In all of my work I aim to see from the perspectives of everyone who is involved; a quality that, surprisingly is often missing in public policy work. I also have a very unique set of experiences, which allow me to have a very comprehensive public health skill set.
As an African American male, where do you see yourself in today’s society?
Foremost I see myself as blessed and privileged to have had such beneficial learning opportunities, both academically and professionally. As an African American male it is typically rare to see many individuals who look like myself in various professional settings. However, it is likely that I will see individuals who look like myself negatively portrayed through our media and societal norms. In many instances, I feel as though I have an obligation to uplift my community of African American men by cultivating future leaders and advocates. I am always eager to represent and support the issues that plague our communities, which are often overlooked by those who run our social institutions. I find that it is essential to use my work as a platform to extend access to the tools and resources that have helped me to succeed as an African American male.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next five years I hope to be making a sustainable impact against minority-based health disparities. No matter what my position may be, I plan to tailor my career to benefit underserved individuals and their unique needs. In the next five years I see myself getting further involved in health policy, and hopefully, analyzing disparities at both the state and federal government levels. I’ve even been entertaining the possibility of attending law school to further my knowledge and background in policy. Given the small percentage of African American men in this professional field, I also see myself working with students to encourage careers in health policy. As the media continues to normalize violence against young Black men, I believe it is critical for professionals to engage students and emphasize the importance of being politically active and aware. Eventually, I would like to use my platform as a public health advocate to represent the interests of underrepresented populations as a state legislator. I have a specific vision for how I believe health equity should be pursued and the first step is to ensure that government policy adequately benefits all individuals. I recently accepted a fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and believe this will be the perfect opportunity to integrate my interests in advocacy and health policy.