Read Colleen’s bio. See all 40 Under 40 honorees.
Five Questions for Colleen
1. Who or what inspired you to enter the field of public health?
I was inspired to enter the field of public health after reading “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a story by Tracy Kidder about Paul Farmer’s efforts to cure infectious diseases and reduce health inequity on a global scale. I wanted to help change the structural and systemic conditions that cause particular communities, locally and globally, to experience poorer health than others, and law seemed like an effective tool for addressing root causes of poor health.
2. What are the greatest challenges you face in your work?
One of the greatest challenges I see in public health law is the difficulty in building strong public support for public health prevention initiatives and policy efforts focused on upstream, systemic causes of poor health. I think this might be for a few reasons. One is that success is often invisible, meaning it is measured by things that do not happen — diseases prevented and crises averted. People may not notice or value public health unless it fails.
3. What would success in public health look like to you?
If I envision one success in public health, I would say—at this point in time—that taking proactive, meaningful, equitable steps to address and mitigate the public health impacts of climate change would be a move in the right direction. Climate change is affecting everything—air quality, water quality, food quality and security, mental health, vector-borne disease patterns, and on and on. Addressing climate change would mean not only that we have begun taking our biggest public health threat seriously, but also that we have taken collective responsibility for it and found a way to overcome barriers that impede progress.
4. What’s a story or experience that keeps you going, even when you’re feeling challenged?
Each summer, my Mid-States Region team at the Network for Public Health Law works with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to travel around the state delivering public health law trainings to local public health practitioners. I have loved this experience! I am inspired by the really amazing work that everyone is doing and honored to be even a small part of it—it is such a privilege to be able to support local public health efforts by providing education concerning the relevant legal framework and pertinent legal tools.
5. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?