Interview with Abidemi Aboiye, MPH/MSW, Program Manager, Asian Health Coalition
Nomin Bayarsaikhan, an intern at the UIC SPH Career Services, interviewed Abidemi Aboiye, who graduated from UIC SPH in 2017 with a MSW in Community Health and Urban Development and a MPH in Community Health Sciences. She currently acts as a program manager at the Asian Health Coalition with a focus on the African immigrant community. Nomin held an interview with Abidemi over the phone to discuss the current issues afflicting the community, her daily routine, and advice to future graduates.
Why did you choose to go into the field of public health and social work? How did you get started?
My undergraduate degree was actually in psychology as I was interested in mental health and how certain people protect themselves when exposed to trauma. I worked as a volunteer for a hotline service at UIC called InTouch and started to notice patterns where older callers had trauma from their childhood that were still highly pronounced in adulthood. This experience changed my perspective on mental health and my view shifted to prevention rather than treatment. My cousin graduated from UIC SPH and that is when I started to get more interested in Public Health. I wanted to find more community work, do research, and touch the community through programs in community and mental health. By getting more involved in community-based health programs, I got more immersed in the world of Public Health and really began to love it.
What are the main duties, functions, responsibilities of your job?
My main duty is working with a local African serving community based organization to provide hepatitis B outreach, education, and screening within their community. I also follow up with people within the community to connect them to needed healthcare. My other main duty is managing a portal that connects patients from community Health centers to colonoscopies at hospital systems after a positive FIT. This portal is focused on all vulnerable populations who are less likely to get screened for colorectal cancer.
The website mostly focused on Asian American health issues, but what are some issues that are prevalent in the African immigrant community?
Hepatitis B is a very prevalent issue and we are working on creating a larger outreach so there is more awareness of the disease. We are still working on identifying more issues and conducting focus groups to see what else is out there. We also focus on cardiovascular health since it seems to be an issue for many minority groups.
Are there any similarities between issues facing the African immigrant community and the Asian American community? If so, what are they?
Hepatitis B and cardiovascular health are the two that they have in common, but we are doing more research to identify more, especially within the African immigrant community.
What part of this job do you find personally most satisfying? Most challenging?
The most satisfying part of my job is that I get to connect people to care. I get to break down systemic care and show people what is available to them. Many people are not aware of the vast amount of resources that are available and I really enjoy introducing them to new support systems and getting them the help they need. Educating people and dispelling myths and seeing the eagerness of the people I work with is so nice to see because I, myself, am a part of the African immigrant community and I didn’t know that Hepatitis B was such a large issue. Even my own doctor didn’t tell me to get screened. So, when I tell the people of my community that this is a problem and that they are not alone, there is a willingness to learn and seek help and it is very rewarding. I also have loved research since grad school and I love that it is a big part of my job. I love to inform my work with research and that I am constantly learning new things. I don’t really think there are challenges to my job. If I find something to be particularly difficult, I see it as a learning opportunity and know that I have room to grow. However, moving things forward could be a little difficult because there is a lot of misinformation and stigma. Many people still have traditional beliefs and it’s hard to motivate them to get screened. This is why engaging people in care is so satisfying. I get to “move the needle” and encourage them to get potential life-saving service.
What made you choose Asian Health Coalition?
I joined my last year of grad school and was just really excited by this job. They believe in communication, engagement, and prevention, which I also believe are vital to our programs. It is an overall great agency and very well rounded. My work at the center allows me to focus on community health and work with immigrant populations - which I love.
Do you have any advice for students who are interested in non-profits/public health/social work?
My advice would be to ask questions and meet with people. Attend workshops, volunteer, and just be active. Start early and do research; don’t wait until the last minute. I did a lot volunteering and internships during grad school. I worked with refugees, did internships in public/health policy, and conducted research. It is important to explore and learn what you like and dislike. Also, these activities could help you build a network, which become invaluable when you are job hunting. I know it can be busy and overwhelming, but it is a very rich and fulfilling experience.
How has your MPH and MSW degrees helped your career? Do you used what you learned in the classroom on a regular basis?
It has helped a lot and has come in handy. Although my current work focuses on public health, my MSW degree is still very useful because I have to engage with vulnerable people about sensitive topics. The coursework for MSW was very internship intensive and it gave me a lot of exposure to what is out there. Most importantly, I learned how to engage with people in an effective manner that I implement daily at my job. My MPH program gave me a good science and research background and helped me become a better critical thinker. It also taught me to question things and not take things at face value. A lot of outside workshops and classes helped as well. I took a workshop called “Speech Master” that my friend started and it allowed me to become a better presenter. I also took leadership training and writing workshops that have been immensely useful. Overall, networking and extracurricular activities helped my career the most along with what I learned in the classroom.