Q&A: MPH student Don Brathwaite on inspiration, public health, and positive change

Published on July 12, 2017

A portrait of Don Braithwaite of the University of Iowa College of Public Health.Don Brathwaite balances a full schedule as a student leader, MPH candidate in community and behavioral health, and graduate research assistant. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he earned a BS degree in physiology and health in the Pre-Integrative Medicine Track from the Maharishi University of Management.

Earlier this year, Don was elected to be the National Black Graduate Student Association (NBGSA)’s North Central Regional Representative. NBGSA is the nation’s largest interdisciplinary graduate organization for students of African descent. The association was established to address the needs and concerns of black graduate and professional students, and to encourage black undergraduates to pursue advanced degrees.

Don recently answered a few questions about his work and inspiration for pursuing a degree in public health.

What are the duties of a NBGSA representative, and what goals do you hope to accomplish while in this role?
As the North Central NBGSA representative, I’m responsible for the recruitment of new members and chapters at colleges and universities within the region. Also, I will coordinate an Annual Regional Conference to be held the last quarter of the year. Ultimately, it would be awesome to have this conference held at the University of Iowa due to Iowa’s continued support for diversity and inclusion.

I hope to inspire a culture and legacy of acceptance here at Iowa. It’s the little things that count, and I hope to contribute to a great institution by adding to the dynamism and positive change that comes from mixing of different peoples and cultures.

What made you decide on the UI College of Public Health for your graduate degree?
I was inspired by alumna Tala Al-Rousan’s story, who used her public health training to address the health issues of Syrian refugees and other populations around the world. She’s making a difference, and that’s right in line with the kind of impact I want to have on the world.

The public health field is so dynamic because education, housing, community, basically everything is a part of public health. I chose the UI College of Public Health because I want to understand social disparities and health inequity across populations so that I can engage communities with real solutions and appropriate interventions.

Can you briefly describe the research you’re assisting with as a Graduate Research Assistant?
I worked with Dr. Paul Gilbert during the spring ’17 semester on natural recovery research. I currently (summer ’17) work with Dr. Robert Wallace on women’s military health research.

What are your professional goals and aspirations?
After I graduate with my MPH, my career goals include becoming an MD and joining the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

What advice do you have for students on balancing school, work, and volunteer activities?
My advice would be to stay organized and to not put off things that you could do today until tomorrow. In addition, make sure that you’re enjoying yourself. I think it’s very important to step away at times and socialize, enjoy a movie or venture downtown.