April 05, 2016

Providing public health to the next generation: Alumna’s work with Newborn Screening program

A graduate of St. Kate's public health program, Nancy Silva ’14 helps to ensure newborn screenings are available to all babies in Minnesota.

Aiming to make America the healthiest nation in one generation seems daunting, but that is the theme for this year’s National Public Health Week, April 4-10. Nancy Silva, a St. Catherine University alumna, is helping to reach that goal by caring for Minnesota’s youngest residents.

As a health program representative for the Minnesota Department of Health’s Newborn Screening Program, she helps hospitals across the state ensure that every child has access to a Newborn Screen. The program tests for over 50 rare but treatable genetic conditions. Silva works closely with pediatricians to ensure every baby gets a hearing screen and follow-up care, if necessary.

But National Public Health Week is about more than just providing access to health care. Public health’s intersection with the many aspects of life is one thing that drew Silva to the field.

“Public health is about the physical health, mental health, economic well-being and educational opportunities for an entire community. Public health brings people together,” says Silva. “I chose to study public health because it's a field that easily intersects with many other fields such as economics, politics, medicine and social work. Basically, public health belongs everywhere and is everywhere!”

Silva’s work with the Newborn Screening Program is not always easy. One of her main challenges is overcoming cultural barriers. “This year we have been working hard to develop new materials that bring attention to all the disorders that we screen for and ensure these materials are available in over 12 languages.”

Of the many ways the program reaches out to the communities it serves, Silva thinks their best approach is letting those in the community speak for themselves by sharing testimonials of how the program helped their children.

When asked if she had any advice for a student looking to study public health, she stressed the importance of experience. “Intern, volunteer and network as much as you can — it not only helps when you go out looking for a job, but it will also help you do your job better.”

She also suggests trying classes in economics, marketing, or political science. “Knowing about funding and policies is vital to any public health or non-profit organization. Look for classes or experiences that give you some insight into that!”

By Karen Ciesielczyk ’16