Melissa Marshall’s passion for public health is rooted in social justice, but it was ignited by her personal experience with what is a growing health crisis—opioid addiction.
“I’ve seen it destroy lives and people I never thought would be affected,” she said. Her younger brother struggled for years with an addiction that started with prescription pills and moved to heroin.
“He battled it from beginning to end. He’s in recovery now, but if he didn’t have access to all the programs all those multiple times, I don’t know what would have happened,” she said. “Some of his friends never had the opportunity and they’re in jail or worse.”
Marshall was determined her public health studies would help her work toward a career supporting access to health care.
During her graduate studies, she landed an internship with Aniz Inc, an Atlanta-based organization providing mental health and substance use counseling, support services and sexual health education.
There, she became interested in transgender health issues, such as HIV infection and drug use. The HIV rate among transgender residents in Atlanta is high, Marshall noted.
“A lot of transgender people feel discrimination when seeking medical care. So, they don’t,” Marshall said. Because of the absence of health care, many face increased health risks, including improperly administering their own hormone or silicone injections or using contaminated products.
Many transgender people are also hesitant to get tested for HIV, because they fear public outings and shaming, she said.
During her internship, Marshall collected data on transgender health care access for a study, titled “Transgender Medical Access Project,” looking at how best to provide medical services to the transgender community. Part of the project includes developing cultural sensitivity training for physicians and practitioners.
“What I love about public health is that it encompasses so many aspects of life,” she said. “And ultimately, I get to help people make healthier decisions.”
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