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Developing a global perspective through public health

Like many students, public health major Kevin Carey came to Carolina with an understanding of what he wanted to major in, but not necessarily what it meant to study it in a college environment.

At first, Kevin wanted to be a biochemistry major and pre-med. During a Capstone Scholars trip to Nicaragua, Kevin found that what he wanted most was to work directly with people.

"It was a really eye-opening experience. It definitely broadened my perspectives as to what health care truly meant, not just from a hospital and clinical setting, but in the patients' lives as well."

This experience led Kevin to think about his options and ultimately decide to change his major.

With access to hundreds of major and degree options, Kevin was able to explore what he initially loved about science and what major provided the perfect outlet. Opening himself up to new academic possibilities led to finding a better fit and exciting new path.

What made you decide to explore different major options?

Originally, I started out as a biochemistry major. I felt like, "I am pre-med. I need to get all my sciences done now!" I just wanted to be the most competitive applicant. However, I was lacking that human interaction component that I thought biochemistry didn't offer. I used the Student Success Center and the University Advising Center to learn about other majors I might choose based on my interests. I decided to change my major to public health. Public health seemed to be the perfect marriage of science and compassion. To me, it's more about looking at people and health, and seeking to make broad-based preventative interventions.

My first few semesters as a public health major were very eye-opening. In high school, the health curriculum wasn't exactly as broad as it should have been. I had never really learned much about public health, or population-based medicine. At USC, I learned so much about the health care system, how it works, the implications of the American system and how it compares to other countries.

"Through my public health courses, I have a much more global perspective in relation to health care. It really inspired me in my first semester."

I also went to Nicaragua on a medical service trip with Capstone Scholars Principal Dr. Hickey, which was a lot of fun and really eye-opening. Going to Nicaragua was probably the highlight of my college experience. It was the moment when I knew that medicine was right for me. We gained valuable experience working in a health clinic.

Every day I went to the health clinic, I was greeted by kids who were excited to see me. I felt like, "Wow!" I might not be saving any lives, but I'm definitely making a difference by showing I not only care about them medically, but as people. I really like the phrase, "in giving we receive," and I felt that my interactions with the kids embodied it.

How did this service trip help to solidify your career path?

It definitely broadened my perspectives as to what health truly means, not just from a hospital and clinical setting, but in the patients' lives as well. That was the most defining moment for me in Nicaragua. When we went into the community and took health surveys in the homes of the locals, we were able to learn about the issues people face in impoverished communities. Then, we were able to take the information we collected and use it to set up a free medical clinic to address the issues these people were facing. The experience truly helped me understand what health care means in communities around the world.

Do you think having this experience opened yourself up to new career possibilities?

Definitely! Right now, I plan to apply to medical school. I am also interested in the Peace Corps, City Year and Teach for America, which I may do before medical school. I'm looking for something very different.

As far as practicing medicine, I am interested in women's health, primarily obstetrics and pediatrics. I could also see consulting with an organization like the CDC.

If you could give any advice to an incoming health sciences major at USC, what would it be?

Don't be afraid to take risks when it comes to expanding your passions. Seek out as many opportunities as you can to see and learn new things. It will help you hone your interests and gain a broader understanding of what you truly care about.