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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: ZaMyra Dow

October 2, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, 

Growing up in Pinewood, South Carolina, ZaMyra Dow witnessed the challenges rural residents face in accessing health care services. She didn’t realize it at the time, but Dow’s career would eventually come full circle to address various aspects of health inequity.

Dow first came to the University of South Carolina as an undergraduate in 2003 to learn how she could make a difference in the world, and she hasn’t stopped learning. After earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, she spent three years working with South Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (Medicaid Services) and Department of Social Services (Child Support Enforcement) before returning to Carolina for graduate school and new career opportunities.

Following the completion of a master of social work degree, Dow joined the Bursar’s Office where she worked as a student services program coordinator until she transitioned to the College of Nursing to become an academic advisor in 2014. During her master’s program, Dow deepened her interest in public health through internships with the Lexington Richland Alcohol Drug Abuse Council.

I want to do everything I can to prevent another person and his or her family from experiencing this disease.

-ZaMyra Dow, MPH student & nursing advisor

While interning with the Council’s prevention department, she educated students about HIV and other STDs, assisted with the communication of health information, and conducted evidence-based HIV/STD prevention programs with adults and teenagers. With the organization’s outpatient treatment department, Dow assisted clinical counselors with co-facilitating adult group therapy sessions, conducting drug screenings, counseling clients, conducting psychosocial assessments and preparing treatment plans.  

“My past professional experiences have allowed me to work with individuals from diverse populations and different socio-economic backgrounds,” says Dow. “These experiences have provided me the opportunity to learn about different diseases and the negative effects they can have on families and communities. Moreover, I was able to identify different health disparities within the populations.” 

When she’s not advising nursing students, Dow is working on her master of public health (MPH) in general public health—a program designed for professionals with a substantial amount of post-baccalaureate health-related experience or a terminal degree. She had begun her public health studies with the Arnold School’s certificate of graduate study in public health program but transitioned to the MPH track after discussing her career goals with her advisor, clinical assistant professor Michael Byrd.

“Dr. Byrd was a significant reason I am able to complete my MPH degree,” Dow says. “He identified how my master of social work aligned with my career interests and personal passion concerning public health issues.” 

The Arnold School of Public Health does an amazing job of supporting students academically but also providing experiential learning opportunities.

-ZaMyra Dow, MPH student & nursing advisor

Outside of school and work, Dow saw first-hand the impact chronic diseases have on individuals and families when her father was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. “As a caregiver, I have first-hand knowledge about this disease and how it disrupts an individual’s life,” says the National Kidney Foundation volunteer, whose father is currently awaiting a transplant. “I want to do everything I can to prevent another person and his or her family from experiencing this disease.”

Her collective personal, educational, and professional experiences led Dow to focus on three key areas of public health: chronic kidney disease, food deserts and health inequalities. As she approaches her May 2018 graduation, Dow is poised to engage in a practicum focused on kidney disease education for the African American community in South Carolina.

Her goal will be to assess African Americans’ knowledge of kidney disease and the education provided to them by their primary care physician. Information obtained from this project could help practitioners and researchers determine whether patients who are at risk for kidney disease are being properly educated. Further, providing education about kidney disease will help patients ask important questions about their lab results to better understand their kidney function and slow the progression of the disease.

In alignment with her health education interests, Dow’s long-term plan is to become a health educator, a profession that involves teaching people about behaviors that promote wellness. “I plan to use my degree to help build health and wellness programs in rural churches with a goal of enhancing the health education levels of residents in rural areas; and develop and implement evidence-based strategies to improve the health of individuals in those rural communities,” says Dow. “I would also like to work with rural churches to create regional health and wellness church coalitions that are self-sustaining.” 

Dow’s time at the Arnold School has uniquely prepared and inspired her for leading these types of programs. One summer, she worked as a data collector for the Faith, Activity, and Nutrition (FAN) Program, which seeks to help churches create a healthy environment that supports physical activity and healthy eating. With FAN, Dow traveled to rural churches in Fairfield County, administering surveys to church members about their nutrition and exercise. She also conducted environmental audits of the churches.

“This opportunity has fueled my interest in working to improve the health and health education levels of rural residents while addressing issues of food deserts,” says Dow, who serves on her church’s Soulfully Fit Health Ministry.

For those who are interested in public health careers, Dow has some advice with regard to how to choose an academic program. “Understand the strength of the department from a curriculum perspective and identify the support provided to students,” she says. “The Arnold School of Public Health does an amazing job of supporting students academically but also providing experiential learning opportunities.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.