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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Sabrina Karim

April 1, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Originally from Bangladesh, Sabrina Karim knew she was interested in health when she first studied medicine and surgery at Sir Salimullah Medical College and Mitford Hospital in her hometown of Dhaka. After teaching community medicine and practicing as a physician in a government hospital, Karim decided to pursue a Master of Public Health in Health Services Policy and Management.

“I learned about this program from another Bangladeshi who was already studying here,” she says. “The Arnold School of Public Health has lot to offer for international students like me. It is acceptable of diverse culture, and the International Student Services office is really helpful and supportive. We also have faculty members with various research interests.” 

During her first semester, however, Karim took an introductory course in epidemiology and realized the field would be a better fit for her interests. Despite being on the right career path, Karim encountered new challenges during the second year of her master’s program.

“I was diagnosed with depression, which is still taboo in our society,” she says. “As I fought with my depression, I realized there were many questions that still need to be answered, and I want to contribute in removing the social stigma associated with depression and its treatment.”

Karim persevered, graduating from her MPH program with a 4.0 in 2017 and enrolling in her department’s doctoral program that same year. During both graduate programs, she connected with Jihong Liu, Angela Liese and Linda Hazlett as mentors. “They are successful in their field and their work ethics, punctuality and grit inspire me,” she says. “Their guidance has helped me to grow as a researcher. As a woman and a researcher, I look up to them.”

Two years into her Ph.D. in Epidemiology program, Karim and her husband faced an unimaginable tragedy: the loss of their infant daughter, Amelia, at two months and 17 days of age due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Her death resulted in yet another shift for Karim – both personally and professionally.

“My whole perspective towards life and especially towards my research has changed,” she says. “I want to find answers and preventive measures to reduce the infant mortality rate. I know how it feels not to know the answer, and it motivates me to do my research passionately in epidemiology.”

Now entering the dissertation phase of her program, Karim’s research interests are clearly focused. Reflecting her passion for mental health, maternal and child health, and chronic disease, Karim’s project examines the trajectory, health impacts and prevention strategies surrounding perinatal depression.  

“The journey to pursuing a Ph.D. is never easy,” Karim says. “We need to take care of both our physical and mental health during those years and not hesitate to ask for help if we need it. I would never be able to come back and start my program again after my daughter died without continuous support and motivation of my mentors and my family, especially my husband.”  

After completing her degree, Karim plans to continue her research on mental health, particularly perinatal depression and its impact on infant well-being. Ideally, she’d like to work in national or international agencies and continue to contribute to research focusing on maternal and child health.

Meanwhile, she continues to focus on enjoying the present and living life to its fullest. “I love to dance and travel,” Karim says. “And I want to be a compassionate human being and make my daughter proud of her mom.”

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