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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Tina B. Leonard

March 1, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

After growing up in Dillon county, Tina Leonard moved to Rock Hill to study sociology at Winthrop University. By 2009, she had completed a second degree from Winthrop – this time a Master of Social Work. In the following years, she worked in various settings (e.g., Department of Social Services, medical centers, detention centers), working on issues related to child abuse/neglect, maternal and infant health, substance abuse, mental illness, and chronic disease.

“The majority of my professional experiences have been aimed at promoting the well-being and safety of vulnerable populations,” Leonard says. “As a licensed clinical social worker, I work directly with individuals to facilitate positive behavioral change, improve social functioning, and increase positive thinking.”  

The majority of my professional experiences have been aimed at promoting the well-being and safety of vulnerable population.

-Tina Leonard, Online MPH in HPEB student

Each of these experiences shifted Leonard’s path toward the field of public health. As a medical social worker in an acute hospital care setting, she became concerned about the number of NICU infants who were born with exposure to illegal substances while in utero. “I recognized that this was a significant health problem, and it was clear that community-based interventions were needed to address this issue,” says Leonard, who established a collaborative relationship with local substance abuse providers to coordinate treatment services for pregnant women with substance use issues.

The hospital setting also offered Leonard her first opportunity to engage in a public health outreach program aimed at improving coordination of care for uninsured individuals with chronic health conditions. This direct experience in implementing a health promotion initiative further cemented her interest in public health. Yet another outreach opportunity took place at the Chester County Sheriff’s Office where Leonard assisted with the detention center’s initiative to promote positive mental health among inmates both during incarceration and after their release through linkages to resources such as shelters and treatment services.

Since 2014, Leonard has served as the 16th Circuit Family Court Liaison for the UofSC School of Law Children’s Law Center. In this role, she tracks and facilitates the progress of child protection and termination of parental rights cases on behalf of the Department of Social Services. She also assists with monitoring child abuse/neglect legal cases associated with the Center’s Dually Involved Youth program – a pilot project aimed at improving coordination of services and collaboration between the Department of Social Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice to promote positive outcomes for youth and families.

“This is the perfect degree to advance my knowledge and skills in planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health programs,” she says. “Joining the HPEB program helped me to apply effective planning and implementation of health promotion strategies to improve the mental health of inmates with severe mental illness.”

This is the perfect degree to advance my knowledge and skills in planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health programs.

-Tina Leonard, Online MPH in HPEB student

During her program, Leonard has benefited from mentorship from every professor she has encountered. As a graduate teaching assistant, Leonard worked closely with Christine Blake, Katherine Leith and Edena Guimaraes – all of whom inspired her to develop a student-centered teaching philosophy. She has also connected with her faculty advisor Ken Watkins, who helped her navigate the program, Kelli Kenison, who offered additional professional development resources, and Xiaoming Li, who supervised and provided professional insights during Leonard’s practicum experience.

Despite taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leonard’s practicum with the Children’s Trust of South Carolina increased her understanding of coalition work related to the prevention of adverse childhood experiences and taught her how to analyze and interpret data for evaluation of community-based initiatives related to child abuse/neglect prevention. Under her preceptor’s (Montana Cain) and practicum advisor’s (Li) guidance, Leonard helped develop evaluation tools and resources for the Trust’s Strengthening Families Program. These experiences, combined with her social work background, have convinced Leonard she is exactly where she is supposed to be.

“I believe the fields of social work and public health are complementary disciplines that can help bridge the gap between research and practice,” Leonard says. “With a keen focus on prevention and intervention, these two disciplines can help address the interrelated problems in health and human service sectors.”

While working in the field of social work, Leonard discovered the compatibility and benefits of dual degrees in social work and public health and recommends that prospective students consider the combination degree programs offered by UofSC’s Arnold School of Public Health and College of Social Work. Leonard, who will graduate in May, is looking forward to using her newly acquired knowledge and skills to promote health and wellness.

“Here in South Carolina, the rate for non-fatal child maltreatment is nearly double national rates, and we must focus efforts on prevention programs to address this significant public health problem,” she says. “Through evaluation and research, I hope to be a part of a system that works to improve program delivery and coordination of prevention efforts to reduce adverse childhood experiences and promote positive well-being for children in South Carolina.”

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