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Arnold School of Public Health

  • Shanikque Barksdale

Aiming for equity. Public health professional completes doctoral degree to address social determinants of health

May 3, 2024 | Erin Bluvas,

Shanikque Barksdale combined biology and sociology for her undergraduate degree – looking at health from multiple perspectives. From the science of how the human body works to the social factors that influence individual and population behaviors and health outcomes, she had developed a holistic perspective by the time she graduated from Furman University in 2013.

“This knowledge, combined with my experience of watching individuals worry about their lives and the health of their children, increased my interest in the impact of health education, system change and policy development within our communities,” Barksdale says.

She enrolled in the Master of Public Health (focus on behavioral science and health education) program at Emory University to explore these intersecting factors further. During her program, Barksdale interned at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and volunteered at a refugee clinic – witnessing the impact of culture, language and access to care and resources on the well-being of individuals and families.

“I realized that an individual’s social and cultural identity could create gaps in the access and quality of care received by these individuals,” she says. “I sought work experience that would allow me to participate in grassroots efforts directly aimed at understanding the health behaviors of individuals and those in their social network, as well as the implementation of policy, system and environmental change that would increase their access to healthy food, green space and tools to be better advocates for themselves and those around them.”

The curriculum of the health services policy and management program was structured in a way that made me feel like it aligned with my interest in understanding policy and knowing how to conduct and convey meaningful research to engage various stakeholders.

Shanikque Barksdale
Shanikque Barksdale

That work experience took her back to South Carolina where she joined the Department of Health and Environmental Control near her hometown of Abbeville. As a health educator, Barksdale spent three years on capacity-building and health improvement activities aimed at improving access to health programs.

In 2018, she transitioned to DHEC’s central office in Columbia to take on a new position as a multicultural health specialist. This position exposed Barksdale to the potential for using policy changes to address the systemic barriers that prevent individuals and communities from achieving optimum health. USC’s Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management offered the perfect path to learning how to use policy to effect this type of change. She enrolled in the Arnold School’s  Maternal and Child Health Certificate of Graduate Study program as well.

“The curriculum of the health services policy and management program was structured in a way that made me feel like it aligned with my interest in understanding policy and knowing how to conduct and convey meaningful research to engage various stakeholders,” she says.

Shanikque Barksdale
Shanikque Barksdale graduates in May with a Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management.

As a doctoral student, Barksdale continued working at DHEC – eventually shifting into a role as a senior consultant on the social determinants of health. She also gained research experience in the Department of Health Services Policy and Management and the Rural and Minority Health Research Center – finding mentors in assistant professors Nabil Natafgi and Peiyin Hung.

“Dr. Natafgi helped me to gain the skills and knowledge needed to conduct meaningful mixed methods research and helped me to stay motivated and encouraged me in the face of obstacles while also brainstorming ways to fund my educational journey,” Barksdale says. “Dr. Hung was instrumental in helping me to understand the scope of maternal and child health and the intricacies of quantitative research, and she encouraged me to do more ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking when developing my research interest/agenda.”

The Grace Jordan McFadden Professor Program Scholar also led her own projects. This includes her dissertation study – funded by a SPARC grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research – that examined the role of telehealth and obstetrics capacity on maternal health care.

Barksdale graduates in May with six peer-reviewed publications (and counting) to her name. With interests in maternal and child health, telehealth and rural health, she is perfectly positioned in her role at DHEC to continue making an impact in these areas.

“My degree will allow me to integrate my knowledge of behavioral science and health education with knowledge of improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of health services within our communities,” she says. “This will help me to improve my ability to address the social determinants of health and health inequities.”

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