Before Andrew Rainey landed in Western North Carolina, he lived all over the world—most recently, Istanbul—and worked in multiple sectors, including agriculture, education, linguistics, and mental health. But eventually, having spent time in each of those fields, Andrew started noticing wider, systemic issues that weren’t being addressed because of the isolated nature of the work.
Andrew realized that a lot of the work he was doing previously focused on individual, downstream issues without looking upstream at the social factors that caused the issues in the first place. There was no opportunity to investigate the methodologies that could address problems at the source.
This realization led him to consider getting a Master of Public Health degree. During his time working in mental health, in particular, Andrew realized that many of the systemic issues he was encountering were reflective of public health.
“I saw how very minor interactions could have a huge impact on mental health outcomes,” Andrew explains. “Like rapport building, trust, having your basic needs met—all of those have such a huge impact on mental health, and it all has to do with public health.”
The UNC Asheville-UNC Gillings MPH Program at MAHEC stood out to Andrew for its effort to integrate community-centered public health response and emphasis on anti-racism work. He felt that the collaborative nature of the program between the two universities and MAHEC would provide more creative engagement than a traditional MPH program.
Andrew decided to also apply to the AHEC Scholars Program at MAHEC as a way to connect with future healthcare professionals across multiple disciplines. He admits that he didn’t know much about AHEC Scholars when he applied, but Jacquelyn Hallum, former Director of Health Careers and Diversity Education at MAHEC, thought it would be a good fit for students in the MPH program, and that was enough to convince him. It turns out she was right.
Andrew is currently finishing his first year of both the MPH and AHEC Scholars programs and says the two have gone hand in hand. While, so far, the MPH program has focused on learning methodologies and theories, AHEC Scholars has provided many networking opportunities.
AHEC Scholars allows Andrew to work on the ground with healthcare professionals who are applying the principles he’s learning in the MPH program. And while AHEC Scholars focuses on what’s happening in healthcare locally, the MPH program provides context on the types of issues and interventions being exercised across the state.
When thinking about the kind of work he wants to do in public health, Andrew turns the focus back to the community: “It seems like there are a lot of different roles that are present when addressing a community’s hopes for itself. And hope is such an integral part of health: What do you want for yourself? What does health even mean or look like to a group?"
“I hope that the relationships I can build in public health will offer opportunities to leverage funding from powerholders towards actions taken by community members.”