Teresa Laing earned her Nurse Practitioner degree in 1984 and became a pediatric nurse in an out-of-hospital birth center run by nurses and midwives in Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Here, her experience with newborn screening sparked an interest in public health and led Teresa to earn her MPH in Maternal and Child Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
Teresa’s longing for hands-on, international public health work led her to join the American Refugee Committee in East Africa. During this time, she worked at a refugee camp in Sudan, helping provide care to Ethiopians who were seeking refuge. Teresa worked as a community health worker, and while her experience taught her much about the impact of public health, she still longed for a more impactful experience. Teresa then travelled to Merida, Mexico, working for an NGO that ran a mobile medicine dispensary in mining villages. Here, the public health nurses ran a milk program, working with the community to understand babies’ growth trajectories. After these two opportunities, Teresa came back to Minnesota to finish her MPH degree in 1993. Reflecting on her experience, she explains that the most challenging aspect of her international work was finding a sense of contribution, wishing she could have done more, and finding the motivation to come back and finish her degree.
While Teresa had a less traditional MPH experience, she still reflects on the skills she gained while in the program and her favorite subjects to learn. Teresa highlights that research skills were beyond the most valuable to her education and career, and being able to understand why we implement specific programs. She also emphasizes the importance of understanding the goals of a program and the strategy to accomplish those goals before implementing the program. Teresa’s experience with Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) while in school taught her about critical thinking and how to adapt to a broad view of health and communities. Teresa gained confidence in her ability to read a research article, understand each component of research, and to write her own academic literature.
Now, Teresa works for the Hennepin County Child and Teen Checkups program, where she helps the EPSDT program work for the people who are eligible for its benefits. Teresa makes sure that clinic providers understand the child and teen checkups program and are able to follow the requirements for the program. She identifies training needs and collaborates with clinics all over Hennepin County to make sure they have the ability to provide proper screening for all eligible children. Teresa explains that the most vital aspect of her job is to bridge the gap between public health and medicine, to be interdisciplinary, and to make sure there is proper infrastructure in place for the program. She also highlights the importance of enhancing population health in the young population, the benefits of creativity in a public health role, and listening to and accepting different perspectives.
A few years from now, Teresa hopes to enhance her skills in quality improvement (QI), continue to develop professionally, and she would love to complete another public health experience internationally. Teresa knows that her passion lies in Maternal and Child Health and plans to continue working in this field for years to come
Advice For Current Students
- Build relationships with the communities and individuals that you want to work with
- Build trust with people before you take action
- Look for protective factors of health and capitalize on those
- Maintain work life balance
- It is okay to make career changes
- It is best to feel fulfilled in your work