#UMNMCH student Monica Marcial Gutierrez (she/her), MPH 2024, wrote this reflection on how her experiences as a WIC nutritionist inspired her to pursue her Master’s in MCH and to become an executive board member of MCHIG
Pursuing a degree in Maternal and Child Health (MCH) was not in my original career plans. After graduating in 2016, I planned for a future career as a Registered Dietitian and began looking for opportunities to build experience in the nutrition field in my community. As a dietetics student, I was drawn to working within underserved communities to create solutions to complex nutrition problems and to provide equitable access to comfortable, nutritious foods and nutrition education. I began my career in community nutrition as a project coordinator at the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension, leading a food demonstration project at local Delaware Farmers Markets. This project gave me the opportunity to acclimate myself to several communities within New Castle County, Delaware. As a result of this experience, I began to see patterns of advantages and disadvantages within Delaware communities and became more interested in how our systems and institutions can impact our nutrition and overall health.
I began to consider a career in public health after joining the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) of Delaware as a WIC Nutritionist. While I previously did not have experience working with MCH populations, I embraced the opportunity. I found maternal and child nutrition to be equally fascinating and vitally important for public health. Working with low-income MCH populations in the DE WIC Program inspired me to join the Maternal and Child Health MPH program at the University of Minnesota. Through UMN’s MCH program, I have gained an important understanding of the interaction between our systems and our personal circumstances that impact health. Joining UMN’s MCH program has given me the opportunity to participate as an executive board member for the Maternal and Child Health Interest Group (MCHIG). This position allowed me to connect with the University and other passionate public health students interested in MCH. My experiences as a distance learner graduate student and my work with MCHIG have reinforced my passion for MCH nutrition, health equity, and social justice as I build my career as an MCH public health professional.
Interdisciplinary and Interprofessional Team Building in the Delaware WIC Program
As a WIC Nutritionist in Delaware, I regularly provide nutrition education and counseling services to WIC participants and connect them to services for other health and personal needs. Through my work with the WIC Program, I have witnessed health barriers posed by low socioeconomic status (SES) and how these barriers can impact birth and health outcomes. While my role is typically very individual, it has allowed me to identify gaps in health care access, nutrition education, and social services experienced by low-income participants.
Through the DE WIC Program, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in an ongoing Quality Improvement Project with the Delaware Division of Public Health to improve lead screening and follow-up for WIC participants. Lead screening in Delaware was greatly impacted by COVID-19, with a nearly 40% reduction in lead screening in children ages 0 to 72 months from 2019 to 2020. According to Delaware’s latest Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance report, these numbers improved in 2021 and 2022 but have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. In an effort to improve these screening numbers, the DE WIC Program, along with Delaware’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, our state public health clinics, and other state partners and administrators, are currently in partnership to evaluate the current process of lead screening for WIC participants to make improvements and work towards solutions that increase access to these services long-term. The skills and knowledge I’ve gained from being an MCH student have been valuable to my participation in this project. The use of effective communication and negotiation skills is particularly vital in coming up with solutions across disciplines and balancing a variety of opinions and ideas in a careful and respectful manner. While this project is ongoing and expected to end in October 2023, I am looking forward to how I can continue to use my MCH expertise and skills to benefit child populations in Delaware.
Leadership and Knowledge-building with UMN’s Maternal and Child Health Interest Group
Being a part of the executive board of UMN’s MCHIG has been an incredibly rewarding experience as a distance learner graduate student. MCHIG aims to provide additional educational and support activities for students interested in MCH, with many of these activities shifting to a virtual format after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being involved in this student group has helped me feel like a member of the university community, even from my home state of Delaware. I have been involved in the planning of several academic and social events in my time with MCHIG, including a virtual screening of Belly of the Beast, a documentary discussing forced sterilizations in California prisons, and several panel events touching on topics such as a rights-based approach to child health, abortion advocacy in public health in light of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in the supreme court, and improving MCH outcomes through epidemiological research.
This experience has nurtured my curiosity as a student by providing me with a space to help educate others and discuss public health topics with other students. It also allows me the opportunity to expand my knowledge base with the rest of my peers. In building my knowledge base, my participation in MCHIG has also opened me to the possibility of moving beyond nutrition in MCH public health and has helped me narrow down my interests and potential career paths in the future. I am now aware that while I enjoy individualized care, I am more invested in systemic, wider-reaching interventions to address complex health issues, particularly as they relate to health disparities and inequities. MCHIG also provides a social space for MCH students, offering executive board members opportunities to help students navigate graduate student life and discover their professional interests within the field of MCH. Being part of the enrichment of other students’ educational experiences has been incredibly fulfilling. My hope is that these efforts supplement students’ professional development and skills as they move to combat health disparities and inequities in their future careers as MCH public health professionals.
Monica is a second-year MCH MPH student. Her background is in maternal and child nutrition. Monica received her B.S. in Dietetics from the University of Delaware in 2016. She is currently working as a WIC Nutritionist, providing nutrition education and counseling services to mothers, infants, and children in the diverse communities of Delaware. She is also an executive board member for the Maternal and Child Health Interest Group at the UMN, which organizes meetings, events, and educational opportunities for students interested in MCH. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking for others, reading, learning, and spending time with her friends and family. After graduating, Monica intends to pursue a career as a registered dietitian and expand on her experiences in the wide field of maternal and child public health to explore opportunities that will advance health equity for MCH populations through programs and policies that challenge our current systems of care.
Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. (2022a). Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance in Delaware—FY 2021. Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/hsp/files/desurveillancerpt.pdf
Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. (2022b). Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance In Delaware—FY 2022. Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. https://dhss.delaware.gov/dph/hsp/files/Childhood_Blood_Lead_Surveillance_in_DE_2022_Annual_Report.pdf
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