MPH. It’s 3 letters that many listeners may now be familiar with living in a pandemic. An MPH is a Master of Public Health, a highly sought-after graduate degree for those committed to improving health outcomes. For me? It’s a connection to family and the next step in understanding my life’s calling.

My name is Soraya Pierre-Louis of East Providence, RI. At 23, I’m wondering what is next for me. In the 1970s, my mother’s family immigrated to the United States from Cabo Verde (or Cape Verde as native English speakers might know it as). My mom has worked in the pharmaceutical industry longer than I have been alive. Healthcare is just something we do as a family. It allows us to share with people we don’t know if only for a moment.

When I moved to Boston for college, I was determined to make an impact on the world any way that I could. With many clubs on campus affiliated with international organizations, I was able to travel to different countries with the focus on international sustainable development. One of my most notable excursions took me to Haiti. 

My dad’s parents moved from Haiti to the United States in the 1960s but I’ve never been connected to the culture. Being there, my soul knew I was missing something - a soul tie to my people is the only way I can explain it. I regained an appreciation for close knit communities, remembering the many communities I am part of at home despite being hundreds of miles away. 

It is not an easy task to spend months away from your home to research and try to control diseases as they spread; the pandemic has taught us this. I realized my impact could be incredibly strong in the United States, especially in New England. I’m going to guess you, as a listener, do not have a Black clinician taking care of you annually; I don’t either. So, I pursue public health for kids that look like me.

I was 13 when the movie Contagion was released. Ten years later we are living it. As I write this, my room is stacked with books in every corner about vaccines, pandemics, and healthcare. I promised my mom I was going to get my MPH and was going to beat her before she got hers.

In my senior year of college, which was done behind a computer screen, I tweeted a lot. I was engrossed in COVID-19 data from every angle. To my surprise, a Boston Globe journalist direct messaged me asking for an interview discussing rising covid cases in 20-year-olds in the city. A few weeks later, my photo was on the front page of the Boston Globe. I knew that was the beginning and the push I needed to really pursue an MPH. If a local girl like me could make the front page after a few short tweets, the possibilities seemed endless for the impact I could make in the future.

My immigrant story is my family’s. Their caring nature was instilled in me from childhood. I was so lucky to be blessed with good health because health outcomes for Black women in the United States are dire.

To all Black listeners, your story matters, and your healthcare matters. I hope to one day serve you in our local community. To all other listeners, it takes a village to improve community health outcomes. I hope to apply and complete my MPH within the next 3 years and research the long term impacts of COVID in minority communities. And when the day comes where I get to wear the hood and gown of a Master of Public Health, I’ll be able to say "Look Ma, I made it."

essay by Soraya Pierre-Louis, produced and edited by Pearl Marvell