Role Call: Real Women in Public Health

Gaia is Executive Director at Florida School of Traditional Midwifery.

Gaia is Executive Director at Florida School of Traditional Midwifery.

Role Call is a Petal + Sass blog section featuring interviews with professional young women who occupy diverse careers- and their advice to teens.

Name: Gaia Zori

Age: 31

College & Major: University of Florida, Health Science (Minor in Business Administration)

Graduate School & Concentration: SUNY Albany, Master of Public Health, Epidemiology and Social, Behavioral & Community Health

Past jobs: So many! Here’s just a few:

  • Sandwich Artist! (worked at Subway)
  • Dishwasher, busser and server at a restaurant called Bistro 1245 during college
  • Hostess at TGIFridays
  • 9th Grade Physical Science Teacher in Memphis, TN through Teach for America
  • Health Education Intern at Schoharie County Health Department in NY
  • Employee Health & Productivity Intern at General Electric
  • HIV/AIDS Intern at the AIDS Institute of New York State Department of Health
  • CDC/CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellow, Maternal & Child Health, Louisiana Department of Health
  • Director of Education, Planned Parenthood of North Florida
  • Academic Director, Florida School of Traditional Midwifery

Current Occupation: Executive Director at Florida School of Traditional Midwifery

How did you get involved in Public Health? I had always been drawn towards a career that would allow me to promote equality, and I became interested in minority health disparities in college. After working with Teach For America, the final push came when I was teaching 9th grade in Memphis; I had many 9th grade students who were either pregnant or already mothers, and this really struck a chord with me. I saw so many students become young parents who struggled to finish school, it motivated me to educate them on how to stay safe and healthy, and how to make positive decisions about sex. From there, I went on to pursue graduate work in public health and have since been working in maternal and child health and promoting reproductive justice for women.

How did your college major influence your career field? Honestly, not very much. I’ve known that I was interested in health for as long as I can remember, but I wasn’t terribly inspired by my undergraduate major. I changed majors many times and ultimately just stuck with something (Health Science) just to graduate. It was my experiences after college that steered my life’s work, particularly my graduate school studies, teaching, and more recently, working with Planned Parenthood.

What do you love most about working in Midwifery? I love that I get to have so much interaction with our students and that I’m in a position to have a very positive influence on reproductive health for women in Florida. The midwives who graduate from our program are highly skilled and highly qualified, and they are all committed to expanding women’s access to health care. Their mission is to empower women as they go through their pregnancy and childbirth, and I am honored to be part of that.

Do you feel women are underrepresented in public health? If so, what obstacles do you face as a woman in your field? I actually chose a field within public health that consists of almost entirely women! My graduate program was largely women, too. I’m sure you could get a very different response to this question if you look at leadership positions in other public health organizations like the CDC and WHO; unfortunately, I do think there is still a underrepresentation of women in these organizations.

Women in my field face similar obstacles as any other, particularly the challenge of balancing a home life with a professional life. I am fortunate that my current job is incredibly flexible with me as a mother of an 11 month old, but I specifically chose this path so that I would be able to strike a balance. Many organizations I’ve previously worked for would not have been so flexible.

What advice would you give to girls considering a career path in public health?
Do it! Public health is a wonderful field to be involved in. It offers both social service and employability. There are so many opportunities within public health ranging from infectious disease control to food-borne illness outbreak investigations to environmental health and beyond. A Masters in Public Health prepares you work in all of these fields, which can be especially useful if a young person doesn’t have clear long terms goals like I did. The potential to help people in this field is immense, and that is precisely what drew me to it.

During my three years at Planned Parenthood of North Florida, I personally taught over 12,000 people how to stay safe and healthy. And now at the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery, each year I get to help train a new class of midwives who will go on to help more women have access to safe and affordable reproductive health care. This year, on International Midwifery Day, the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) released a statement that well trained midwives worldwide could prevent 2 out of 3 maternal deaths. I am so proud to be part of that very important work.

What would you wear to a job interview? When in doubt, always be professional. It’s better to over dress for the occasion, but you still want to be yourself. Also, go easy on the perfume! Your favorite scent can be overwhelming in a small interview space.

Any favorite websites particular to your field? There are a lot of great sex education websites. Plannedparentood.org has straight forward information on sexual health. For general health information and questions, mayoclinic.org is an excellent resource. And for more personal safe sex information (and all your questions answered!), I’m a big fan of scarleteen.com.

Looking back, what general life advice would you give to your former high-school self? Just enjoy your time in high school! Try all of the sports, clubs or hobbies you think you might be interested in now and get a sense of what you really enjoy doing. It’s ok not to know what you want to do with your life. You have plenty of time to find a career path, even if it doesn’t feel like it. If you do well in school and remain engaged and interested, you will have opportunities waiting for you when you’re ready for them.

Any other relevant info or words of wisdom: One of our mantras in sex education is “there’s no such thing as normal.” While this relates very clearly to our bodies and sexual health, it’s true of almost everything we encounter in life. Don’t waste a single moment of your time comparing yourself to anyone else. You’re perfect just the way you are.

You can view more ‘Role Call’ interviews here.

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