Student Profile: Meaghan Smith

Give or take a few blocks, Meaghan Smith has lived on 23rd St. NW for nearly six years: Four as an undergraduate at the George Washington University, and two as a graduate student in GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), where she’s currently pursuing an M.P.H. in Epidemiology.

“I love GW,” she says. “I have such a great professional network and so many wonderful mentors. Why would I leave? SPHHS has become the home that has fostered my desire to help and serve others.”

Although Smith, who’s originally from Pleasant Valley, NY, calls GW her home, she’s hardly a homebody. In fact, one of the highlights of her graduate school career was a 12-day trip to India as a part of the SPHHS class “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship: A Case Study of India.”

“It was life-changing,” she says. The trip was part of a six-week summer course led by Amita Vyas, Ph.D., director of SPHHS’s Maternal and Child Health Program, and Blaine Parrish, Ph.D., assistant professor of Health Policy and of Prevention and Community Health, that focused on the difference the between a nonprofit and social entrepreneurship and taught students how to develop and lead sustainable aid programs.

“I had never been to a developing country before. I had never seen that level of poverty. I had never seen that level of disparity. I have a hard time putting it into words, but the images are still very vivid in my mind — and they will always be there,” said Smith. “It really made it clear what we are trying to do with our futures.”

Smith hasn’t always known that public health was what she wanted to do with her future, however. Always interested in science and math, she assumed she would continue onto medical school after earning her undergraduate degree. “I didn’t even know what Public Health was,” she remembers.

But, as an undergraduate, she enrolled in an introductory public health course after overhearing some of her Physics classmates talking about their Global Health class. “I was hooked on day one,” she says. “A multidisciplinary field targeting the health and well-being of others was exactly what I was looking for.”

Smith graduated with a degree in public health and was awarded a Presidential Administrative Fellowship, a prestigious two-year scholarship given to GW seniors. The fellowship allowed Smith to waste no time between her undergraduate and graduate career — and to remain at GW.

Besides traveling to India, Smith’s public health experience has been rich, particularly thanks to the SPHHS faculty. “My professors are more than willing to connect with students and to provide us with the perspective we need to make a difference in the future,” she says. “Working alongside such well-established professionals has given us the experiences we need to succeed.”

Smith has even been able to satisfy her interest in clinical research, working as the clinical research study coordinator in the Department of Emergency Medicine to help develop research questions, design studies, apply for grants, conduct data analysis, and write academic papers.

While she still plans to go to medical school, Smith knows that her public health education was the right choice.

“I believe that the modern physician needs to be well-versed in not only clinical medicine, but also in public health, policy, and business,” she says. “My experience at SPHHS will make me a better doctor by giving me the tools to understand healthcare issues that will be at the forefront of the political realm for the rest of my career.”