My Experience as a New Maternal and Child Health Trainee

Maddie Levecke headshot.

My name is Maddie Levecke and I am a first-year in the Maternal Child Health Epidemiology MPH program, as well as an Irving Harris Scholar for the Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health. It’s hard to believe that my first semester as an MCH trainee is almost over. This time just last year, I had recently completed taking the GRE and was stressing about completing the application for this very program. Being in the program for a little over two months, I have already had many exciting experiences, and have learned so much in the classroom that will be applicable to my soon-to-come career in MCH Epidemiology.

Within the first few weeks of school, I had the opportunity to attend the EverThrive Illinois Annual Benefit at City Winery here in Chicago with a few other students in the MPH program. They were celebrating 31 years of improving the health of women, children, and families and their work towards building a healthier future. They discussed some of their achievements in the last year, including how EverThrive Illinois educated more than 15,000 people about the risk of influenza and measles.

They were also on the forefront of advocating for abortion care as a component of comprehensive maternal health care; their support helped to pass the Reproductive Health Act in June 2019, which protects the right to full reproductive healthcare access, including abortion for everyone in Illinois. This was not only a great networking opportunity, but a chance to hear professionals speak about the work they’re doing in the field of maternal child health within the city of Chicago. Leaving this benefit, I felt inspired about the work I will one day be doing with my degree. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to attend this benefit early on in the program, because if nothing else, they truly solidified my passion for and determination to be a public health worker.

I have already completed my first round of midterms. However the second is quickly approaching. Even though this program is challenging (shoutout to biostatistics), it is manageable, and I feel like I am doing well so far. I have made many great connections within my cohort and with my professors, which is just another reason I am so glad to be a part of this program. The students are all very supportive and equally passionate about public health and public health justice.

I also appreciate how community-involved this program is. I have already had the chance to go out to community areas within Chicago multiple times to observe the health inequities occurring in the different neighborhoods. This semester, I have had the opportunity to be a part of an interview with the Chief Operations Officer of Esperanza Health Center in Brighton Park, Chicago, Carmen Vergara, who happened to be a UIC MCH MPH alumna. This was an amazing experience learning about everything Esperanza does for the health of their community, and how they work to improve accessibility and affordability for all of their patients. I was impressed with how many free programs were available for youth and adolescents, as well as new and soon-to-be mothers.

The Chief Operations Officer spoke about a project she took initiative on to create a breast feeding education program for new mothers. Because of this program, women have access to a support group, breastfeeding education, resources, as well as private rooms in the clinic for breastfeeding or pumping. I also had the opportunity to be led on a community tour of the Chicago community area of Austin, through another one of my core classes. Our guide, a retired police officer who has lived in Austin for roughly 30 years, made this another incredible experience especially, who. She was able to give us insight into how the community has changed over the years, and how the health of this community compares to other areas of Chicago and Illinois. Crossing the street into Oak Park, a wealthy suburb that shoulders the Austin community, a person has an increased life expectancy of 15 years compared to the residents of Austin. She discussed how much of a positive impact community organizations have made within their neighborhood and how she believes Austin is on the rise to once again to becoming a healthier, safer community.

Throughout course lectures, I have heard from numerous guest speakers about their current research in the field, the health organizations they are a part of, and the health initiatives they are working on, all within Chicago. Prior to coming to this program, I was interested in MCH-EPI on a global scale, and while that is still something of interest, my current experiences have have made me aware of how much inequity we have right here in the US. I am eager to learn more about getting involved in public health within the Chicago area, and how I can make a difference in public health nationally.

Currently, I am increasingly interested in women and adolescent reproductive health, perinatal epidemiology, maternal morbidity and mortality, and access to care. I am excited to begin my search for an internship for this upcoming summer at a state or local health department, to hopefully hone in on these topics of interest, as well as improve both my quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis skills. I look forward to gaining hands-on experience and applying everything I have been learning in the classroom to the field of maternal child health.