June 21, 2024
Aiming for equity. Public health professional completes doctoral degree to address social determinants of health – Arnold School of Public Health

May 3, 2024 | Erin Bluvas, [email protected]

Shanikque Barksdale combined biology and sociology for her undergraduate degree – looking at health from
multiple perspectives. From the science of how the human body works to the social
factors that influence individual and population behaviors and health outcomes, she
had developed a holistic perspective by the time she graduated from Furman University
in 2013.

“This knowledge, combined with my experience of watching individuals worry about their
lives and the health of their children, increased my interest in the impact of health
education, system change and policy development within our communities,” Barksdale
says.

She enrolled in the Master of Public Health (focus on behavioral science and health
education) program at Emory University to explore these intersecting factors further.
During her program, Barksdale interned at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and volunteered at a refugee clinic – witnessing the impact of culture, language and
access to care and resources on the well-being of individuals and families.

“I realized that an individual’s social and cultural identity could create gaps in
the access and quality of care received by these individuals,” she says. “I sought
work experience that would allow me to participate in grassroots efforts directly
aimed at understanding the health behaviors of individuals and those in their social
network, as well as the implementation of policy, system and environmental change
that would increase their access to healthy food, green space and tools to be better
advocates for themselves and those around them.”

The curriculum of the health services policy and management program was structured
in a way that made me feel like it aligned with my interest in understanding policy
and knowing how to conduct and convey meaningful research to engage various stakeholders.

Shanikque Barksdale
Aiming for equity. Public health professional completes doctoral degree to address social determinants of health – Arnold School of Public Health

That work experience took her back to South Carolina where she joined the Department
of Health and Environmental Control near her hometown of Abbeville. As a health educator,
Barksdale spent three years on capacity-building and health improvement activities
aimed at improving access to health programs.

In 2018, she transitioned to DHEC’s central office in Columbia to take on a new position
as a multicultural health specialist. This position exposed Barksdale to the potential
for using policy changes to address the systemic barriers that prevent individuals
and communities from achieving optimum health. USC’s Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management offered the perfect path to learning how to use policy to effect this type of change.
She enrolled in the Arnold School’s  Maternal and Child Health Certificate of Graduate Study program as well.

“The curriculum of the health services policy and management program was structured
in a way that made me feel like it aligned with my interest in understanding policy
and knowing how to conduct and convey meaningful research to engage various stakeholders,”
she says.

Shanikque Barksdale
Shanikque Barksdale graduates in May with a Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management.

As a doctoral student, Barksdale continued working at DHEC – eventually shifting into
a role as a senior consultant on the social determinants of health. She also gained
research experience in the Department of Health Services Policy and Management and the Rural and Minority Health Research Center – finding mentors in assistant professors Nabil Natafgi and Peiyin Hung.

“Dr. Natafgi helped me to gain the skills and knowledge needed to conduct meaningful
mixed methods research and helped me to stay motivated and encouraged me in the face
of obstacles while also brainstorming ways to fund my educational journey,” Barksdale
says. “Dr. Hung was instrumental in helping me to understand the scope of maternal
and child health and the intricacies of quantitative research, and she encouraged
me to do more ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking when developing my research interest/agenda.”

The Grace Jordan McFadden Professor Program Scholar also led her own projects. This
includes her dissertation study – funded by a SPARC grant from the Office of the Vice
President for Research – that examined the role of telehealth and obstetrics capacity
on maternal health care.

Barksdale graduates in May with six peer-reviewed publications (and counting) to her
name. With interests in maternal and child health, telehealth and rural health, she
is perfectly positioned in her role at DHEC to continue making an impact in these
areas.

“My degree will allow me to integrate my knowledge of behavioral science and health
education with knowledge of improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of
health services within our communities,” she says. “This will help me to improve my
ability to address the social determinants of health and health inequities.”


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