Friday, August 23, 2013

Berkeley Application Essay #2: Statement of Purpose

Yesterday, I posted my first application essay for the Berkeley Masters of Public Health program in Health and Social Behavior. Today, I want to post the second essay, which is the longer of the two and is called the "Statement of Purpose." I hope that these two essays can give you a sense of where I hope to go in the future and may even inspire you to pursue your own passions and dreams. The prompt for this application essay was as follows:

Your Statement of Purpose should explain what has brought you to pursue graduate training in Public Health. It should also explain your eventual career goals and why you need a degree in your specific program. It may also explain why you are pursuing this degree now, and why at Berkeley. Please be sure to check your program’s page, as some programs have specific prompts they like you to follow. If a prompt is not listed, please follow these guidelines.

My specific program in Health and Social Behavior also added the following:

[We are looking for a] Statement of Purpose that explains why the applicant is interested in HSB versus other areas, and how this program would build on prior experiences (if applicable) and contribute to his or her career goals. 1500 Word Limit.

In reality, I am not 100% certain what I want to do in future, although I hope that it will have something to do with serving people or communities who have been treated with or have otherwise lived with a sense of indignity due to circumstances related to health concerns. However, to write a compelling and concise essay, I felt that I had to focus on one potential career path that I found particularly interesting, so I chose to focus on  mental health as a result of traumatic events. In large part, this was an issue that was on my heart at the time, and I think it is highly likely that my career will take me in this direction in actuality. However, as I enter my two years at Berkeley, I am also very open to learning about other aspects of human health and wellness, and I have open hands for any calling that comes through this learning.

I also want to give a special thanks to the loved ones who read my essays, highlighting the strengths and commenting on areas for improvement, all of whom really helped me hone in on exactly what I wanted and needed to say: my husband Matthew (probably the most prolific reader of my essays), my parents, my in-laws, and especially my dear friend Christine, who helped me see which areas could be cut out and which ones needed to be elaborated, resulting in a work reflecting my own heart and interests in a much better way.

One last note: I had to remove portions of one sentence and alter a couple of other sentences below for the blog-version of this essay, in order to protect the privacy of programs and people mentioned. I included certain details about my experiences in the original essay to highlight my background and exposure to various health topics, but did not reveal personal details about the identities of those involved. However, in this version, I would like to provide further protection for those programs and individuals, since this is a public forum.

So anyway, here it is:


Statement of Purpose: Trauma and Mental Health Justice

Throughout my life, I have had three core parts of my identity that I have actively incorporated into my activities and choices: (1) an intense enjoyment of mathematics and analytical thinking; (2) a love of creative expression; and (3) a profound desire for justice in the world. These aspects of my nature have often come into conflict, vying for my time and attention. After considering how these characteristics might cease competing and instead work together to make me a more effective agent of change, I am confident that attending Berkeley’s prestigious School of Public Health will enable me to harness my wide-ranging experiences and thrive in the promotion of health justice.

During my undergraduate career at Duke University, each of the facets of my identity was manifest in a different area of my life. When I was selecting a major, for example, I had difficulty choosing between the formidable analytical challenge of mathematics and the creative outlet of English. Ultimately, I decided to major in mathematics and minor in English, mirroring the diversity of experience I have intentionally pursued. Furthermore, I engaged these various aspects of my personality through collegiate extracurricular activities. My most meaningful endeavor was membership in a campus ministry, through which I was able to put my desire for justice into action from a spiritual foundation, by guiding a team of students in planning community service events.

In addition to my on-campus activities, I studied abroad in Ecuador. During this time, I explored the social sciences exclusively (all in Spanish) and learned about the application of justice in another society. As I studied Ecuadorian colonialism, I began to recognize how a country’s history and culture can foster pervasive systemic injustice for generations. When I traveled to the Amazon, I saw how the health and livelihoods of entire people groups were disregarded as corporations inappropriately disposed of toxic waste; I learned that virtually no Afro-Ecuadorians attain a university education, largely as a result of ongoing racism, lack of resources, and coastal isolation; I visited Baca Ortiz Children’s Hospital and was shocked that the free public facility not only had few antibiotics or surgical supplies available, but also no hand soap, so that poor families who had traveled great distances had to purchase these items independently or go without treatment. These experiences began to cultivate my passion and desire to alleviate health disparities.

I have now held two roles at Aetna, a national health insurance carrier, most recently as a medical economics consultant. When I began working full time three and a half years ago, I knew that I would develop my analytical skills and business acumen. What I did not anticipate was how my newfound broader understanding of health care would make me increasingly distressed by the gaps in care that plague our world. The injustice I first glimpsed studying abroad has been even more starkly highlighted through my career, as I work in health insurance, volunteer locally and internationally, and conduct research to write my health issues blog (

Although I have enjoyed the challenge and success of my time at Aetna, I now realize that my work is almost exclusively focused on the use of my analytical skills and not on the other aspects of my identity. And more importantly, my current role is many steps removed from the insurance members I am serving, even more isolated from the fifty million Americans without health coverage today (before the landmark health care reform bill takes effect), and still more remote from the billions of people receiving inadequate health care worldwide. I am now certain that many health concerns need to be addressed at the community level. And this is where I would like to be involved.

In particular, I have seen that mental health is a crucial part of overall well-being that is not given the priority it deserves. The Mental Health Parity Act was signed into law in the United States in 1996, yet sadly, recognition of the importance of mental illness is still in the process of gaining traction in our culture; many other parts of the world have no such laws, offer fewer services, and/or lack a conception of mental illness as a public health concern in general. Therefore, my husband and I have a vision to go abroad for at least two years to work with an international non-governmental organization, assisting women who have mental health afflictions as a result of traumatic experiences, such as rape, abuse, war, or trafficking.

On a recent two week trip to Cambodia to work with Agape International Missions on the issue of child sex trafficking, I learned that the Khmer Rouge government of the 1970’s killed one fourth of the population of the country, including nearly all health care professionals. For the last forty years following this traumatic period, Cambodia has had virtually no mental health services and retains many scars from the time of the regime. Children who were once persecuted by the Khmer Rouge, or even those who were recruited to torture and kill, are the parents of today. This backdrop has contributed to a high prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder and to cultural views about human life that feed into the pervasiveness of human trafficking. After my experience in Cambodia, I am confident that community-focused mental health programs have the potential to alter the course of this nation.

Locally, I have volunteered for almost two years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for abused youth in San Mateo County. Through this role, I have spent time mentoring and advocating in court for a child -------[rest of sentence removed for privacy]--------. I have seen the overwhelming consequences of trauma on the mind – and this in the lives of a children receiving intensive health services.

What happens, then, to women who have no such support?

In their book, “Half the Sky,” Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn share the stories of women who have endured great tragedy. I was particularly moved by their chapter about obstetric fistula, in which the authors explain how women without access to emergency obstetric care may endure life-altering injuries which they call the modern day leprosy. Many are then rejected by their families and communities, with no access to the surgery necessary to repair their bodies, nor to the mental health services that can mend their unseen wounds. As a first step to end this injustice, I have written about the issue on my health blog to raise awareness. But what I desire more deeply is to develop solutions that can help communities deal with the mental health consequences of child sex trafficking, obstetric fistula, or other such injustices.

A public health degree from Berkeley will equip me to take action that empowers women and communities to heal. Moreover, the health and social behavior concentration will enable me to understand how violent, neglectful, or discriminatory behaviors take root as accepted norms in communities, and to evaluate which interventions are effective in changing these practices or attitudes. I see a dearth of leaders engaging in community need-finding, researching what has worked elsewhere, formulating creative ideas, implementing programs, and analyzing the efficacy of steps taken. I want to stand in that gap.

On a longer term basis, I envision myself playing an ongoing role, either locally or internationally, in helping people and communities respond to traumatic mental health problems. I have seen first-hand that there is a continuing mental health crisis in the United States and the world, and I want to be a pioneer in creating solutions.

The health and social behavior program at Berkeley is among the best in the nation, and it is uniquely suited to help me evaluate and intervene in the social climates that contribute to traumatic mental health concerns. I am especially intrigued by the research of Professor Ozer, which spans mental health topics as diverse as maternal depression, relational violence, PTSD, and even “Micro-credit and mental health” in South Africa. I am also impressed by the work of Professors Herd, Corburn, and Holmes. Additionally, attending Berkeley will enable me to continue volunteering as a CASA with abused youth, and the Bay Area offers a plethora of local opportunities to help victims of trauma (such as human trafficking) or others suffering from mental illness.

In the future, I envision programs that acknowledge the importance of both physical and mental health needs. I envision communities that work together to overcome traumatic histories and unite to prevent trauma from afflicting multiple generations. I envision women who are empowered by freedom from the health consequences of traumatic experiences and who are actively engaged in changing the patterns of abuse in their communities. I desire to use my analytical skills, creativity, and heart for justice as catalysts in designing such social interventions. And I believe that my admission to the Berkeley School of Public Health is critical to making this vision a reality.


  1. Thanks for sharing with us your vision. After reading this (and the previous essay) there is no doubt why UCB accepted you :)

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