University of Nebraska Medical Center

Student Highlight-Molly McCarthy

Molly McCarthy

Molly McCarthy was inspired to pursue an MPH degree in the COPH at UNMC after learning about health disparities in a Human Biology and Social Inequality course she took as an undergraduate. Since her admission into the MPH Program during the fall of 2010, she has completed 22 credit hours of course work and has identified community-based participatory research (CBPR), sexual health, and health disparities as main areas of academic interest. In addition, she secured a graduate assistantship and student research position and serves as the MPH representative on the COPH Curriculum Committee. Molly’s future career goals are to obtain a PhD and become a researcher and scholar in the field of public health.

Molly serves as a graduate assistant for the Plaza Partnership, a collaborative effort including the Douglas County Health Department, OneWorld Community Health Centers, Inc., the South Omaha Community Care Council, and UNMC. The partnership seeks to build sustainable infrastructure for mutually beneficial health science research. Through her work with the partnership, Molly gets an insider’s perspective regarding the ways in which community-linked research is approached, experience in methods of community engagement for research, and opportunities to connect with public health professionals. Dr. Magda Peck, COPH associate dean for community engagement and public health practice, sees Molly’s dedication to ensuring great communications across the many participants in the Plaza Partnership as an asset to the project. “She is an quick learner of navigating complex community and academic landscapes, a skill that will serve her and others well in public health practice,” said Dr. Peck.

Molly is also a student researcher for the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative (MSHRC), a transdisciplinary research enterprise rooted in CBPR and aimed at facilitating research related to sexual health and well-being. Its inaugural project, the Midlands LGBT Needs Assessment, looked at the physical, mental, social, and sexual health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Nebraskans. Molly’s work on the project included assisting in the coordination of town hall-style meetings with community members, conducting preliminary statistical analyses, and taking the lead in the writing of the Midlands LGBT Community Report, which was released in June of 2011 at the Omaha Heartland Pride Festival. Dr. Christopher Fisher, director of the MSHRC, notes that Molly earned her position as the MSHRC’s volunteer research coordinator through her “passion and dedication to sexual health research.” He adds that “her ability to juggle multiple projects and tasks at once has grown tremendously over the last year, a skill that will serve her well in a career in public health.” Dr. Jason Coleman, associate director of the MSHRC, added, “Molly showed excellent initiative in organizing the community feedback process and writing the community report for the Midlands LGBT Community Needs Assessment.”

Beyond the community report, the MSHRC team plans to disseminate its findings by submitting manuscripts to academic journals and presenting research findings at annual conferences. Molly looks forward to contributing to manuscripts for publication as well as presenting research findings at the conferences of the American Public Health Association, the Public Health Association of Nebraska, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in the fall of 2011.

Molly says that the greatest lesson she has learned in the MPH Program is how the components of the ecological model affect the health of individuals; she looks forward to conducting research and disseminating findings in collaboration with community and academic partners in such a way that the research can lead to better health outcomes at policy, community, organizational, interpersonal, and individual levels.


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