Erica Kiernan: From Clinician to Public Health Doctoral Student

Published: May 18th, 2013

Category: Student News

Erica 1 (480x640)Erica Kiernan, DPT, MOT, joined the Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health (BSCH) in Fall 2011 to earn a doctoral degree in Public Health.

She has a graduate education in Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy and says it was her Peace Corps experience that eventually led her to pursue Public Health. In the Peace Corps, Kiernan was a health extension volunteer and worked at a social center in Benin, West Africa. She focused on health initiatives for the physically and mentally handicapped in her village, women and children’s health, and grassroots HIV education.

After returning from the Peace Corps, Kiernan pursued clinical work in Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. “I quickly realized that a lot of what I see as a therapist is sometimes the result of wide sweeping public health issues such as occurrences of stroke or orthopedic issues due to increasing obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles, as well as the decreased access to health care in minority and vulnerable populations,” said Kiernan.

Seeking a more comprehensive solution to these problems, Kiernan decided to pursue a degree in Public Health. “I want to be better equipped and educated on how to intervene on a more preventative level before these issues require serious medical intervention and rehabilitation,” she said. She also commented on her quest to become a competent and successful researcher.

Kiernan, along with Eugene Dunne, Lauren Hearn, and Joy Scheidell, was recently awarded the PHHP Collaboration Grant for their proposed research,“The spatial distribution of neighborhood alcohol outlets and binge drinking among HIV-positive individuals: Moderating effects of social support”.

The project has 3 aims. The first aim is to map the density of alcohol outlets in neighborhoods of HIV-positive individuals. The second aim is to measure the association between neighborhood-level density of alcohol outlets and binge drinking among HIV-positive individuals. The final aim is to evaluate whether the association between neighborhood-level density of alcohol outlets and binge drinking differs among HIV-positive individuals with high versus low social support.

When asked about her doctoral experience thus far, Kiernan enthusiastically commented on her ability to already utilize her newfound Public Health knowledge. “I have been able to apply knowledge I’ve gained in my Public Health classes to my current role as a therapist and healthcare provider” she said.

After graduation Kiernan plans to continue to integrate her occupational and physical therapy background with a broader focus on community health outreach through academia and clinical practice.