A Grocery Store’s Impact on My Career | Amanda Meiklejohn
Reflecting on my grant writing “why” led me to think back to how I even started a career in public health. Growing up in a small rural town, in southern Indiana surrounded by fields of corn, beans, apples, and other fresh fruits and vegetables, I was not aware that millions of Americans had difficulties or inability to access healthy foods. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines a food desert as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” As you can imagine in a small town, there are just a few essential stores, and Trafalgar Grocery was one of them in my town. While away at college, the local grocery store went out of business forcing those living in my small one stop light town to drive over 13 miles to the nearest grocery store. Due to the closure of the only grocery store, my town had met the criteria of a food desert. It was not until my sophomore year at Indiana University that I learned what a food desert was. This experience is what initially sparked my interest and passion for public health, leading me to change my major and complete a B.S. in Human Biology. Given my strong interest in public health, I knew I did not want to stop my education. In 2016, I pursued an M.P.H. in Epidemiology to gain a better foundation of determinants of health and disease in different populations.
While I had knew what grants were, it was not until my last semester of my MPH program, I was able to gain my first experience working on a grant. I was completely naïve to the amount of detail, time, and dedication that are required to produce a well-rounded grant application. The first week of the course was a bit intimidating due to the introduction of the overarching class assignment, a full grant proposal. Back in 2017, electronic cigarettes and vaping were becoming more and more popular among young adults and teenagers. At this time, the laws that exist today were not yet in place, which also meant the programs to inform young adults and teenagers about the dangers of electronic cigarettes and vaping were few and far between. Due to this gap, my group’s main objective was to design a pilot program to discourage or decrease the use of electronic cigarettes via smart phone applications in the Greater St. Louis Area. At the time of this proposal, there were no smartphone applications targeting middle school students to educate them around the health implications of electronic cigarette use. While we did not end up submitting the grant, the experience had me understanding the potential impact that grant funding could produce.
A few months later, I was able to witness the utilization of grant funding and implications in a real-world setting, which sparked my interest again for grant writing. During an internship, I performed systemic reviews and meta-analysis from studies funded from grants. The topics of interest would vary based on the needs of the physicians at BJC HealthCare. One project focused on the frequency of self-reported penicillin allergies by patients and/or caregivers, primarily in pediatrics. The physicians noticed an increase in the number of pediatric patients reporting a penicillin allergy. After evaluating, reviewing, and processing the evidence-based articles funded through NIH grants, I was able to conclude that self-reporting a false-positive penicillin allergy by patients and caregivers occurred at a rate of 91.6% to 100% in literature. Later, I was able to share these findings with Washington University Physicians and present at the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Symposium at Washington University. Through grant funding, the previous studies and literature were able to be a compelling reason to review prescribing practices and protocols at the hospital.
Grants and grant writing are critical not just to the healthcare system, but also to other industries that interact with the healthcare system. Many clinical trials performed by pharmaceutical companies would not be possible without grant funding, especially through the National Institute of Health (NIH). Most recently, the worldwide pandemic pushed scientist and researchers from around the world to collaborate through grant funding to develop dozens of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Given my interest in clinical trials and limited experience with granting writing, I hope to gain a more holistic understanding of the components to develop a thought provoking and persuasive grant. By learning how to properly draft, submit and execute a grant, I will be able to continue to add to the current knowledge of research to identifying strategies and programs for overcoming COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in our population.
While my experience reflecting on a food desert, I believe has led me to where I am today. I look forward on reflecting how this course in grant writing influences my path and commitment to help others through clinical trial research.