A big picture of public health

Sarah McCool, Ph.D., M.H.A.’09, M.P.H.’12, is bringing a truly global view to her role as clinical assistant professor in undergraduate programs at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University in Atlanta. 

“I never thought I’d end up in academia, but I really love teaching,” she says. Her journey to that role took her to four countries and several nongovernmental organizations as she worked on issues in public health. 

Most recently, McCool worked to support a child protection and anti-trafficking project in Haiti, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). That wasn’t her first experience in the impoverished island nation: In 2010, she joined a group of Iowans to volunteer with Visitation Health Foundation (VHF), a Nashville-based health and health education organization that operates a clinic in rural Haiti. Later, when she had finished her master’s degree in public health at DMU and had begun working on her doctorate in public health at Arizona State University, she got a call from VHF: The organization needed a new executive director. McCool took on that role in fall 2013 as she finished her Ph.D. 

“It was the perfect alignment of everything I wanted to do – global health, applying my public health degrees and coming up with culturally appropriate interventions,” she says. 

McCool went on to live for a while in Singapore before she landed a USAID fellowship to work in tuberculosis surveillance and prevention in Asia. She focused her efforts in Indonesia, which has one of the highest rates of the world’s deadliest infectious disease. 

“I worked with a community-based program that educates people about the disease, identifies those who have it and connects them to treatment,” she says. “It’s a disease of poverty, which creates barriers to treatment, such as lack of transportation.” 

Despite the seriousness of her work, McCool enjoyed living in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, and the Indonesian island of Bali. 

“I loved the people. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, the cost of living is low and it has a very laid-back atmosphere,” she says. 

McCool’s work in eradicating disease didn’t end with her move to Atlanta. She’s involved with Global Health ATL, a unique alliance of leaders of corporations, health organizations and higher education institutions engaged in global health and economic development initiatives and innovation. 

“Atlanta is one of the best places to be for public health,” she says. 

While McCool says she misses working in the field, she has embraced teaching. 

“My real-world experiences give me a leg up in the classroom. I can talk about topics from the point of view of my expertise and my actual experiences,” she says. “I’m so fortunate to be able to say I’ve lived in four countries. You learn to roll with your mistakes.”