Growing up, Abigail Kim moved around a lot—
And she hasn’t stopped since. During one summer in high school, she went on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya where she attended an international science camp. “I had a family friend who was a Professor in Public Health in nutrition, and she invited me to travel with her class. This was my first exposure to Public Health, and I just felt as though the work she was doing was impactful,” she reveals. “I really enjoyed that experience.”
After high school, she applied to USC—“This was one of the only programs I applied to that explicitly had a global health program at the undergraduate level.”
Her first internship would take her back to East Africa. In collaboration with Uganda Village Project, a nonprofit, she was assigned to a team of local and international students contributing to a 10-week rural assignment. Their mission was a health surveillance activity to learn about various health needs including malaria, HIV, family planning, obstetric fistula, and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs. It was here that she started to build partnerships with village health teams and community members and decided to pursue a Master of Public Health at USC.
She returned to Uganda with the Global Research, Implementation, and Training (GRIT) Lab, under the mentorship of Heather Wipfli, PhD, Director of the Health Promotions Undergraduate program. Wipfli launched the youth ambassadors’ program in Northern Uganda, where Kim began to take on various leadership roles. During the pandemic, she hosted virtual workshops alongside University of Makerere students, to teach the ambassadors basic public health skills to conduct community health assessments.
“It’s been the most hands on you could ask for as an undergraduate or a master’s student,” she shares. The GRIT Lab provides students with an opportunity to conduct research from start to finish. Since her junior year, Kim has been involved in “protocol development, Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, data collection, analysis and writing papers,” she explains. She was the lead author in her first paper ‘Community-Based Participatory Research: A Cross-Sectional Study Understanding Malaria in Rural Northern Uganda’, and is currently writing a second paper on ‘Assessing Community Perceptions on the State of Nutrition in Northern Uganda.’
“I decided a qualitative study would be interesting to understand the national nutrition strategy in relation to implementation at the local level, and also to understand the perspectives of residents” she divulges. So, she conducted focus groups with various community members and famers and led key informant interviews which a variety of stakeholders. She will publish her findings later this year.
“Abigail is one of the most productive and professional students that I have worked with in my 20 years in faculty,” asserts Wipfli. “She has a very bright future ahead of her in global health research practice. Her skills and experiences in research and epidemiology, and her ability to connect and work with the community will get her far in the field.”
After graduation, Kim will be attending medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. “Health is so much more that treating. I want to help create structures or systems where people are more supported earlier on in their health journey,” she claims.
Kim’s advice for students interested in traveling abroad is to “be flexible and hold things loosely—things are always changing on the go and may unexpectedly turn into something else—especially in public health,” she remarks. “That—and carry bug spray!”