Sara Stephens: From Aspirations to Expertise in Health Equity Advocacy

Sara Stephens, MPH, PhD, pictured
Sara Stephens, MPH, PhD

From a young age, Sara Stephens was always interested in pursuing a career that involved helping people and positively impacting her community. As a high school student, she excelled in writing and language arts, art history, and sports. Combined with a desire to help others, the creativity, communication, and teamwork cultivated by this diverse set of interests would later serve her well in her public health career aspirations.

Her collegiate journey took her to Baylor University, where she majored in medical humanities on the pre-medical track, involving courses such as biology, bioethics, and health economics. During her junior year, she gained hands-on experience as a scribe in an emergency room in Waco, Texas. This experience revealed the stark realities of the U.S. healthcare system, including health disparities and systemic access barriers that many patients face due to poverty and other socioeconomic influences. In understanding the broader impact that social determinants have on an individual’s health and community well-being, she was motivated to study these disparities further.

Drawn toward this balance between empirical research, healthcare, and advocacy, Stephens pursued her MPH and PhD in Epidemiology at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, specializing in pediatric chronic diseases, including congenital heart defects. Her work involves  conducting and publishing epidemiologic studies and closely collaborating with clinicians to understand the greater implications of research on pediatric care.

Throughout her training, Stephens valued the importance of involving those with lived experiences in research, realizing that data alone may not always capture the complexities of chronic disease. She emphasized collaboration with patients and their families, acknowledging their insights as invaluable for research, particularly for rare diseases. Her work in clinical epidemiology offered her a unique opportunity to contribute to meaningful changes for these communities, providing scientific support while respecting the human stories to drive progress in healthcare.

Stephens' commitment to addressing health disparities remained a central focus as she completed her PhD. She evolved from a young student who dreamt of helping people to a dedicated public health professional with a clear mission to positively impact the healthcare system for children with chronic disease. Stephens graduates with her PhD in Epidemiology this spring (2024) and will continue her journey as a postdoctoral epidemiologist within the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, where she aims to further her work in promoting health equity and supporting patient communities.

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