University of Vermont alumna Leah Grout ’11 arrived back on campus this past fall ready to take on a different role. As the newest full-time faculty member in the UVM Larner College of Medicine Public Health program, Leah traveled far and wide around the world and in her career before circling back to inspire a new generation of students at her undergraduate stomping grounds.
“I first got interested in public health at UVM,” she says, reflecting on the environmental health course that motivated her to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science with focus on Water Resources.
When Leah graduated UVM in 2011, the UVM Master of Public Health program didn’t yet exist (it launched in 2014), so she headed down to Boston where she completed an MPH with a concentration in global health at Tufts’ Chinatown-based medical campus. Even while studying at Tufts, Leah found her way back to UVM, completing her applied experience requirement at UVM Children’s Hospital.
A Public Health Career Path Can Take You Anywhere
Prospective public health students often ask about career options in a field that can seem both brimming with opportunity and too broad to wrap your arms around. Leah’s journey – from health policy analysis at the Wyoming Department of Health to her days on Senator Leahy’s legislative staff in Washington, D.C. – exemplifies the field’s flexibility.
“You can find a diversity of entry points into public health,” Leah explains, “I wasn’t even technically in the public health realm while I was in D.C., but really everything is connected. Even in transportation policy, there is a public health element. You can find your niche in public health, and all of it is really important work.”
It was after her stint in D.C. that Leah decided to reenter academia. Off to New Zealand she went to complete her PhD in Public Health at the University of Otago. Bringing the wisdom and observations of her rural Vermont upbringing with her, Leah set out to research the potential health effects of the intensification of New Zealand’s dairy industry, focusing on the spread of disease from livestock to humans. “As a Vermonter, an agricultural state, I was aware of dairy as a piece of a larger public health puzzle,” Leah says.
While Leah describes her passion as the intersection of environmental and human health with communicable disease, it’s clear that she is a public health professional who relishes rolling up her sleeves for just about any challenge. “I like that I haven’t been pigeonholed in any one area. I never wanted to only ever focus on a single topic in my career,” she says. “I like that I can pitch in on different topics when someone needs assistance.”
It’s a mindset that aligns well with the UVM Master of Public Health program, strategically designed as a generalist degree.
“Regardless of your interest area, the grounding of a generalist program is valuable. If you want to specialize later on, you’ve got a great foundation.”Dr. Leah Grout
Reflecting on her first semester of teaching, Leah says that she is energized by student engagement and the opportunity to guide students by sharing her lived experience in the field. “I get excited when students want to meet one-on-one to talk about topics they’re really passionate about, and I really enjoy giving what advice I can,” she says.
And in a program that’s entirely online, Leah is encouraged to see the strong bonds that students have formed with each other through in-depth discussion forums. “We’ve got the tools to connect people and share resources and have a stimulating community online,” she says.