Yaendy Matos, a student at Fenway High School in Boston, says she is interested in a medical career but the field of public health has not been on her radar. “We don’t know what public health is. We’re just checking it out,” Matos said, as she sat with her friends in the Kresge cafeteria at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Matos was among about 60 Boston and Cambridge high school students from diverse backgrounds who attended the first “Why Public Health? Youth and Public Health Conference,” sponsored by HSPH and the School’s Office of Diversity on April 26, 2013.

There are too few opportunities for high school students to learn about public health and engage with professionals in the field, according to conference co-directors Claire Perkins, SM2 Health Policy and Management, and Jason Park, SM2 Epidemiology, student ambassadors for the Office of Diversity. “When most high school students think of jobs in health care, they only think of physicians and RNs. It is time we change that!” Perkins said.

“Public health often goes unrecognized,” keynote speaker David Hemenway, professor of health policy and management and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, told the students. He compared the work of public health professionals to that of the nearly invisible elves in a popular children’s storybook who churn out shoes for a shoemaker while the shoemaker sleeps.

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