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I'm Getting a PhD to Help Fight the National Opioid Crisis — Here's Why

Posted by Sara Warfield on 7/19/18 6:34 AM

  July 19, 2018    

sara-opioid-crisesPoverty, lack of nutrition, opioid addiction: These are just some of the social issues impacting the Appalachia region.

These are also some of the issues that have inspired me to further my education in hopes of making a real difference in my community — and the world.

Below is just a little bit of my story: It covers what sparked my passion for public health, how my graduate assistantship augmented by education, and what I hope to do with my doctorate degree to inspire social change. Maybe by reading, you'll even learn how you can inspire true social change using your own strengths and passions.

Note: Are you looking to secure a graduate assistantship position? Explore our  new digital resource page — Your Guide to Understanding Graduate Assistantships  in Graduate School — for tips and advice on doing just that!

First things first - let me introduce myself.

My name is Sara Warfield, and I'm a third year PhD student in the School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology. I received both my bachelor’s (Anthropology) and master's (Public Health, Epidemiology) from East Tennessee State University.

I have always had a heart for community-based initiatives and had an interest in health-related topics, so I was naturally drawn to public health. Growing up in Appalachia my entire life, I have always been passionate about rural disparities, especially for those diseases that are disproportionately impacting this region. 

Passion coupled with my interest in social change inspired me to further my education.

While I was working on my MPH, I was mentored by passionate professionals who were researching the opioid crisis in Tennessee, specifically in East Tennessee. Their passion, coupled with my interest in health disparities, sparked my desire to pursue my PhD. I applied to several doctoral programs that would have been a good fit, and I luckily got into every single program that I applied to during my MPH!

When I was deciding between programs, the School of Public Health at WVU clearly stood out to me over every other program. Not only was WVU the flagship university for the state with the highest overdose death rate, it was the university that had been pioneering several efforts in the area of substance abuse.

I knew that if I went to WVU, I would get the chance to be around leaders in this area and that I would learn a lot during the process. From leaders at the Injury Control Research Center (which is one of 10 funded CDC centers in the nation) to the Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment (COAT) clinic at Chestnut Ridge along with so many others, I knew WVU had the best researchers tackling this issue. 

In fact, I have had the opportunity to serve as a graduate research assistant at the Injury Control Research Center where I work on substance abuse (primarily opioid) related projects.

I have had experiences at WVU that I would not have had anywhere else.

At WVU, I have had the chance to work on projects at a local and national level. For example, I have learned about neutral facilitation and helped conduct focus groups around the state — using this technique to better understand how each region has been impacted by the current opioid crisis. I have also worked on projects in D.C. with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA) — analyzing national surveys on substance use and mental health to better understand opioid pain reliever misuse. Furthermore, I have worked on various projects with the Department of Veterans Affairs relating to mental health and substance abuse.

I hope that I continue to learn the distribution and determinants of the current opioid crisis, whether it is around overdoses, treatment, or prevention programs; I am passionate to gain the additional experience needed to combat this crisis.

Right now, I am focused on my dissertation where I am building a predictive model to identify patients at highest risk for an opioid overdose in a health care setting. While this model will only answer a piece of the problem, I am confident that the skills I develop will help me work on other projects to understand the crisis.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

One of my favorite anthropologists said the above quote, and I know that many of the leaders at WVU that I have met and work with will make a difference in this world, in particular with the opioid crisis. I am confident that the skills I have gained at WVU will help me continue to make a difference.

In short, the Admissions professionals at WVU are dedicated to helping you be exceptional. Whether you're considering graduate school online, stressing about GRE test prep, worried about financing graduate school, or getting excited about a career change, WVU is here to help you succeed.

We invite you to request more info today!

We invite you to explore our new digital resource page  Your Guide to Understanding Graduate Assistantships in Graduate School  for insight into the value of securing a GA position in grad school.

Explore the Resource

Topics: Student and Alumni Testimonials


Posted by Sara Warfield

Sara is third year PhD student in the School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology. She is studying various facets of the opioid crisis at a local and national level. Sara is also a graduate research assistant at the Injury Control Research Center (ICRC) working on substance abuse (primarily opioid) related projects.

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Deciding what graduate school to attend can be daunting at times, and navigating the admissions process can be that much more difficult. We hope to make the journey from considering graduate school to enrolling in a graduate program easier by publishing content that will be helpful to you as you discern if, when, and where, to pursue your next degree.

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