Episode 26_ Launching the public health book reviews blog series, with Tasha McAbee

Launching the public health book reviews blog series, with Tasha McAbee

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Show Notes

In today’s episode, Sujani sits down with a fellow public health professional, Tasha McAbee, to announce the collaboration on a new series for the PH SPOT blog! Sujani met Tasha on Instagram through her page @Public.Health.Bookmark where she shares reviews on public health books she’s read. Knowing that the PH SPOT community would love this, Sujani and Tasha are launching monthly public health reviews on the blog! Before the launch of this series next week, Sujani sits down with Tasha to get to know her better and to let you know what you can expect in this series.

You’ll Learn

  • Get to know Tasha: her public health journey, her role at Boston Children’s Hospital as a professional medical illustrator/animator, and her interest in books (her love language is book recommendations!)
  • What got Tasha into reading so many public health books; and how she reads any book with a public health lens, thinking about how public health shapes the characters and the events
  • Reading!
    • How reading reminds yourself why you are interested in public health
    • How when course readings and writing assignments became hard to get through, reading kept Tasha’s energy level up!
  • Tasha and PH SPOT’s collaboration for the book reviews – what to expect!
    • These book reviews will serve as an inspiration for those in school and for professionals in public health
    • To highlight important public health topic areas; and if nothing is being done in these areas, how we hope these reviews encourage the PH SPOT community to take action
    • To provide insights beyond what one can look up online – commenting on the writing format and style for example, and going beyond summary and plot points
    • Suggested further readings to dive deeper into the subject matter; will be sharing other mediums (not just readings), such as videos and podcast episodes
    • How to get in touch with Tasha and provide book recommendations

Today’s Guest

Tasha McAbee

Tasha McAbee is an MPH candidate at the Boston University School of Public Health. She is also a professional medical illustrator/animator at Boston Children’s Hospital and enjoys educating through design and visual media. When not contemplating things like health law and policy, gender gaps in health, vaccine hesitancy, and environmental health, she can be found spending time with her three dogs, or more accurately, taking countless pictures of them.


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Episode Transcript

Tasha 0:00
It definitely how it was for me, I think that definitely drew me into the field and drew me into that focus. So I think that, that reading can really help you find, you know, that focus, you’re looking for that niche problem you’re looking to fix. And you might read it and think, wow, like I have a place in helping this. And so I encourage everyone to pick up these books, and see how you can play rolling.

Sujani 0:21
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:35
Hey, what’s up everyone. Thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. In today’s episode, I’m speaking to a fellow public health professional who I am so thrilled to be collaborating with for the PH SPOT blog. Her name is Tasha McAbee. She’s an MPH candidate currently at the Boston University School of Public Health. But she’s also a professional medical illustrator and animator at Boston Children’s Hospital and enjoys educating through design and visual media. I met Tasha on Instagram actually, through her page Public Health Bookmark, where she started to share reviews on public health books that she’s been reading. And knowing that our PH SPOT community would truly truly love this, I reached out to Tasha and we chatted about a collaboration to potentially publish regular reviews on the blog. And so Tasha agreed, and before we launched a series next week, I thought it’d be great for us to sit down and talk to Tasha and for all of us to get to know her better, because we are going to be reading many of her book reviews on the PH SPOT blog. So here’s our chat.

Sujani 2:01
Hey, Tasha, thank you so much for joining me on the episode today.

Tasha 2:06
Yeah, happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Sujani 2:08
And yeah, I’m excited about the collaboration that we’re going to be speaking to our community members about and today’s episode is going to be kind of a kickstart to something that Tasha and PH SPOT is working on. So this is not the last time our listeners are going to hear about Tasha. So super exciting. And we will get to that, definitely, later on in the episode. But you know, Tasha, you’re someone with so many great unique skills that you possess as a public health professional. And I’ve been blown away by those because I have special interest in design and visual media, which I’d love to talk to you about another day. But today, for our listeners, we’re going to be talking about books, and I stumbled on Tasha has Instagram page Public Health Bookmark. And we’re going to get into that in a bit. But before we start, I wanted everyone just to get to know Tasha a little bit more and about your public health journey. So could we start with that, and kind of how you got into public health perhaps?

Tasha 3:13
Sure. So, as you mentioned, my background is in visuals. So I’m a medical illustrator and animator by day at Boston Children’s Hospital. But public health has always been my true love over medicine. So I’m, I’m back in school at Boston University. I’m pursuing my MPH in health law and policy. And it’s funny actually, because I was, I was thinking about the role that reading plays in my interest in public health. And I remember, when I was deciding if it made sense for me to go back to grad school since I had- I already have a master’s in medical illustration. And I remember specifically thinking, well, at least I would get really good book recommendations out of it. And I must say, it’s lived up to my expectations in that sense. My favorite classes have been the ones where I come away with a great reading list and things to read. It’s been- it’s been good.

Sujani 3:58
So when you went into kind of the medical illustration route, did you always have public health in the back of your mind? Or was it more the design aspect of the role that drove you into that career at first?

Tasha 4:11
I did always have public health in the back of my mind, there really isn’t that I knew of like a visual media for public health programs. So I wanted to first gain my skills in visual media. And then I wanted to come to the field of public health was something to offer. And it’s really I’m glad I went that route. But it’s been really fun to come into public health, with those skills. And I found that they’ve really been needed. There’s been, I’ve had a lot of opportunities come my way of people like needing help with visual communication. So it’s been really fun to be able to offer that and the people I meet and the projects I can do, because I have that unique skill that is often more applied to medicine rather than public health, and there’s a real draw for it. So I’m excited to kind of be a part of that.

Sujani 4:54
That’s awesome. Because when I think about medical illustrators, I think about like science textbooks and such, were those kind of the roles that you were taking on prior to getting into more of like a public health role, or?

Tasha 5:07
Yeah, it’s a really big variety, which is one thing I really love about it, I do anything from visually, you know, diagrams for papers or textbooks or online courses, I worked in online education. I do patient education illustrations now, as well as fancy 3D animations for surgical education too. So, and I think that it’s really fun to kind of work that breadth. Because I think in public health, you see that same variation. So you know, a lot of times we’re in the weeds about policy, or we’re communicating to the public about risk. And so I think that it’s important to have that experience communicating for different groups and translating across those different levels of expertise. So I think that’s gonna, it’s gonna be pretty helpful.

Sujani 5:52
Absolutely. Like I mentioned, I definitely want to get you back on the podcast to talk about that side of your work. Because design visual media, yeah, and even public health communication, it’s kind of a big thing that we’re trying to focus on at PH SPOT. So we’d love to have you back on to talk about that in more detail. But today, we are talking about books. So, you know, for our listeners, I- like I said, I stumbled on Tasha’s Instagram page where she was reviewing all these great public health books. So if you’re interested, you should definitely follow it, we’ll put the link in our show notes page. So you know, just to get us started. Tasha, what got you into just reading so many public health books? And like, how did you get started on this Instagram page?

Tasha 6:41
Sure. So I’ve always been drawn to public health topics and books, like even if it’s a piece of fiction or a novel, I’m usually reading it through public health lens and thinking about how public health in that time and place, shaped those character stories and lives. And if you do this yourself, you’ll really be surprised how almost every book relates to public health in some way. And so that’s why I don’t limit myself to just the nonfiction public health books on the page. And as for as for the Instagram page, I honestly started it as a place to keep track of my own notes. And that’s really why bookmark is in the name, I found that I had, like this mess of screenshots, and Google Docs and written notes, or what I was reading in books and courses, and I never really returned to look at them. So I was, I was just like, I really needed a singular organized place. I’m love Instagram. So I thought, you know, maybe this could be a way I could keep track of everything. And I figured, you know, why not make it public and share. So I went ahead and did that. And I will say, not only has it proven effective at keeping track of things for you, but what I found amazing that I wasn’t expecting, was really being introduced to this entire public health community online. I have my small world of Boston. And I’ve really enjoyed exploring, and I love getting to know others that I follow now as well. There’s a really great public health community on Instagram. And yeah, I would not have found if I hadn’t made this page and put myself out there in this way. So I’m really glad I did it.

Sujani 8:06
Oh, awesome. I am gonna go back to what you started off with, which was, you know, even if you pick up a fictional book, you can read it from a public health lens. That’s a new concept for me, for sure. I don’t read much fiction, but curious, not to put you on the spot. But what’s a book that has like no public health kind of topics, talking about, like, you know, in the book itself, but you were able to put that lens? I’m curious to know.

Tasha 8:34
Yeah, so I will say, Dickens is probably one of the classic examples of this. And so I suggest reading some of those I know, he was one of the first ones to kind of bring up this idea of like, the poor are more at risk for health, because of the way society is set up. So I know he’s kind of a classic example of tying those into his fiction work. One of my books, one of my favorite books, it actually was one of the first ones that posted about on my Instagram page, too, is a good example of this. So it’s The Miner by Natsume Soseki. And it really is a good example of that, because it’s a piece of fiction. But it really touches on public health and social history in Japan. There’s like these instance of this kind of environmental disaster where a community in Japan is exposed to some contaminants due to the mining and some infection. But I when I’m reading it, I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is-

Sujani 9:31

Tasha 9:32
And if you look it up, there really, it was a huge piece of history. There were riots. So there’s entire books written about the actual incident. But what came out of this, I think what you see is in fiction is, you know, it really affects people’s lives and the stories people have are affected by these things that happen in public health. And so once you- once you start to pick up on that, you notice that a lot of a lot of people’s lives are shaped by these things. So.

Tasha 9:55
Oh, that’s fascinating. I like- I said, I’m not a big fictional reader, but I think this may have convinced me to at least pick up a few books is to try that out for sure.

Sujani 10:05
Yeah, I haven’t read Bleak House. But I’ve heard that that’s the one people say, have some public health overlap. So I should I should add that to my fiction reading list to do so.

Sujani 10:13
Yeah. That’s- that’s Bleak House. You said?

Tasha 10:16
Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. I’ve heard that one touches on health aspects. So maybe I’ll have to do that on the Instagram page as well.

Sujani 10:23
Absolutely. And I actually know, you know what I did read Inferno, that might be the one that has the big kind of pandemic in it towards the end, but it wasn’t- I didn’t think it was well done.

Tasha 10:37
Sometimes the best, like things you can do on a book review pages, know which books not to read or not?

Sujani 10:44
Yeah. That’s awesome. So yeah, so you know, you and I, we chatted a bit about publishing book reviews on the PH SPOT blog. And it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time since I started PH SPOT four years ago. And I personally haven’t had the time to do it. And I was thrilled to find your Instagram page, and then even more thrilled when you agreed to this collaboration. So, you know, maybe we could start off by just sharing with our listeners, what you’re personally hoping to achieve by sharing book reviews on the blog, and then maybe, yeah, we could have a conversation around that.

Tasha 11:24
Sure. So I was, I think what I hope to achieve with the book reviews, is to give people insight beyond what they can just look up online about a book, I think anyone can look up a title and a subject matter. So I think what I really want to make sure I provide is what it’s like to read the book, the writing format, the style, when what really makes it a good read about a topic that if you’re going to read about the subject matter, this is the place to go for it. And I think I would find that for someone who likes book recommendations and book reviews, I think that that I’m hoping that that will be the more valuable way to go about it, rather than just recapping a summary or plot points. And then I also hope that I can, it can be a place where I can suggest further reading, whether it be books of the same style or books, you know, deeper into the subject matter, or even just other media, sometimes when I read a book, I just get really into that subject, and I listen to podcasts about it or figure out the experts are and like get hooked up with their work and what they’re doing, news articles about the topic updates on the books since it’s been written. So I hope that it can be a place where I can add that information as well.

Sujani 12:34
I’m gonna say that’s- that’s probably going to be the favorite part of the reviews for me is how you’re bringing in all these additional resources. Because, you know, I always find that once you close that last page of a book, there’s some sort of withdrawal at the end, where you just want to keep looking into the author or more about the topic. And you’ll be compiling a list of all these resources for our readers, which is going to be pretty cool. I think one of the first ones that you had written up for us, which we’ll publish kind of the week after this podcast goes out in March was Well by Sandro, Sandro Galea. And you had some of the TED talks by this author as well kind of listed there. So that’s pretty cool for our readers to also kind of engage with the author and some of the other work that they’ve done.

Tasha 13:26
Yeah, he’s a- he’s a good one to start out with as an example for that, because he’s always writing I think he actually just started kind of a weekly essay publication as well. So I should maybe- I should send that to an update it but he’s-

Sujani 13:39

Tasha 13:39
-writing more. And so that’s a good place to go for further reading. But yeah, I totally agree. When I, especially when I read a book about, you know, a curtain- current public health issue when I finished it, even if it was only written a few years ago, oh, my gosh, this is so bad, is anything being done about it? And so maybe, hopefully, it’d be a good place where I can add in like, since the books been written, maybe action has been taken or you know, awareness has grown. Or maybe nothing’s happened. And that’s, that’s the sad story of it. So, yeah, that’s, that’s always I feel the same way. It’s like when you read a novel, you’re like, you’re kind of at a loss because the character’s story ends there. But in public health, you know, it’s real life. So the story continues. So there’s always there’s always more to read about it. So.

Sujani 14:23
Yeah, I know, when I was kind of doing my Masters, I read a lot more public health books, especially because I was trying to kind of connect what I was learning in the classroom to the outside world, and I found reading books was a great way to do that before kind of starting to work in the field. So I think for some of our student population, these book reviews also act as an inspiration or even possibly a guidance into what sort of career path they could take as well or a topic of interest that they could pursue. So that also comes to mind when you’re talking about, you know, just, if there’s nothing being done in that area that this book talks about, it’s possibly a place where, you know, our followers could possibly explore and contribute to that public health crisis or disease area.

Tasha 15:16
Oh, definitely. I mean, if- if there’s a public audience and you have, you know, your professions already in that area, and you already have the skills and expertise and you, you hear about something that needs work and help, I think that they’re definitely the people to be called upon to, to call to action on it. So I think you have that. Definitely. That would be excellent. I hope. So. Yeah, I think the books I cover I remember, I mean, I guess I still am a student. But you know, the books sometimes that you’re reading in class aren’t the most interesting, texts can be really dry. And so I love pushing to read fun stuff, while I’m in school and reading textbooks, so I suggest anyone still in school to take the time. Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the textbooks readings, that you can, you can still put in some time to read some fun public health reading and remind yourself why you’re interested in the topic in the first place. Because I think that can kind of get lost when you’re in the weeds of the textbook or course reading. So I think this kind of reading I think keeps me passionate and inspired to stay in the field and keep working.

Sujani 16:19
Absolutely. And even I guess yeah, when once you start working to when your job sort of, you know, your periods became mundane and feel like you’re, you’re just going to a job and working away at tasks, these public health books in the area that you work in, also, I find are quite inspiring to just help you step back and see the bigger picture of public health. So I like it for that reason, as well.

Tasha 16:45
Oh, yeah, definitely. I found when I was really bogged down with writing assignments, I found that reading really got me through, like, even if I felt, I’d really don’t have time to be reading, I’ve got too many assignments, I really started to push myself to force to make time to read. And it really helps to kind of remind you like, okay, there’s, there’s a value in writing, because reading can be really fun. And it’s like, the information is so powerful. I kind of- it- kind of kept my energy levels higher. So I suggest anyone to just really take the time to read, I think it can really kind of reset your energy levels to keep going. So that’s my advice.

Tasha 17:23
Absolutely. I’ve got a list of books that you kind of sent us, possibly ones to cover in the blog series, and in all three of them, A Terrible Thing To Waste, Marching Toward Coverage, and The Political Determinants of Health, those three, you actually interviewed these authors for a different blog. So that’s also pretty cool, because you’ll be linking those up for our readers to read directly from these authors. And I think you had some like Q and A’s with them, which is pretty awesome, as well. So yeah. Do you want to talk about some of those books and the interviews that you’ve done with the authors?

Tasha 18:02
Yeah. So this past year, I was a writing fellow for one of Boston University’s publications, Public Health Post, and that was one of the great opportunities was getting to interview authors. And so sometimes they’d be opportunities to assigned. So they would be on the author would be a guest at BU and so they really wanted to have an interview to go with it. And so I, you know, was introduced to the author through that process, but otherwise, they also let you if you’re really interested in an author to pitch the idea and reach out to them. And so that’s, that’s actually what happened with Harriet Washington, I’ve read her book, A Terrible Thing To waste. And I just- I finished it and kind of like you were mentioning, like, I was like, oh, my gosh, I need to talk to her. Like I felt like, and I’m so glad I did, because she was- she is so wonderful. And so I think I will be reading that one next. And so when that one goes out, I definitely suggest reading that interview because, I mean, you could tell she really she just- she cares so much about people and helping people and she’s just, she’s an incredible, smart, wonderful author. So I was really glad that I pitched that and took the time to talk to her. But yeah, it can be a really added bonus. So and hopefully, that’s something maybe we can do in the future too. Because I think it’s really nice to read the book, but then to check in with the author as well.

Tasha 19:17

Tasha 19:18
eally good conversations out of it.

Sujani 19:19
Absolutely. Yeah, that’s something Tasha and I are hoping we can possibly continue on PH SPOT either you know, through the same medium that you did with written interviews or even podcasts if the author’s are available. So fingers crossed we could do something more with these reviews in that sense. Yeah, we- you pulled together a list of books that you’re considering covering for the blog series, but I’m wondering if people have recommendations or they want to engage with your reviews, are you- are you considering maybe doing that on your Instagram page or even maybe in the comment section on our- on our blog?

Tasha 19:59
Oh, Definitely I would say like book recommendations is like my love language like I am book recommendations. So I would say definitely stop by in any place and and drop them in and I’ll squeeze them in and I am happy to be sidetracked and read different books. I’m always going in different directions. So yeah, definitely, definitely please drop recommendations for me.

Sujani 20:21
Awesome. So what would you say is your favorite book, Tasha? And like in the in the public health category, and maybe tell us why.

Tasha 20:31
Yeah, so I definitely, I have multiple favorites. And like I said, you know, I read both fiction and nonfiction in that sense. So,

Sujani 20:39

Tasha 20:40
like I said, The Miner is a really, I love that one as far as like a fiction, one that ties in public health, as far as as nonfiction. So I’m actually currently located in Woburn, Massachusetts. And so one of the- one of the books that really got me fired up was reading a civil action. So that is about an incident that happened here in Woburn, Massachusetts, where there was some industrial poisoning of the water source and a neighborhood here that caused almost an entire neighborhood of children to get leukemia, it was really sad case, just a really sad case about the state of the legal system, and about environmental justice here in the US, and just how corporations really get away with a lot of- a lot of environmental issues. And so just being so close to that incident, I think that that book was, it’s a really good book. And I think that really secured my interest in law and policy over others and public health, I really felt like, okay, that’s where- that’s where the change can be really meaningful, you can really make changes to laws, and it can have kind of downstream effects on people’s health. And so I think that one really kind of pointed me in the direction of that focus. So I think I’ve always value that book, in my, in my past.

Sujani 21:54
you know, when I first pitched the whole idea of the blog series to you was more, you know, to more of an entertainment for public health professionals to read and, you know, be entertained with topics that they’re interested in. But now that I’m talking to you, I’m seeing the other side of this and how these reviews and, you know, encouraging people to read more of these books will truly be an inspiration and even nudge people in the area, in these areas where, you know, topics need a lot of attention from very smart people in the public health industry.

Tasha 22:28
Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of people have found their passion by just reading about a topic and just becoming engrossed in it. And so I think that, that definitely can happen. I think it’s definitely how it was, for me, I think that definitely drew me into the field and drew me into that focus. So I think that, that reading can really help you find, you know, that focus, you’re looking for that niche problem you’re looking to fix, and you might read it and think, wow, like, I have a place in helping this. And so I encourage everyone to, to pick up these books and and see how you can play a role in it.

Sujani 23:00
Okay, so, you know, I, as I mentioned, you gave us about, I think, 12 books or so that you’re going to be reviewing over the next few months or so. And I think the goal is to publish maybe one a month. Is that- Is that what we’re thinking, Tasha?

Tasha 23:18
Yeah, that sounds good. Yeah, yeah, I think I owe- I owe you another one. I’ll send- I’ll send one soon. Washington, and keep moving forward.

Sujani 23:26
Awesome. So you know, no pressure to our listeners, but we’re hoping everyone we’ll get to one book a month.

Tasha 23:34
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah, I definitely don’t. I’m big on not pressuring to read more than- than you’re interested in. Because it should always be fun. We’re all busy and stressed enough that this part of our life should always be interesting. And like we mentioned, don’t be afraid if you absolutely hate a book, don’t be afraid to put it down. There’s- life is too short. Find a book that you really connect with. Border that.

Sujani 23:57
Yeah, I’ve really taken that to heart recently. Yeah, I’m like one of those people who needs to finish the book from page to page, including the acknowledgments. So I’ve told myself if I don’t like it, I- It’s okay to put it down.

Tasha 24:11
Yes, I have only recently gotten better with that I definitely have have a history of you know, I have to finish it. So I think this past year, I finally there were one or two that I was like, You know what, I got too many that I want to read. So I’m gonna give up on it. So.

Sujani 24:25
Awesome. Ya know, I’m excited. And I’m curious to see like if people are going to read the reviews, and then pick up the book, or they’re going to read the book, and then come in, kind of read the review and see where you’re coming at it and your angle. So it’ll be really nice. And I hope we can encourage some conversation either on your Instagram page or the PH SPOT, Instagram page, or even the comment section in the blog. So really looking forward to that and maybe we’ll have Tasha back on to talk about her visual design, sorry, visual media career, but also maybe a touch point on how the book reviews are going once we hear from our listeners very soon. So thank you so much Tasha, for doing this for us. And like I said, this is not the last time folks are going to be hearing from you.

Tasha 25:14
Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m happy to- happy to come back and talk anytime. I obviously love talking about this. So happy to do it.

Sujani 25:23
Hey, so I hope you enjoyed that episode with Tasha and that you’re now looking forward to reading these monthly book reviews that Tasha is going to write on the PH SPOT blog. I’m definitely looking forward to reading these because I just love reading books. And so you know, starting next week, you’ll be able to find these reviews on the PH SPOT blog. And you can find that at pHspot.ca/blog. And if you’re someone who’s interested in exploring other public health books, I just wanted to let you know that we also have a list of great reading suggestions at pH spot.ca/books. And if you want to make sure that you’re not missing out on any of our new podcast episodes or blog updates, you can get yourself on the PH SPOT communities public health newsletter by visiting phspot.ca/signup on these newsletters, we not only share PH SPOT updates, but also public health jobs, events and other pretty neat opportunities for your career. So I know that was a lot of links and information. So as usual, if you head on over to our podcast show notes page, you will find everything you need there and the podcast show notes page can be found at pHspot.ca/podcast. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning in to the PH SPOTlight, podcast and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


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