Friday, March 3, 2023

Season 2, Episode 4:

Revolutionary Public Health 

In this episode, Dr. Joyee shares her public health research journey and why revolutionary public health is necessary for change.

Season 2, Episode 4: Revolutionary Public Health

by Dr. Joyee Washington


Welcome to the Public Health Joy podcast, the safe space for real and honest conversation about what building a public health research career is really like: the challenges, the triumphs, and all the lessons we learn along the way.

I’m your host, Dr. Joyee, a Public health researcher, PhD survivor, and entrepreneur. In today’s episode, I’m sharing why revolutionary public health is necessary for change.

This is where research meets relationship and together, we will find our Public Health Joy!  


If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and, leave a review! For more information on research consulting, visit or send an email to
Book-Decolonizing Methodologies:Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Article-Participatory Research: What is the history? Has the Purpose Changed? by Ann C McCaulay; Family Practice, Volume 34, Issue 3, 1 June 2017, Pages 256–258,

Published: 16 December 2016


0:00      Introduction

2:00      Dr. Joyee’s Public Health Journey

11:00       History of Community Based Research

15:00      Revolutionary Public Health


0:00 I love chatting with you and glad you’re here. Today I just wanted to have a conversation with you and me. I’ve been thinking a lot over the last couple of weeks about the history of public health research and how it has affected the communities I serve. And I think that we’ve come to a point where we really need to question the future of public health research. But if we want to understand where we are going, we are going to have to take some time to reflect on where we’ve been.

Even in my own journey as a black woman, who was born, raised, and continues to live in Mississippi, and has built a career as a public health researcher, I ask myself: Have I done enough? Have I served my community well? What could I have done better? What could I have done differently? What were my intentions, motivations, actions? These questions even go back to when I was just 15 years old.

2:00 The first time I was introduced to public health research, I was a junior in high school when I was presented an opportunity by my mentor at the time who said, “hey I think you would be perfect for this competition”. It was the Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This competition was for high school students to explore public health and epidemiology by designing and conducting an independent research study with the chance to win up to a $50,000 scholarship. I’m a teenager, I didn’t even really know what epidemiology or public health was, but I liked a challenge and I liked a school so it sounded kind of interesting. But more than that I liked the sound of a $50,000 scholarship. When my mentor and I sat down to talk research ideas, I already had something in mind. Being a junior in high school, we were taking health class. I figured just from conversations with my classmates, that many of us weren’t really following what Mr. Walberg taught us in 6th period about drinking, drugs, tobacco use, nutrition, and physical activity. We weren’t paying attention to that stuff, it was just another class we needed to get done on our transcript to move on to senior year, that is all we cared about. But then I started thinking, well what’s the point of health class if none of us are using the information. I created a research project to survey my junior class on whether they were actually applying what they learned in health class. Were their health behaviors changing or influenced? Did health class really make a difference? I didn’t know it then, but that was the moment my research seed was planted. My project for the Young Epidemiology Scholars competition on health behaviors of high school students led me to be semi-finalist and win a $1000 scholarship. I was hype because I did my project, I won my money, and moved on with my life. But what happened to my classmates, what good did my research project do if it didn’t lead to any action? It benefitted me as the researcher, but it didn’t benefit those who participated in my research. That was my first lesson that research doesn’t always lead to action.

If I knew then, what I know now, I would have done things differently.

Fast forward about 7 years later, I’m attending grad school in a biomedical sciences program. I’m doing research, working in the lab, and taking a physiology class. We’re learning about diabetes and insulin. As someone with a family history of diabetes, I’m intrigued to learn more so I’m taking notes and soaking everything up. I go home to my family and I say, “We learned all about diabetes in class today, this is how insulin and your pancreas works, this is how you develop diabetes, did you know that?” They look me straight in the face and say “I have never heard that and I don’t have a clue what you are talking about”. I said, “Your doctor never explained this to you?” They said no. At that moment, I thought what is the point of all this research we are doing if people have diabetes for 15-20 years and don’t even understand how their body works? I knew then I couldn’t continue my career in biomedical research because the same question came up: what good is my research if it doesn’t lead to action? What’s the point of all this research, if the people who are directly affected don’t even know what’s happening?

Fast forward to 2015: I had graduated with my Master of Public Health Degree and I had gotten my first job as a community based participatory research coordinator [at a university] on an evaluation of policies and practices affecting adolescent sexual health. I was working with the community, we were engaged in research together, I thought I had finally figured it out. During that project, we got the devastating news that our teen pregnancy prevention program in South Mississippi was going to be cut. This created even more drive for the community to figure out how do we forward if this program isn’t going to exist. We got the community on board, we completed our deliverables for the grant, the community was excited for next steps, and guess what? There was no plan for sustainability or action. I felt like I failed my community because what good is our research if it doesn’t lead to action?

I have been trained in some of the best research institutions in the nation. But none of them have shown me what it looks like to do research outside of academia, outside of the university. It doesn’t sit right with me. I cannot continue to contribute to this traditional idea of academic research. I’m not saying that academic research is all bad, but what I am saying is that the way we have been doing research has not done it’s best to serve communities and just because this is the way research has been done in the past, doesn’t mean it has to continue this way.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw, we all saw just how broken our public health system is. And these weren’t problems that just started, it stems from a history of prioritizing the researcher’s wants and needs over the people who matter the most. In July of 2020, I knew in my spirit, in depths of my heart and soul that I could not work in academia full-time as a researcher and have to keep doubting whether my research efforts were making a positive impact in my community. I have had enough, It’s time out for doing the projects, getting the money, and moving on with life. So I decided to change the narrative, to change my narrative and what it means to be a public health researcher by starting my own public health research consulting company that focuses on providing research support directly to community organizations who want to engage in research activities. It didn’t hit me until a couple of weeks ago that changing the narrative around public health research to prioritize communities and focus on action is a revolutionary idea.

11:00  Recently, I attended a public health consulting and entrepreneurship workshop hosted by Dr. Charlotte Huntley in Orlando, Florida. In a room with 11 other Black public health professionals, researchers, and entrepreneurs we had an open and honest conversation about the harms of research and the detriment to the community. As we discussed community engaged research and how we could protect our communities while also being the researcher, I started thinking, it seems like we often talk about community based research as if it has always been around, the truth is, just the idea of community based research has only been around since the 1990’s.

In the Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith which serves as deep dive into how colonialism and imperialism has shaped research methodology and its impact on Indigenous Peoples. One of the most quoted lines from the book is that “research is one of the dirtiest words in the vocabulary of Indigenous Peoples”. That hit me like a ton of bricks. In every moment that my research did not lead to action or did not benefit my community, had I been contributing to making research an even more dirty word? How can I navigate my future so that my community reaps the benefits?

The COVID-19 pandemic, mass shootings and gun violence, racism, climate change, infectious disease, chronic disease and the list could go on forever. We know now more than ever that our public health system in the United States is broken, but the question remains, “is it beyond repair?” What would it take to transform our public health system in the United States to achieve health equity and ensure that every person receives the treatment, prevention, and care across all dimensions to have the highest quality of life? We would think that as much research as we’ve done, we would have the answer to that by now. But maybe the problem isn’t just the research itself, but how we define research and researchers.

When we think about how research has been framed and defined by academic institutions, the question often becomes “who are considered researchers?” For many, researchers are automatically associated with having advanced degrees, teaching at universities, and getting tons of money and funding through grants. They are the ones who have traditionally benefitted, made the decisions, hold the control, and continue to be in power. Those things don’t make you a researcher. What happens when we shift our thinking around research? Who is really considered a researcher? Anybody can be a public health researcher, it just means that you ask the questions…Our community members are researchers because they get engaged in the research process. Just the process of asking the questions and attempting to seek the answers makes you a researcher. They are the experts and they have the knowledge. Their culture and lived experience has transformative power that needs and deserves to be respected and held in the highest regard. If we want to see true change, we can’t do public health research the way we’ve always done it.

15:00 It’s going to take revolutionary public health that has transformative power. That means approaching public health from a place of radical healing, servant leadership, love and respect for community, and relationship building.

It’s time that we return the position of power to who it should have belonged to all along, our communities. Research doesn’t have to continue to be dirty, we do have the power to transform that meaning for communities who have been intentionally neglected. Public health research has the power to bring forth joy.

I’m choosing to make the commitment to revolutionize public health and I hope you are too. I know you want to see action and sustainable solutions in your community. You know there is undeniable power in your community, I want us to work together to transform public health research into positive impact. Through my company, Joyee Washington Public Health Consulting, we can provide the research support your community needs to ask the questions and seek the answers that will bring you into an equitable, healthy, and joyful future, in a revolutionary way.

For more information, email me at and together we will do more than public health, we’ll bring joy to public health.

I’m so grateful for this time we got to spend together. If you enjoyed this episode, I need you to subscribe, rate and, leave a review. For more information on building a public health research career, visit! This is where research meets relationship and I’ll see you next time on the public health joy podcast.

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