Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hood hopes to use data, research to resolve health inequities

Having moved to Vietnam to teach English, Carly Hood kept finding she wanted to do more. "In Vietnam, people would talk and talk about all of Vietnam's problems but never do anything," Hood says. "A plethora of problems exist in Vietnam, from overcapacity orphanages to child labor, so I started asking around to see what I could do."

Photo by Quinn Ryan Mattingly

Carly Hood, fourth from left, presents one of six computers to staff of the Ung Buou Cancer Hospital in Saigon, Vietnam. Hood talks about her experience in Vietnam and work with the Disabled and Disadvantaged Children's Charity of Ho Chi Minh City in an October 2009 video. Photo by Quinn Ryan Mattingly


After graduating in May 2012 with a dual degree in public affairs and public health, Carly Hood joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Population Health Institute as a population health fellow. In 2014 she headed to Belize, where she became clinic and public health director at a clinic.

During the 2011-12 school year, Hood was a graduate fellow for Wisconsin Without Borders, a campuswide initiative that pulls together faculty, students and researchers doing service-based work internationally or with global populations in Madison. "We hope by creating an understanding of what's being done for a myriad of communities around the world, people will utilize each other's skills and increase the ease of translating ideas into on-the-ground work in this increasingly connected world," Hood says.

Wisconsin Without Borders operates through the Morgridge Center for Public Service, Global Health Institute and the Division of International Studies. Hood helped to coordinate the Morgridge Center's 15th anniversary celebration in September.

Hood spent the summer of 2011 as an intern with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services doing budget and policy analysis on food safety and recreational licensing. "La Follette's quantitative courses allowed me to more effectively weigh the financial costs and benefits of the Food and Recreational Licensing program at the Division of Public Health," Hood says. "Being able to attach a number to a somewhat abstract benefit or cost is invaluable in the real world. Courses at La Follette provide a solid background in doing this."

In addition to her teaching job, Hood volunteered a few times at an orphanage but felt humbled by the severe disabilities and number of children housed at the orphanage. "If I left, someone else would just come along to spoon feed all the disabled children," says Hood, who is now in her first year at the La Follette School. "I wanted to do something about the fundamental reason for so there being so many orphans in the first place — Agent Orange."

Hood turned to the Disabled and Disadvantaged Children's Charity of Ho Chi Minh City. The agency aids victims of Agent Orange, the herbicide containing a toxic form of dioxin sprayed as a defoliant during the Vietnam War. "Dioxin stays in the soil for a long time, and attaches to fatty tissues found in animals we eat," Hood says. "In humans, recent research shows, it's linked to multiple cancers and causes many physical and mental disabilities; in addition, dioxin poisoning is passed from generation to generation."

As the charity's event and fund-raising coordinator, Hood organized several information-sharing and fund-raising events, including a dinner and art auction targeted mostly to the wealthy Vietnamese community and a scavenger hunt for the expatriates. The nonprofit was able to purchase six computers for one of two hospitals in Vietnam that treat cancer. "The computers were the first the hospital ever had, and our hope is they increase the time doctors can spend on patients," Hood says.

Hood recognized how time consuming event-planning can be, especially when events involve multiple cultures and languages and bureaucratic red tape. "That experience and the lack of importance the international community places on the effects of Agent Orange — illustrated by the lack of data to support theories about its true effects — revealed that I had done as much as I could," Hood says. "My career reached a point where, in order to do more, I needed to go to graduate school."

Hood is now in her first year of pursuing a dual degree in public affairs and public health. "I chose the La Follette School because of its emphasis on analytics, strong core policy process and policymaking courses, and its overlapping master of public health degree," she says. "Small class sizes relative to other programs definitely called out to me as well. I love that my professors know me by name and are available to discuss course material and career objectives."

An undergraduate research project at Lewis and Clark College introduced Hood to the links between socioeconomic inequity and health by looking at income and obesity in the United States. After graduating in 2006 she headed to Prague in the Czech Republic to teach English and there saw the inequities the Roma experienced.

"People need to educate themselves and speak out to create change," says Hood, who also plans to pick up a certificate in global health. "I want to do policy work in the health sphere, completing research to improve health outcomes for disadvantaged people. The MPA's emphasis on analysis will be really beneficial."

Ultimately, Hood wants to work internationally or domestically for an international health organization. "I want to assess policies or work on the implementation of policy that spreads the benefits of public assistance across as many impoverished and/or sick individuals as possible," says Hood. "Eventually, I hope to work in the field gathering data and writing research on what my data suggest."

She is getting domestic practice on assessment through a budget and policy analysis internship with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services' Division of Public Health. "Assessing the costs and revenues of the food safety program and how the agency can better balance its budget has given me real-world experience in not only how public organizations function, but in how important funding is for public agencies and the differing ways in which funds can be allotted to achieve certain goals," Hood says.

Hood learned the importance of hard data in creating change when the Disabled and Disadvantaged Children's Charity was attempting to set up a laboratory to test dioxin levels in breast milk. The plan was to correlate the levels of dioxin in women with where each was from to determine hot spots of Agent Orange contamination. "Without the health background or statistical ability or knowledge that I am now gaining at the La Follette School, I wouldn't have been able to understand those data," Hood says.

Last modified on Friday, November 14, 2014