Irene Gallegos: ‘Public health and the gospel go hand in hand’

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Irene Gallegos is an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Arlington in the Public Health Program. She is an active member of Iglesia Bautista Getsemaní in Fort Worth, where she is the director of assimilation and guest services.

From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on being a follower of Christ in health care. To suggest a Texas Baptist leader in health care to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

Where else have you served in health care, and what were your positions there?

After graduating from Dallas Baptist University in 2012, I served as a medical scribe in five hospitals across the Dallas/Fort Worth area before entering graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in public health.



Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Mesquite, and lived there until moving to Fort Worth for graduate school.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I came to faith in Jesus Christ at age 10 after listening to a missionary’s testimony at Vacation Bible School. The Lord set me apart on a path of leadership from a young age, and by God’s grace, I submitted under his lordship.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

• Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Dallas Baptist University
• Master’s degree in public health from the University of North Texas Health Science Center
• Ph.D. in health studies from Texas Woman’s University (anticipated December 2020)



About life in health care

Why do you feel called into health care?

Public health and the gospel go hand in hand. Jesus’ ministry on earth included preaching and healing. He had compassion on people and met their tangible and physical needs.

Public health focuses on the prevention of disease and the promotion of health to improve the quality of life for all. I love my field of study and practice, because we have the opportunity to intervene and improve population health.

Some interventions focus on individual health—similar to the one lost sheep—and others focus on improving the health of an entire community or larger population—the 99. Public health aligns so well with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am grateful the Lord led me here.


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I graduated college with every intention of applying for medical school. However, after heeding the wisdom of a DBU mentor and professor who knew my academic struggles in the natural sciences, I looked into public health.

After my first semester of grad school, I knew this is the field of study where I belonged all along. My interests in preventative care, health interventions, and social and behavioral sciences were affirmed and strengthened in public health study.

How does being a Christian influence your decisions in health care?

A biblical worldview provides greater wisdom and knowledge beyond human comprehension. I am able consistently to serve my students, colleagues and the community without burnout when I am filled with the Holy Spirit.



My overall approach is different when I witness an injustice or am in a situation where correction is needed because of my faith in Jesus Christ. Further, I have hope for a greater today and tomorrow because of the hope of glory in Jesus Christ.

Observing the brokenness of this world—including poor health outcomes, health disparities, social injustice, and morbidity and mortality—can lead to great despair. However, I am consistently reminded of the hope of Christ and the purpose of his atoning sacrifice. I am confident of the healing and hope found in Christ, which is the message of the gospel our world needs.

What is your favorite aspect of health care? Why?

I am grateful for the moments when I witness transformed lives. In my time working at a domestic violence shelter, I worked with a client in obtaining access to quality health care. The client had multiple unaddressed health conditions because of the domestic violence. After a few months, the client had significantly improved physical health with plans for ongoing care.



Seeing the transformation from a victim of violence seeking safety and presenting with a multitude of health complications to a joyful survivor able to walk and see without complications truly was a miracle moment. Witnessing the change of countenance and transformed mind truly is a rewarding aspect of my service.

What one aspect of health care would you like to change?

The reduction and eventual elimination of health inequities is a worthy cause. Some groups of people do not have the same health care opportunities as other groups of people. This is due to a complex interaction of the conditions in the environments in which we are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age.

Inequities may be due to disadvantages in opportunities for education, income, health care access and the built environment. Systemic changes in the fairness of opportunity to improve in these areas will provide an equitable opportunity for quality of life for all.

What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?

I wish I had been more prepared for how to stand firm and voice my faith-based perspective in the workplace.

In my first full-time job out of graduate school, I worked for a nonprofit serving pregnant and parenting teens. My supervisor and I had differing views primarily in faith—and consequently, moral—convictions.

I was asked to present “alternative options” for a mother who was deemed to be overwhelmed with her other children and unable to care for another child on the way with special needs. In other words, I was to speak to the young lady about abortion. That was the first time I got on my knees to pray while at work.

I was not prepared for the conversation I soon would have with my supervisor regarding my faith convictions and maintaining professionalism. This on-the-job training prepared me for future conversations at another place of employment.

I am grateful for the learning opportunity; however, I wish I could have been more prepared by a faith leader, rather than learning on the job. I counseled the young lady by focusing on her values, and she carried the baby to full term.

How has your place in health care or your perspective on health care changed?

I am now a greater advocate for preventative care and intervening earlier to prevent disability or death. I once saw medical treatment or intervention as the primary solution to health; however, I now advocate for public health and measures to prevent illness.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your place in health care.

• Limited funding for public health interventions and research.
• Systemic inequalities leading to health disparities.
• A limited job market for health education and health promotion positions.

What do you wish more people knew about health care?

I wish people knew the differences between public health and medicine and the vast impact of public health. Public health professionals have made numerous contributions to national and global health, but some may not attribute the contributions to the public health field.

About Irene

Why are you Baptist?

I value the Bible-centered principles and structure of the denomination. When I first became a member of a Baptist church in college, I read and studied the history of the denomination. I stood in agreement with the biblical values and faith statements and continue to this day.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

Christine Caine is a power-house speaker and author who stirs up passion for addressing global injustices and ultimately leading people to Christ.

Francine Rivers is an exceptional fictional writer. It is easy to turn the pages quickly and stay engaged in the written romance or social issues found in her novels.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

Acts 20:24 has been my life verse since middle school. We are to run the race marked before us and testify of the gospel of Christ. Everything we do should be centered and focused on preaching and teaching the gospel according to the Scriptures.

Who is your favorite person in the Bible, other than Jesus? Why?

The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-12). My heart breaks for the display of her sin, and yet, she calls Jesus, “Lord.” The freedom Jesus offered her from condemnation and to go and sin no more is so powerful. Her countenance must have changed, to be defended by Jesus and freed from shame. What a beautiful demonstration of God’s love for people!


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