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Second Act

Non-traditional student finds career in public health

After 30 years in one career, Diane Heath was nervous about pursuing a bachelor’s degree. But, seeking a career change, the long-time hairdresser discovered as a Bridgewater State University student a passion for public health.

“It exceeded my expectations,” said Heath, who works as tobacco control coordinator in Fall River’s health department. 

Heath, who completed her public health degree over the summer, appreciated meeting students of different ages with unique backgrounds and experiences.

"There’s such a mix of people that all come together at Bridgewater,” she said.

Heath entered BSU considering studying biochemistry. While conducting research on tick-borne diseases, she thought about becoming more of an advocate. Health classes and a summer internship at the Attleboro Health Department solidified her ambitions to be a health agent.

In Attleboro, Heath promoted COVID-19 vaccinations and hurricane preparedness. She gained on-the-job experience with the many facets of public health and met representatives of outside agencies such as one tasked with reducing the prevalence of mosquitos

“That was huge,” she said of the internship. “I don’t think I would have the job I do today without it.”

Now you’ll find her inspecting more than 300 businesses that sell tobacco products in Fall River and nearby communities. She also coordinates compliance checks where underage volunteers attempt to buy tobacco.

“A lot of it is about education and why it’s important to follow certain guidelines,” she said, praising a BSU public speaking course for making her more confident interacting with local officials and members of the public.

Multicultural classes helped her understand the region’s diversity exhibited by the people she meets every day. And her advisor, Dr. Lydia Burak, provided invaluable guidance.

“She’s done so much for me,” Heath said. “She was encouraging with the internship. I owe her so much thanks.”

Burak said Heath understands public health is a broad field influenced by people’s environment, income, and other factors. That awareness, plus hands-on internship experience, prepared her for her career.

“Her ability to think really critically and embrace different perspectives is important,” said Burak, a professor of health and kinesiology. “She’s a mature, smart human being.”

Heath is glad she took a leap back into the classroom.

“Don’t let anything hold you back. Just go for it,” she said. “You never know what’s waiting for you if you don’t give it a try. ... It was such a rewarding experience.”

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