Since graduating from Temple’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program in 2003, Tinesha Banks has held leadership positions in a range of healthcare services organizations, including 10 years as deputy executive director at the Health Promotion Council. Now Banks is vice president of health access and service delivery at AccessMatters, a Philadelphia-based organization that works to equalize access to sexual and reproductive health care for teens and adults in need.
What do you do at AccessMatters?
We provide everything from outreach and education to testing, engagement and re-engagement in care, back through to awareness. Essentially, we’re in the business of working ourselves out of business. We’re working to stamp out HIV and STDs. We take a full-spectrum approach: it’s prevention as well as improving quality of life for those living with HIV and STDs, particularly in underserved communities who may not have equal access to services.
I run all of the service programs. Our two lines of business are direct services—centered around HIV and STDs—and clinical network management. Our department oversees around 70 contracts to clinical sites providing family-planning services, breast and cervical cancer services, and HIV clinical services. My role is to ensure adequate strategies for both direct services and clinical network management.
Why is it important for your organization to operate from a public health perspective?
It’s a framework that connects our organization to the larger vision of public health locally, regionally, or nationally. It brings a motivating factor that’s an important glue in an organization’s infrastructure: I’m doing this not only because I’m here in Philly making an impact, but because collectively we all make a large impact.
A public health mindset broadens your perspective and lends itself to collaborating across sectors. My organization may be here, but I need to connect to social services organizations, and foster care organizations, and all sorts of others as well. The further upstream you go in the social determinants of health, the more you realize you have to come out of your bubble. Someone might say that there’s clinical health, and then there’s population health. But from my perspective, if any of us are impacting individual or community health, that means we’re all public health.
How did you become interested in public health?
I live and breathe public health—it’s what I do. I always knew that I had a love for studying communities. Then my mom contracted and passed away from HIV. And I was very angry. That was when I was an undergrad, and one of my professors said to me, “You can be angry, or you can do something about it. I think you should look at public health.” At the time, public health was a newer field. I’d been a sociology student, and I enjoyed studying people and populations, but public health gave me an outlet to channel my energy. At first my motivations were very selfish, but that selfishness turned into intrinsic motivation. I feel like once you have a level of intrinsic motivation, it’s like the stars meeting the moon. And that’s how I ended up in public health.
Why did you choose Temple’s MPH program?
Temple offered the inner-city atmosphere I was looking for, and its focus on community was important. Choosing Temple was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As soon as I got here, I found the professors were accessible and had an infectious enthusiasm for public health. My cohort was intimate; it felt like a team that I could lean on, and I still keep in touch with those people. The coursework opened my perspective about the field. I connected with mentors who were invaluable in navigating Philadelphia’s public health arena. Coursework is one thing. But the mentorship and guidance that you get from your professors—the investment that they make in you—that’s priceless.
What do you appreciate about the range of fields within Temple’s College of Public Health?
We’re all impacting health somewhere along the continuum. Those collective efforts are public health. To me that’s really important, because our healthcare system is already siloed enough. If we’re truly going to see impact, we have to work together.
Are there lessons or perspectives that you took away from the MPH program?
You come into the Temple MPH program with a thirst for public health. The program feeds that thirst. But what you do after that is up to you. You have to walk through those doors and figure out your way. That’s one of the reasons I adore public health – it’s a big umbrella. I don’t know of many degrees that come with the same flexibility. It’s a world of opportunities. It gives you the control: You can do whatever you want, and that’s liberating.
What’s your advice for current students?
Take your time. Public health is a big field; the direction you want to point yourself in will come as you learn the many facets of the field. Don’t pigeonhole yourself too soon. You’ll get there. And value your network. Life is about relationships—lift each other up, and never underestimate the power of those relationships.