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Student Q&A: Looking at the Big Picture of PTSD

Lesley Sasnett, MSW-MPHLesley Sasnett transferred from the University of Southern California to Temple in January 2015 from an MSW program into the dual MSW-MPH program. She is a veteran of the Army, having been stationed in Germany, the Netherlands, and Kosovo. As a military contractor, she served for 15 years as a trainer and intelligence specialist throughout the U.S., Iraq, and Afghanistan. Upon completion of her degree this spring, Sasnett will pursue a Master of Science in nursing at Johns Hopkins University, with plans to become a psychiatric nurse specializing in treating veterans with PTSD.

What brought you to Temple’s MSW-MPH program?
When I started grad school at USC I wanted to work with veterans, specifically veterans with PTSD. Social work was good, but I had a feeling I was missing something. I took an epidemiology class during my first semester here, and it was exactly what I’d been looking for. I just decided to focus on epidemiology. It lays an excellent foundation for understanding how population health and disease distribution affect individuals and their treatment. Plus, I just find it fascinating.

How has your understanding of PTSD changed?
Epidemiology has given me a much more holistic understanding of what makes people, especially veterans, vulnerable to PTSD. Through my research I’ve come to understand how reactive our healthcare system is, and how that contributes to policies and resources that can affect the way we treat PTSD.

When did you first become interested in PTSD?
I always knew that I wanted to work in behavioral health, and after a couple of deployments, after seeing firsthand what happens out there, I decided that I want to be able to continue helping service members when they go back to civilian life.

Can you say more about that?
I never experienced combat directly, but our base was just like any other: We were hit with mortars and rockets and things like that. When you’re on constant alert, your way of life changes, and the things that you focus on change.

How does that change your perspective? 
Among other things, it changes your perspective on what trauma is. You don't necessarily have to have been in an IED blast. Just living in a high-stress environment for prolonged periods is its own kind of trauma. That hypervigilance becomes the norm. Both times I came back from Afghanistan, it took me a good three or four months to readjust to a "normal" environment.  

What inspired you to help other veterans?
On my second deployment, which was my first deployment to Afghanistan, a retired Navy SEAL gave us a class on PTSD and suicide. He told us the story behind his PTSD and how it affected his life, and it was so powerful. It really spoke to me and I just knew I wanted to work with these guys, who need so much help.

How is Temple helping you to work toward your goals?
The greatest thing about Temple’s MPH program is that it's given me room to grow and has given me tools to make informed decisions about my career. Right now my goal is to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner, hopefully with the VA or another organization that works specifically with veterans, but Temple has helped me be more flexible and open to change.

What part of this work means the most to you?
There are so many things that veterans are facing that contribute to systemic problems like homelessness and substance abuse. Those need to be addressed as much as the mental illness itself. I feel that if I can do anything in a public or community health capacity, that alone would make a difference.

How has the program been a good fit for you as a veteran?
It's such an accepting program. I came in as a career changer without any public health experience, and I’ve received so much support and encouragement. I also feel like I’ve found a very strong team. That sense of camaraderie becomes very important when you’re from a military background. 
What strengths can veterans bring to the field of public health?
Real world experience. Maybe a veteran hasn't worked in a clinical field dealing with patients, but they've dealt with the problems. Veterans have a level of maturity and a different perspective that I think enhances any learning environment.
What would you say to a fellow veteran thinking about coming to Temple?
I would absolutely recommend both the school and the program. The public health program is very diverse, and it’s a close-knit community, even as it’s been growing in the past few years. The fully online program I think will make it even more diverse, and with that will come more opportunities to learn from all kinds of people and experiences. The MPH also provides a fantastic foundation for specialization later. You can go into policy, epidemiology, biostatistics. There are so many different things that could come out of it.
Learn more about MPH programs in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Learn more about graduate programs in Social Work as well as the MSW-MPH and other dual degree programs.

Posted:  April 11, 2017