People you should know: Rosa Riley

Aside from working as the Resident Coordinator in 1940 residence hall, Rosa Riley also works at the Student Center Barnes and Noble and was once an intern with the Health Education Awareness Resource Team. If

Courtesy Rosa Riley

Aside from working as the Resident Coordinator in 1940 residence hall, Rosa Riley also works at the Student Center Barnes and Noble and was once an intern with the Health Education Awareness Resource Team. If she’s not at one of her jobs, she’s running down Liacouras Walk or through the Student Center coordinating the next event on Main Campus.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Temple in 2009 in public health, Riley is back with the Cherry and White, working toward her master’s in public health, social and behavioral science. She’s participated in National Public Health Week in the past, and declared a strong interest in preventative methods, rather than reactionary methods to health.

The Temple News sat down with Riley at the close of National Public Health Week to discuss her interest in public health and the importance of raising a national consciousness to public health.

The Temple News: What did you participate in last week with National Public Health Week?

Rosa Riley: Honestly, this week went by so quickly for me, absolutely nothing. I did my daily Tweeting – my obnoxious Tweeting – about public health facts that people should do to help protect themselves.

TTN: Have you participated in the past?

RR: Yes. Back in undergrad when I was a part of Eta Sigma Gamma, which is the public health honorary, I participated in public health week, and did things like bake sales and programs about public health and what that means. And just little fun stuff, short quick bursts of information that people can use.

So some of the things I Tweeted this week were about washing your hands. Like hand sanitizer is great, you can use it up to six times before you have to wash your hands. You’re actually supposed to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” when you wash your hands so you get the appropriate amount of time to kill the bacteria on your hands.

TTN: Why are you a public health major?

RR: So undergrad I started off [with] biology. I had it all in my head, I wanted to be a pediatrician. I got here and I hated biology, absolutely hated it. Between labs and dissections, I hated it. And I took two public health classes, I took food and nutrition and human sexuality…and absolutely fell in love. That was it for me. I changed my major, started taking the classes and it’s just the best thing ever.

TTN: What attracts you to the public health degree and field?

RR: I think when I thought when I was younger that I wanted to become a doctor, I thought it was because I wanted to make people healthy. But it’s really about keeping people healthy. And that’s essentially what public health is all about, it’s about keeping people healthy and keeping them away from negative health outcomes.

So, you know, the ultimate health outcome is death, and we’re all going to die at some point. But you backtrack a little further, and you prevent the diseases that lead people on the road to essentially death. For me, my passionate thing is sexual health and getting people to make smart decisions about condom use, about disease transmission and all of that stuff. Because STDs and sexually transmitted infections are some of the most preventable things, and it’s literally a two second decision [to put on a condom]. It’s just that easy, no more no less.

I think for me it’s about helping populations, and it’s a larger impact than just seeing patients one at a time in a doctor’s setting. It’s fulfilling, and it makes it so people don’t have to see their doctors. If you’re healthy, you don’t have all these preventable health outcomes like heart disease and high cholesterol, even diabetes to a certain extent.

TTN: Why is it so important for us to observe National Public Health Week and become aware of these negative health outcomes?

RR: I think that public health is about sustaining the health of everyone. So there’s a quote, “health is a global issue, and when one of us is unhealthy, we’re all unhealthy.” And so, we allow infectious diseases like malaria to grow unchecked in warmer climates. It’s literally less than 72 hours for whatever that is to be on our shores. Our world has grown so much smaller through commerce and traveling and technology, so it’s about making sure that we’re all well.

Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And so if you stop people from getting illnesses…then later on they won’t need to have three triple-bypass surgeries, they won’t need angioplasties, they won’t need these extraordinary measures to keep them alive. Especially for things that you can control, like cigarette smoking. Cigarettes are the big thing.

My father had a stroke when I was in eighth grade. The first thing the doctor said to him was, “You need to stop smoking. You have to.” But, he said, “Doctor, I’m going to tell you right now, I’m not going to stop smoking.”

It’s about providing the information so people can make those healthy decisions to get them on the path to becoming healthier.

TTN: Why do you think our nation is so unhealthy?

RR: I think we enjoy what we derive pleasure out of. So you know, it doesn’t always feel good to wake up and go to the gym. It doesn’t always feel good to go running. It doesn’t always feel good to choose vegetables instead of candy.

I think part of it is that we don’t value health in the way that we should. I think it’s partially policy, I think our country doesn’t value health. I think the reason we’re having this debate about healthcare – why we should or should not have national health insurance – is because we don’t value health. We view health as a commodity, not as a right.

I think we value life in terms of staying alive and sustaining life, but I don’t think it’s necessarily about the quality of that life. We’re very focused on keeping people alive, but we’re not very focused on making sure the quality of that life is OK.

Alexis Sachdev can be reached at

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