I was not a computer and technology-oriented person growing up. I never asked my parents for an Xbox, Playstation, or Gameboy, and was the last of my friends to switch to a smart phone during my senior year in high school. I major in biology at Michigan, much preferring to study the natural world than that behind a glass screen. So when I decided to spend my summer typing on a keyboard each day, I nervously awaited the feeling of my eyes glued to the computer. After nine weeks into my internship and several hundred hours logged on the system’s database, I still look forward to meticulously checking “yes” and “no” boxes in a series of questionnaires with a black dot.
I am motivated to work by what these black dots represent to the future of public health reform. The black dots share information on every non-natural child death that occurs in the city of Philadelphia with a national registry based at The National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths in Washington, D.C. A non-natural death could involve a drowning, homicide, motor vehicle accident, or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). When a child who is a resident of Philadelphia passes away, the Medical Examiners Office in Philly assembles mental health, behavioral health, academic, criminal, and child services records on both the child and their parents to paint a full picture of the child’s life. The Center realizes that most un-natural deaths do not occur in a vacuum, that the behavior that caused the fatality had influencing factors such a recent struggle with drug abuse or a long-term incarceration.
My keystrokes, and those of others working at corner’s offices around the country, help the Center to decide how to approach common health problems facing communities. Local public health departments have responded to the Center’s advice by creating new bicycle helmet laws, increasing home visitations to detect child abuse, and educating teachers on suicide prevention to reduce the teen suicide rate. When I think of the potential lives I save through my actions on the computer, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of computers today. Maybe I’ll take a coding class after all.