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“We need policies promoting environments that support and encourage healthy behavior across the lifespan.” - Jocelyn Harrison

“I WAS STANDING IN THE CEMETERY WITH ONE OF MY BROTHERS,” Jocelyn Harrison (MPH ’17) recalls. “We had just lost two family members that week — our mother at the end of a long, full life and our brother Steve from a heart attack five days before her. My brother turned to me. ‘I was just diagnosed with diabetes,’ he said. ‘What?’ I almost shouted at him. ‘How could you let this happen?’ I’ll never forget the look on his face.”

At the time, Harrison was well into a successful career as a media advertising and marketing expert with 25 years of experience influencing consumer behavior. But the interaction in the cemetery prompted her to rethink her vocation. Motivated to make a difference for people like her own siblings as a registered dietitian (RD) and public health professional, Harrison completed a BS in Nutrition Science, then enrolled in the combined MPH-VA Dietetic Internship Program offered through the Fielding School’s Department of Community Health Sciences and the VA (Veterans Affairs) Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. The internship has given Harrison the opportunity to work with a highly vulnerable population of chronic-disease patients.

Through the yearlong dietetic internship at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Harrison has delivered medical nutrition therapy to hospitalized veterans with acute dietary needs. She has provided local veterans with individual and group nutrition counseling services and education to assist in making better health choices and addressing chronic diseases such as diabetes. She has also helped plan and implement a community nutrition education outreach program. In addition, Harrison has contributed to developing and testing new plans for the 2,500 meals the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center prepares and delivers to patients each day.

Harrison’s ultimate goal is to contribute to food policies and communication strategies that make an impact well beyond the individuals she currently counsels. “We need policies promoting environments that support and encourage healthy behavior across the lifespan — where fresh produce is accessible, affordable, abundant and convenient, and where everyday life includes plenty of physical activity,” she says.

After going through the RD/MPH program, Harrison says she has a new understanding of the physiological factors and social determinants that play a powerful role in nutrition and health. She also has a different perspective on the interaction she had with her brother at the cemetery. “When I said, ‘How could you let this happen?’ that came from a lack of awareness that there are so many factors that come into play with chronic disease,” she says. “It starts early in life and includes everything from the sleep you get and stressful life events to the food available in your community and your access to health care. I wouldn’t have that depth of understanding without the education I’ve received from the Fielding School and VA.”