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Sarah Kolk

A Passion for Health Policy 

Years after learning about infectious disease in eighth grade, Sarah Kolk planned to major in biology for her bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College as a precursor to a career in epidemiology or biomedical research.

Instead, anthropology ignited a bigger spark. It was through this field that she learned about public health.

“The context in which I aspire to improve lives through public health policy can be described in five key words: the social determinants of health.” 

During her junior year, Kolk took an internship at the San Francisco-based obesity and diabetes education organization Close Concerns, where she developed a deeper understanding of how systemic factors and health intertwine to encourage rising rates of both conditions in the U.S. Later, while studying abroad in Prague, she investigated how green space distribution tracked with health outcomes by neighborhood. A grant from Dartmouth provided another opportunity to travel abroad—this time to Tanzania, where she studied factors affecting teens’ adherence to HIV and tuberculosis treatments. Each of these research projects sparked her interest in how policy could deeply affect health. 

Realizing a passion for health policy, Kolk took a job after graduation at Health Affairs, a health policy journal. Rather than conducting her own original research that could inform policy, she gained a broad overview of the health policy landscape through research analysis, writing articles, and collaborating with policy leaders. While working toward her MPH, Kolk plans to continue learning about health and social policy, eventually using public health research to make decisions at the city, state, or federal level that are informed by community need. 

“I fully believe that health is a fundamental human right, and that government has a responsibility to advance public health and address health inequities,” she says.