ACPHS In The News

Applyrs Inspires Students at Public Health Week Kickoff

Dr. Dorcey Applyrs speaks to students in the Panther's Den on April 1, 2024
April 2, 2024

Scroll down for other Public Health Week events.

ACPHS kicked off Public Health Week on Monday, April 1, with a personal, forthright and inspiring speech by the Hon. Dr. Dorcey Applyrs, long-time public health advocate who is now Albany’s chief city auditor and a candidate for mayor.

Speaking to students, faculty and staff in the Panther’s Den, Dr. Applyrs wove personal narrative about her background growing up as an African American in Washington, D.C., with the twists and turns of an unexpected career path leading to public service. Dr. Applyrs shared that her father, who had a substance use disorder, died of HIV when she was 5. She was raised by a single mother who worked at McDonald’s and later became a police officer.

In perhaps her longest narrative, Dr. Applyrs recanted her experience in a hospital, when she went into labor for her second child only 23 weeks into her pregnancy, with the baby’s chance of survival outside the womb low. She was alone at the hospital because her husband was away, she was emotional, and she insisted that doctors refrain from examining her in a way that might subject the baby to infection.

Instead of receiving compassion, Dr. Applyrs was falsely accuse, then tested, for use of heroin and crack cocaine. After the incident ended (Dr. Applyrs left the hospital with her baby daughter), she was able to use her public health background and her professional network to help establish race-neutral drug testing policies at the hospital. But she used the story to point out the disparities that people face when seeking care.

“I was able to advocate for myself, in a very vulnerable predicament. I was armed with information,” she said, explaining she had gone to the hospital as a public official and university faculty member with a doctorate in public health. “Why should I have to do all of that? I am a concerned mom, hard stop. I should not have to go in to receive care wearing all of these titles. I should not have to go to the hospital with a suit and a briefcase to be taken seriously.”

Sophia Braithwaite, an ACPHS public health student, said that anecdote resonated with her as an African American woman who might encounter such issues in the health system while also needing to advocate for other people.

About her career path, Dr. Applyrs said, she found her vocation in Albany somewhat accidentally. She started out studying psychology, believing that would be a way to help people, not knowing that public health was even a field. Once she learned about public health, she came to Albany to earn a degree, with plans to return to Washington to help influence national health policy.

Twenty years later, she is married with two young children and working as an elected public servant. That she has moved into politics was not something she imagined, she said; she did not grow up around politics and it wasn’t discussed in her home.

“There’s a lot of BS in politics,” Dr. Applyrs said. “But it’s the one career pathway where I can show up every day 100% authentically me.”

But she cautioned students that advocating for people would not always be easy.

“This is hard work,” she said. “Just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t mean it will get done. It requires people with tenacity and grit to move mountains.”

Student Clarence Claiborne Jr., in his second year in the Bachelor’s of Public Health program, said he would take Dr. Applyrs up on her offer for attendees to get involved with her campaign or pursue an internship. He sounded truly inspired by her talk.

“If I can try helping the younger generation become leaders and positive people in their communities, they can continue to teach their children and other generations how to become positives instead of negatives in their communities, potentially leading to a better overall world!” Claiborne stated.

Recent ACPHS alumni on a panel following Dr. Applyrs' talk said they could relate to the non-linear development of her professional life, though their own careers are in their early stages. Most of the five people on the panel – Madison Ennis ’23, Cassandra Todd ’23, Abbie Viertel ’23 and Kaylee White ’22, as well as Braithwaite, who will graduate this year – found their way to public health after initially thinking they wanted to be medical clinicians.

Panelists also shared being influenced in their career decisions by the COVID pandemic and by a willingness to participate in activities they had not known about before college. They encouraged students in attendance to be adventurous in their job searches, taking a chance at positions they want even if they fell short of all the qualifications.

“Your life is more fun when you’re not in a linear mindset,” Viertel said.

Panelists, sitting L-R: Ennis, Viertel, White and Braithwaite. Todd is on the screen. 


Other Public Health Week events:

Tuesday, April 2, 11:00 am: Climate Change: Stop by HAB 122 to plant seeds, decorate pots and learn about climate change. (Hosted in collaboration with The Green Team.)

Friday, April 5, 12:00 pm: All About PrEP:  Visit the Student Center Atrium to learn more about HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis. (Hosted in collaboration with SAGA.)

Wellness Week at The Collaboratory: Trinity Health, MVP and ACPHS public health students collaborate on a variety of health education and community events on April 2, 4 and 5. Contact The Collaboratory at 518-487-4117 to find out what’s going on.