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As part of our ongoing Five Questions series highlighting local maternal/infant health champions, we are honored to feature Virginia Department of Health epidemiologist and VA PRAMS Coordinator Kenesha Smith Barber. Dr. Barber will be presenting on Statewide and Local Breastfeeding Trends Using VA PRAMS Data at our upcoming May 17, 2021 Maternal Health Monday Chat. Click here to register!

Got someone you’d like to nominate to be featured in this column? Send us an email at info@nurturerva.org and we’ll follow up! 

What drew you to the field you’re in?

When I was about thirteen years old, my favorite cousin had her first child. She was born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy. Since this was the first occurrence of adverse birth outcomes in my family, I became curious about the factors that led to this event. Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to dedicate my profession to finding the answers to the questions my 13-year old self was so determined to know. Public health, specifically maternal and child health, has been the perfect avenue for me to do that!

What part of your daily work inspires you the most?

I am passionate about data because I know that it can help policy makers and other stakeholders make important decisions that can affect the health of a population. I am inspired when data from my program can inform decisions that improve health outcomes. In other words, when data is put into action (i.e. policy changes, new programs started, and/or increased visibility for an organization or issue), I am inspired knowing that the PRAMS program is doing something right.

How can RVA keep moving forward to become a model community for childbearing families?

I think that the greatest thing RVA can do as a community is to listen. Not just to professionals providing care or to epidemiologists providing data, but also to the childbearing families who are affected by decisions that are made locally or statewide. By understanding what these families need to improve health outcomes, we can begin to create collaboration efforts between the community and providers, leading to better outcomes for our community.

If you could share one piece of wisdom with childbearing families or professionals who serve them, what would it be?

To professionals who serve childbearing families, I would again like to suggest the simple act of listening. Many of the women who participate in VA PRAMS are just happy that their stories and experiences are being heard. If providers are able to listen to families’ concerns regardless of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, we may begin to eliminate some of the health disparities that exist in RVA, the commonwealth, and the United States as a whole.

Tell us about one of your favorite accomplishments.

As an early career professional, one of my greatest accomplishments is obtaining my PhD in public health. The curriculum was hard and at times it felt like I was stagnant while my friends and family members were moving on to full time jobs, starting families, and experiencing things that I simply did not have time for because I was so busy with school. I am so proud of myself for pushing through and achieving this goal before the age of 30! The knowledge and experiences that I gained from my PhD program are priceless, and I am thankful.

Dr. Kenesha Smith Barber, MSPH is the PRAMS coordinator and epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health. Her primary duties in this role include VA PRAMS sampling, analysis, and reporting, and evaluating the effectiveness of program activities to increase pregnancy intention across women of reproductive age and improve reproductive and perinatal health outcomes. Dr. Barber also works with Maternal Child Health stakeholders and researchers to study maternal mental health, paternal health, and infant, child, and adolescent health outcomes. Dr. Barber’s work aims to reduce disparities and improve maternal and child health outcomes using data in the state of Virginia.

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