Fred Palmer might seem like an ordinary graduate student, but he wears many different hats in his community. He is a substance use counselor, advocate for people experiencing homelessness, certified yoga instructor, Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), puppy caretaker, and kitten snuggler. Fred is also a first year Master of Public Health and Master of Social Work dual degree student at Colorado State University. Over the last 8 years, Fred has worked with people experiencing substance use disorders and homelessness in the city of Fort Collins, which inspired him to pursue a public health degree. Through his experience, he has often been frustrated by the criminalization of drug use and wants to help shift our focus to the prevention and treatment of drug use.

“I want to support the public health prevention side of the process. I know it would be so much more effective at helping people overcome whatever challenges they may be facing” he said.

Helping people and their pets

Last winter, Fred was hired by the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science to work on a project called the Inclusive Health Collaborative. The project combines the disciplines of social work, public health, and veterinary medicine to provide wrap around services to people experiencing homelessness and who also have pets. The weekly clinic operates in partnership with the Street Dog Coalition and the Murphy Center in Fort Collins.

“My role has been multifaceted and is kind of all over the place in a wonderful sort of way. Intakes, counseling, student teaching, program development, writing rabies certificates, and more. I was brought into this project because, in addition to being a social work student, for two years I worked as a street outreach worker with the homeless community. This made for a natural fit to work with this population” he said.

Continued work at CSU

Fred started working with faculty at CSU already during his undergraduate degree in Social Work. He still continues to work with Dr. Paula Yuma as a GRA on a project that they began in the summer of 2018. Their research aims to identify unique strengths and challenges that rural communities face when providing emergency medical care. Fred is currently working on conducting focus groups and coding the data with Dr. Yuma, and they plan to publish their findings soon.

MPH role and career goals

The MPH program is so far providing Fred with a strong foundation in research, quantitative data, and macro level perspectives. He loves bringing his social work background and his public health knowledge together and continuing to learn from different disciplines such as veterinary medicine and ecosystem sciences to create more inclusive programs that work towards a common goal.

“There are so many similarities between public health and social work, but also a vast amount of differences. Both have a focus on bettering society, which I love” he said.

Fred is excited for what the future holds for innovative programs in public health. A dream job of his would be to continue working with the veterinary street medicine program that he’s currently working on. They have a goal to obtain a mobile clinic and serve communities all across Colorado.

“But whatever role I end up in, I want it to include teaching and program development” he said.

Fred works hard to make his community a better place. His passion is contagious and inspiring, and his story is a great example of the all the possibilities in public health and social work.

Written by Megan Jansson