Working on Health Disparities Face-to-Face

Internship quickly leads to a full-time job for Ian Bankes

Before finishing his public health internship at Trillium Health in December โ€” which included distributing harm reduction kits to people struggling with drug use โ€” Ian Bankes '24 was already being encouraged by teammates and a manager to apply for work there.

Weeks later, he was hired for a full-time job in harm reduction, which includes building relationships with people who use drugs and connecting them to health care and supportive services to live a healthier life. "I'm very excited," he said. "I feel well prepared. The Nazareth public health program prepared me a lot in terms of understanding the burdens of health, risk factors, protective factors, marginalized and vulnerable communities, and different factors of health in a community."

Ian Bankes with Professor Mary Maher

Ian Bankes with Professor Mary Maher, director of the public health program, at the public health pinning for graduating students.

Ian Bankes at Trillium Health

After a great internship, Ian Bankes has a full-time job at Trillium Health.

Finding his way

Bankes started college with an interest in physiology and sports performance and first majored in physical therapy, attracted to Nazareth's accelerated doctoral degree. He played rugby at Nazareth, after meeting some friendly players on move-in day who were looking for more team members.

Ian Bankes playing rugby

Rugby provides life lessons, says Bankes. The game doesn't stop (unlike football), so you've got to get up and focus on what's next. "You can't get hot-headed, you can't argue... because it takes you out of the game."

He found studying physical therapy challenging. Looking for another way to help people in a face-to-face role, he switched to double majoring in nursing and public health. Eventually, he focused only on public health.

"Public health is a field that addresses a lot of disparities in communities โ€” locally or a larger community like a state or the nation," he said. "I think it's important to address those things. Certain populations face a lot harder circumstances than the general population. I personally had a passion for addressing those disparities of health and burdens on their quality of life. I believe that everybody deserves a good quality of life and nobody is ever broken or wrong. They have something they're dealing with."

His professors, advisor, and career coach all helped him find his way to a career field that suits him, he said. "They really supported me and helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life's work."

Ian Bankes with Nazareth professors

Y. Michael Chen and Mary Maher, conversing with Ian Bankes in Smyth Hall, helped him discover his life's work, Ian says.

Ian Bakes at Rotary Sunshine Camp

Time at Rotary Sunshine Camp, sometimes in costume, enabled Ian Bankes to see people of varying abilities as individuals.

People first, not challenges

He first gained the ability to see all people as individuals, rather than as "populations" or statistics, when he volunteered at the fully accessible Rotary Sunshine Camp, working with children and adults who have disabilities. He was 14, and volunteering somewhere was a school requirement. "I loved it," said Bankes. He was hired the next summer and continued at the camp for eight years, working up to assistant director of the camp.

"I knew that I wanted to help people who may be vulnerable or marginalized in a way that I could interact with them face to face, to feel seen and heard," he said. "They're actually people, not their disabilities."

He saw some parallels while doing outreach on Rochester streets during the fall 2023 semester with Trillium Health. While some people see drug users as only a burden to the community, Bankes sees the clients as people in survival mode, struggling with drug use and often mental health issues, food insecurity, homelessness, and transmissible diseases. Trillium provides supplies to keep people who use drugs safe; offers non-judgmental primary care, wound care, vaccinations, and more via a mobile clinic; and offers free walk-in testing for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted infections, to save lives, restore dignity, and help people achieve their health goals.

Trillium Health was his "first-choice internship," he said. "It was fascinating. It really did involve a lot of things I had studied."

He's delighted to be working in his field so soon. "I feel like it's a wonderful first step in my career, to help me along a path where I'm passionate about helping vulnerable and marginalized communities."

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