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Life journey leads to interest in public health

Todd Platzer earns Master of Public Health after Third World travels

Todd-Platzer

By Julie Carle

Todd Platzer took a circuitous route on his life journey to earn a Master of Public Health degree from Bowling Green State University this week.

His early years were spent in Bowling Green when his father, Ed Platzer, coached Falcon baseball from 1983-90.  However, after leaving Bowling Green, the younger Platzer went to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in business management and entrepreneurship.

Post graduation, he taught English in Spain, traveled to India and Bangladesh, and collected teaching specimens from a Grenada slaughterhouse to assist a veterinarian at St. George’s University there.

All of his experiences provided an important backdrop for his return to Bowling Green in 2012 to become a nontraditional student in the Master of Public Health program.

His travels to India and Bangladesh opened his eyes for the first time to the effect of poverty on children and families.  

“I saw crippled children begging for pennies and living in broken shacks by the train tracks,” Platzer recalled. “Many health needs are unmet and lots of suffering happens because of poor distribution of health services, all because of poverty.

“Despite the poverty and health needs, the people are generous and full of spirit, “ he said. He was invited into a two-room home shared by 20 people, yet it felt homey and never crowded.

“To see other people with so little is inspiring for the rest of us to do as much as we can,” he said.

The work he did in Grenada was integral in helping him realize the significance of public health. In fact, prior to his time there, he had little knowledge that public health careers existed. When he saw the conditions of the slaughterhouse in the Third World country, without meat- or food-safety regulations, he was horrified and determined to do what he could to improve public health conditions.

Exploring educational opportunities in public health brought him back to BGSU, where Dr. L. Fleming Fallon, Distinguished Teaching Professor in public health and co-director of the Northwest Ohio Public Health Consortium, helped him enroll in the program just before the semester started last year.

The coursework and opportunities provided during the last 16 months have provided an exceptional foundation for the 32-year-old. He has served as an intern with the BGSU Office of Human Resources and been a consultant in the Toledo office of Findley Davies, a human resources consulting firm. Through those experiences, Platzer has been in on frontline discussions planning for compliance with HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act.

He has also been involved with a vision care program for Lucas County children. Platzer began working with the program as a graduate assistant to Dr. Hans Schmalzried, a professor and chair of the Department of Public and Allied Health.

“My work has been focused on unmet vision needs of children in the county,” Platzer explained.  “As many as 50 percent of urban youth are affected by some kind of vision problem.” Frequently when the problems aren’t addressed, children are negatively impacted with poor academic performance and self-esteem issues.

“Again, this is often the result of lack of resources, but this is not in a Third World country, but just 20 minutes up the road,” he said.  

The vision care project is the subject of a paper he and his adviser are planning to submit for publication, to show how other cities or regions can emulate the program that reduces the barriers to vision care access.

“Todd has been to and lived in many parts of the world. He has seen things from a public health perspective that most students never will,” Schmalzried said. “He is interested in making a difference; I have seen the passion that he has for public health, and I believe that he will make a difference in improving the quality of life of people.”

Platzer was uncertain about going back to school almost 10 years after he earned his first degree. “I’ve enjoyed the academic environment again,” he admitted. “I feel I have learned so much in one year and I definitely feel prepared to go out and work in the field of public health.

“I am so appreciative that Dr. Fallon and Dr. Schmalzried helped get me to this point,” he said.

“We feel that Todd will make positive contributions to the field,” said Fallon. “He has been an asset in the classes that I have taught. I think he is well positioned to embark on a meaningful job.”