Sociology, Social Inequality, and Public Health: Elizabeth Thomas' Experience After App State

One of the great opportunities sociology provides to students is the chance to blend sociology with public health issues. Check out Elizebeth Thomas' experiences since she graduated with a degree in sociology with a concentration in "Social Inequalities."

Hi, my name is Elizabeth Thomas and I am a 2013 Appalachian alumna. I graduated with a degree in sociology with a concentration in social inequalities. Through my sociology classes I realized I have a passion for studying and working to eliminate social inequalities, specifically related to health. Therefore, I chose Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine for my Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology because this school really understood the value of taking a sociological approach to understanding health disparities.
I recently graduated with my MPH in Epidemiology in May 2015 and currently have a CDC/CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellowship at the Tennessee Department of Health. My work focuses on injury and drug overdose surveillance and I am particularly invested in examining the neonatal abstinence syndrome epidemic. Applied epidemiology is a great combination of sociology and healthcare. Many of the skills I learned in sociology are the same skills used to analyze a health epidemic. Structural functionalism theory has really been the cornerstone to my entire worldview. Learning to see society, or a social phenomenon, as a living organism that depends on many different parts for survival is something I always come back to when dealing with any situation. In addition, conflict theory has also been crucial to my epidemiology career. Learning to view society on a macro-level and understand that power conflicts drive many of the interactions within institutions allows for a better targeted approach to health disparities. As a sociologist it can be frustrating when trying to inform society about a trend or issue that needs attention because sociology is often considered a "soft science" and is not as well understood as the "harder" sciences such as chemistry or biology. As an epidemiologist, it is my job to bridge the gap in understanding between both the soft and hard sciences and deliver that message to the public in a way that facilitates change.
My future plans involve continuing work in the injury and drug overdose epidemiology field and eventually going back to receive my PhD in Medical Sociology or Behavioral Health Epidemiology. For students interested in the medical/health side of sociology and inequalities I would highly suggest a graduate program in epidemiology. I have really loved my classes and the work I have been a part of. For those interested in staying with sociology I applaud you because sociology is the most important field of study, in my opinion, as it is the study of our society. It is completely necessary in order to move our society forward in every aspect from health to economics to social and racial disparities. I would suggest a graduate program that allows you to utilize your skills along with your passions because that is how you will gain the most out of your experience. Appalachian has a great sociology program and I would not have gotten the same experience anywhere else. The professors are passionate about what they teach, which really made me fall in love with sociology and led me to epidemiology.

If Elizabeth's story sparks some interest for you in sociology, then please contact Dr. Cameron Lippard, Director of Undergraduate Studies, for more information (828-262-6396 or 

Published: Aug 3, 2015 4:36pm