A public servant for public health

May 05, 2021

In 2019, Texas ranked second in the nation for reported tuberculosis (TB) cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a relatively small number when compared to other leading illnesses—like heart disease and diabetes—but for Rachel Edberg, even one case of TB is one case too many.

Rachel Edberg smiling standing infront of ivy wallEdberg is a program evaluator for the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). She joined a newly formed team in January to assess the state’s TB programs. “Evaluation is quality improvement,” Edberg said. “Every program has performance measures and, for each program, we assess if we are meeting those measures. If not, why aren’t we? And if we are, is there a way to use our strengths to improve outcomes even more?”

Her job in the TB and Hansen’s Disease Branch of DSHS is actually Edberg’s first after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor’s in Neuroscience in 2018. Edberg was drawn to public service after meeting an inspiring trauma surgeon at an orthopedic clinic where she worked part-time while she was at UT. (She went on to get a Master’s in Public Health from Baylor University.) “ He talked about the ways in which policy can help keep communities safe,” Edberg said. Practicing from a public health perspective means understanding that health is more than one’s physical wellbeing, she explained. “Your mental health matters; your financial health matters.” 

Edberg also wanted to bring her interest in infectious disease to a place where she could “make the most change and join a workforce that really cares about the mission.” Spending a year as a contract employee at DSHS convinced Edberg that public service is where she belongs. As a state employee, “you can really have a profound impact on a broader scale."

And, then, there’s the benefits

Having health insurance “is also a big relief,” Edberg noted. She is close to the age at which parents can no longer carry dependents on their health care plans, so the timing couldn’t be better.

“It’s exciting that I had the opportunity to enroll in HealthSelect of Texas®,” she said, adding with a laugh: “I’ve never had to be this informed about health insurance before!”

Edberg is all too aware about the need for good health care coverage. About three years ago, when she was still in college, a “mild case of hip dysplasia” actually ended up being much worse. An MRI revealed bone spurs, nerve impingement and cartilage tears. “I was incapacitated by the pain,” Edberg recalled.  Surgery was the only option.

Suddenly, the active long-distance runner couldn’t walk for nine weeks. Her recovery was relatively quick, likely because of her youth, but Edberg found that keeping her spirits up was “mentally harder” than she imagined it would be. “Objectively, I knew things would get better,” she said. “But … you still get down on yourself.”

The experience taught Edberg why having a job that provides health insurance, among other benefits, is so important. “If something were to happen to me and I was not covered, it would be terrible.”