Chris Gunther’s interest in international health was, in part, what drew him to the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Indeed, the May 2013 master of public health recipient anticipated that he would go abroad to work. A series of opportunities and a fair amount of luck, however, has kept him in the city of New Orleans.
Chris Gunther’s practicum with the New Orleans Health Department led to a permanent job with the city. He credits the city’s mayor, Mitch Landrieu, right, with the vision to see violence as a public health issue. (Photo from the Mayor’s Office, City of New Orleans)
Gunther deferred entering graduate school for TeachNOLA, a nonprofit organization that preps mid-career professionals and recent college graduates to be teachers, and began teaching middle school science at SciTech Academy in New Orleans.
“My first year teaching was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Gunther admits. Many of his students faced greater challenges outside of the classroom than he was prepared to deal with — poverty, crime and a lack of family or other support. “As a teacher, it’s difficult to deal with these things. Sometimes science seemed like the least important thing in the lives of these kids.”
After a year teaching, he started public health studies. By the close of his first year at Tulane, Gunther began considering practicum placements, and he emailed Tulane alumna Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the city’s health commissioner. She was looking for a student who could provide analysis to determine instances of domestic violence among clients in the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program. Gunther partnered with the New Orleans Family Justice Center.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he says. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was becoming more focused on addressing violence from a public health perspective. “He speaks about it as an epidemic,” says Gunther.
A new position was created in response the mayor’s push to end violence. Gunther now serves in the violence and behavioral health program, overseeing the family violence prevention program.
Dee Boling is director of communications for the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.