People often ask me what drew me into a career involving maps.  Of course I took social studies classes in grade school to learn basic geography and I had to study and understand the maps that were parts of history lessons, but I never took a dedicated geography class. It was actually just a serendipitous event; during my long, self-funded path through graduate school, I took a job to help pay the bills.  

I was a research assistant on a grant given by a funding organization that wanted to make better funding decisions.  They wanted to be able to look at data for traditional geographies that did not fit into US Census Bureau geographies.  Most publicly-available health data do conform to these geopolitical boundaries such as census tracts, counties and states.  So there were two massive undertakings (both of which pre-dated my involvement in the project): 1) using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), create the boundaries of these traditional neighborhoods, and 2) collect data from the people in each neighborhood to learn what their health needs/ concerns were.

Once the data were collected and mapped, the funder could then evaluate funding proposals based on neighborhood need.  For example, if an agency was seeking funding to start a maternal and child health clinic Downtown, the funder could reference their geographic data and to assess whether maternal and child health was a major issue for the people in the neighborhood.  If not, they could see for which neighborhood it was a major issue and then go back to the agency and let them know the original proposal would not be funded, but if they wanted to focus on HIV/ AIDS in Downtown for example, the proposal would be stronger and more likely to be funded.  Or if the agency really wanted to focus on maternal and child health, the need for those services was greatest in the West End.  The concept fascinated me and once I taught myself how to use GIS, I was hooked. The project itself has morphed into a data center that serves all of southeast Louisiana (

I’ve been lucky to stay connected to geography throughout my career in health policy, although it wasn’t always easy.  My career has gone from using maps to show locations of health care providers to building online tools that help people navigate the health care system to now managing a portfolio of online mapping tools that democratize data and allow thousands of people do the same kind analyses on the fly that I was doing in graduate school using population health, health workforce and user-provided data.  
Come to one of our upcoming webinars to get hooked on mapping!
Jennifer Rankin
Senior Manager, Product and Resource Services 

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