May 09 2017

Journeys Into Public Health

Members of the Mailman School Class of 2017 take stock of the skills and experiences they’ve acquired while offering a preview of life after graduation

A doula versed in the history of midwifery, a doctoral researcher who helped change World Health Organization guidelines on HIV, a climate activist with aspirations of running for office: these are just a few of the stories of the Mailman School Class of 2017. Check out these accounts from select members of the graduating class, which highlight their unique backgrounds and experiences, along with their aspirations for the future.

From a Place of Wellness: Shivani Bhatia, MPH ’17

I always felt intuitively that health was about being well, not just about fixing a problem, but I didn’t know how to articulate that until I found public health. When I arrived at Mailman and heard the World Health Organization definition of health, I remember feeling like my heart stopped a little because I thought it was so beautiful. The professors here all work and teach from that model, and so what we learned was always relevant. For example, in the wake of the election, discussions in my class on abortion policy revolved around domestic and international implications for women today and in the future.

I first became interested in sexual and reproductive health as a volunteer clinic escort for Planned Parenthood and a hotline counselor for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. I also trained as a birth and abortion doula before coming to Mailman. For my thesis, I spent a lot of time reading about the history of midwives as the nation’s first abortion providers, a role they performed until abortion was criminalized by the end of the 19th Century. The state enlisted physicians to prosecute abortion providers, who were often immigrants and women of color. Eventually, I hope to be a midwife. Like public health, midwifery treats reproductive health and justice from a place of wellness.

Election Lessons: Mayra Cruz, MPH ’17

I was a public health major in college with a passion for environment issues, especially climate change. I wanted to marry these interests with a master’s degree, so Mailman, which offers the country’s only graduate program with a certificate in climate and health, was the obvious choice. As MPH students, we learn a lot about the importance of community-based participatory research. I had the opportunity to work with communities myself through a practicum with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. This summer, I will be helping Boston residents to advocate for clean energy as part of a fellowship with the University of Michigan.

Last year’s presidential election was a big shock. In and out of the classroom, we’ve all had a lot of conversations about the threats to our field. There might be cuts, and it might be difficult to do the research, but it just shows that the work is more important than ever. There’s a reason we came and got our degree from this school. As for myself, I want to help communities prepare for climate change. This could be through a position with a foundation or local government. I might even run for office. You can’t wait for someone else to do the work you want to see done. You have to do it yourself.

The Skills to Succeed: Kendall LaSane, MPH ‘17

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in public health, particularly improving health outcomes for urban populations such as drug users, people living with HIV, and LGBTQ people. I decided to pursue a part-time MPH in Sociomedical Sciences while working full time at Bellevue Hospital. The best part about combining work and school was being able to translate theoretical concepts about the social determinants of health into meaningful justice-based policy for patients. Early on it was difficult to balance all of my responsibilities, but my advisor, Eric Schrimshaw, and other Mailman faculty provided immeasurable support.

I recently started working at the New York City Department of Health as an epidemiologist in the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Care, Prevention, and Treatment. My department monitors the health consequences associated with drug and alcohol use in New York City, particularly opioid mortality. Although the work is data-driven, our understanding of the social, political, and cultural context around the statistics allows us to create more informed health programming and policy. Based on our data, the Mayor’s Office launched a comprehensive public health-centered initiative to prevent future overdose deaths. Overall, I’m excited to continue growing and using the skills I learned at Mailman to help me progress as a public health professional.

Learning from One Another: Ben Masur, MHA ‘17

My first job out of college was doing communications work for Major League Baseball. It was exciting at first, but after a couple years, I knew I needed a change. An opportunity came up to work at Albert Einstein College of Medicine on an Alzheimer’s study. The experience opened up a whole new world of healthcare. To continue to broaden my horizons, I knew I needed more training. The part-time MHA gave me what I needed. It’s great to have classmates with similar schedules who are doing similar things in their jobs. You learn from one another.

Professors, too, bring real world experience. Paul Thurman, who comes from a consulting background, was a big influence. He helped me see that every scenario is unique. The case studies we did gave me the confidence to tackle similar issues on the job. I brought insights from class to work and vice versa. In 2015, I was offered a job with BDO Consulting in their new healthcare advisory practice: The BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation. The work is always interesting, and the people and culture are great. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the BDO team.

making a real impact: Stephanie Shiau, PhD ’17, MPH ’12

I started my public health education as an undergrad at the Johns Hopkins University then continued my journey as a Master’s student and doctoral student at the Mailman School of Public Health. Seven years later, I’m finally getting my PhD in Epidemiology. The summer before I came to Mailman, I worked at the College of Public Health at National Taiwan University on HIV, which has become the focus of my research. Specifically, I’m interested in pediatric HIV from a life-course perspective. The goal is to help HIV-infected children grow up healthy.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are still many children born with HIV. My dissertation looks at whether the age at which you start antiretroviral therapy can make a difference for outcomes later in life. Starting treatment in the first days of life requires diagnosis at birth, something that can be difficult in low-resource settings. Through my work at the Sergievsky Center, I’ve worked on a number of clinical trials and cohort studies. In one of these, we learned that we could safely switch children to a therapy after age 3 with less toxicity—results that are now reflected in World Health Organization guidelines. It’s great to be able to make a real impact.

Practice Makes Perfect: Xiaoyan Wang, MS ’17

When I worked in the microbiology lab in college, I generated a lot of data, but I knew nothing about the next step. I had no idea what to do with it. My training in Biostatistics filled in this gap by giving me skills in data analysis. Along the way, these lessons were reinforced through real world experience. For my summer practicum, I worked on a National Institutes of Health-funded survey of patients with mitochondrial diseases. The most interesting part was the back and forth with clinicians. I learned to talk to them in lay language, not in statistical terms, and to appreciate their clinical perspective.

I have a job offer with a startup in the health analytics industry doing data analysis and study design. I got the offer thanks to the Office of Career Services. They helped me go through six or seven revisions of my resume, suggesting improvements every step of the way. At each stage of the interview process, we did a mock interview. This practice gave me the confidence I needed to get an offer, and the understanding that I am a great fit for the job.