Aly Jaffer, MPH

Health Policy and Management, Health Promotion and Communication

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Public health is an ecosystem that is always changing—with different communities, cultures, and stakeholders—all of which have a vested interest in making a population healthy from the start.

What inspired you to study to public health?

The world we live in is rapidly changing, and learning to see health from a different perspective was essential to me. The first time I realized I wanted to get into public health was when I was in a disasters and complex emergencies course, where we studied the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. The reality that health wasn’t just acute care provided immediately after the event, but also systemic level issues caused by the lack of prevention and policies, really opened my eyes.

What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?

Hands down, one of the neatest experiences I’ve had thus far was when I served as a CAC (Certified Application Counselor) helping to enroll people in the new marketplace for health insurance. Seeing working families finally get health care, when previously they couldn’t afford it, was touching. The look and smile on some of the parents’ faces after they realized what they were eligible for was priceless.

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out in public health?

Get involved. The best way to really understand public health and what you want to do in public health is to get involved. If that means volunteering at the local health department or with different stakeholders, take the time to do so. A person will appreciate the challenges and what it takes to create change, especially in our system.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

Organization and communication as to what the public health system is focused on. I don’t believe there are enough collaborative efforts to create a unified system. I know local communities have different needs, but rarely do we see what’s effective across the country and how to disseminate what works and what doesn’t work. The public should be able to recognize the efforts of the public health system not just because it’s there to serve them, but because there is a concerted effort to communicate what is trying to be done.