What inspired you to study public health?
Having worked for many years in graphic design and advertising, I understand the power of branding when it comes to moving public opinion, and I wanted to apply that knowledge to medicine and public health. A dual-degree four-year program, such as the one at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, fully integrates medical studies with public health studies, and brings these fields together in a unique way. I hope to apply my expertise in communication to the dissemination of broad-based messages regarding lifestyle choices for the prevention of chronic disease, food and water safety, injury prevention, as well as environmental control.
What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?
I have always participated in community and service projects, but the University of Miami has offered many new opportunities. A recent one has been the creation of our uniquely student-driven initiative to enroll individuals in South Florida for health insurance. Both medical and public health students trained to become Certified Application Counselors (CACs) for the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace, in order to help enroll the un- and underinsured and every weekday afternoon, we manned an education and enrollment assistance station in the Miami-Dade County Health District throughout the open enrollment period of 2014. I worked on the marketing and public relations aspect to drive individuals to our services and in the process, learned a great deal about how our healthcare system works. We also partnered with the Health Council of South Florida and Enroll America to bring our team of 60 CACs to different events throughout South Florida, including our own health fairs run through the Department of Community Service. I find this to be the perfect intersection of medicine and public health, because we learn about medicine and healthcare, but we also learn about barriers to care and ways to improve access. We also have the opportunity to speak with individuals directly about their health care needs as they relate to the socioeconomic problems, issues often passed over during a typical medical appointment.
What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out in public health?
The best thing to do is be confident about your role as a public health practitioner and understand how broad the opportunities are in order to immerse yourself in diverse experiences at every level. Public health mechanisms have become embedded in every corner of society and that progress can only come from individuals who identify a problem, find broad-based solutions, and partner with the appropriate institution for implementation. I find that public health solutions are often quite innovative, and one has to have a novel and creative approach to both identify and solve a problem.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
Maintaining our visibility, instead of shrinking into the infrastructure of other government agencies or medical institutions. In order to be successful practitioners of public health, we must maintain the recognition that our unique efforts are made on behalf of communities and populations, and that our work is essential to the existence and operation of any gathering of individuals, whether it be a large metropolis like Miami or New York, or a previously isolated population in the foothills of the Southwest. Not only should the populations that we work with understand this, but our partners in other disciplines as well, so that a public health “voice” is always required during any discussion concerning broad-based health initiatives.