Olivia Zarella, MPH

University of Northern Colorado
Environmental and Occupational Health

What inspired you to study public health?

During my time in my undergraduate alma mater, Emory University, I met the family of the first individual from the US who became infected with Ebola and was treated at Emory University Hospital. From there, I sparked an interest in infectious diseases and community development from a sustainable lens.

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

During the beginning of my career in public health, I worked in Northern Ghana with a non-profit called Saha Global. During this time, I met an individual who survived Guinea Worm multiple times, and had nothing but kind words and respect for the Carter Center. Public health initiatives changed his life for the better, and that has always stayed with me.


It is absolutely okay to not know exactly what you want to do, but the best way to figure out your interests is say yes to many different opportunities. Opportunities teach you what you don’t want to do, and that in itself can provide important lessons.

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

One of the biggest challenges in the public health infectious disease field at the moment is public health worker burn out. Individuals in public health have a very serious inner calling for social justice and bettering the world around them. These attributes are great but sometimes it can lead to sacrificing your own wellbeing. If we want to create a more sustainable and longterm public health force, we need to invest in our public health worker’s wellbeing.