Why I Wanted to Volunteer in Healthcare and The LessonS I Learned

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A career in healthcare perfectly marries my love for scientific rigor and my desire to empower communities. Contributing in ways that leave a positive tangible impact is a foundational value of mine. My previous work and volunteer experiences have taught me that I can most effectively and sustainably support communities by humbly serving them as a physician who also strives to ensure health access, improve community conditions for health and equity, and advance the future of community health through innovation. While I still aspire for a medical degree, I believe that a Master of Public Health will bring me one step closer to bridging the gap between patient and community.

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During my undergraduate career, I chose to be pre-medicine and simultaneously pursue a major in Public Policy because I was interested in the nexus between medicine, business, and health policy. Specifically, I hoped to develop the qualitative and quantitative foundation necessary to tackle complex public health challenges. As I pursued my academic curriculum, my classes centered on global health and healthcare policy in America and exposed glaring issues with how the healthcare industry is constructed and conceptualized, both domestically and internationally. Additionally, my pre-med courses provided me with the biological and physiological understanding of disease, supplementing my academic development with crucial quantitative data analytic skills. In fact, my culminating honors thesis for the Sanford School of Public Policy, titled “A Woman’s World: A global analysis of how women’s status affects rates of maternal mortality” reflects my passion and curiosity for creating equitable health outcomes by taking an interdisciplinary approach and considering social determinants of health.

The extracurricular activities I participated in throughout college continued to educate me about the prevalence and urgency of these issues. My volunteer work with the Duke Hospital Emergency Department and non-profits like Ekal Vidyalaya and Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) contextualized the theoretical issues I had learned in my classes; through my work for these organizations, I built strong, personal interactions with my community members and was reminded of the tremendous potential that improved health policy and advocacy can have. For example, at Ekal Vidyalaya, an international non-profit striving to improve literacy rates in India, I helped the U.S. team develop a health curriculum for children residing in the rural villages; we particularly focused on sex-education for teens. Furthermore, at CEF, I worked as a financial advocate and coach for underprivileged populations in Durham. However, in my time there, I also saw a need for healthcare literacy and access to resources. Thus, I worked with CEF’s executive team to develop materials for healthcare literacy and nutrition. CEF’s online platform, which already included reminders and updates for financial needs, now also includes reminders for staff to ask CEF members questions about their diet, their weekly activity level, their current health concerns, etc. I also helped establish a partnership with Duke Hospital which allowed nurses to set-up stations at CEF to provide flu vaccinations as well as to lead seminars on healthcare and nutrition that were open to the Durham public.

In the summer of 2016, I also began working with UTHealth School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. I assisted in a national project called ESCALATES (Evaluating System Change to Advance Learning and Take Evidence to Scale). ESCALATES collected data from seven regional cooperatives including over 1,700 primary care practices to conduct a prospective observational analysis. ESCALATES used an innovative mixed methods approach, collecting data from intervention tracking, internal surveys, observational data, interviews, site visits, and metrics on ABCS (aspirin, blood pressure, cholesterol, and smoking) to identify the most effective combinations of intervention strategies for various practice types, contexts, and organizational characteristics as well as to identify why and how those combinations are effective. Thus, the project had three primary goals:

  1. Engage each cooperative in the overall evaluation by harmonizing measures, working together to collect similar qualitative and quantitative data and identify lessons learned.
  2. Identify the practice, organization, and contextual factors among the combined 1,700 practices that are associated with meeting ABCS performance goals at baseline (prior to any intervention).
  3. Identify which intervention strategies are most effective in improving ABCS performance goals/targets over time in relation to practice, organization, and contextual factors and identify why some strategies are more effective.

I was responsible for working on the first two goals. I analyzed and harmonized the baseline data being collected for the 1,700 practices and disseminated my reports to the stakeholders (i.e. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) and the national quantitative team. Regarding goal two, I also read journal reports from the primary care practices to identify contextual factors either impeding or facilitating their success in achieving quality ABCS metrics. Although this project was in its initial stages when I worked there, I made significant contributions to their analysis of the baseline data (phase one of the project) and both my qualitative and quantitative analyses were distributed to each of the national regions. This project is a key example of my interest in finding innovative solutions to improving healthcare processes.

After graduating, I was fortunate enough to secure a job as Strategic Innovations Project Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group (MAPMG), the physician-arm for Kaiser Permanente. I am privileged to be working for an integrated healthcare organization whose mission is to provide affordable, quality care and to be specifically tasked with developing and implementing innovative health solutions. In my six months working in this position, I have assisted in conceptualizing MAPMG’s regional remote data monitoring strategy for use cases such as hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma. Remote monitoring is an exemplary use of technology to improve access and reduce disparities in outcomes within specific age and racial demographics. I have also led the development of a regional pilot for point-of-care ultrasound devices to determine if this new technology will enable our physicians to more efficiently image and diagnose clinical conditions in Cardiology, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Interventional Radiology, Emergency Medicine, and more. Finally, I have collaborated on a Podimetrics research study which utilizes a temperature-sensitive mat to detect foot ulcerations for high-risk diabetic patients to reduce visits to the emergency department and rates of invasive surgeries and amputations.

My work, extracurriculars, and volunteer experiences to date have reinforced the idea that the world needs a generation of physicians educated in health policy so that we can redefine the way in which we create healthcare systems to include holistic, evidence-based solutions with a focus on community health and preventative care. For this reason, I am interested in UNC’s MPH program with a concentration in Health Policy.

In spite of my past life as a Blue Devil, I believe that UNC’s program is the right fit for me. First and foremost, it would allow me to focus my training in health-care policy and prepare me to be an advocate for change while shaping effective policy solutions in the healthcare field; in other words, UNC’s program would prepare me to ground my academic learnings in real-world issues. Second, UNC’s program is known to be highly collaborative. This is a key trait that I am looking for in an MPH program because health policy requires that you be able to work with key stakeholders, consider diverse perspectives, and reach compromises. An MPH program which encourages collaboration will allow me to be sufficiently prepared for careers in this profession. Furthermore, I would be able to learn from and build relationships with UNC’s renowned faculty. Finally, UNC’s online program is accessible to me as a working professional based out of the Washington D.C. area.

It’s important to me that I am able to continue working while I pursue a Master of Public Health because I believe that my unique work experiences and career trajectory are two of the strongest assets I will bring to whichever program I join. I have a genuine love for public health, and I hope to bring this passion to the MPH program along with my strong work-ethic, dedication, and leadership skills. I strive to be a courageous leader in the field of public health, one that will challenge the status quo with inquiry and innovation, and I believe that UNC’s Online MPH program will be able to best foster and cultivate my potential and best support me in this endeavor.

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