Julia Nagle MPH’16 talks to Sarah Davey about life in the MPH program at Brown.
Why did you choose to get your MPH? Why did you choose Brown?
I chose to pursue an MPH degree so that I could learn the practical elements of public health that would best prepare me for a career in the field. I chose Brown University for its strong focus on learning public health by doing public health, which I found to be very important, particularly given that I was pursuing a concentration in Global Health. When I was offered a position at Brown as a Global Health Scholar, I knew that I had been given an amazing opportunity. Before I even began my first course credits, I had already been in close contact with my advisor (Professor Steve McGarvey), who was encouraging me to start working on my thesis and finding my field placement. I was immediately drawn into the practical and personal relationships at Brown.
I know that you recently went to Haiti to do an internship. Could you tell me about how this opportunity came about and what you were working on there?
As part of the requirements for being a Global Health Scholar, I had always known that I would spend my MPH internship and field experience in a foreign country. I spent much of my first semester at Brown researching faculty throughout the university and medical school who had research interests that aligned with my own. One of my biggest public health heroes is Dr. Paul Farmer, so Haiti had always been in the forefront of my mind as to where I would spend my field experience. Eventually, I met Dr. Michael Koster, an infectious disease pediatrician at Women and Infants and professor in the Warren Alpert Medical School, who had been traveling to Haiti since the earthquake to work at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre, Haiti. Koster, alongside other Brown and Haitian colleagues, established an educational collaborative between a Haitian medical school and Brown that allowed residents to gain international experience. Dr. Koster knew that I was interested in program monitoring and evaluation, so he suggested that I do an evaluation of a PEPFAR-funded HIV training program for physicians at St. Damien Hospital. With only 200 pediatricians for the entire country, there is a severely limited human resources field in Haiti for treating pediatric HIV. The objective of this training program is to train physicians from all over Haiti in pediatric HIV care and protocol. We carried out a program evaluation using a structured survey that was distributed to all program graduates, evaluating program statistics such as testing scores, and facilitating a focus group.
Outside the realm of public health, I think I can say that I learned more about humanity and the power of love and compassion while in Haiti than I ever had leading up to that time.
Following the completion of my field experience, I began to work with a Haitian non-profit organization, The St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, as a Development Consultant. The St. Luke Foundation for Haiti is a 100% Haitian-led nonprofit organization that provides education, medical care, and humanitarian outreach to the traditionally underserved populations in Haiti. I recently returned to Haiti in January to work on a grant proposal for the Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenges: Putting Women and Girls at the Center of Development.” While there, we also held services and memorials in remembrance of the five-year anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake.
How did Brown prepare you for this experience?
My coursework – particularly Global Burden of Disease, Biostatistics, and Research Methods – all helped prepare me for this experience in very unique ways. Professor McGarvey’s Burden of Disease course prepared me for an international fieldwork experience, in that we were able to hear first-hand experiences from researchers regarding their own experiences and what different research methods they used. I also gained a knowledge base in this course that prepared me to understand how the burden of disease in developing countries appears and what research had been done to understand it. Biostatistics and Research Methods prepared me more for the thesis aspect of my field experience, in helping me frame my research study and analyze my data. Every course offered in the MPH program provides critical lessons for a practical experience in public health, so I was really able to tailor my coursework to what would benefit my trajectory most.
What did you learn in your time abroad?
The most important lesson that I learned in Haiti was the difference between solidarity and subsidiarity. There is a huge difference between developing a project and implementing it within a foreign community without their own input, and developing a project in collaboration with a foreign community and letting them determine the course. The first is an example of solidarity, which has been a common trend in public health in Haiti. Especially following the earthquake, a lot of nonprofits and NGOs filtered a lot of money into the country with many big plans as to how to spend it. Five years later, however, many of the Haitians have no idea where that money went or are able to see the outcomes. Subsidiarity, on the other hand, is something that I experienced every single day at St. Damien and with the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti. In these environments, no projects were able to be implemented or carried out without local Haitian leadership and decision-making playing a huge role. Outside the realm of public health, I think I can say that I learned more about humanity and the power of love and compassion while in Haiti than I ever had leading up to that time.