Marissa Hauptman, MD, MPH is a board certified pediatrician and a pediatric environmental health specialist at the Region 1 New England Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit in the Division of General Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. She graduated from Brown’s Masters of Public Health program in 2007, after receiving a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Applied Mathematics/Biology from Brown in 2005.
What was it like working on the lead mapping initiative in Rhode Island when you were doing your MPH?
To this day, Dr. Patrick Vivier has been one of the most important mentors in my career. Throughout my MPH degree, I was fortunate enough to have a graduate research assistantship under the wonderful mentorship of Dr. Patrick Vivier. Just prior to the start of my graduate work, the State of Rhode Island, then Attorney General Patrick Lynch sued the lead paint companies for creating a public nuisance. Although the trial resulted in a hung jury, DuPont donated 12.5 million dollars to the State of Rhode Island to both research, remediate and educate the public about lead-based paint hazards and lead poisoning. A portion of this funding, went to Brown University, specifically led by Dr. Patrick Vivier, to provide the research support to determine where this investment would be most effective. As part of my MPH thesis work and graduate assistantship, I served with Dr. Patrick Vivier on the Attorney General’s Lead Paint Commission, which was set up to design a statewide targeted primary lead poisoning prevention program. This was an invaluable learning experience for myself, a recent college graduate, and I think exemplifies the wonderful and unparalleled opportunities that Brown University Public Health students are able to have in Rhode Island through the partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Health and through the wonderful mentors at the School of Public Health.
Per Dr. Patrick Vivier’s guidance, I took as many courses as I could find at Brown to master geospatial analysis techniques so that I could provide this expertise to the Commission and so that we could use data and spatial analysis techniques to inform the targeted primary lead poisoning prevention program so that these funds would have the biggest impact in preventing childhood lead poisoning throughout Rhode Island. Through research, we were able to develop an algorithm that relied on Census Data (Housing, Poverty, and Children Under the Age of 6) and RI Department of Health Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program lead surveillance data to develop a systematic approach in identifying census block groups (i.e. neighborhoods) that were at the highest risk of childhood lead poisoning and would thus benefit the most from this investment.
What did you take from your MPH degree at Brown that you use in your career?
Although I always knew I wanted to be a physician and specifically a pediatrician, despite my applied math and pre-med background at Brown, I was very much unaware of the field of epidemiology and public health and the power of this field to help individuals and especially children before they ever get sick and need to come to the hospital and see a doctor.
My experience under the mentorship of Dr. Patrick Vivier through my graduate research assistantship instilled in me the importance of public health and especially spatial analysis techniques as an effective way of presenting complex data to varied audiences that is easy to understand. Dr. Vivier instilled in me that with each project, just as important as an academic product, there should be a deliberate emphasis on the application of the research, so that it directly benefits those who are being researched or affected by the exposure at hand. This is a value that I found embedded throughout my experience at the Brown School of Public Health.
What type of work do you do now in regards to lead exposure and children?
After Brown, I went on to medical school at NYU and moved to Boston to do a pediatrics residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. I then continued my tenure at Boston Children’s Hospital in a Medical Environmental Toxicology Fellowship. Currently, I am a general pediatrician and environmental toxicologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and the assistant director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and the New England Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. Although we have known for several decades of the deleterious effects of lead on a child’s development, children are still exposed to lead in their environments today largely from legacy sources of lead. Each week, clinically, I see and treat children affected by childhood lead poisoning among other environmental exposures from Massachusetts and neighboring New England states. Much like my work while at Brown, often treating and preventing lead exposures in children requires a multidisciplinary approach involving housing and legal advocates, close partnerships with the local or statewide childhood lead poisoning prevention programs, pediatricians, early education specialists, and other key stakeholders.
What’s one thing you would like the public to know about your work?
My research focuses on utilizing spatial analysis techniques to assess and address pediatric environmental health disparities for children with chronic diseases both in a School Inner City Asthma Intervention Study and in integrating this research into medical decision making and population health strategies.
What is your fondest memory of the public health program at Brown?
I still look back on my time at the public health program at Brown with the fondest memories of the friendships I made during those years and the faculty that taught me with so much love for their field and dedication to their students. I remember loving going to biostatistics with Dr. Joseph Hogan as he taught com-plex subject matter with such passion and clarity. I remember sitting in the introductory course on the second day of the first summer session and realizing I had found my home in this field of epidemiology and public health that to this day allows me to pivot my career to incorporate social and environmental epidemiology into my research and practice of clinical pediatric medicine. Because of the size of the program and the varied interests and trajectories of the students, there is a real bond between the students. To this day, I am still best friends with Ann (Gray) Reddy MPH’07.
What advice would you give current students about the MPH program and about doing research? Take advantage of the wonderful faculty and mentors at Brown and throughout Rhode Island through the well-established partnerships with the Rhode Island Department of Health or other agencies. The energy at Brown, Providence and in Little Rhody is infectious and wonderful! Brown’s School of Public Health is unique in terms of its ability to not just teach the foundations of public health but to actually teach its students on a daily basis how to apply these teaching to mitigate and prevent diseases through assistantships and other efforts. The best way to learn public health is by doing public health and I am eternally grateful to all those at the School of Public Health that had such a wonderful impact on my career and my life.