My path to MPH: Clinician turned student on advancing public health
I got my Bachelor’s in dental surgery from India’s MGM Dental College and Hospital, and completed my internship at Government Dental College in Mumbai. I am now pursuing my Master’s in public health with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatics, and healthcare management from Boston University’s School of Public Health (BUSPH). I am currently a Research Assistant in the Department of General Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, working on projects at the Development and Behavioral Pediatric Clinic. Additionally, I am completing my internship at Inlightened as an Operations Associate. I am currently performing a dual role as the President of the International Student Organization and also, the Events Director of BUSPH’s Student Senate.
My journey to MPH
As a class representative in middle school, my school conducted a fundraiser drive for building a National Leprosy Eradication Program. I was too young to understand the severity of the condition but did understand my school’s mission to support efforts to eradicate a dreadful disease. I still recollect the words of the organization’s representative who exclaimed “How would you like to make a difference in the world?”
As years passed, my interest in the healthcare sector intensified, and making a difference in society became my goal. I began participating in various health awareness programs — often taking a leadership role — and later, as a medical student joined several public health initiatives in India. Most of them included health promotion and free checkups in rural parts of the country, for people lacking adequate access to resources. I had completed my Bachelor’s in Dental Surgery from India right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The combination of a clinical degree and a passion for social work drove me towards pursuing a Master’s in public health. I was interested in pursuing my MPH because of the many doors it could open for me, from research and epidemiology to administration and community health. My coursework, professional experience, and leadership experiences have offered me great insight into different approaches and solutions to support health access and equity, and have fueled my passion to advocate for marginalized communities and public health needs.
The importance of healthcare workers became more prevalent than ever as COVID-19 became our new reality and the world went into lockdown. I served as a Medical Officer in one of the 2,500-bed COVID quarantine centers in Mumbai. My role did not stop at delivering clinical care; it expanded to administrative and operational duties. The concept of task-shifting made it relatively easy to manage patients efficiently. Having a clinical lens allowed doctors working with me to see the potential challenges that could incur when implementing changes to the ward. I was also involved in daily tasks like assigning prescriptions and addressing everything from patient treatment and placement on site to discharge. I learned something new every day; some days from the doctors, other days from the nurses, and some days even from patients.
My past community service experience and providing care during the pandemic made it clear that there is so much work left to be done. While earlier I had been focused on a career as a dentist, my interests shifted towards developing a holistic view of all health problems — the underfunded and the overlooked in particular — and policymaking processes related to them.
Every novel discovery, policy, and awareness campaign can potentially impact the lives of millions, for the better. It takes a unique blend of research, inquiry, action, and public health to join people across disciplines, backgrounds, and perspectives in order to uncover the root causes of persistent problems, and develop sustainable, innovative solutions. Ironically enough, the general public is largely unaware of the meaning and functions of public health, partly due to complexities, and perhaps more significantly because, when public health efforts are successful, problems are eradicated or prevented.
I think anyone who has worked in the healthcare space — in any sort of role or organization — knows that there are endless challenges to overcome. But I believe you cannot sit back and criticize problems; if you want to see a change, you need to get involved.
Rhea Patel, BDS, is an MPH candidate at Boston University’s School of Public Health. She earned her degree in dental surgery from India’s MGM Dental College and Hospital, and completed her associated internship at Government Dental College in Mumbai. Rhea currently serves as a Research Assistant in the Department of General Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, and an Operations Associate at Inlightened. She also holds a dual role as the President of the International Student Organization and Events Director of BUSPH’s Student Senate. Rhea aspires to someday work in a leadership role at the World Health Organization. Her recent roles in the healthcare setting have allowed her to not only help her gain adequate experiences but also enhanced her knowledge in problem-solving and effective communication.