What was your background before enrolling in the MPH program?
Originally from Boston, but raised in Columbia, MO, I attended Ole Miss for my undergraduate education, where I studied International Studies and Spanish. During my time at Ole Miss, I spent a summer learning about anthropological fieldwork in Bolivia, as well as a year studying at La Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima. Through a generous award from the Barksdale Honors College, I was able to conduct research with Anglican and Catholic nuns in the UK and in Perú, which formed the basis of my senior thesis on efficacy of religious health and social service works over time, and comparative health systems strengths. Before coming to Gillings, I also worked as a hotline operator with Mississippi Resiste, doing intake calls for people impacted by the 2019 ICE raids, and served as a Student Ambassador for the Jackson Free Clinic.
Could you tell us about your MPH practicum?
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Melinda Manning at the UNC Hospitals Beacon Program for my MPH Practicum. The Beacon Program provides services to UNC patients and staff that help break the cycles of interpersonal and family violence and promote ongoing and quality education for staff on trauma-informed patient care. My work with the Beacon program involved investigating patient safety and privacy implications of the 21st Century CURES Act and the ONC Final Rule with a specific focus on impacts on vulnerable populations. As a result of this investigation, we identified grave safety and privacy concerns related to easily accessible patient portals, and the potential for sensitive medical information to be viewed by people other than the patient. At the conclusion of my practicum, I created and presented materials for provider education and patient informed consent process improvements to over 50 UNC providers, who received continuing education credit for attending, and to the UNC Hospitals Ethics Committee. Melinda Manning, Dr. Amy Weil, and I also authored a commentary on the issue which was recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and featured on the DHHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Network website.
Will you tell us about your role as GRA for the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory?
The North Carolina Policy Collaboratory was established in 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) for the purposes of facilitating the dissemination of the policy and research expertise of the University of North Carolina system for practical use by state and local governments. The organization was recently codified in state law as the NC Collaboratory and is a highly unique model for nonpartisan scientific collaboration between state universities, industry, and state/local government. Recently, I have been working with the Outreach and Research Directors to navigate the period of rapid growth that the Collab has experienced in the last year. The team is now working to create institutionalized practices that will allow the Collaboratory to continue to expand and thrive, so my current project is drafting a standard final report template to streamline the collection of data from our funded projects. As the GRA, I have also written several RFPs (Request for Proposals) and RFAs (Request for Applications) for legislatively mandated funding areas, conducted literature reviews on the outcomes and reach of past funding, and executed background research for future use of discretionary funds.
Will you tell us about your plans to pursue law school?
I have always had an interest in the law and the legal system, and since I graduated from Ole Miss, I knew I wanted to attend law school. During my MPH coursework, I have found myself particularly interested in health policy and health ethics topics and have chosen to take many of my elective credits in classes related to pressing legal/judicial topics in public health. In these courses, I have learned that the health of the public is inextricably tied to the laws that provide for and protect its mental, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing. The law is the strong arm of our government that codifies and institutionalizes the social and political determinants impacting health at every level. To make great strides in improving public health, I think it is imperative to address the ineffectual systems that enable inequity and suffering and use the power of the law and policy to rectify injustices and facilitate the achievement of health. I believe that it will be impossible to solve the wicked problem of health inequity without considering and incorporating the perspectives of both the public health and legal professions. By pursuing a law degree, I hope to help bridge that gap. To that end, I am so excited that I will be staying in Chapel Hill and attending UNC School of Law beginning this fall!
What does “global health” mean to you?
Global Health means universal and trans-national collaboration in service of the goal of achieving health equity for all people.
What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?
I was drawn to Gillings originally because I was aware of its highly prestigious reputation, but as I learned more about the groundbreaking research, world-class faculty, and the breadth and depth of courses offered in the curriculum, I knew that Gillings was the right school for me, with the public-university tuition pricing being a nice bonus. Although I decided to attend UNC before even visiting campus, I have also truly fallen in love with the town of Chapel Hill and the triangle area, which made the transition to Gillings even more fulfilling. In fact, I like it here so much I have signed myself up for three more years as a student at UNC and have no plans of leaving any time soon.
What is your dream job?
My “dream job” has changed a lot in recent years, and I have concluded that dream jobs are overrated. I know that I eventually want to work in health policy, but what that will look like or what my title might be remains to be seen. I am certain my legal education will continue to significantly shift and hone my interests, like the MPH Global Health curriculum has already done. For this reason, I am keeping my mind, and therefore my options open to all the diverse opportunities that might arise over the next three years!
What’s your favorite type of weather and why?
Great question! This really depends on my mood. I have a nostalgic soft spot for a snowy winter day. I love the tranquility of unmarred snow and have fond memories of spending snow days curled up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a good movie. On days where I hope to be productive, however, there is no beating sunny and 65 degrees. These kinds of days where the sun lights up the sky from early in the morning until it finally disappears over the horizon late in the evening really give me the motivation that I need to get things done.
March 4, 2024 James Swenberg, DVM, DACVP, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, died October 5, 2023. There will be a Scientific Symposium to honor him and his work on March 22 from 3–5 p.m. in 133 Rosenau Hall at the Gillings School.