What was your background before enrolling in the MPH program at Gillings?

Headshot of Maddie Miller

Maddie Miller

I’ve loved politics for as long as I can remember. I even skipped my lunch break in fifth grade to watch President Obama’s inauguration! When I went to Juniata College, a small liberal arts school in central Pennsylvania, I knew I wanted to major in politics, but I ended up picking up minors in communications and women & gender studies along the way.

After graduating in 2020, I wanted to find a career that linked all three of those disciplines. But I didn’t realize public health fit the bill until I started working at a communications firm in Washington, DC. In my job, I work with a variety of clients in the healthcare sector, from medical schools to think tanks. That means I had to quickly become knowledgeable about healthcare policy and the ins and outs of healthcare issues. My coworkers may have thought I was crazy, but I actually enjoyed taking a deep dive into the complexities of the nation’s healthcare systems!

That sparked my interest in learning more about public health and finding a way to combine all of my interests – policy, communications, women & gender studies, and health care. I began looking into MPH programs that would allow me to explore healthcare policy and communications on a deeper level, and eventually found my way to Gillings!

What considerations led to you choosing the online degree program, MPH@UNC, rather than a residential program?

When I decided to pursue an MPH degree, I had an established job in DC that I really enjoyed. I was drawn to MPH@UNC because it allowed me to continue working my full-time job and stay in DC while getting my degree at a great public health school at the same time. All of the professors are incredibly understanding that many of the MPH@UNC students have full-time jobs and all of the classes occur after 6pm, which makes it even easier to be both a working professional and an MPH student.

What has been a highlight of your program?

Because so many of the students in the program are working professionals, there is such a diversity of experiences and backgrounds in each and every class I’ve taken. It’s been great to learn from all of my professors, but it’s been equally as great to learn from all of my classmates. The highlight of my program has definitely been the breadth of perspectives I’ve been exposed to from all of my professors and peers.

What does “global health” mean to you?

To me, global health is a collaborative effort to achieve optimal health and wellbeing for all of the world’s people, however they define it. It’s about creating a more equitable world and addressing the injustices that keep global citizens, particularly those from underserved communities, from being healthy. Global health requires constant cross-cultural exchange, an open-minded attitude, a recognition that our way of doing things or defining health might not be the best or only way, and a willingness to share resources, research, and information with people around the world.

What will you be doing for your MPH@UNC practicum?

I’m currently living in Cape Town, South Africa and will be completing my practicum with the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF), a non-profit organization dedicated to lessening the impact of HIV in communities in South Africa. Roughly 19% of South Africa’s population aged 15-49, or about 7.5 million people, is currently living with HIV. DTHF is working to combat the ongoing HIV epidemic through multiple programs, but the one I’ll be working on is called FastPrEP. The goal of the program is to make pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention medication, like fast food: widely marketed, convenient, and readily available in many places and in many ways. FastPrEP focuses primarily on adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), who are disproportionately at risk of HIV in South Africa.

Specifically, my role in this project will be to help create demand for PrEP among AGYW in Cape Town communities. This will involve engaging with young women by holding listening sessions, outlining and executing a communications strategy, and creating a toolkit to communicate best practices for demand creation that could be scaled up across the country.

I’ve already started diving into some of this work, and I’m loving it so far! I feel extremely lucky to have found an organization and a practicum that allow me to combine all of my interests. While I once thought my unconventional background in communications was something that might make it more difficult for me to transition into a public health career, I’ve found that my previous experience has actually been extremely helpful for my practicum. Getting to know the Cape Town community, exploring the beautiful city, and immersing myself in the rich culture of South Africa is just the cherry on top! It has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience so far.

What do you like to do when not studying or working?

I love running! I find that listening to a podcast and getting out for a few miles each day is super relaxing. It also helps me to clear my head and prepare for the day ahead. If I’m not running, I enjoy hiking, playing board games, watching documentaries, rooting for the Denver Broncos, obsessing over Formula 1 (watch Drive to Survive on Netflix if you haven’t already!) and stopping to pet any cats I might see.

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