Q&A with Marie Lina Excellent, MD, MPH, Faculty in Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP)
We at Research, Innovation and Global Solutions, interviewed Dr. Marie Lina Excellent about her professional experience before joining the faculty at Gillings, what drew her to Gillings, her HIV research, and her favorite aspect of teaching PUBH 711 Critical Issues in Global Health.
What was your background before joining the faculty at Gillings?
Prior to joining my alma mater as a Faculty in the Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP), I served for over a decade in leadership capacity as a Physician at renowned Teaching Hospitals running HIV/AIDS and Community Health Departments in Haiti until August 2014 when I came to UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health as a Fulbright scholar to pursue my Master of Public Health (MPH) in Leadership. I had an amazing experience at UNC-CH and ended up earning along with my MPH three graduate certificates: Global Health; Non-profit Leadership; Community Preparedness and Disaster Management. Upon my graduation, I did a one-year postdoc in PHLP where I collaborated with the North Carolina Institute of Public Health (NCIPH) to conduct the evaluation of the Reaccreditation of local health departments statewide. Then I went back home to work as a Technical Advisor for HIV/AIDS in projects funded by PEPFAR/USAID and it was a rewarding experience to share my expertise with the National AIDS Control Program of the Haitian Ministry of Health. Finally, I am grateful to be back to a place that I can proudly call Home, my UNC-CH and give back to the future generations of public health professionals as a Faculty!
What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?
My story is authentic and divine because years ago I did not know that UNC at Chapel Hill even exists. I remember being asleep and watching myself walking in an unfamiliar place. When I asked, “where am I”, I heard of voice answered “You are in Chapel Hill”. When I woke up, I googled “Chapel Hill” and the first thing that came up was “UNC”, which was a clear message to me that I was going back to school despite my successful career leading HIV/AIDS services. Then a year later, the unforgettable 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti my country and made me realize it was time to seriously strengthen my education with public health training because I felt so limited in my assistance during that challenging time. Then I applied to Fulbright and was selected to pursue my MPH. The rest is history as I started my journey in PHLP at UNC! I strongly believe in Destiny, Hard work and Faith in GOD!
Can you tell us more about your HIV research?
With pleasure, I am passionate about the field of HIV/AIDS and continuous quality improvement (CQI) but my research activities align more with applied research and implementation science, which means that it is primarily practice-based lessons learned from community-driven interventions developed to help fill gaps identified in the field by the communities we serve to the best of our abilities. In addition, we support the Ministry of Health with the development/revision of policies, data collecting and reporting tools to better standardize the delivery of HIV/AIDS services nationwide. Most recently, we focused on the groups of individuals who appear to be left out such as the homeless, the migrants and male in general who are unlikely to attend clinics for preventive services. See photo of myself (to the left) assisting eligible people with HIV Self-Testing at a Faith-based sanctuary.
Can you tell us more about your recent publication “HIV/AIDS: Beginning to Current Scenario”?
Absolutely, first of all, I would like to give credit to all the co-authors, our donors particularly PEPFAR/USAID, all the BRIDGE project’s affiliated health facilities, the Indian Society for the Study of Reproduction and Fertility (ISSRF) newsletter and last but not least all the communities in Haiti who trust us with their lives! That article represents a milestone that we tremendously value because it allows us to share our success stories and challenges while inspiring an international audience about the potential that Haiti has, despite all the negative news available worldwide. Through this article, we described the interventions implemented to help improve access to HIV testing services (HTS), in order to achieve the first 95 UNAIDS goal, which infers testing for HIV 95% of people living with HIV. That goal requires innovative ideas and contextual knowledge to achieve it and it plays a critical role in the HIV/AIDS continuum of care because if people are unaware of their HIV status, it is impossible to have them linked into antiretroviral therapy (ART) or PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV) and break the transmission chain U=U (Undetectable = Untransmissible of HIV) for healthier lives. That article exemplifies Teamwork, resilience, compassion, a culture of quality improvement and strong commitment to serve communities for healthier lives and ultimately reach a world free of AIDS!
What is your favorite aspect of teaching PUBH 711 Critical Issues in Global Health?
PUBH 711 can be considered an introductory course to Global Health in the sense that it does not requires any background in global health other than an interest and commitment to learn about critical issues faced on a global scale. The profile of students enrolled in the course vary per term, for example since the course is required for students from the Global Health concentration in Fall terms thus, we have students with more experience in global health compared to the online version of the course offered in Spring terms where a mix of MPH and PhD students interact as passionate global-minded individuals. I have enjoyed teaching this course in both terms Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 because of the diversity that students bring, the relevance of the topic and the rewarding opportunity to mentor the next generations of global health leaders particularly as we developed their semester call-to-actions (CTAs) projects. That course fosters teamwork, networking with experts in the field, critical thinking towards health equity! Overall, I would say that my favorite aspect of teaching PUBH 711: Critical Issues in Global Health is the ability to engage in thoughts provoking conversations with students whom I treat like peers because we all add value to the discussions around solutions to global health issues!
What does “global health” mean to you?
Since being a student at UNC, I was always drawn into Global Health to the extent that other than completing a Graduate Certificate in Global Health, I also serve in the Global Health Student Committee since my first semester until I graduated. To answer your question, Global Health represents an umbrella to me where a wealth of resources and collaboration lie to help improve the quality of life and populations’ health locally and across the Universe! Thinking about the effects of Globalization, it is impossible not to be involved in Global Health as public health professionals committed to Health Equity!
What is the closest thing to real magic?
Maintaining Faith in Life is a Magical journey because we come to Earth one day but without a clue about when we will be called back Home. Additionally, I would like to share a magical place found in Haiti, the Citadelle Laferrière and represents one of the wonders of the world to me, a large mountaintop fortress in the North department of Haiti, located on top of the mountain Bonnet à L’ Évêque. That place fills you with pride, peace, wisdom and humility! See photo taken inside the Citadelle attached dated on August 24, 2019 prior to COVID-19 pandemic era.
Can you tell us about your favorite teacher?
I have been fortunate to be taught by amazing instructors throughout my education and I want to take that opportunity to express my endless gratitude for their service and dedication! Nonetheless, I would like to pay tribute to one of the former professors in PHLP at UNC-Gillings, the unforgettable Dr. David Steffen who rest in Peace since his passing in July 2021. Dr. Steffen is such a charismatic, humble, wise, amazing listener and visionary who taught me so much and helped me understanding back in 2016 that I did not need to earn a DrPH degree on top of my MD, MPH to become a Faculty at UNC-Gillings! And he was absolutely right because in 2021 I indeed became a Faculty without the DrPH. Furthermore, he made a statement on March 23, 2016 during a Leadership panel organized by Public Health Leadership Student Association (PHLSA) that will forever stay with me!
“In life we will have to manage several balls simultaneously, but be careful because from all the balls try to never drop the Crystal ball (Family) as that one once broken it cannot be repaired“
Dr. David Steffen, DrPH, MSN, MPH