Vanessa Miller is the Alumni Spotlight for the Fall 2018 Newsletter!

Vanessa Miller, PhD, is this issue’s alumni spotlight. Vanessa graduated from PHLP with an MPH in the leadership track in 2009. This semester, she returns to PHLP as an adjunct professor to co-teach PUBH 741, which focuses on biostatistics for health care professionals. Vanessa is a also completing a postdoctoral fellowship. Her research focuses on chronic pain, nutrition epidemiology, and quality of life.

Vanessa Miller, PhD, MPH

What have you been up to since you’ve graduated? I didn’t go too far. I was working on my PhD through the epidemiology department at Gillings. My graduation date was actually in August and I started my postdoctoral fellowship on the day my degree was conferred. My background is in chronic pain conditions, so my research primarily focuses on that.

Latest research/project: I have starting working on an exciting research project in my capacity as a postdoctoral fellow supported by UNC’s NIH funded T-32 Fellowship Training Grant for Research in Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Medicine. Working with the Program on Integrative Medicine has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to continue to explore factors that influence pain. I am working on a study that aimed to see if a dietary intervention involving omega-3 and omega-6 could be a natural method to prevent or reduce migraines. The research team and I want to see if dietary changes such as adding salmon or flaxseed oil to the diet can reduce migraines. This research has promise to help patients living with migraine by providing another tool (diet) to reduce pain. Because migraines are very common and many people struggle with side effects from pain medication, it would be wonderful to offer dietary suggestions that could help people living with migraine headaches.

What you do at UNC Gillings (and why you love it): In addition to my research with the Program on Integrative Medicine, I will be serving as an adjunct professor. In the fall semester, I am co-teaching PUBH 741 with Kim Faurot. The course focuses on quantitative methods for health care professionals. I love what I do and am personally connected with public health in general because of the public service aspect. As far as Gillings specifically, I am drawn to students and colleagues’ drive to make a positive change in the world. Recognizing faculty members like Vic Schoenbach and the late Steve Wing who dedicated so much effort to improve public health equity is really aspiring. The faculty and student commitment to improving lives and providing a voice to overlooked populations really speaks to why this field (public health) and why this area (North Carolina).

When I’m not at work: I am a big horror movie fan. I’ve found that not a lot of people at the School are interested in horror films, so I usually keep this particular pastime to myself. I have an extensive collection of horror movies at home and even have a top 100 list of horror films. My favorite horror movie is the Exorcist.

I think innovation in teaching means: To me, it means real interaction in the classroom as opposed to just your typical lecture hall. I think it also means the ability to take knowledge and skillsets out to change the world.

If I could wake up tomorrow having mastered one new ability: I started studying French on my own using language acquisition software about 2 years ago. I love the language but the progress is slow, so if I could wake up tomorrow fluent in French I would love that. I aspire to travel more both for pleasure and professional development. I had the opportunity to travel to Montreal several years ago and I hope to return at some point.

Diego Garza is the Alumni Spotlight for the Spring 2018 Newsletter!

Diego Garza, MD, MPH is the Alumni Spotlight for the Spring 2018 issue. Diego graduated from the public health leadership track in 2017. He is a physician and currently serves as the Director of Telehealth at Carolina Partners in Mental HealthCare PLLC. Diego is already making a large impact in the field as a recent graduate. On March 9th, he was honored as one of the winners of the Triangle Business Journal’s 2018 Health Care Heroes Award.

Diego Garza, MD, MPH

What have you been up to since you’ve graduated? I’m a medical doctor and the director of the telehealth program at Carolina Partners in Mental HealthCare. I work specifically with the Direct Care program which aims to increase access to mental health services throughout the state of North Carolina. Since Direct Care offers online appointments, we are able to reach a wide range of people. We see anywhere from 400-500 patients each month. In addition to that, I work as an adjunct professor with PHLP and serve on the program’s leadership admissions committee.

What attracted you to Gillings? Gillings is ranked as one the best schools in the nation, so that was a significant factor for me when I was considering public health master’s programs. I was also attracted to Chapel Hill’s rich history. The environment seemed very welcoming. I also appreciated the diversity of people in the Triangle area.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work? I practice Tae Kwon Do. I’ve been training for 18 years. Since I’ve moved to Durham, it hasn’t been as easy to go but I try to go to the Academy at least three to four times a week. Right now, I am a 2nd Dan Black Belt.

If you could wake up tomorrow having mastered one new ability, what would it be? I would want to be more knowledgeable about how to improve the landscape surrounding immigration-related issues and healthcare. Immigration laws in the United States are often a barrier for some patients when they are seeking healthcare especially when it comes to mental health. I want to better serve those populations. I think that having more knowledge about immigration laws and how to navigate some of the barriers associated with them would allow me to do that.

What is something that you’re looking forward to? I’m looking forward to further advancing telehealth through my work and hopefully becoming a leader in the field. Telehealth is relatively new, so I look forward to it becoming more widespread so that healthcare providers can reach more people, especially more vulnerable populations. I also look forward to growing as a professor. It’s always interesting leading discussions because I have the opportunity to also learn from my students and see how their own experiences influence their ideas.


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