Marie Lina Excellent, MD, MPH, is the alumni spotlight for the Fall 2019 issue. Marie Lina is a Fulbright Alumna from Haiti who graduated from PHLP with an MPH in the Leadership track along with three graduate certificates in Global Health, Non-Profit
Leadership, Community Preparedness and Disaster Management in May 2016. Dr. Excellent is committed to improving HIV/AIDS prevention care and treatment in Haiti and is a champion in continuous quality improvement approaches. Upon her return to Haiti in June 2017, she serves as technical advisor for HIV Testing Services (HTS) and Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) for the EQUIP project.
What have you been up to since you’ve graduated?
I served as a postdoctoral research associate in PHLP at UNC-Gillings after graduating. Since June 2017, I have worked as a technical advisor to help the National AIDS Control Program revise policies, standardized operational procedures, HIV Testing Services (HTS) data collection and reporting tools. I also provide training and mentoring on HTS best practices to front line providers from 65 health facilities supported by USAID to help improve the quality and cost efficiency of HTS in Haiti. I played an instrumental role in developing the index-based contact testing [ICT] guidelines and launching the implementation at USAID funded sites. Recently, my teamwork abstract entitled “Improvement of index-based contact testing at USAID funded sites in Haiti in the context of HIV disclosure fear and stigma” got accepted for poster presentation at the 20th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Rwanda (ICASA 2019). The conference will take place in December 2019. I have also held an adjunct associate faculty position in PHLP since June 2017.
What is your latest research/project?
In collaboration with the National AIDS Control Program and other partners of the Ministry of Health I am involved in the development of guidelines, training materials and data reporting tools for the implementation of HIV Self-Testing (HIVST) nationwide. HIVST aims to deliver HIV self-test kits to the hard to reach individuals among others who are at high risk for HIV so that they can be tested for HIV and be linked to HIV care and prevention such as PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) when indicated and following informed consent. I enjoy my job currently at the EQUIP project funded by USAID and currently implemented by Institut, Pour la Santé, la Population et le Développement (ISPD) located in Pétion-Ville, Haiti; and UNC-Gillings has prepared me very well to exceed the expectations at work.
What was your favorite part about being a student in PHLP?
Coming to PHLP and UNC-Gillings was a dream comes true and was an amazing experience! I had countless successful achievements as a dedicated student, PHLSA co-president and GPSF Senator of PHLP, which makes it hard to identify a favorite part. Nevertheless, I will have to mention that I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to customize my coursework while meeting both UNC-PHLP and Fulbright academic expectations. To build more skills, I took courses from the School of Social Work, the School of Government and the Business School. In PHLP, students are treated like peers by faculty and staff whose flexibility and availability to meet with me as student were impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed the safe environment and leadership style that drive
PHLP and makes it the department in charge of training the future generations of global leaders!
What’s one hobby you’d love to start?
I would love to start painting because of the freedom it would give me to express and share my creativity and emotions without societal restrictions. Furthermore, arts is highly prevalent in Haiti where I am from. But for years I thought that I could not paint at all, until I attended a required field trip for one of my classes on health disparities, where as part of a group activities students had to do paintings on walls at a school and I have enjoyed that experience.
What’s the strangest food that you’ve ever eaten and why?
While attending a HealthQual International Conference in Windhoek, Namibia in 2011 along with Haiti National delegation, the host country organized a special dinner. I was encouraged by the Chef in a foreign language to try a Namibian national dish which I did without question. But it is only after I ate it that I realized that I had eaten fried insects. It was my first time eating insects and so far it is the strangest food I have eaten. No offense to the Namibian people but in my culture we do not consume insects so it was a culture shock for me and remains an interesting experience.
If you could choose a superpower, what would it be and why?
I would choose without a doubt, “Equity”. I would use my gift to provide equity to communities on Earth to end health disparities, which are heartbreaking especially for public health professionals. Wherever I go, my simple presence would release equity to fill the gaps of the social determinants of health that led to disparities in order to empower communities with what they need to succeed and live healthier forever.
Yuriko de la Cruz, MPH, is this issue’s Alumni Spotlight. Yuriko graduated from PHLP with an MPH in the leadership track in 2015, with a focus on public health practice. She is currently a Practice Facilitator/Coach at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
What have you been up to since you’ve graduated? Since graduation, I have been working with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), which consists of eight hospital campuses, over 160 physician practices, health centers, and other clinical settings in the area. My work focuses on physician practice transformation to improve patient health outcomes by focusing on operations and clinical quality metrics, and a lot of our work uses the Patient Center Medical Home (PCMH) framework. The goal of practices adopting PCMH principles is really to create a setting where the patient is at the center of their care and that their healthcare team supports them in their self-management. This is a big shift for healthcare professionals and it takes a lot of time for this cultural change to occur. As a public health professional, I often find myself bringing a very different perspective to our work and it’s rewarding to do so. We also use the Triple Aim framework by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement which essentially focuses on the three following areas: quality care for individual patients, improving population health, and lower cost for healthcare. In the past couple of years, there has been focus on the Quadruple Aim, which adds the care and support of healthcare professionals, which is critical given the high rates of burnout and turnover. My work has also focused quite a bit on this as well.
What is your latest research/project? One project that I am extremely proud to be working on is the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program, which is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration. The goal of the grant is to improve the care of older adults and their caregivers, with a special focus on patients with Alzheimer’s dementia and related cognitive disorders. There are so many aspects of the program that I truly love: helping physician practices identify gaps they want to address to improve care of older adults as well as having an interdisciplinary team of nurse care managers, community health workers, and pharmacists conduct home visits to our older adults to get a better sense of what the patients and their families are experiencing. I have learned so much about end-of-life care and how important it is to become better prepared as health care professionals and communities to care for our older adults, which includes the development of advance care directives, regular screenings for older adults, and creating an infrastructure to better support caregivers who many times neglect their own health to care for their loved ones. I attended a conference a couple years ago and a speaker made a powerful statement: “We have the power and the ability to create a health care system that will impact a future version of ourselves…it’s time we take ownership of this to change the trajectory.”
When I’m not at work I like to: I sing in a local community-based choir, which is directed by my high school choral director. It’s non-audition, but we do perform challenging musical pieces. I am also a board member for two local organizations in Allentown: Resurrected Community Development Corporation and Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley. Both organizations have an element of community organizing with the goal of engaging and empowering community residents, especially youth, through skills development and resources to lead secure, healthy, and safe lifestyles. Some of the areas we focus on are education, violence prevention, entrepreneurship, housing, and leadership development. Every focus area approaches the work through the lenses of upending racial, gender, and socio-economic inequalities. I also enjoy traveling when I can. Fortunately, I have family and friends in many places, so I get to see different places both in the U.S. and internationally.
What was your favorite aspect from the program when you were a student? I would have to say my campus visits and the programs’ efforts to make me feel as connected to Gillings as possible. As a distance student, I was concerned that I would feel disconnected and that I would not have as many opportunities as students who were on campus. I enjoyed coming to campus for the leadership workshops and interacting with other students in my cohort. I think this model also prepared me for my current position where I sometimes have to contact and maintain relationships with colleagues who I do not see in person regularly.
What is the last movie you watched or last book you read? The last book that I read was “The Drama of the Gifted Child” by Alice Miller. It’s a psychology book that focuses on the effects of childhood trauma. It was a fascinating book and is definitely relevant to my work in healthcare and community organizing. Oftentimes, we assume that someone is “acting out” when in actuality, they are simply using a coping strategy due to past or current trauma. Instead of asking “what’s wrong with you?” the book challenges us instead to ask, “what happened to you?” This type of mindset has shaped my work when I am working with patients or community members. The other key learnings are that it is better to assume everyone has experienced a traumatic event (some more than others) and that every single one of us have to take care of ourselves to heal any previous traumatic events and care for ourselves if we’re feeling triggered.
What is something you look forward to? This may be a little vague, but I look forward to empowering others to be the best versions of themselves. We each have the gifts, talents, and solutions to contribute. I take pride in creating an environment where individuals can explore their strengths and share them with their community. Also, I am extremely passionate about making health more equitable through my work. I am especially motivated to continue working with youth to ensure that they have a fair chance for different opportunities.
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.
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 https://www.med.unc.edu/phyrehab/pim/ 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, 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.
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.
- I Am Because We Are: Interrelated Realities January 22 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
- Mental Health First Aid Training January 24 @ 8:00 am - 12:30 pm
- Connect, Engage, Transform: Rural Community Partnerships January 24 @ 9:00 am - 4:00 pm