Kartik Tyagi believes focusing on what brings us together is key.
What’s your role in public health?
I’m a senior undergraduate in the Department of Health Policy and Management. I came to UNC as a Morehead-Cain Scholar, and I’m passionate about health care reform, policy and public service in the federal sector.
I currently serve as president of the UNC Class of 2023 as well as international president at HOSA-Future Health Professionals, a global student-led organization that empowers the next generation to become leaders in the global health community. It’s a true privilege to serve in these capacities — my involvement has enabled me to uncover who I am as a student as well as who I aspire to be.
I’ve been involved with HOSA since my first day of high school. The organization has more than 250,000 current members and 3.1 million alumni. HOSA plays a unique role in promoting public health by connecting our members — middle school, high school and postsecondary/collegiate students— to the health industry pipeline, aiming to mitigate long-term workforce shortages in the health industry. In a post-COVID world, we desperately need more people in these roles to minimize worker shortages.
HOSA offers a robust international competitive events program, professional development, scholarships and work-based learning opportunities, with the ultimate goal of supporting our members as they strive to enhance the delivery of quality health care to all people.
Can you describe your focus area in one sentence?
In a time that seems increasingly polarizing, how can we use what unifies us as a guiding light to secure a more accessible field of health — to secure equitable and inclusive conditions in which we can all thrive?
This focus relates to how seemingly divided our society — and our health, and how we communicate about health — has gotten. For me, as long as I’m expanding how I’m able to contribute to what I want to do in the long-term, as long as I’m gaining a clearer understanding of where I fit in within this wider narrative and how my strengths can support sustained systems change, then the work is meaningful to me.
What brought you to public health?
For my public health origins, I have to mention HOSA again! My high school experience ultimately enabled me to meet people across North Carolina, the United States and around the globe.
My interest in public health was cemented during my UNC Gillings summer internship at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Specifically, I worked for U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Rear Admiral Paul Reed, director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. I gained professional experience in a federal health policy environment across several settings: community strategy, health communication and prevention science.
I also was able to support outreach and communications for President Biden’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition and engage with a government initiative administratively led by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: the Federal Plan for Equitable Long-Term Recovery and Resilience. I’m still supporting that initiative through my Senior Honors Thesis.
Can you describe a time where you have pivoted in your public health career?
It has become clear to me that health is about a whole lot more than health care. I came to UNC aspiring to be a physician, but now that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the middle of my junior year — which was also the first year of classes for my Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree at the Gillings School — I was exposed to different ways I could affect the health of not just individuals, but communities. I was exposed to federal health policy, which shaped my core belief that in order to improve the public’s health, we must evolve what we visualize when we think of a “healthy” person.
This pivot was rooted in the understanding I gained at DHHS: As people, we don’t become healthy or sick within the health care system — that happens in the community. These insights allow me to grapple with problems facing our nation’s health, such as: How do we create a value proposition for health and not disease or sickness? There is no doubt that effective policy interventions are critical in shifting this value proposition.
Who are you when you’re at home?
My father is an alum of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, so I grew up rooting for Carolina! We spend a fair amount of time cheering on UNC athletics — especially basketball — as a family. Go Heels!
As a life-long vegetarian, I also love trying new foods and cuisines. (The spicier, the better!) During the pandemic, like many people I know, my family picked up baking. I’m definitely my younger brother’s sous-chef — he runs the kitchen.
You’ll also find me playing tennis, traveling (especially if it’s for a HOSA conference), binging my favorite crime shows and political dramas, and drawing inspiration from whatever autobiography I’m currently reading.
Read more interviews in The Pivot series.