Profiles in Public Health


Marysel Pagán Santana

DrPH, Environmental Health

1. In one sentence, what is public health to you?

It is the combination of all factors and determinants that affect an individuals’ health and by association the health of a community.

2. What inspired you to study to public health?

I watched my parents struggle with unfair policies concerning their workload, payment, and retirement. I also watched my sister work for a temp job company and suffer from the stress of low pay and unstable hours. Watching this, and understanding how every factor related to their job and environments affected their life, and health, made me wonder “how can I help fix this?” This is how I ended up pursuing a master’s degree in industrial hygiene, and eventually my doctoral degree in public health.

3. What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?

I gave an occupational health and safety workshop to school cafeteria workers. While explaining work-related laws and rights, I observed disbelief and low esteem among the workers. So I decided to switch tracks and begin talking about their power to make a change and how essential they were to us and our children. At the end of the workshop, one of workers came to me and asked for a photo with me. I accepted but also asked, “Why”, to which he replied, “We want a picture with our warrior”.

4. What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out in public health?

Working in public health can sometimes be frustrating and exhausting, but incredibly rewarding. Be patient!

5. What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

Climate change. An alteration in a community environment will ultimately lead to effects in all the components of the community’s life. The temperature change, intense atmospheric events, increases in disease and epidemics, and all other factors affected by climate change will eventually affect the public health and lifestyle. It is important that we address this issue in timely matter so the public has the chance to adapt.