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Profiles in Public Health

Profile

Stuart Portman

MPH, Health Policy and Management

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

Public health is the intersection of wellness, medicine, social norms, and policy which seeks to make meaningful changes in individuals and systems.

2. What inspired you to study to public health?

My desire to make meaningful changes by challenging misinformed perceptions of health is fostered by the way that public health enables people to see how individuals are impacted by systems. I wanted to focus on an interdisciplinary field of study, and public health engages both the biologist and political scientist in me.

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

There are few moments as rewarding as experiencing the Congressional legislative process in action while concurrently learning about the laws being debated. When you start to see legislators as individuals, it changes your perception of how laws should be developed in a country of competing visions and differing opinions. By engaging with policy-makers, I have learned not to view differing opinions in a nebulous light, but rather to seek to understand how those perspectives were formed and why they are being propagated so fiercely.

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

When starting out in public health, I was repeatedly told that I would have to make hard choices to narrow my preferred field of study. I wish I had been told that such decisions are not always necessary, and they definitely do not need to be made alone. Faculty, students, colleagues, and friends all help to develop your interests, and a supportive network can help you determine your true interests. While I learned this soon enough, it is important to know that public health professionals are cheering for your success and hoping that you stand out and make a difference.

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

Since public health has taken great strides in making prevention relevant to more people, the next step is to engage providers and patients in calling for a health system based on value and high quality care, not frequency of service. Providers must not be alienated, as they are partners in this growing trend, and patients must desire to be involved in their health. Showing the tangible health and cost benefits of this systematic change will persuade people to change their behavior.

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