Campus News

Alumni Spotlight: Meet Nimaako Brown, an Alumna Informing Public Health Strategy to Achieve Health Equity

Graduation Date: 2008
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Bokie Muigai January 24, 2024
headshot of Nimaako Brown
Nimaako Brown, USC Alumna. Photo/Nimaako Brown

What inspired you to pursue a career in population and public health sciences?

When I came to USC, I enrolled at USC Viterbi School of Engineering as a biomedical engineering student. It wasn’t a great fit, but I knew I wanted to stay in the health science/medicine field, so I switched to pre-med. As a child, I learned about reproductive health from my mom and thought I would become an OBGYN. I took a class on maternal health and it was transformative. It had the right balance of medical science, but also included the social aspect of public health which I really enjoyed. Learning about maternal and child health aligned with what I wanted to learn and pursue.

What was your most impactful educational experience at USC?

The course on maternal health—which was my introduction to public health. I enjoyed the link between hard science—understanding the anatomy of female reproduction and the biological science behind it—and also the public health aspect and learning about the social determinants of health. We learned about the factors that impact a woman’s pregnancy, her reproductive life span, and her newborn. It was a way of looking at health from both sides—the medical health standpoint, but also with a social perspective.

What is your area of interest in public health?

My area of research interest is maternal health. After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I pursued a Master of Public Health degree at Columbia University in the population and family health department. My focus was on Black women and maternal health, specifically looking at maternal morbidity and mortality in Black women. Far too often, Black women go to the doctor’s office, urgent care, or emergency rooms and we are not listened to. By listening to and trusting Black women, health care providers will be able to better address our needs and give us the type of care we deserve. It’s hard to try to effect change at an individual or community level when many of the health issues we see are a byproduct of inequities in the health care system. Undoing the ties of systemic and institutionalized racism has to happen at a ‘systems’ level. Access to comprehensive reproductive care is a necessity—no matter where you live.

What was your first job after you graduated?

After I graduated from USC, I worked at an HIV/AIDS nonprofit in Newark, New Jersey. It was an amazing first job out of college. I was an assistant project manager for a program called Partnerships to Improve Community Health. My role was to connect local community and faith-based organizations with entities that provided health education. These included cancer centers, hospitals, physicians, nonprofits, and health fairs. For instance, one nonprofit that specialized in heart disease wanted to ensure people had access to blood pressure cuffs to address hypertension.

In this first role, I also worked with LGBTQ youth and people with substance use disorders. So, through one position at this organization, I learned about three or four other areas of public health—practically while doing the job. In this way, all my work has been interconnected which has played a big role in my career.

Where else have you worked?

I’ve been fortunate to work at different levels of public health. At the local level, I worked at a women’s health nonprofit designing a project to address maternal morbidity and mortality among Black women in central Harlem. Over time, my work shifted from looking at health from a Black woman’s perspective to including the overall Black population to address the social determinants of health and work towards achieving health equity. While my scope has broadened, it still aligns with my mission. I’m engaging in all areas of public health across the life span, which allows me to identify opportunities to interject strategies to improve health outcomes and achieve health equity.

At the city level—after I graduated from Columbia, I worked as a special assistant to the New York City Commissioner of Health. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is so large and vast it rivals the public health systems of some countries. Being able to be involved and see how decisions are made and influenced by public health initiatives that affect the entire city was a tremendous opportunity. After that, I went to the National Urban League, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. There, I served as their Senior Director of Community Health and Wellness.

Being able to see public health from a local, city, state, and then a national perspective and work at those levels has been really insightful.

Where do you currently work and what are your main responsibilities?

I am an independent public health consultant. I am the owner and principal strategist of Nimaako Brown Consulting. I design, evaluate, and implement programs, and provide capacity building and technical assistance to organizations that are implementing programs. Currently, I am one of the co-managers of the advisory council for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I inform and support the strategy that goes behind statewide grant making at one of the most historic philanthropic institutions. I also work with the foundation internally to help them with their desire to achieve health equity and ensure their work and grants are being proposed, implemented and executed in an equitable way. I’m doing strategic planning for other organizations and continue to work in maternal health consulting with Merck for Mothers.

What is your favorite part of your job?

No two days are the same. I get to interact and talk to bright and clever people, and work with individuals that have discovered their passion and the area where they will dedicate their life’s work and skills. Whether it’s conducting research, writing, or teaching— I am continuously learning and relearning concepts that may have evolved over time.

What advice do you have for current students?

It is great to have hard skills, and know your area of interest and focus, but being able to have the exposure and experience to apply those skills in different settings is invaluable. I encourage students to pursue internships and work within different departments at the Keck School of Medicine. As an undergraduate student, I worked in the patient outreach center at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. At the time they were redesigning their patient evaluation tool. Interacting with patients and members of staff required soft skills which I developed through this hands-on experience while creating and testing evaluation questions. Being able to have soft skills helps you leverage opportunities and apply your varied skillset in different settings.