Campus News

Q&A: Learning public health through international experiences, research

Department of Population and Public Health Sciences November 02, 2017
man by the water

In this Q&A, Ashkan Nasr, a USC Master of Public Health student in the global health leadership track, discusses his experience at the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

USC’s MPH program involves a practicum—an experience that allows students to integrate their knowledge through practical training. The USC Institute for Global Health facilitates several international practicum opportunities, including internships with the World Health Organization and group trips to its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, for the annual World Health Assembly.

This student spotlight is courtesy of the Master of Public Health Student Association at USC.

Why are you pursuing an MPH? What makes you so passionate about public health?

I pursued my undergraduate career at University of British Columbia in Canada where I graduated with Combined Major in Sciences (Chemistry, Earth and Ocean Sciences and Life Sciences) in 2015. At UBC, I had the opportunity to co-found the Emergency Medical Aid Team (EMAT) which was the first Emergency Campus Response Team in Western Canada. Meanwhile, I became an Emergency Medical Responder Paramedic and a Red Cross first aid Instructor. I was also involved in a number health-related volunteering and research activities on- and off-campus. My activities led me to work with a group of health care professionals at UBC School of Population and Public Health. There, I was able to conduct research in the field of mental health and substance use as well as be published and present at a number of research conferences across Canada. These experiences helped me realize my interest in the field of public health. When I became a U.S. resident, I decided to begin my MPH program at USC prior to beginning my medical career. For me, MPH acts as a bridge program that helps to familiarize me with the current global health issues as well as the strength and weaknesses of the U.S. health care system and prepares me for a meaningful medical school education to come.

What is your favorite part of the USC MPH program?

I was most honored to take part in the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, as a part of a special summer course: “Global Health Governance and Diplomacy in Practice.” In the first week of the trip, I had the unique opportunity to directly interact and engage with experts from global NGOs and United Nations Agencies including UNAIDS, UNHCR, WTO, WEF, GAVi Alliance, and the Global Fund and discuss their role with respect to current global health issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis, lack of health systems, and outbreaks of measles, Zika, malaria and tuberculosis. During the second week of the trip; while I had already chosen my topic of interest to be Global Vector Control Response (GVCR) (2017-2030) as noted within WHA agenda, I participated in a number of relevant plenary sessions, committee meetings and side events to gather information for my project. Because the subject of my project was “Strategies For Short- and Long-Term Vector Control Using Brazil, Costa Rica, and Mexico’s National Strategies & The GVCR,” I also set up personal meetings with delegates of the countries named. One of the highlights of my trip was meeting with Costa Rican Minister of Health, who later added me on LinkedIn.

Describe your practicum experience.

Seven months ago I applied, and was selected, for a research fellowship with Operation Smile, which is a U.S.-based non-for-profit organization that provides surgical care for children with cleft lip and palate in underserved areas of the world through running medical missions, investing in research, and training doctors in surgical care. My role has been to help with literature review in certain areas of interest such as in identifying the epigenetic conditions that facilitate the development of cleft lip and palate in newborns, as well as with data decoding and tabulation of patient files and surveys that will be used for research purposes later. For my practicum, I will be using data gathered by Operation Smile through surveys given to families of children with cleft palate/lip to identify the common causes for the incidence of such developmental disorders. Then I will perform a literature review and propose an multifaceted intervention to reduce/prevent the incidence of cleft palate and lip among the community from which data was initially gathered.

What is a quote or motto you live by—or are inspired by?

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” – St. Jerome.

— By the Master of Public Health Student Association