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SUNY Downstate SPH Student Spotlight

Photo of Robin Brehm

Robin Brehm

MD/MPH Program with an Advising Concentration in Epidemiology

What brought you to the field of public health?

I got bitten by the science bug early. (Ask my mother about how I insisted I couldn't get out of the bathtub as a little kid because "I'm not done evolving.") I did research in high school and as an undergraduate at Bard College – mostly on the NMDA receptor in zebrafish. I took two years off after graduating and worked at the Brooklyn VA, doing clinical and epidemiological research on lung disease.

I realized that I loved public health while working at the Brooklyn VA. I designed a registry of patients on long-term oxygen therapy and performed a multivariate analysis of survival. I realized that although I enjoy medicine-solving the problem, being in charge, helping people, I find public health research absolutely fascinating, and I believe that it is the best way to effect change in the health of the maximum number of people.

Can you tell us about your student work in public health?

Currently, I run Sex In Medicine Week, an annual week of multidisciplinary reproductive and sexual health workshops at SUNY Downstate. I am also the chair of research for the Brooklyn Free Clinic, where I have my hands in a number of projects, but in particular, I am tracking medical student attitudes towards specialties over time.

Map 1 Map 2

GIS maps developed by Brehm and fellow students, under the direction of Dr. Philippe Amstislavski, as part of their project on nuclear power plants and public health.
Click on maps to enlarge.

I took Downstate's class on Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and discovered that making maps combines my artistic and epidemiologic interests. The Fukushima earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster occurred during the semester in which I took the GIS class. It sparked a discussion of nuclear power plants, public health, and what other kinds of events could lead to a nuclear disaster. We discussed the issue of political stability, how this could potentially relate in a negative way to nuclear power, and produced a number of maps. We are working on an interactive mapping tool for people around the world to have access to information about where exactly nuclear power plants are in relation to them and how their countries rate on various aspects of political stability. I plan to do my master's project on this topic.

What would you say to a student considering studying public health at SUNY Downstate?

SUNY Downstate allows me to explore my many interests. I am currently undecided on a medical specialty, but I would like to be both a researcher and a clinician. I hope to pursue a CDC fellowship in the Epidemic Intelligence Service after my residency, something my MD/MPH degree will prepare me perfectly to do. My experiences as an MD/MPH student have helped me realize that I can be a person who makes change in the world throughout my life. The SUNY Downstate community makes me feel at home. I have received tremendous support and enthusiasm from faculty in pursuing my various projects. The people are wonderful and supportive. I love it here!