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SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

School of Public Health

Alumni Spotlight

Melissa HirschMelissa Hirsch

Hometown: Somers, New York

Degree(s), Concentration, and Class Year at SUNY Downstate: MD/MPH, Health Policy and Management, Class of 2019

Undergraduate Major: Biochemistry

Current Profession: Pediatrics Resident at John Hopkins University

Community involvement: Currently working on a quality improvement project involving the treatment of pain in patients with sickle cell pain crises in the ER, as well as a qualitative research project about the youth vote

Award(s) Received: United States Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award ● Public Health Honors Society ● Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award ● Student Commencement Speaker


1. Why did you choose to study at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health (SPH)? Did SPH meet your expectations?

I knew that I wanted to pursue both my MD and MPH degrees while in medical school because I love one-on-one interactions with patients and thinking about policy. Questions like, "What is stopping this child from getting the care they need?", or "What are the barriers preventing this person from obtaining full health?" continue to be very powerful and motivating for me, and I wanted to explore them academically. My SPH at Downstate was different than it would be anywhere else in the country. I loved that my classmates weren't all full-time students, and that the program is built to include people with full-time jobs at any age.


2. What was the most memorable experience or advice you received during your time at SPH that struck you as particularly meaningful? 

I am so grateful for the time I spent in my field experience and for the professors who taught my classes. At this time in history, though, what sticks out as being the most meaningful was that I, a white person, was a minority in almost all of my public health classes. Downstate classmates are truly from every walk of life, and there is a depth of experience in the school of public health that I have never experienced anywhere else.


3. Which SPH community member (e.g. faculty, staff, mentor, fellow classmates) influenced you the most and why? 

The staff member that most influenced me was Dr. LeConte Dill, who brought me into the world of advocacy and community organizing within the academics of public health. She gave me books and articles to read long before I ever took any of her classes, and inspired me to combine my love of the arts and writing with my work as a developing doctor and steward of public health. I didn't know that was possible until I met her.


4. Where has life taken you since you graduated from SPH? How has your experience at Downstate SPH prepared you for your career? 

I am a second-year trainee in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. I am also one of the pioneers of the Health Equity track within the program. My experience at the Downstate SPH helped me so much to get here in the first place, but it has also helped me almost daily. My conversations with patients have been enriched by my work in courses like Urban Health Issues and Sex, Gender, Race, Ethnicity. I understand how our healthcare system compares to systems in other countries because of my course in international healthcare. And it has helped me dig into Baltimore's complexity much more deeply than I probably could have done otherwise.


5. Could you describe your current profession? What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your profession? 

Residency is an experience. It has everything-- incredible conversations with families, brutal losses, occasional down time, frequent busy time, giggling babies, and so much more. I think that adapting to a new hospital system, from the unfamiliar EMR to the overall culture of the institution, was very difficult for me last year. Now, I can see how much I have grown because of those challenges and am certain that they have already made me a better doctor and public health advocate than I would have been without them. But my favorite parts of the job are always when I get to play with a child. I love lending my wind-up toys, launching imaginary arrows from imaginary bows, and persuading two-year-olds to pretend to share their French fries. 


6. Where do you see yourself in five years? 

This is a great question, and I am also trying to figure that out. I'd love to combine my work as a doctor (not sure what field of pediatrics yet) with community advocacy and non-fiction writing, like composing op-eds for newspapers or elevating patient voices to catalyze policy change.



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