Threading the pearls of your necklace: how every experience builds your public health career, with Dr. Vinu Ilakkuvan, DrPH, MPH

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Have you ever found yourself at a career crossroads, contemplating a leap into uncharted territory? Join us as we navigate the captivating realm of public health careers with Dr. Vinu Ilakkuvan. She shares her remarkable shift from engineering to public health, shedding light on the serendipitous ways that one’s professional journey can unfold. We discuss the strategic reframing of skills that allow for such shifts, and the interplay between work experience and academic learning. Our dialogue unveils the empowering process of aligning personal values with professional ambitions, leading to a career that’s not just a job but a calling. 

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Vinu’s experience transitioning from biomedical engineering to public health early in her career vs. pivoting from one role to another later on 
  • Vinu’s various job roles and what she learned from each one
  • How Vinu’s passion for working in an interconnected public health environment and bridging policy and ground work led to the creation of PoP Health
  • What PoP Health is and how they improve public health by collaborating with coalitions to facilitate community access
  • Reflecting on your own career experiences and gaining confidence to form your own story and work towards your dream job

Today’s Guest:

Vinu Ilakkuvan, DrPH, MSPH, is passionate about strengthening community-driven efforts to address the upstream, root drivers of health ( She is Founder and Principal Consultant of PoP Health, a public health consulting practice that partners with community coalitions and collaboratives to transform health in their communities through policy and systems change ( PoP Health helps coalitions engage in community collaboration, action planning, participatory evaluation, and effective storytelling. PoP Health also issues a biweekly newsletter, Community Threads, with tools and strategies for anyone seeking to improve community health ( 

Vinu received her DrPH in Health Behavior from the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health as a Milken Scholar, a Master’s degree with a concentration in Health Communication from the Harvard School of Public Health, and Bachelor’s degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Economics from the University of Virginia. She currently serves as a Professorial Lecturer at George Washington University. Vinu began her public health career coordinating the Virginia Department of Health’s bullying and youth violence prevention program and later, evaluating the national truth antismoking campaign and managing policy and communications projects at Trust for America’s Health.

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About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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