Health tech and product development for public health, with Luis Torres

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Luis Torres, a public health tech professional. They talk about what product management is, how to break into product development as a public health professional, and how health tech will become essential to progressing in the field of public health.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Luis became interested in public health and subsequently product management and health tech
  • What product development and management is 
  • How health tech is apparent in healthcare beyond tangibles such as telemedicine
    • How health tech directly supports the major goals of public health such as education, communication, and sharing of resources
  • How to be involved in health tech and product management without having a background in technology
    • What kinds of different members can make up a team in tech development
    • How having someone with public health expertise is vital in developing new health tech 
  • How you can involve health tech and innovative practices in your current organization
  • What skillsets are important and transferable from public health to product management
  • What additional skills or training may be helpful for someone looking to enter the health tech field
  • What a day in Luis’s life as Associate V.P. of Product at Partnership to End Addiction looks like

Today’s Guest:

Luis Torres focuses on improving patient access to treatment and strengthening the substance use treatment system through clinical quality improvement, practice change implementation, and clinical provider trainings. He aims to promote best practices among treatment providers and remove barriers to care for those with substance use disorders. Luis received his Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences from Virginia Tech and his master’s degree in public health from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Luis 0:00
Right now, we are in a transformational phase in public health and healthcare in general as well, but like a health, everything, the way that we conceptualize what public health is, how healthcare works, how we reach people, how we improve access to things, how we do preventative type of work, how we reach people at the population level at scale. We are in the middle of that transformation right now. 10 years from now, it’ll seem so obvious like how, as public health professionals, no one was doing this, it’ll seem crazy.

Sujani 0:36
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:51
Hi, Luis. And good morning, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. So thrilled to have you join us today.

Luis 0:58
Hi, Sujani, I’m really excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Sujani 1:01
As I was telling you, before we hit record, and you kind of like suggested we should probably keep our chit chat for when we hit record, because a lot of great things do come up kind of before the recording. This is a topic that I am personally very interested about. And when I came across you and then we put your recording into the calendar, I’ve been looking forward to having this conversation with you. I think I would have loved this conversation whether we were hitting record for a podcast or not. So thanks for doing this. And just to say that I’m personally very excited.

Luis 1:34
Yeah. Me too.

Sujani 1:35
The topic that Luis and I are going to be talking about is health tech and product development for public health and healthcare. And before we jump into your journey, and kind of how you being someone trained in public health, found your way into this specific niche. I’m curious if you could explain to our listeners, for those who may not be maybe aware of the term product development, and maybe even the broader field of health tech, if you could kind of just give us your take on what’s happening in that field. What is product development? So we kind of just like set the stage before we jump into your personal journey?

Luis 2:18
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of things, you know, to kind of mention across products. But product management is also kind of another broad term that’s used. And I think the good general definition is product management is it’s kind of the practice of driving the development, the launch, the support and improvement of a product. And a product can be a variety of different things. It can also be a service. But you know, a lot of times we think about web based platforms, apps, different types of items that can have like a life. And there’s a strategy. And I think one of the things that’s really exciting in the public health field is that there is an exponential investment and growth in products that are focused in the health and public health fields. But you have companies such as Amazon, Google, expanding into to the healthcare space into the public health space, you have a lot of startups, whether that be mental health startups, you have startups focused on general wellness, you also have startups focused on what we consider like traditional research areas, we’re going through just the country in general. And maybe the world is going through a digital transformation because of COVID at an accelerated rate. So you’re even seeing, you know, governments, state agencies will local jurisdictions and nonprofits leaning into that digital transformation and kind of fundamentally from the perspective of reaching people where they are being able to remove barriers to access being able to engage people better. And I think for me, that’s where it really crosses into into public health. A really basic definition for public health is that they’re in the kind of population level work. You know, as we all know, from our public health studies, population level interventions are really one of the biggest ways to make impacts in public health. And I think product and health tech, it’s really all about reaching as many people as possible, making things easy for them, removing barriers, really creating solutions, and product management and product development is really just the kind of the way that you create those products and services to meet those outcomes that you that you want to get.

Sujani 4:28
Yeah, I think with the fundamental objective of public health being trying to get in front of as many people as you can with these interventions, and the way like our technology is kind of advancing and just the ability to access like millions of people through like certain platforms. It’s almost natural that public health is moving into this area of leveraging technology to be able to meet its objectives, right?

Luis 5:00
Yeah, I think it’s just, it’s aligned so well. And I think it’s as a public health professional or for any of any public health professionals, it’s a way that, you know, maybe, is not super common. But it’s certainly applicable to building a career in public health and expanding the definition of what a public health professional can do.

Sujani 5:22
What are some, I guess, like very neat products like tech based products, obviously, that you’ve come across since kind of stepping into this field, I heard you mention, the big tech companies, Amazon, and Facebook and YouTube, we know they all have kind of branches, where they’re focused on like some aspect of health. And surely we’ve seen many, many job opportunities also, from these big companies popping up where they’re needing, or they’re wanting professionals with an MPH or some sort of public health background or skill or our degree. I’m curious, like, have any other products piqued your interest? And you thought, wow, like, this is very cool. I know, certainly, for me, a lot of those examples are more on kind of the healthcare side of things where there’s like the individual interaction for some sort of a health care service, whether that’s like the telehealth apps, you know, here in Canada, Maple is one of the ones that comes to mind. And I’m sure there are many others, like in the US and around the world. I’m, I’m curious if there are any other products that you’ve come across where you’ve thought like, this is very cool. And, and it’s not in the telemedicine space, but in another area of public health?

Luis 6:39
Yeah, I think. And it’s also, I guess, the other thing to mention is there’s also a way of functioning is relevant to kind of product world. And I think terms like user experience, like UX are also really important. And I think, you know, not only can you think about apps and platforms, but you can also think about it as a way of like how to solve problems. I think one of the ways that I’ve seen it done in terms of like how we address, you know, certain public health issues, is even kind of how we design things. So for example, if we’re trying to build something that’s going to, let’s say, improve access to resources or information, right, it’s not necessarily a kind of like a one on one interaction. I think a lot of times the way the public health field has approached things, is it necessarily informed by user experience and co-esign. Just thinking about doing user research. You know, not just simple focus groups, but really co designing and understanding like, what are the pain points. How do we solve those pain points? What are the constraints that we need to adjust for what is what is something that we can fix? What are the things that are out of our hands, understanding all those things, just that approach is really kind of fundamental. So I’ve seen this from companies like thinking specifically at Google, they have entered the behavioral health space. And certainly part of that is, you know, healthcare related and treating people. But it’s also about the way that they go about understanding someone’s experience, and how they access care how they access information, how they can have a continuum of care, and what are the different things they face, but how to be able to resolve some of those bottlenecks going into kind of like the real public health domain, and that I’ve been really interesting is in public health, I think, you know, one of the major goals that we have is education. One of the largest expansions that I’ve seen in the public health field, is taking advantage of the growth in the eLearning, and the digital learning space. And so tradition traditionally, you know, the way that we reach people is through boots on the ground, or media campaigns, or trying to engage people, even by traditional media, one of the really great, exciting things is people are online in different forms. Thinking about the best way to reach people provide education through other means. So not simply just you know, getting somebody in front of a computer, but saying, hey, you know, a lot of people in vulnerable populations or in lower economic status populations may not have a smartphone, let’s create SMS based text message based micro learnings or SMS based touch points to say, hey, there’s some resources in your area, or here’s some information or this is or these are places where you can go to get information, and really thinking about the constraints that they face that a lot of horrible populations may face and how to address those with those constraints. The other thing that’s really exciting is general prevention, creating different tools, platforms that can really build an environment around someone to help focus on the prevention and whether that be substance use and addiction whether that be maternal health issues, whether that be CoVid, or other areas of concern, think being able to create these kinds of environments, people can seek resources, find educational information, you know, learn how to how to connect with, with anything that they need is probably one of the more exciting places that I think, you know, we’re headed in public health.

Sujani 10:17
I think this is a good kind of segue into talking a bit about your journey, because I heard you talk about various, I’ll say skills, but also areas that you need to be knowledgeable in. And one of the ones that you mentioned quite a bit was the user experience side of things, or like elearning. Just looking at the training that you had, which was a bachelor’s degree in biology, followed by a master’s degree in epidemiology, and environmental health and program management, you somehow found your way into the tech space. And one of the first questions that I typically start with my guests is, how did you discover the field of public health? Because, you know, a lot of them, it was an accidental discovery. And I’m curious to hear you know, what your journey has been like, because you started off with a bachelor’s degree in biology. And I’m wondering if you already had this vision for your career to kind of establish it within the public health field? Or if that was something that was also kind of an accidental discovery for yourself?

Luis 11:21
That’s a great question. And I think my journey is, in some ways is similar to others, which is, when I went to undergrad and did biology, certainly had a passion for science, but discovered public health in undergrad, and really just loved it, I think there’s something really amazing about thinking about population level impacts, whether that be you know, vaccines, whether that be, you know, just clean drinking water, and sanitation, like how all those things make really big impacts on people’s lives. Those advancements are really what’s made people healthier, and you know, improved our quality of life. And, you know, the average human lifespan. So I totally fell in love with public health in undergrad when I discovered it. I always knew at that point that I wanted to work in public health, I didn’t necessarily know exactly what that was. And just like other people, I considered doing a PhD in something going to med school, things like that. And I think ultimately, the reason why I decided to focus on public health for grad school right away is I just I loved it didn’t really know what to do in terms of building a career, but just wanted to kind of build that base of knowledge and understand it better and go from there. And as I was in grad school, I think one of the things that struck me was, there’s a lot of very traditional pathways that people follow when they go into public health, I think it’s very common, obviously, there’s the next degree, a lot of people end up going to, you know, doing a PhD or gonna go to med school or something like that. But then there’s almost like a bottleneck in the diversity of careers, I find a lot of people ended up working for, you know, a government or state agency, you know, whether that be something like the CDC or working for a Department of Health in New York City, we have a really big Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or people focused, you know, more research fields, whether that would be within a hospital system at a university, I found that those were the a lot of the traditional places people went, and, you know, and certainly working at at nonprofits as well, but I’d never could see myself doing that. And it took some time. And, you know, I worked at universities, university to hospitals, I’ve worked at, you know, different kinds of nonprofits. But I think, my exposure and my first few years right after I finished my MPH, I started to kind of discover this world of innovation in health. And through where I am right now, as an associate vice president of partnerships and addiction, I was able to kind of get exposed into the health tech fields, and grow into the role that I am now. Or it was actually very organic, but it wasn’t necessarily something that was super clear in my head. But I think once I saw it, what’s possible within the health tech field, the public health tech field, and how that aligns with public health, at least to me, it was like very captivating, because I think these coming from the background that I had in public health and in science, when you think of like tech, you think of Tesla, or financial tech and all these different things, you don’t kind of see the correlation. But for me saying like, hey, you know, let’s use like a public utility. You know, let’s say somebody’s trying to access WIC or resources like that there is a whole back end that exists in terms of how people access the portals to be able to apply for those things. There’s a whole process of how people realize they need services and obtain services. And you know, those things are broken. A lot of times and those things affect people’s lives and people’s health and everything from you know how people interact with when they need resources from a local or state agency to, you know, how they use their phones to what platforms can be used. There is just like such a great potential there to do a lot of really good things in the public health field through those pathways. The goal of these products and services is always to scale always to find people and meet people where they are provide seamless, really smooth experiences, it just works. So well with trying to tackle some of the larger public health issues that we face.

Sujani 15:30
You said the organization you’re at currently, was what exposed you to that field of like innovation in public health. So leading up to that you were doing a number of different research related roles. Were you at all interested in the field of like tech and innovation in the earlier years? Or is that something that you didn’t know you had interest in until you’re exposed to it?

Luis 15:56
I think it’s a little bit of both. So I think when I was younger, when I was in middle school, in high school, I used to really be into computer science. And I used to build my own computers, and then thing and things like that. But I kind of I don’t I don’t know if I did it on purpose, but or just kind of happened. But I kind of lost interest in that over time. And then, you know, when I was in undergrad, and in grad school, we’re very much focused on biochemistry and mechanisms and needs assessments and all these things, and you know, writing research papers and things like that, and I just never kind of went away for a long time. I think maybe it just clicked as a, you know, progressed in my career. But I think it’s one of the things that I think it’s probably really good to make clear is like, you don’t need a tech background, to answer products to enter the tech health field. There are so many different ways to be involved. I think coding and stuff like that is a very specific part of it, like I did, like the developing part of it. But there’s so much more that goes into designing, creating really meaningful products that can impact people’s lives. There’s subject matter expertise, I think that’s one of the things that can make other public health professionals really valuable. I know, it’s one of the things that helps me, which is my public health background merged with these other perspectives and skill sets, whether that be user experience, whether that be strategy, whether that be user research and testing, whether it just be pure product management and understanding like, you know, how are we moving forward and the product roadmap and how are we building things, there’s so many things that kind of align. And having training and any sort of public health field really helps that like, for example, as we think about building tools for COVID, you know, whether that be different tracking tools or prevention tools, it helps to have a background and understanding epidemiology and helps to have a background in understanding infectious disease, like all those things matter, with this growth that we’re seeing, from small startups to large, large, large companies like Google or Amazon, there’s such value in having a health public health background and skill set, because you bring a really unique perspective.

Sujani 18:11
And I think like the way I kind of understand this role of product manager, and I think before we started recording is telling you that that’s kind of the field that my husband is in, so I get to talk about it quite a bit at home. You don’t need to have your hands in the product, building it, like the coding and all those things, you can actually have a team around you, a team of engineers, a team of designers, illustrators, whoever you need to kind of execute the plan, but you as a public health expert, are the one kind of setting the strategy and the vision for it. And I think as long as you know what’s possible, using the resources that you have around you to execute on, like the development of this product, or service, you’re able to take on that role.

Luis 18:58
Yeah, I think one of the great things about product management and just the general field of building products product development is that it’s team based. And, you know, you have everything from engineers, you know, developers, coders as one side, you always have subject matter expertise. Whether you’re building a new Uber, you need subject matter expertise, or whether you’re building a mental health, or whether you’re building tool that’s supposed to help with education and analytics around public health, like you need that subject matter expertise. You also have, you know, designers of all different types, whether that be UX or UI or graphic illustrative designers, you’re certainly not alone. And I think just to kind of reiterate, public health professionals really fit in and a really nice, neat place where we talked about all these public health focused areas, which is you certainly are part of the leadership and thinking about how things are built and kind of helping move that process along. But bringing in and expertise that you have just adds to your value and generally make whatever you’re building better.

Sujani 20:02
Talking a bit more on the skills and training that could set someone up to do well in this kind of area of work. I noticed with yourself like you had those traditional research related roles kind of leading up to your product related work. When you made that jump from a traditional public health research role into more of this, like world of product development, did you feel like you were well equipped and well prepared to take on this like, new role? Maybe the other side of that question is, how did you convince the hiring managers that you could do this role without having like any tech related training or, like not having done this role in the past?

Luis 20:53
You know, just to say, like, I think I both felt like I could do it, and also that I needed more. One of the skill sets that really translate well is the cross collaboration with different stakeholders and a lot of public health roles. That’s just part of what you do, whether you’re working with a bunch of different colleagues, or whether you’re doing a lot of outreach and external facing type of work, I think it’s a skill set that is really important, particularly on the on the product management and product management, you’re kind of the person that makes everything go just collaborating with different stakeholders, having a greater vision, helping keep everything aligned, so it serves people better. But you know, for me, one of the things that as I progressed into the role that I have now that I think helped convince the hiring managers organization that I can do this role is, I really began to see the value and the evolution of public health. And this is not just me, but at least in terms of being like an intrapreneur within the organization. Because as part of the digital transformation, I think we’re also seeing a change in how nonprofits how Department of Health, government agencies need to function. And this is happening across the board, no matter what industry, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the organizations that are going to stay around and make an impact are really investing and pivoting into this digital transformation. And for me, because of, you know, my ability to think, partially from the training that I got to public health, at the population health level, being able to work with multiple stakeholders, having exposure and data, you know, through epidemiology, like all those things are actual components of product management, product management and development relies heavily on user research and data and constant evaluation that constantly relies on working with multiple teams, multiple different people internal external, and it also requires an ability to maintain a vision forwho you’re trying to serve who your audiences, and I just felt like it, it was just a natural fit. You know, on top of that, you know, I took it upon myself to get some extra training, I think one of the things that that is out there for any professional again, to make super clear, you do not have to be a coder, you do not have to be a designer to be in the digital health space, there’s a lot of great ways to get some extra training out there. I did it through a company called General Assembly who had a short product management course, there’s so many ways to get into it, I have friends and colleagues who work in products, you know, outside of the health field, but that entered it in a really successful to have never had any formal training or course, you know, there’s multiple ways to get into it, I think the main requirement is that you’re eager, but you also see the opportunity, and then are willing to kind of take it upon yourself to fill in those gaps to kind of address it. But like I said, I think, at least from my experience, a lot of public health professionals already have a lot of the skills, especially the soft skills to transition into that product management type of work in the digital health field.

Sujani 24:06
And I think another way to kind of approach it if if you know that you’re interested in this field of work and you’d like to work in product management one day is kind of pulling up different job postings that already exist. And just like giving it a quick glance at what their minimum requirements are, are there areas that you could in your current role work towards so that you do set yourself up to be a very strong candidate. And as you were talking Luis, I pulled up a product manager job posting at Google and I think this falls under their Fitbit arm of work. And I think it’s for the Google Health Studies platform. Not sure if you’ve heard of that one. There are minimum qualifications is like three bullets starting from the bottom. It’s like experience identifying and tracking key metrics which I think you know, that’s an easy transferable skill. If you’ve been working in research and you’re working with lots of data, I think that’s a great way to talk about your experience working with like metrics, and then experience launching consumer products, such as applications with the focus on privacy and data transparency, I think maybe, you know, trying to get creative to see where in your organization, maybe you could lend a hand and products or services that are going straight to the consumer, or, you know, the public. And then like the the first bullet, which I’m curious to hear how you would approach it is five years of product management experience, including product strategy, tactics and execution, delivering technology products. How could you get creative if you’re in a traditional public health role to work towards that qualification?

Luis 25:52
Yeah, and I think this is one of the places where it’s interesting, a little bit, but I think one of the most obvious one to one is like, if you’ve ever been involved in grant projects, if you’ve ever been a project manager, if you’ve ever been a program manager I’ve been, I think it’s like super relevant thinking about, you know, let’s say you’re part of a team at a nonprofit or university, these are grant funded, right? There’s a lifecycle to them is three years, five years, and there’s a lot of moving pieces, not only do you have to understand the needs of the population you’re trying to serve, and I’m keeping this mostly to public health, right, like public health research, a lot of times we’re talking about making impacts on people not necessarily, you know, like in a wet lab, but you know, you’re having to understand what people’s needs are understanding what their barriers are. So you actually are building like a larger strategy, even, you know, as you apply for the grant, and as you execute it, you’re managing or at least being part of managing budgets, right, whether that be staff, whether that be external people that you’re collaborating with, whether that be, you know, resources and equipment and tools, you’re also without knowing it, probably doing user research and testing, you’re doing focus groups, or you’re doing surveys, a lot of things align there, when it comes to essentially, you know, taking products to market, you know, in the in the case of traditional public health work, it might be, you know, implementing a new program, or it might be producing a report or creating a toolkit for something, it’s just a reimagine ation of that deliverable, right. So as a product manager, your goal might be to create and develop an app or a platform that’s meant to do something, but you’re doing the same thing as part of these grants and public health related work. It’s just instead of an app, it might be a toolkit, right, and there are a lot of applicable skills. The other thing to mention is that there’s a lot of different places to enter the field, there’s things like a junior product manager, and one of the great things is going at one of these places like Google, they actually really want people with project management experience with some subject matter experience that they can like mold into product managers, there’s no major for product management, you know, there’s a major for like design or for computer science, if you want to be a coder engineer, but to be a product manager, you know, there’s a lot of different ways to get there. And there’s so many applicable skill sets from traditional public health work, don’t translate well.

Sujani 28:25
No, you’re right. I think the the subject matter expertise is so key to building really good products. And I think that not only translates for, like the role of product management, we have a course for infographic design. And that’s something I also mentioned there where you could bring on an illustrator or marketing team to design an infographic to communicate some sort of health information to the population that you’re working with. But you as the public health expert, you’re in the best position to kind of lead that project because you’re the one who knows and understands the population that you’re working with. So much more than possibly the illustrator on your team or the marketing department. Right. And I think that kind of translates here as well.

Luis 29:13
Yeah, I mean, I can’t say enough just how much my public health experience helps me. I think, in the day to day work of building things, and collaborating with designers and developers rely on that expertise and making an argument of like, hey, this might be the tech solution. Or this might be the way that somebody with a different framing or a different experience might approach something but saying like, hey, like, actually, this doesn’t make sense, because somebody’s not going to use this tool. So an easy example to say is like, hey, we want to create an application that’s going to help people find resources that they need regarding like substance use and addiction. Somebody might say, hey, let’s build this like really beautiful app. Let’s put all the bells and whistles in there, let’s just make it really easy to use and really attractive. Sounds great, right. But as somebody, you know, with my public health background understands is that, you know, these vulnerable populations, just understanding that like, a lot of people don’t have smartphones, a lot of people don’t have lots of data on their phone, might be reliant on places for Wi Fi, they might not even be able to download that. So taking a step back and be able to say, like, Hey, that’s a great idea. But what’s actually going to allow us to meet people where they are is to consider these things and to say, hey, instead of maybe kind of this concept, let’s think about a web based app, let’s think about something that’s going to be not as data heavy, or that doesn’t require people downloading anything. Because you’re, you’re going to be able to better engage that population and allow them to find the resources. Rather than thinking about, you know, a traditional way of solving this problem from the tech field.

Sujani 30:55
I hope going back and forth on this topic, we’ve convinced our listeners, anyone interested in the area of product management, that their public health background and expertise goes such a long way. And that, you know, if there is interest, they should be considering this area of work, regardless of whether they have that technical training in the tech space. And just so people can get even more of a I guess, inside look into what this role entails as wondering if you’d be able to just tell us a little bit about how a day in the life of your work is like as you Associate VP of product at the Partnership to End addiction, or maybe even like in some of the other work that you’ve done,

Luis 31:41
You know, my day has evolved a little bit now in my role, I’m a little less into the day to day of Product Management more into the grander vision. But I think, you know, my day, what it typically looks like is essentially meeting with different people throughout the day, but also building roadmaps thinking digitally. But you know, in the morning, right now, we do a lot of projects with different states, state agencies, things like that. And so for example, I might be meeting with like the commissioner, or associate commissioner of a state agency, to talk about, hey, you know, understanding some of the things that are happening around the needs of the people that they serve, and talking about, you know, a project that we have in the works, and you know, how to integrate their feedback, giving updates about how things are going and also thinking strategically across the board, or as we’re moving forward. And then later in the day meeting with our UX UI design team, to touch base on, you know, some of the feedback we got how some of the user research is going and user testing, if you’ve gotten if we’ve tested prototypes, how things are going pin points that we’ve kind of identified, and in our research, you know, later in the day, talking to our development team, and just getting a debrief and understanding some of those issues. And also, you know, making sure that the collaboration between the designers and the development team is working well, and that everyone understands some of the considerations as we’re building things for the populations we’re trying to serve. And, you know, feedback from the other stakeholders that we work with, like this agency, in this example, to having some time to think about, you know, this is what we’ve built so far, what can we do next? What can we focus on? How can we serve people better, and how we can execute those things. So I think that the thing that’s really exciting about this work is the ability to be innovative. I think, for me, that’s probably one of the most meaningful things is, it’s constantly about problem solving. And it’s never super narrow, you know, we might be building a certain product, you know, this year or next year. But it doesn’t just stop once we’ve released, there’s updates, improvements, there’s thinking about how we can do things better, a great example, that if some of your listeners have, if you Google, the amount of apps or platforms that Google itself, has in beta, it’s insane. And also the amount of apps and platforms that they have retired over time, things that we’ve heard of things with, that we’ve never heard of. But I think that’s the really exciting part is that it doesn’t end like the innovation continues. And it’s always about challenging assumptions. And saying, you know, this is what we’ve done, this is what we want to do, let’s think of different ways to approach the problem or different solutions to those problems. And we’re not going to waste time or effort on things that don’t work. You know, if we’ve done the research, and we have the data, let’s move on to the next thing.

Sujani 34:36
And I think like, you know, innovation doesn’t necessarily have to happen only at Google right or at Amazon, like some of those big companies that we hear of. I think there’s always space for that in, like the organization you are currently working at. Obviously, it may not be the work that you focus on, but there’s always room for you to suggest a new way of thinking about certain things that you’re working on, at your organization, people for you to connect with at your current organization who may already be like dabbling in that area of work to see if you can contribute in some way and, and like slowly getting your feet wet, trying to explore that area work in a more easier manner. You know, rather than switching a job or going out to find a role at Google or any other huge tech company, I don’t know if you can think back to the roles that you had at, you know, I have your LinkedIn open here, but you worked at Vital strategies, or New York Academy of Medicine Cancer Center, where you weren’t doing, I guess, the the work that you’re doing now, but I wonder if you can think of ways that maybe you could have gotten like your feet wet in this area of work as kind of like inspiration for our listeners to maybe consider that in their current organization.

Luis 36:05
As far as your feet, the places I’ve been, I think two things at the same time. One is, you know, for example, when I was in New York medicine, I was doing a lot of research and focus groups and surveying of people who were using substances. And that is user research and user testing, but I didn’t know it. And I imagined that a lot of the listeners that are doing the type of work are doing user research and user testing, without knowing what those things are. They’re doing it in the more traditional public health kind of language that exists around it. So I think one of the ways that you can think start to explore this within your own organizations is, you know, look up product management, look up UX UI, look up user testing, user research, see what those things are, and the kind of workflows and the terminology and the processes around how those things are done, you’re gonna see a lot of overlap. And I think one of the things that I’ve learned a lot is traditional research of any type can learn a lot about how the tech industry, how product management, how they do user research, and testing. If you think about any product that we use, right, think about the apps on your phone, think about how you order things online, those things are meant to be easy to use, and be as effective as possible. Like they actually want you to not have issues. And applying those approaches and processes to how we do public health work is only going to allow us to understand things better, it’s only allowed us to build programs to create services relating to public health in a better way. I think the other thing is whether or not it’s been named in your public health organization, agency, nonprofit type of work. There is a shift, I’ve seen so many nonprofits, and government agencies as well that are in public health, start to hire Junior product manager or start to hire UX researchers. There’s this shift that’s happening, and we’re no longer going to be producing PDF toolkits, that’s the old world. The new world is let’s build a platform, that’s gonna give people the resources information to execute or find the thing that we want them to whether that be informational, whether that’s access to something, whether that’s we’re trying to just understand things, there’s a fundamental shift happening in what is a public health deliverable or public health products for lack of a better word. In the coming years. I mean, I can’t remember how many times I’ve created or teams that I’ve been a part of in the past, we created toolkits, PDF documents, or we created research reports and things like that. That’s just changing and do the work that I do. Now, we’ve seen NIH, SAMSA, CDC, they’re also funding this new type of public health work as well. So there is a shift happening. And I think, in your organization, if it’s something that you’re interested in, is being part of facilitating the digital transformation, and leveraging the skill sets that you already have to be able to kind of move in that direction.

Sujani 39:20
And you know, just to quickly name a few areas where you could do this off the top my head, and I think you talked about it quite a bit is like when you’re administering focus groups are questionnaires or surveys, and you are recruiting individuals for those purposes. I think, rather than doing it the way that it’s always been done for the past 10-20 years at your organization. Good practice could be like Luis, you mentioned, you know, look into what is done in the world of product management or like some other strategies for better user interaction, and kind of see how you can apply that in your work for the next project or even when you’re doing like knowledge translation, knowledge dissemination, if it’s always been a PDF report that’s posted on a link on your website. And you know, you could go back, try to talk to the web team and see if you can download some analytics to get a sense of how much those reports are being downloaded, what the interaction has been like over the past number of years that they’ve existed. One way to do this is like, identify these areas where you can change or innovate within your organization, and then coming up with a plan based on what you’re reading, and then proposing that new plan to your manager or your team. And that’s kind of, you know, you get their buy in and you’re able to work on smaller projects. And who knows, eventually, you could create a role for yourself, right? Like you, you take on these small projects, you you change up the way things are being done, bring in new principles, and then show your team in your management that a role like this is necessary, and maybe that you’re the best candidate to take on this role. And so, just some other ways to get your foot in the door, when it comes to this area of work.

Luis 41:10
I love the way you named that. Because it’s funny, I think you actually named my journey a little bit.

Sujani 41:16
Oh, yeah.

Luis 41:16
We didn’t have a product team or product departments at our organization before, you know, and I’m not, you know, you’re gonna take like the full credit by myself. But part of what I pushed for was creating a product team, product department, and then pushing for those changes. And, you know, as I’m sure you can see, in my LinkedIn, my role within the organization has evolved. And it was partially that advocating for this new approach advocating for, hey, we need this, to be able to do our work well, but also to be able to, to move into this new phase of Public Health. We’re not necessarily building our, our capacity with these different skill sets and thinking this way. And a lot of it’s just a different way of thinking and understanding how to approach things. It’s not going to support the long term goals of the organization. I feel like sometimes when I say this, it’s hyperbole. But like, right now, we are in a transformational phase in public health and healthcare in general as well, but like public health and health, everything.

Sujani 42:22

Luis 42:22
The way that we conceptualize what public health is how healthcare works, how we reach people, how we improve access to things, how we do preventative type of work, how we reach people at the population level at scale, we are in the middle of that transformation right now. You know, 10 years from now, it’ll seem so obvious. Like how, as public health professionals, no one was doing this, it’ll seem crazy. But right now, it’s a transitionary period, and it feels maybe scary, or it’s or it feels unclear as to like, you know, how we’re moving in this direction, and why it’s valuable for everybody that does public health work to think this way, or function, or at least have this be an important part of the way public health work functions. But it is going to go there. And every time I talk to, you know, public health students at any level, I probably feel like I’m pushing them towards the general health tech. But I think unless you truly want to be like a pure researcher, or something like that, this is such an opportunity for people in public health to really stake like a valuable piece of kind of the health innovation that’s coming in the future.

Sujani 43:33
I definitely want to keep talking to you about this, Luis, and I rarely go over time when I when it comes to booking recordings with my guests. And I’m just looking over at the time and want to make sure that you can get back to what you had planned on the schedule for your day. And I’m not going to wrap this up in any special way. Because I can see another conversation with you if you’re up for it to really just get into this topic of how we are in a transformational phase in public health. And maybe just talk a bit about how we, as public health professionals who have been trained in the more traditional way, can sort of, you know, get prepared for this transformation. And I do want to hear what you’re saying to the students and how you’re pushing them because I’d love to bring that for our community here PH SPOT. So I think with that, I might say thank you for joining us today and to our listeners that you can definitely expect Luis to come back obviously if you’re interested and willing, Luis.

Luis 44:35
Yeah, you know, I’d be happy to I get so excited about this. And yeah, happy to and I appreciate being part of it.

Sujani 44:45
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go I I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more, or want to join the club, you can visit our page at And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career club.


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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