My public health journey – from medical school to COVID emergencies

I graduated from medical school in 2016 and completed a specialization in public health in November of 2020 at the University of Turin in Italy.

Since getting into medical school, I have only thought of becoming a pediatrician. In Italy, to start a residency you have to complete a national test where you compete with candidates from all over the country. And based on your score, you might be matched with your first choice of residency.
Unfortunately, amongst my residency choices of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and public health, I ended up matched with my third choice – public health. At first, I was admittedly sad by this direction.

My interest in public health came from my post-graduation work experience as a medical doctor for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. During those years, Italy was experiencing a big migration phenomenon (people coming from different regions such as Africa, as well as countries like Pakistan). Most, entered by sea and were sent to welcoming centers and camps where they would stay until they could get the appropriate document(s) or a residency permit.

In my region, Marche, migrants would often look for medical doctors to take care of them until they could get the necessary documents and have their own general practitioner. I applied for this job and started working for three welcoming centers, where my duties were to conduct their first visit when they arrived in Italy and continue to care for them until they became my patients.

My employers were public health specialists and inspired me. As a result, I became more interested in this field, particularly in health promotion, management and migrant health (which became one of my main interests during my residency).

Additionally, this experience at the welcoming centres helped me gain clinical confidence. During medical school, I did three years of training in different wards at the hospital. However, being on your own and managing more than 100 people coming from different places and with different problems was new and very challenging. As a newly graduated doctor, I was scared and not as confident but I still had the drive to want to contribute. The best advice I got during this period was: take chances, otherwise, if you do not try, you may never learn from your mistake. Moreover, this work has also opened my eyes to the cultural, social and language barriers that newcomers generally face in accessing services in the Italian health system.

In November 2016, I started my residency in public health. In these 4 years, I came across different subjects (epidemiology, statistics, health management, health policy, environment, etc). Four years is not enough time to be the best in each of these fields. I also struggled to understand what I like, what I don’t like and what I don’t mind. But even in this case, I relied on my old work experiences and my passions. I knew I would love to interact with migrants, minorities and policy, so I knew that global and migrant health would be fields that I would be interested in. I knew that health policy was another subject that I was interested in so I tried to look for an internship in organizations that would allow me exposure to this area. This is how I ended up doing a 6 months internship in London at International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM), an organization focused on measuring patient health outcomes in order to create a standard set for patients, healthcare workers and institutions. One piece of advice I would give to those who would like to work in public health is to create and cultivate relationships – it’s very important to talk to other professionals, about what you are doing, what you would like to do and to take on new challenges. I realized this through the years and I got many useful contacts with whom I worked for many interesting projects. The more you can get involved, the more you can actually understand which route you would like to take.

Since last year, I worked in the medical health management of a Piedmont hospital during the COVID 19 emergency and it has been one of the most impactful experiences not only in my professional life but in my personal life.

COVID-19 has been a very significant event for healthcare workers, physically and mentally. It has been a challenge to adapt as we fight against a disease that we know little about on a daily basis. As a public health specialist, I have learned a lot while managing a global pandemic from different points of view (risk management, infections, procedures guidelines, etc). There have been moments of frustration, tiredness, sadness and few spikes of happiness during these months. I have to thank all my relatives and close friends that have always been there for me. It has been a very hard period and we still probably have to face other difficulties. My advice for all of us during this pandemic is to continue to work, be informed, study as much as possible and share our information with other people.COVID is a disease that can’t be fought individually but as a community.

Another important thing is to keep being positive as much as possible and to seek help (that could be from a family member, a specialist, or a psychotherapist) whenever there is a need. We should not be ashamed of asking for help, especially in a much-needed moment like this.

Photo by David Utt on Unsplash

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