Opening yourself to possibilities, with Anita Balan

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Anita Balan, a project director at the American College of Preventive Medicine. They discuss Anita’s journey through grad school and the pit stops she took along the way, and ways to add to your skills toolkit by seizing opportunities outside of formal education.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Anita discovered public health through a peer education opportunity on campus
  • How politics and public health are closely intertwined
  • The importance of being open to different opportunities that may not necessarily be in your direct field of work
  • Anita’s experience and reflections on taking a break in between grad school
  • How you can upscale your school without needing formal education
    • How volunteering is a valuable way to add skills to your toolkit
  • How to cope with failures and feelings of low self esteem
  • What’s next for Anita and how she is gathering information for her future career path through informational interviews

Today’s Guest:

Anita Balan is a Project Director at the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM). Currently, she is responsible for the day-to-day management and implementation of multiple grants funded through a cooperative agreement between ACPM and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, aimed at to strengthen public health systems and improve population health through national partnerships. Three of her projects focus on building the capacity of physicians, health systems and collaborating organizations to prevent diabetes, reduce hypertension and address COVID-19 among disproportionately affected populations. She provides staff support for the preventive medicine residency program directors and the Graduate Medical Education Subcommittee. Ms. Balan is a strong advocate for health promotion and disease prevention, investing in public health, public health law, addressing structural barriers and eliminating health disparities. She earned her MPH in Prevention and Community Health from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University and is a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES). She serves on the boards of the National Capital Area chapter of the Society of Public Health Education (NCA SOPHE) and the South Asian Public Health Association (SAPHA). She is a believer in life-long learning and enjoys being a student of Indian Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam dance.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Anita 0:00
There is a need to, you know, fail in the sense that you know, you need to put yourself out there knowing that sometimes it’s not going to work in your favor, right? Took me a long time and I’m still learning this life lesson of it is okay to fail, because that is only a pathway, it’s only a step towards going wherever you want to go.

Sujani 0:24
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.

Hi, Anita. Good morning, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. So wonderful to have you here. And I’m just excited to hear about your journey in public health.

Anita 0:50
Thank you, I think this is one of the benefits of LinkedIn, right? Because I was just browsing on LinkedIn, the only platform I’m on these days, and I came across your post, and there was a lot of strong reactions and positive reactions to everybody wanting to share their journey. And I was like, Oh, this is fantastic. So let me give it a try. I’m not sure how useful it’s gonna be for others, but I’ll do my best.

Sujani 1:13
Oh, you know, I am more than 100% sure that it will help at least one person. And that’s what I learned in, I guess, five or six years of running PH SPOT is the stories that are much more closer to individuals in public health. And by that I mean, you know, it’s nice to see influencers or people who feel kind of like way out there and you’re not able to connect with them.

Anita 1:39

Sujani 1:40
And like this platform kind of allows you to see all the different possibilities, and you feel really close to the individuals that you’re listening to. So I’m sure your journey and your story is going to connect with somebody, and it’s going to give them some sort of light with their career.

Anita 1:55
Thank you. I appreciate that.

Sujani 1:57
Yeah, and that post that you mentioned, yeah, I was having a surreal moment, I think when I was just publishing a few of our episodes for the season, and I kind of like had this one image that had all of the images of all of our guests. And it was just amazing for me to kind of think about the individuals I had met through this platform. And like, I don’t know, if there would have been any other opportunity for me to meet these individuals like yourself, right? Like,

Anita 2:24
Absolutely, yeah.

Sujani 2:25
You’re in Virginia, I’m in Canada, for whatever reason, maybe our paths may have crossed. But this platform has made it possible. And I think it was that surreal moment that prompted me to post in the group just to say, I’ve talked to so many great individuals, I’d love to talk to more. Is anybody interested? And then you were one of those amazing individuals who put up your hand and said, Yeah, I’d love to. And here we are today.

Anita 2:48
Thank you. Thank you, appreciate the opportunity.

Sujani 2:51
Okay. So you know, one of the great questions that I love hearing answers to from my guess, is the discovery of the field of public health. For me, it was an accidental discovery, I did not know kind of such a field existed. Nor did I know there was this like terminology associated with this field. I discovered it because of an elective course in my undergraduate studies, I went to university, just for the sciences thinking I go into dental school, I didn’t really enjoy much of the courses that I was taking, except for this one elective course. And it was called plagues and people and just was fascinated by this concept of public health. And that’s kind of what started my research into figuring out that there is a path that kind of really aligns with the way that I wanted to kind of build my career. And so I know for you, you actually have a minor in public health in your undergraduate studies, and so curious to hear how you discovered the field. And what prompted you to say, yeah, let me let me try building a career in this area.

Anita 3:54
So yeah, I mean, I think for me, it was also accidental and circuitous in a way I did my schooling in India, I came directly here from my undergrad. And I got accepted into the Rutgers school in the State University of New Jersey, and I got accepted into Camden branch. And I was a biology major initially, right. And I was taking these biology classes and doing reasonably well, but again, I wasn’t super invested or interested in the biology major, what I discovered was not actually another course. But in the health center, they actually called all of us any volunteers were interested to take part in a peer education workshop, like peer- a peer health education workshop, and I, I just decided to go I mean, there was nothing much else to do, and it was winter and dreary, so I figured, why not? It’d be a great way to at least meet some other people. And I accidentally again, discovered that’s where they were talking about, like, you know, public health and peer education and how do you help each other as students be healthier on campus and so that’s how I discovered the concept of public health and but I still wasn’t at that time intended on changing a major because at that time, I didn’t know it could be done as a major, or that it was available in that campus. And for separate reasons, I moved to the bigger campus in New Brunswick, which is the main campus at Rutgers. And there, I continued with a biology major. And it’s so strange because, for me, the course that really attracted me was a class called congressional politics. So I took this class, and I really fell in love with politics in the United States, and fascinated with the way it functions in the various players involved. And I switched my major in the second year from biology to politics, which is quite a shift. But at the same time, this bugs, so to speak, bit me in my first year, when it comes to peer education, and I was looking for other peer education opportunities in the main campus. And that’s when I discovered becoming a peer educator within the health realm. And I became a health educator by getting trained to conduct workshops across campus and talk about issues that are critical for college campuses, and college aged youth, including, you know, binge drinking, safer sex, dealing with stress, talking about sexually transmitted infections, talking about substance use disorders and other public health issues that are of relevance and that are highly prevalent within the college age youth. And so that’s how I fell in love with public health. And of course, once I fell in love with it as an extracurricular activity, along with my curricular classes of politics, I thought, hey, why not? You know, I just changed my major to politics. But let me just go ahead and see if I can add a minor. And so I added that minor. What I really discovered during my extracurricular activities was how the two were two very much intertwined. I’m sure you’ve come across a lot of people describe this, through your interviews is that, you know, appropriations for public health spending, allocating money, federal government money and taxpayers money for public health funding, unfortunately, is quite political in this country. And so it was by accident that I discovered how much it is important for me to be aware of the political process and aware of the at least the process by which monies are allocated for public health spending in this country. So just it just so happened, that my politics major and my public health minor simply became two very neat pieces that fits well together. And that’s what I ended up.

Sujani 7:27
What were you thinking when you were adding the minor and public health? Like, were you thinking I’m going to add this, basically, because I’m very much interested in the field? Or were you at this point, thinking about a potential career in public health? Or were you thinking about a career in politics? What was going on in your head?

Anita 7:44
That’s a great question. Yeah. You know, I think that even though I did have a politics major, my interest was very much in public health. I fell in love with public health through the co curricular activities that I was doing. And I made sure they added value to the classes that I was in, in addition to the epidemiology, bio stats, and all the basic courses that I was taking. I was also looking at, you know, the political influences on health policies, the process for developing health policies, and I started taking more and more policy courses, developing courses and started doing projects in health realm. So absolutely, I knew from my sophomore year, I don’t know how many people can say this. But I knew from my sophomore year that my career was going to be in public health. And it was because of my co curricular activities. So the one piece that I would recommend, as the first recommendation I would have is that, you know, be open to possibilities because you may discover your career outside of your classrooms, when you’re in your classrooms and major when you’re in college, or doing formal studies as well. So.

Sujani 8:43
Yeah, I’m just thinking like, good on you for kind of saying, yeah, it’s winter. Let me go try this out.

Anita 8:49
Right? Never know what it may take you. Yeah.

Sujani 8:52
Exactly. Yeah. As you’re talking about, you know, being a peer educator, I’m thinking about all the peer educators I had come across while I was in university, I never explored that area to become a peer educator, but I definitely saw the boots I saw the people on campus. And yeah, I’m like thinking I should have leaned in and like, tested this public helping out much earlier. But good advice, like just being open to possibilities and trying things out. And there are lots of great opportunities within campus itself to explore your interests. And I think this is a great, great, great story for that. So you graduated in 2007. And it looks like you went on to do a fellowship at University of North Carolina, titled Emerging Leaders of public health fellowship program. Tell us about that. Were you building your career in public health and you thought, you know, I maybe I just need a bit more training and that’s what this kind of opportunity came about, or how did that happen?

Anita 9:52
Once I finished my undergrad, I wasn’t exactly sure if I wanted to move directly into graduate school. I knew that I needed some kind of real life experience and work experience before I got back to grad school. And so I came across and I don’t remember how I came across this opportunity at this time, but I applied for this fellowship program. And again, it’s a program that you have to pay a certain amount of money. So I think it was about $3,000. But it was in distance education program, a nine month distance education program where you would meet in person three times at University of North Carolina. And it was called Emerging Leaders of public health and I fell in love with at the moment, I read the description, because it was just education, I didn’t have to be there the entire nine months, I could do other things as well. So it was focused on developing communication skills to respond to crises, which, you know, thinking back is such a pressure and a skill. And I develop some great networks and friends and colleagues through that. And I’m still connected to a lot of them through Facebook and LinkedIn. And I’ve watched as their careers have grown. And it’s been incredible that that opportunity was really, really nice. I think more than anything other than the hard skills that I learned through that and the soft skills of networking and connecting with others. I think more than anything, it put in me, the need to continually educate myself and become upskilled. And, you know, kind of keep myself open to possibilities. It was instilled in me, as I kept doing these other educational opportunities. It was for me like, Okay, I don’t have to be afraid. It’s not about excelling. It’s about trying new things. When I did that, I came out of it, I was so nervous going in, because a lot of the other people were so much more experienced than I am, I was just coming out of undergrad. And at one point, I thought I have no business being here. I don’t know why they accepted me, I had a lot of low self esteem issues at that point. And then why- when I came out of it, it was so much richer than what I thought it would be. Because it was not just about, again, as I said, learning the hard skills, but also about the soft skills of networking and connecting. And when I was an undergrad itself, I got certified as a health education specialist through the National Center for Health, Education credentialing. So I mean, again, I tried to keep learning, I tried to keep growing because I didn’t have a full time job after I graduated. So I wanted to do this. And so immediately after graduation, I also did an internship in Montana, I went to an organization called Project Vote Smart, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps to inform the public about candidates who are running for public office and candidates who are in public office, elected officials and appointed officials in public office just to get a better idea of where they stand, what they have said what they’re voting for, etc. So it’s a nonpartisan research on, so I was there for about three months. And so I did a lot of these things right after graduation, just to kind of keep myself busy and keep myself engaged, until I discovered grad school.

Sujani 12:45
Your decision to not step into grad school right away, it’s- it’s a question that we get asked quite a bit, you know, should I go into grad school immediately after my bachelor’s? And I think you know, the answer is very unique to each individual, depending on what their experiences are their situation. Yeah, maybe if you can tell us a bit more about why you made the decision that you did and what you were thinking when you when you thought, Okay, I’m gonna finish my undergrad and just explore a few things. I’m not gonna go to grad school. That’s a decision that I know I’m comfortable with, if you can take us through your thought process?

Anita 13:22
I don’t think it was such a deep thought process. I do think that I think, you know, part of it was because I finished in May of 2007. You know, my undergrad and I started grad school in a fall of 2008. So I only took about a year off. And in that year, I did have a job a contract job with Girl Scouts. I think mainly what influenced me was to take that job because it was a program coordinator job right out of graduate school with this organization coordinating a Pathways project for Girl Scouts to explore politics, right. And so I was working for Girl Scouts, and I was working in collaboration with the Eagleton Institute of Politics and Rutgers University. It’s an institute that’s based in Rutgers University. And I think the girl scouts had this initiative called the destinations program, which is a program designed for them to explore their careers after school. And so it was such a fascinating opportunity for me to kind of provide a mentorship and leadership to young girls and to explore a career in politics and a full time paid job and contract job. So first job right out of college, do all these things. I said I absolutely I will do it. And then I coordinated this job as a full time job for about eight months. And so after that, I think that at the same time I started applying for grad school and then I came into grad school. So I think I didn’t take that much of a break. I just took one year break and it was because I got this really wonderful opportunity right as I was finishing undergrad. And I thought okay, let me just take this opportunity and learn about it. By the way that still has served me today because I’m still a pro product project director. I still do project management. So that’s why I decided to postpone it just by a year and then apply after that.

Sujani 15:04
Yeah, that makes sense. And one of the reflections, I remember writing about my decision, I went straight to grad school right after my undergrad, and mainly because I didn’t feel ready for the real world to take on kind of a public health job. But, you know, in hindsight, I reflected on this and wrote a blog post. And one of the reasons I kind of gave for maybe choosing a different path, where I to do this, again, was, you know, gaining some real world experience and being able to take those learnings, those experiences and apply it to my coursework. And I was just kind of reflecting on how would my experience in grad school have been different had I taken that route, and I’m sure my, the way I was learning, or the people I was engaging with would have been so much more richer, had I had that kind of real world experience a lot more than what I had. And I think, you know, a bit of the experience I did have was, through my volunteer roles, and in some part time jobs. That’s kind of why I had asked you because I had a reflection and kind of thought about if I were to do this again, what would I do differently?

Anita 16:08
Right, exactly, yeah, I thought about that as well. Yeah.

Sujani 16:11
Okay, so you, you graduate from your- your Master’s of Public Health degree. And I guess you, you said that you are building a path and kind of like health education, you are getting certified in this space. And then you are right now a project director at the American College of Preventive Medicine, maybe you can tell us a bit about, you know, what does a day in the life of you look like?

Anita 16:37
So, before that, let me take you a little bit back, because my journey is not so straightforward. I did start graduate school at George Washington University School of Public Health. But I think that the confusion and the I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life that a lot of people experience, I think I experienced in grad school for some reason, even though I knew I wanted to be in public health. So I ended up taking a number of different courses of two different concentrations at grad school, either health education and health promotion, because I had practical experience affiliated with that, as a health educator. That’s how I got admitted into George Washington to do my major and health promotion. But I couldn’t let go of the health policy perspective. So I was taking a lot of health policy courses as well. And this is a piece of advice for anybody who’s listening. So I think I was on student loans, I was taking on student loans, and I was nowhere near completing my graduate school requirements, even two years in because I was taking courses that did not meet my requirements. And I had still a lot of courses to do that, actually, in order to finish. And so I did something that I never thought I would do, I decided to take a break from grad school. And thinking back if I were to do it differently, and I’m going to kind of answer that question as well, probably would have just stuck to it and completed my graduate courses and graduated on time, although I don’t know how that would have changed my career path. So it is what it is right now. And I’m grateful for the journey that I went through, because it taught me a lot of valuable lessons. I don’t know if it’s advice, but what I went through was that I wish I had just stuck to my concentration and finished my courses instead of going back and, and I didn’t go back to nearly five years. And in those five years, I tried to get real world experience through various experiences, including internships and volunteer opportunities. And I tried looking for jobs because again, I didn’t have any policy experience. Even though I was looking for policy jobs, I was only a health educator, etc. So anyway, it was a circuitous route. And I eventually decided to go back to grad school in 2015. And I got my internship at the same time at the American College of Preventive Medicine. I still remember it was the same week of May, that both happened. The school was like, yeah, it’s been a while Why don’t you come back and finish your grad school degree. And at the same time, I got an internship at ACPM. And so I went back to grad school in the fall of 2015 while working full time so I was an intern for four months. And then I got promoted from an intern to a program manager. And I was a program manager for five years and there ACPM had a grant with CDC, we had a cooperative agreement, the previous cooperative agreement with CDC, essentially, we were getting funds support from CDC to help build the capacity of physicians, preventive medicine, physicians, physicians committed to population health, to try and demonstrate and data approaches, screening, chronic disease prevention, etc. So we were focusing on diabetes prevention and integrating Population Health mechanisms in practice settings because preventive medicine is the only specialty where the physicians are required to get an MPH and they have the skill set to look at the population as a whole and at the same time, provide clinical care at an individual level. I randomly applied for an internship at ACPM, so you never know, right, where you’re going to end up and how your career is going to look and they said yes work come on in. I applied I think primarily because they were organizing a healthy aging summit. And I was wondering if I could be an intern or volunteer and help them with that. And they said, no, we don’t have a volunteer opportunity but we would love to have an intern and one month became two, became three, became four. And then program manager position became available. And like after multiple rounds of interview, I think about three rounds of interview, I was accepted as a program manager. And I was thrilled, and I just absolutely loved working there ever since.

Sujani 20:29
That’s awesome. And I do want to talk about, you know, going from an intern to getting a full time job and keep getting promoted there. But I think it just kind of backing it up a little bit. And I want to say thank you for sharing that piece about, you know, your decision to take a break in grad school. I’m, I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision. And I’m sure those five years were not easy ones. But I think it kind of, I’m going to assume here that you were really kind of listening to yourself and thinking, okay, maybe this is not the right time for me, and you stepped away, despite you thinking now that maybe you should have stuck it through. And you know, we often can get into such crossroads, whether it’s during grad school or undergrad or during our job, you know, just thinking maybe I want to take a bit of a break. I don’t know if you have any words of advice for anyone. Yeah, going through a similar situation.

Anita 21:22
Yeah, I know, I think I have two different pieces of advice, they’re probably going to be contradictory. I did, in fact, have a full time internship soon after I took a break from grad school for about a year, year and a half with two different organizations, including APHA and the national LGBT Task Force and the national LGBT health. And then I also went from being a CHES certified to MHES, masters and certified health education specialist. And I’m sharing this because, you know, there are other ways you can get upskill. I mean, if you- if you are not sure, and especially if you’re taking on loans, it is worth it, to take a trip to the admissions office and sit down with them. They’re all there for you, whether it’s an undergrad or graduate school, because you’re investing a lot of your resources, that are your resources, even if it’s loans, they are your loans, and so you’re gonna have to pay them back. And so it’s worth it to take a trip to the admissions office and sit with them and say, I’m not sure if this is the path for me and seek the help of counselors that are available to see what kind of guidance they have for you. For me, I pretty much took a bold decision. And I said, this isn’t working, I can’t keep taking classes. And of course, I think a part of it was just I took longer than expected longer than I probably should have to go back. But you know, it is what it is. And so I probably would have gone back earlier. But I think that’s one advice that I would have like, as soon as you figured out that this is not working for you just go talk to somebody in the institution who can give you advice. And the other thing is, if you know that, you’re probably not going to be switching your concentration or your major, just stick it out and just complete the courses. Because again, a lot of what we do in work outside of grad school may not even have anything to do with your graduate degree. So it’s all about the skills that you’re going to be applying. And so I think that even if you think that it may not relate to you, but you think that you know, you have to finish this degree, that’s another thought I had as well. So that is also a not a wrong approach, just stick to it and complete it just to complete it. And then of course, there are other ways you can upskill as you have opportunities, volunteer and you know, paid opportunities to upskill yourself and to gain experience in the field in the interests that you have. Because that’s going to happen regardless, even if you didn’t end up in the best public health school and doing the concentration that you absolutely want to do and you love all your classes or, you know, you’re not sure if you’re in the right path. Regardless, you are going to be asked to take on skills and do work that had nothing to do with what your masters or undergrad so that’s going to happen regardless. So those are the two contradictory. Go to a counselor if you need to think- If you think you need to take a break and talk to them. Or if not just stick to it and complete it. It depends on each person. So and I went through both those thought processes at once, and I ended up choosing the other. So.

Sujani 24:04
I mean, very, very practical tips. And I think the big advice here is just talk to somebody, regardless of which path you choose. I think you don’t have to figure it out alone. And somebody else could just give you a better perspective or a different perspective. And you could approach that problem in a different light.

Anita 24:22
Of course, yeah.

Sujani 24:23
I love the story of you going from an intern to that program manager and then the simply just wanted to volunteer for one of their events and I don’t know, was that was that volunteer position posted? Or did you just come across this event that they were holding and thought maybe I could volunteer here?

Anita 24:41
It’s the latter. Yeah, ACPM was hosting and healthy aging summit, healthy aging summit was what really attracted me was like, Oh, this is a really nice event. I wonder if they will let me attend it for free. If I chose to volunteer and help them plan the event, and that’s when I said I would love to volunteer or intern to help you plan this event and they said at that point the Operations Manager basically said she passed my resume to a previous staff member who was no longer there. And he basically said, why don’t you come in for an interview, and he basically said, we don’t need an intern, but you can work for about 20 to 30 hours a week, and we’ll pay you, you know, X amount of money. And then you can actually, we’ll see how it goes from there. And I was thrilled because I was really doing only like volunteer and unpaid internships until that point to kind of gain skills. And it had been a long time. And so I was really ready to get back. And that is something that I actually wanted to really try out. And then again, I really enjoyed working there. My mom is a physician, and my, at that time, my brother was thinking about becoming a physician. And so I think it was medical, you know, background is a part of my family. And I was working for a medical specialty society, especially for physicians who have a background in public health. And so I was really excited. And I thought, okay, you know what, even if this internship doesn’t last longer than four months, I knew I was gonna go back to grad school at the same time and finish and so I’ve got my grad school to focus on, I’ll be okay. But then in September, they said, when other colleague of mine who was mentoring me during my internship was leaving, and she said, you should apply for my position. And I did. And lo and behold, I got it. I mean, actually, I’ll be honest with you, there was another person who was accepted for that role, I was a second or third interview, even though I was interning there, I didn’t get the role because somebody else was made an offer. But that person declined the role. And then the role came to me. So you never know, you know how things work out, I’m still amazed at how it worked. It turned out for me, so it’s just you know, you just have to stick to it. And you never know where the possibilities are.

Sujani 26:41
Yeah, I love that story. And that’s something that I encourage people to do, is, you know, one obviously apply to the jobs that you see on the job boards. But there’s this other world, you know, the hidden job market, if you will, for lack of a better word, that you need to definitely tap into. And I think, you know, following your interests, following your passion sometimes does lead to that. And also being creative, right? Like you don’t see an opportunity, but you love the mission that an organization is on and like, like you, you saw this event and you thought, okay, how can I be a part of this? And often it’s easier if you propose an idea to whoever you’re reaching out to because rather than saying, Hey, can I be involved? Or do you have any opportunities? For me, it’s easier if you go and say, Can I volunteer on the stage during your event? It gives them something to work off of, right?

Anita 27:37
Yes, exactly. Yeah.

Sujani 27:39
And like, obviously, with your pitch, you make yourself like, super attractive. And I’m sure there was some great aspects on your resume, when you did send that in that made the individual think, oh, wow, like, this person is so much more capable. And I have all of these projects, and I’ve been thinking about hiring someone, let me give this person a shot. And I think you just never know where you’re gonna land. And you won’t know unless you throw your name in the hat, put yourself out there. Talk to people. That’s also part of the job search, I guess, journey as well.

Anita 28:11
Absolutely. And thank you, Sujani, for saying that, because that didn’t come easily to me, you know, taking a chance, because I think that’s part of the reason why I struggled for so many years in between, because I think that a lot of the time, it’s about putting yourself out there, I was ashamed in many ways of not having a full time job with benefits. And already thinking about purchasing my first house and things like that, of that many of my colleagues are from India, and many of my batch mates from high school we’re all already thinking about. So I think that a lot of the times it’s about you’re setting yourself up for, you know, disappointment and failure by constantly comparing yourself to others. But at the same time, I think there is a need to, you know, fail in the sense that, you know, you need to put yourself out there knowing that sometimes it’s not going to work in your favor, right? Took me a long time, and I’m still learning this life lesson of it is okay to fail, because that is only a pathway, it’s only a step towards going wherever you want to go. And I think that, you know, it’s easy to share that and I lived that experience. And despite having lived that experience, it is still for me, it’s a little bit less hard than it used to be. But I think that’s another piece of advice that I would get, again, put yourself out there and send that email, go talk to that person, the worst that you’re gonna get is getting ghosted, like the worst thing that’s gonna happen, ever get back to you. And that has happened to me. But somebody else may reach out to you, you know, six months later or immediately and say, hey, that’s great, but I have this that’s going on. Would you like to be interested in that? And so I think that’s, you know, that’s an important lesson I’ve learned over the years and I’m still continuing to learn.

Sujani 29:50
You know, I think you mentioned this a bit earlier in our interview you you said in passing, that was a self confidence issue, which I which I struggled with before and then now I’m hearing you and you know, your confidence level is like through the roof. I love the energy that you’re bringing, I love how you’re just throwing all this great advice to people. How do you think that happened for you? Were there some, like tactical things that you worked on? Or is it you know, purely just the experiences the feeling the following down, that kind of led to where you are, because there’s always like an element of reflection to say, Okay, I need to build up my self confidence. And I’m thinking, there must have been an instance like that for you.

Anita 30:31
I will tell you that, as a personality, I’m an extrovert, maybe a little bit too much of an extrovert, I need to maybe do a little bit more introspection. But I think, for me, putting myself out there professionally was the challenge, because I was always like, Oh, I’m an extrovert. But I also had, you know, self esteem issues. And so those two are not really a good combination. But maybe it was even silly. For me to answer your question. It was practical experience, like having lived it. And you know, that moment that may 2015 was a significant moment for me, I keep going back to that moment. And I said, Okay, you know, what, I took a chance, then it really paid off both with grad school, and with my work and my professional career. So how bad can it be? So I actually absolutely that failure, and then coming back from it, that moment, really kind of said, Okay, if I can survive, that I can survive anything at the most, I’m just going to, you know, get a rejection letter, I can handle that. It’s not going to be a problem. So I think that experience is the one that’s actually helped me boost my self confidence of, you know what, I’m gonna try it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else.

Sujani 31:35

Anita 31:35
At the end of the world.

Sujani 31:37
I love that. Okay, so, you know, you’re- you’re the project director now, what are you looking forward to? In terms of like the future of your career? What are you most excited about? Are there goals that you’re pursuing? Yeah. Tell us a bit about that.

Anita 31:52
Thank you. Yeah. You know, I wish I had a straightforward answer for this one as well. Perhaps I can listen to a few more of your podcasts. And I’m hoping to do that to get some of inspiration. But again, I think the policy analysis, policy development and the influence of politics when it comes to, you know, Systems Transformation and public health capacity in the United States, it weighs heavily on me. And it’s very influential. And it’s a huge factor in my career and decision making. I again, I love working where I work, because I have a direct report, and I have wonderful people I work with and the volunteers. It’s a professional association, right. So I work with a lot of physician volunteers. And so it’s great. I’ve been there. I’ve been here for seven years. In fact, at the end of this month, I’ll begin my eighth year. But at the same time, you know, I have been openly talking to my colleagues at work about, you know, should I be pursuing doctoral degrees? Should I be pursuing law school? Because one area that I’m really fascinated by is public health law, that it is such a transdisciplinary field. And it’s, of course, it is using law and using law as a lever to see how public health can be improved, right? How can public health be improved through policy through laws and whether the laws have been effective in actually improving public health. And so there’s a it is a relatively young field. And I’ve been looking at podcasts and reading books and newsletters, etc, to see how I can make a contribution. But again, in terms of practical skills, and practical experience, I’m in program management and project direction, and strategy, strategic planning. Those are the experiences and skills that I bring. And those are skills that I can take to any field. And so I’m really excited about being able to bring those skills and learn content in public health law, through these external opportunities and see where it takes me again, at this time, I’m not sure where I’m going to go except that I do know that I’m really fascinated by this field. But also, I will tell you that my current job and my previous roles in my organization, have really opened my eyes and my love of public health itself, to the disparities that exist within various populations and various communities and the need to improve population health while keeping equity in mind. And of course, everybody now is focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, etc. So that is, that is a huge component and a huge part of our organization and part of my career as well. So I think no matter where I go, that I will always bring those values to my role, because I think that there’s no public health without addressing equity. There is no public health without looking at the diversity and inclusion and accessibility and belonging aspects as well. So I’m not sure whether I will do a DRP H or a JD and I’m still talking to people and that is something that anybody who’s listening, if that is something that you’re dealing with, I would love to connect with you through LinkedIn. What I’m doing in terms of getting additional information about that decision making journey is talking having informational interviews, I’m talking to people with JDs. I’m talking to people in public health law. I’m connecting with people who have PhDs connecting with people who have DrPH to see what their journey was one thing that I do know is that I do not want to take on more student loans. So how can I position myself? And how can I make myself a competitive applicant, so that I can get scholarship money to either get be fully funded as a doctoral candidate and or, you know, save enough money or also get scholarship for law school. So those are the questions that I’m answering myself. And again, I’m not on a tight timeline to make a decision. But at the same time, you know, I have two aging parents, and so I need to take care of them. And I also have financial obligations that I need to keep in mind. So those are the factors that I’m trying to explore right now. And I’m trying to explore the faculty in various PhD and DrPH programs across the country. I’m looking at accreditation, I’m looking at cost of schools. I’m in an exploration phase right now to see what my next move will be, while I enjoy my fulfilling work at eCPM.

Sujani 35:53
Oh, I love that. You know, you said it’s not straightforward answer. But I think there’s a lot of thought that’s been put through it. And I think, you know, that’s part of the process, right? Just like talking it out with people and in doing these informational interviews. Yeah. For anyone interested in public health and law in the intersection of that there’s one episode we have, I think, this might be the only one while I’m recording this. But that one is with the public health attorney, she kind of like talks about her work in that episode. And interestingly, yesterday, the the individual I interviewed also talked about public health and law, she, she worked as an attorney, and in kind of like public interest type work. And she explained the difference between public health law, health care law, health law, so that’s also a great episode. And I think we have a couple blog posts. So you know, resources out there, and I’m sure when it’s needed, kind of figures things out for herself. We’ll have her back on the podcast to tell us a bit more about the decision that she did make and kind of hear about that journey. Otherwise, Anita has been such a pleasure. I enjoyed our chat so much. And like I said, at the beginning, I can guarantee you this episode will help many, many, many people, especially because you shared so many kind of vulnerable points during your career. And, and that’s something that always helps people kind of say, you know, I’m not the only one going through this, there are other people maybe I can reach out to an EDA, maybe I can reach out to others in my network for for support. So thank you so much for that.

Anita 37:20
Sure. Not a problem. Is it okay, if I just share quickly, a couple of additional thoughts?

Sujani 37:24
Oh, yeah, for sure, please.

Anita 37:25
Thank you. So one thing that I do want to say is, again, as part of networking, there our traditional methods of networking through LinkedIn, to the colleagues with whom you studied and worked, etc, I do want to stress the value of volunteering and the importance of volunteering and follow through. And because I began, you know, this journey into ACPM, wanting to be a volunteer, but I’ve recently joined the board of two organizations, both the South Asian Public Health Association and the local chapter called the National Capital Area, society of public health education. And I mentioned this because those are also great opportunities for you to demonstrate your leadership skill if you want to get a skilled into your toolkit without, you know, putting in additional funds out there for courses and certifications and practical experience of working in organizations to kind of helping build organizations from ground up and connect with additional people. So that’s one, never underestimate the value of volunteering and leadership. Because, believe it or not, it’ll come up in interviews. I mean, they will look at your volunteer leadership and say, tell me more about that. What are you getting out of it? What are you putting into it other than your job description, because your job description, you’re pretty much your boss or somebody tells you what needs to be done or your grant does. But in volunteerism, it’s all a consensus effort, and you’re putting extra effort into it, mostly to learn and to help other people grow. And you’re not obligated to do it as you are in your paid job. And the other thing is self care. For me, I’ve recently discovered the importance of doing something that is completely not related to work type, having a hobby, and hobby and self care outside of work. For me, it’s music and dance. And so I would highly recommend people to, you know, do something fun, completely not related to work, work if your work is stressful, or if your work is taking a lot of time. And also, you know, outside of your volunteer activities, etc. I mean, of course, it depends on each person, each person may have other obligations as well. But it is really helped me and I just thought I wanted to share those two dots. That’s all.

Sujani 39:19
That’s wonderful. Thank you for that, Anita. And I love that last advice. Can I just doing something that’s outside of work? That’s fun. And I know I struggled with that quite a bit as it took me a while to go, Okay, what is it that I really liked that’s not work. And you kind of have to try a few things to pick up something that really brings you joy.

Anita 39:38
Yeah, absolutely. I think that again, I keep telling everybody that I was lucky to find what I love early on. But what was challenging for me and it took me a little bit longer was actually how do I make that my career like how do I find what I love and make it into a practical career for me so that it can help me support a living. So I think that for some people it, you can discover your passion early on, but they may take a little bit longer to make it a part of their lives.

Sujani 40:08
And hearing a story like yours, I’m sure it’s going to leave people inspired and motivated to kind of reflect on their own. So, again, just want to say thank you. And I’m sure I’m gonna have you back on the podcast at some point in the future.

Anita 40:21
Love to be back on and thank you so much again, Sujani, for doing this, and I look forward to listening to other podcasts and learning from them. Have a wonderful day.

Sujani 40:31
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 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 it 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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