Public health and law, with Gwyneth M. Eliasson, JD, MPH

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Gwyneth Eliasson, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. They discuss how public health and law intersect, Gwyneth’s experiences in academia and teaching, and advice for anyone interested in health policy and these fields.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Gwyneth found her way into public health from working in public interest law and consulting
  • The differences between public health law, healthcare law, and public health practice and what opportunities are available for those interested in these areas
  • What a day in the life of Gwyneth looks like as a professor 
  • How the pandemic has affected Gwyneth’s role as a professor and what changes she has seen in students’ learnings
    • Gwyneth’s teaching style and how she incorporates her own experiences and education in projects and assignments
  • The importance of good writing and clear communication in public health
  • What advice Gwyneth has for those interested in the intersection between law and public health

Today’s Guest:

Gwyneth M. Eliasson is an Assistant Professor of Health Systems and Policy in the Department of Health Behavior, Society, and Policy at the Rutgers School of Public Health (RSPH). Before joining the RSPH faculty, she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health – SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. She received her JD from Brooklyn Law School and her MPH in Health Systems and Policy from RSPH. As a social justice attorney, she advocated for low-income New Yorkers facing systemic health inequities at administrative proceedings and in Federal courts. As a public health practitioner, she managed CDC-contracted projects with the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University Beasley School of Law and consulted for Rutgers School of Law on grant-funded projects to develop a medical-legal partnership (MLP) program in Camden, New Jersey. Her case study on MLPs for older adults is in HEALTHY AGING THROUGH THE SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH (APHA Press, 2021).

Episode Transcript

Gwyneth 0:00
During your MPH program or whatever program you’re doing, really take advantage of the very curriculum and the programming opportunities to just really, you know, expand your knowledge, get ideas about different career paths, different journeys. And then once you graduated, join at least one professional association. Now, obviously, this may depend on your budget and your financing. Because that really helps you build connections and build the network for whatever you’re going to do next.

Sujani 0:32
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, Gwyneth. And thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. So excited to you know, jumping to hearing about your journey into public health.

Gwyneth 0:57
Hi, thanks for having me. This is my first podcast. So I’m really excited. And looking forward to a great chat with you.

Sujani 1:05
Awesome. Yeah, I think you know, this might be your first podcast, but I’m like very sure that you’ve gotten a lot of questions from, you know, either many of your students or people that you have interacted with, around like, how did you discover public health, you know, especially given your background, and I don’t want to give it away, because I want to hear the story from your perspective. How did you discover public health and decide, you know, I think this is where I’m going to take the rest of my career and focus in this area?

Gwyneth 1:36
Spoiler alert, this is really my third career. Sort of the interesting thing is how did I get there. So I started out as a public interest attorney, a social justice attorney in New York City, representing low income people with disabilities. So navigating issues of systemic health inequities, and social determinants of health. And then later on, I became a consultant, and was still working with, for example, the medical legal partnership movement, which is a movement that embeds legal staff in hospitals and other healthcare settings, to make legal professionals part of the team with the idea that legal care is healthcare. And so in terms of the MLP movement, that’s talking about upstream interventions and population health. So in my legal and consulting career, I was immersed in all of these public health concepts.

Sujani 2:34

Gwyneth 2:34
But wasn’t necessarily putting that together, because I was so focused on the next administrative hearing, the next federal court case, you know, things like that. But eventually, I think, particularly with the exposure to the MLP movement, it really got me thinking about these sorts of interventional issues. Legal Services, for example, is particularly a very crisis mode, you usually see people because they’re facing eviction, or their benefits have been cut off, or their benefits had been denied. So they’re in these sort of emergency or urgent situations. And the same thing with medicine, I think, which is a fix it profession, often. But public health is much more prevention and intervention. And so that’s what I really loved about the medical legal partnership movement that it was making medical and legal people work together for the good of what they call client patients. So that led me to an MPH in health systems and policy. And because policy, I believe, is just inextricably intertwined with law. And here we are. It’s actually 10 years since my graduation from my MPH program.

Sujani 3:40
Wow. When you decided to go on that mph journey, was the intention to continue that consulting role that you were in, is that kind of the mindset that you stepped into that education with?

Gwyneth 3:54
Yeah, I mean, I was a full time MPH student, I continued to consult part time. And then I also was very active in student government during my time, for example, I was president of my campuses, student government, and so did a lot of programming and events. So yeah, I mean, I was, I think, focused on public health practice, not necessarily practicing public health law. I know when I was graduating and looking for positions, my focus really was on public health practice positions, as opposed to, for example, public health law positions, or given what I’m doing now, I’m teaching positions.

Sujani 4:37
I’ve come across a number of individuals who have either started working in public health with an MPH degree and then moved on to a degree and wanting to pursue that. I’m trying to think back if I’ve ever heard or interacted with with anyone similar to your journey where you started off with a law degree and then went into kind of an MPH, but you know, either way for any of our listeners interested in that intersection between public health and law, would you mind kind of explaining the difference between how you categorize it, which was public health law versus public health practice?

Gwyneth 5:14
Yeah. Well, I mean, this is actually a topic I’m really passionate about. In fact, in my new position, I am programming at least on a yearly basis, some sort of public health policy and law event. So last year, I did an event that was specific with JD mph people talking about why they decided to do the JD or mph, I was the only one who had done it JD then mph.

Sujani 5:37

Gwyneth 5:37
In the last 10 years, what has become very popular is dual degree programs.

Sujani 5:41
Yes, yeah.

Gwyneth 5:42
So for example, you do the JD and the MPH at the same time. And then my panel also had some people WHO were mph people, and we’re in law school now.

Sujani 5:52

Gwyneth 5:53
Yeah. So and then actually, next month, I’ll be leading an event at career in student services that’s talking about thinking about law school. So some more sort of, are you thinking about it, as opposed to people who are actually currently doing it or recently did it? You know, the one thing I’d say is there’s distinction between health law and healthcare law and public health law. And so I think of health care law or health law as being more sort of medical in the hospital, in the emergency room in the doctor’s office, whereas public health law, well, basically, you just have to look at the last couple of years of the COVID 19 pandemic, to see buku, the examples of public health law, you know, masking, social distancing, what we’re on popularly called lockdown, but should have probably been more professionally or more personally communicated as stay at home orders, vaccination mandates, which weren’t really mandates, because you had an option of, you know, doing it, or maybe getting testing on a regular basis. So I think, you know, that’s one important distinction is difference between public health law and healthcare law. And then in terms of practicing public health, I mean, I think that’s what a lot of the people that we think of frontline workers, you know, contact tracers, epidemiologists, people like that at the state or local or federal level, and health departments or nonprofits or other agencies, whereas public health laws, usually you are in some way practicing law. So maybe you are not necessarily in the courtroom every day. But you are preparing legal papers, you are doing legal explainers, you know, for example, know your rights about this, or, you know, what are the standards in each state for, for example, adult vaccinations or work or vaccinations based upon certain industries. So the public health practice, I think, is a really broad field, because public health is a really broad field. I think public health law is too. But there is this real focus on for example, laws, statutes that are actually passed into law at either the federal state or local level, you know, regulations, which are turning those laws into rules. And then, you know, some policies as well, I mean, after all, think about it, laws affect all of us, you know, anything from indoor smoking is banned, he must wear your seatbelts and their speed limits. And so if you think about it, law and policy affects our lives on a daily basis.

Sujani 8:14
Yeah. And, you know, just in terms of where one could build a career with this type of background, obviously, there’s the health department’s whether it’s at the local level or state or in Canada’s provincial level, and then we have, you know, federal level, or one could pursue something similar to like you did, right, doing kind of the consulting side of things. Are you able to kind of off the top of your head, name, other potential places, individuals could find employment with this sort of background?

Gwyneth 8:48
Sure. I mean, I do know people who grew up in JD mph who have gone into healthcare law. So they’re doing health care management, they’re doing health care administration, which can be you know, varied. And then there also are opportunities with various public health law organizations. So for example, the network for public health law has offices across the country. There are certain schools that have public health programs that also have some sort of center associated with them, where people do public health work in a legal setting. So those are two things that sprang to mind. So I do think, JD, no matter what you do with it has a lot of opportunities. You can go into business, you can go into healthcare, you can go into technology, you can get really specialized in terms of you know, intellectual property and patents, and but then you also can go into sort of pure public health law.

Sujani 9:41
Yeah. It’s interesting. You talked about your interest in social justice, and it sounded like, you know, right, right from the beginning. That’s the area that you wanted to specialize in. Did you at that point already know, I’m going to go to law school. I’m going to work in this area pertaining to like social justice and perhaps dabble into public health or was public health kind of something that you discovered along the way?

Gwyneth 10:09
Definitely along the way, particularly during my time in the medical legal partnership movement, I mean, on my last full time practicing physician was at a legal services or public interest law organization that has a division that is specifically devoted to medical legal partnership. In fact, it’s one of the pioneering programs that was founded, I believe, in like the early 2000s. So that really the MLP movement was really what exposed me to public health. When I entered law school, I knew I wanted to do social justice. But I don’t know if anyone had asked me, I would have said social justice, I think I would have said public interest. I was not interested in corporate law, or you know, working at a big law firm that just wasn’t what fueled me. And everything that I did during my law school career, I took sort of English major law school courses, you know, the history of the Supreme Court, administrative law and things and American legal history. And even the experiences that I did during the summer and during my clinics, because the like medical school, law school starts in the classroom, and then you ended up doing sort of practice as a baby lawyer. And all of that was public interest as well. So I definitely wanted that when I graduated, I actually thought I was going to go into family law, because that’s what I had spent my third year in a clinic on child support enforcement, but ended up getting a job in government benefits. So Social Security and SSI, Medicaid, Medicare, things like that not to be confused with Canada’s Medicare program. Yeah, so that’s sort of where I ended up in, but that also had lots of social justice ideas, because you’re dealing with people who are living with chronic medical, physical and mental or behavioral health conditions, and either facing loss of their benefits or being denied those benefits, and then the medical coverage that comes with them. So lots of social justice issues, lots of social determinants of health, and certainly lots of health inequities, because I was working in communities of color.

Sujani 12:08
Yeah. It’s lots of I guess, without knowing applied public health experience that you were just scanning through that role, I think.

Gwyneth 12:17
Yeah. And of course, like I said, it wasn’t until later that I said, Oh, no, I was these were all social determinants of health, I mean, housing education environment, you know, and then what I love about the medical legal partnership movement is that it is really into upstream intervention. So for example, instead of having someone with asthma, who’s living in a mold infested apartment, just go to the emergency room department, every time there’s an asthma attack. In the medical legal partnership, you’re going to write to the landlord, and say, You must mitigate you must remediate these conditions, place the person somewhere else. And then potentially, if the building as a whole, or the landlord’s holdings are problematic, then you’re moving in a more systematic way, as opposed to, quote unquote, just the individual client being helped.

Sujani 13:07
That’s awesome. And then it sounds like you- you took on this other path, teaching? How did that land in your in your path?

Gwyneth 13:15
It took a while. I mean, as I said, when I left the MPH program, when I graduated, I really was focused on public health practice.

Sujani 13:22

Gwyneth 13:22
So I was lucky, for example, to get a job as the first public health policy analyst at a center that had CDC contracted projects. And then I did some consulting on grant funded projects to develop a medical legal partnership program. And then I sort of got around to teaching would be fun. And I had been doing teaching and kind of an unofficial way, during my practicing career, you know, speaking at conferences, and doing trainings and things like that. But it wasn’t until five years out of my MPH program that I got my first teaching gig, and that was an adjunct faculty part time, faculty position where the opening just kind of sprang up. And I was really lucky because the challenge with teaching positions is, many of the job postings have a requirement that you have past her prior teaching experience. Well, how do you get it? Someone has to take a chance on you.

Sujani 14:16

Gwyneth 14:17
And say, Well, you know, based upon your interview, based upon your CV, your resume, I think you’d be a good fit for this course.

Sujani 14:24

Gwyneth 14:24
So that’s the thing, you know, and that was actually before I got that first gig in 2017. That had been happening a little bit that people were like, well, you’re great, but we really want someone who’s taught this before.

Sujani 14:36
I think the other sometimes requirement is that you have a PhD or research experience, and you can contribute to kind of the research work as well. I suppose you didn’t run into those issues?

Gwyneth 14:47
Well, I mean, academia has definitely changed in the last couple of decades. Certainly my mom actually was in academia. She has a PhD in English and taught at the college level. So I definitely have a view of that. world. But certainly like in the last 10 or 20 years, academia has been changing, and particularly in public health. I mean, I’m not the only JD at my school of public health. There are several others. But there are different tracks now more and more, right. So the tenure track is not necessarily the way that everyone is going. Some people are going practice track or clinical track or research track. As for myself, I’m doing teaching track, because teaching is really my passion.

Sujani 15:26
Right, right.

Gwyneth 15:27
So in that case, having the doctorate as in a PhD, or a Dr. Ph, which is becoming more popular, wasn’t as much of an issue because I was really focused on teaching.

Sujani 15:38
And you have some great real world experience, which often I hear from students that they’re not able to connect with some of their professors because they don’t have that real world experience and the hope that they could find a mentor through their professors that could really guide them for life out there in the real world. So I think it’s great to have that combination of someone who’s a professional, but also, you know, has that passion for teaching.

Gwyneth 16:06
Yeah, and I think life experience is really important. Obviously, my school has a very, very diverse student body, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, etc, etc. But I think it’s important for me as a white woman, who is, for example, talking a lot in my classes about structural racism, to acknowledge that position, but also to refer to some of my background and some of my life experience, for example, working with and advocating for communities of color.

Sujani 16:39
Yeah, no, absolutely. So what does you know, your- your day or week, if you will look like today, because I think you not only teach at Rutgers School of Public Health, you’re also with the State University of New York. And then you’re also doing consulting, right as an attorney. So how does a day in the life of Gwyneth look like?

Gwyneth 17:02
Well, the Consulting has actually died down.

Sujani 17:04

Gwyneth 17:05
I’m in year two at Rutgers and just delving into this just really was challenging. So the Consulting has been kind of backburner except for sort of a couple of friends slash colleagues who will ask for help or advice. And then as far as a SUNY Downstate, I do guest lecturing, but that’s also sort of a little bit of a side gig. So I’d say the main things I’m involved with in terms of day to day at Rutgers School of Public Health, number one teaching, we offer courses in different modalities. So for example, this semester, I’m teaching a fully asynchronous course. So online, never meet the students, and also an on campus course. And it’s the same course. So I’m trying to juggle different things in my mind every every week, lots and lots of emails, lots and lots of meetings, either with students to talk about their practicum projects, their capstone projects, or committees, I’m on several committees, including a search committee for faculty members. And then most importantly, sort of keeping my online courses up to date. So lots and lots of reading in terms of making sure I’m posting about interesting webinars or current events, especially in I teach the court course on health systems and policy. So I really like to show that health policy happens. I mean, yes, it might be slower than many of us would like, and maybe some of us really want instantaneous change as opposed to incremental change. But nevertheless, things are happening. And so I really like host a lot about, you know, this legislation is being debated or this legislation has been signed into law by the President or, you know, this is going on. So there’s a sense that people aren’t just doing health systems and policy because they have to, because it’s a core course for their mph or other degree. But there’s real world implications.

Sujani 18:53
I think you started teaching, was it in 2017? Okay, so you know, you had experience couple years before the pandemic, and then now a couple years after into the pandemic, how has your experience as a professor changed, just with the pandemic being kind of smack down in the middle of your teaching journey?

Gwyneth 19:19
Yeah, I mean, actually, when the lockdown slash stay at home order, I think we’ll go stay at home works. I think that’s better public health, communicating or messaging, happened. I was, I guess, about six weeks into teaching a brand new course for the first time at a new campus. So I mean, I know the word pivoted gets overused, but there definitely was a sharp pivot. But one thing and my favorite was, well, two things really. I’d had the students for a little bit so at least had some face to face familiarity. And two, I was very familiar with the learning management system because I’ve been using it for a couple of years. So unlike some people who really had to sort of learn an LMS in a rush, I was pretty good with that. And so I’ve still incorporated some things into my on campus courses. Because on campus courses are certainly not the same as the courses that I had during my MPH program, which were all in person. And pretty much all killing trees. There really wasn’t an online presence. So if you wanted to read something, you printed it out. Or sometimes you’ve got like a C you’ve got to C, D, or something with- with the journal articles. I mean, you know, this was this is over 10 years ago.

Sujani 20:33

Gwyneth 20:34
Yeah. So I think the one thing is I’ve definitely incorporate some technology into the on campus course. And I definitely use the technology to the ultimate extent in the fully online, the asynchronous courses, because those we never meet. So how do you create a sense of community, a sense of engagement? When it’s a bunch of people who are never in the same space? Whether it’s the classroom space, or the zoom space?

Sujani 21:00
How about the way students kind of showed up to classes and how they engaged in the courses? Did you notice that there was a difference pre pandemic versus like now?

Gwyneth 21:13
Well, I mean, I think obviously, number one, you’ve got the attendance issue, because pretty much every semester, you’re going to have students who either test positive for COVID 19, or are recovering from.

Sujani 21:25

Gwyneth 21:26
Or have family members who are dealing with it. And so that student has had to adjust their schedule to address some of these family commitments. So I do know that I’ve built in a lot of flexibility into my courses. But in terms of engagement, I do kind of pride myself on, for example, having lots of videos and sort of shorter reads in my courses, and also fairly engaging discussion prompts that people get fairly engaged in. And particularly because the way I’ve set it up is that you have to post your reply before you can see other people’s. So that really allows for a diversity of voices. And people feel free to chime in. And they’re not influenced or affected by what other people said.

Sujani 22:12
I’m also thinking that having this group of students pursuing whether it’s a MPH degree or some sort of a public health education, and having lived through a pandemic, I wonder, are they taking away kind of the lessons in a different light versus some of us, you know, myself included, who hadn’t lived through a pandemic, when I was going through my MPH program? I don’t know if you’re noticing any of those differences between your students pre pandemic versus now?

Gwyneth 22:42
It’s interesting, because I do think that there are a couple of camps, I think there’s a group of students who are thrilled to be back on campus.

Sujani 22:49

Gwyneth 22:49
And for example, my school has a mandatory mask requirement in the classrooms. So you must, you must wear a mask. And so if someone doesn’t have one, I say, do you need one because I have a stock with me. So I think there’s a group that’s really excited, and they’re not that worried about the COVID-19 aspect, because they’re really overjoyed to be back in the classroom with quote, unquote, live discussion. And then I do think that there’s a group who, either because of their own health status, they’re immunocompromised, or because a family member status, or very wary about that, and are really leaning towards either asynchronous or synchronous, in other words, online options. And I think sort of depending upon which course or semester you’re in, those percentages vary. But I do think those two camps are pretty significant numbers.

Sujani 23:41
It’s super, I think, when when that whole transition to moving a lot of people’s education online took place, I remember just reading lots of lots of articles, lots of blog posts, reflections from both the student side as well as a professor side and no one had an easy, I think everyone had to really adjust, come up with creative ways and support each other. And you read lots of great stories of students really supporting their professors and vice versa. So it sounds like you used a lot of great tools and a lot of you know, your own experiences to make that experience. Great for your students. So yeah, it was a challenging time.

Gwyneth 24:23
Yeah. I mean, I know the one thing that I was really pleased that I did was I basically had them do an anonymous survey.

Sujani 24:30

Gwyneth 24:30
And say, how do you want the rest of the semester to go? And what assignments do you want to keep and what assignments do you want to drop? Because there was one ambitious assignment that really needed in class. It wasn’t going to work as well online. And oh, I know, well, everyone participated. And a lot of people in the end of semester survey said that they really appreciated that I had asked them for their opinion. I hadn’t just shifted the course the way I thought it should be pivoted.

Sujani 25:01
I think it’s just like the way we do public health. You know, rather than parachuting into communities and thinking that we know what the solution is going to be, we kind of, you know, include the community ,listen to them. I think that’s a, that’s a great approach when working with students as well, where professors kind of bring them in when they’re building their curriculum. I know, it’s difficult to have everyone say in it, but really understanding what their needs are and how they can show up to some of these classes and assignments and deliverables.

Gwyneth 25:32
Right. I mean, I think that goes back to my legal services days, when I was working in low income communities of color, like Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem, where you have to go out to the community, you can’t just be sitting in your office waiting for people to come to you, you know, you really have to be making an effort at that outreach.

Sujani 25:51
Yeah, no, exactly. And I’m kind of like listening to your current work that you’re doing. And then the work that you had done, I guess, previous to your teaching career. And you know, you were saying before we started recording that this journey makes a lot of sense to you, when I first saw that you came from, I think it was a bachelor as an English degree, and then went to law school, and then our teaching public health. It didn’t seem like it made sense. And it didn’t seem to linear. But as you’re explaining each step that you took, it all nicely falls from each other, and it kind of like builds on each other. I mean, when you look back and kind of reflect on your journey, do you feel like, you know, I wish I had done a few things differently? Or what are some reflections that come up for you?

Gwyneth 26:40
Yeah, I mean, I definitely agree with you that I think- I think it makes sense if you know, the full story, there are connections and links, but yeah, definitely not a linear journey.

Sujani 26:50

Gwyneth 26:51
You know, at my age, you’re gonna have regrets. Right. So I think I definitely do not have any regrets about the decade plus that I spent in practice.

Sujani 27:00

Gwyneth 27:00
I did a lot of great things, representative, hundreds of clients at administrative hearings, did dozens of cases in federal district court and even co counsel to appeals to the Second Circuit. So that part I’m really pleased about and I’ve also trained and mentored a lot of people, many of which I’m still in contact with, and many of which are still in the public interest world in some way. Whether or not they’re actually in legal services anymore. But in terms of I know, more recently, with the MPH program, it’s kind of the Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda thing, right. But I suppose if I had to think it over, I might not have, I probably would have gone the same way. But I might have, for example, considered more applying for different summer internships.

Sujani 27:43

Gwyneth 27:43
For example with you know, ASCO, or nature or, you know, some sort of like, public health policy organization.

Sujani 27:50

Gwyneth 27:51
Instead, I mean, I did a great thing, I helped to coordinate a community health internship program that placed interdisciplinary teams of students at community and health sites across New Jersey. So I learned a lot, and it was a really great experience. But, you know, that other path didn’t get taken, because my summers were used up doing that. But again, it was a great experience. So would I have made a different decision? I don’t know.

Sujani 28:18
I mean, you know, you got the experience to kind of work with students and kind of like, lead you to where you are today. You know, that’s kind of how I see it. Yeah.

Gwyneth 28:27
Yeah. And I mean, it was interdisciplinary. So it was teams of public health students, medical students, social work students, physician assistant students. So you know, and they were placed at various sites across North Central and South New Jersey. So no, definitely a great experience.

Sujani 28:44

Gwyneth 28:44
And then more recently, I think I alluded to this earlier, I might have thought about teaching positions a little bit sooner. But instead, when I graduated, I was really focused on- on public health practice, and doing something that if possible, blended public health, and law and policy, which I, you know, I was lucky enough to get to do in a couple of different ways. But again, you know, maybe I could have done that.

Sujani 29:15
This question is always interesting for me, because there’s like, half the people that are like, Nope, I think, you know, the path they took was great, because it led me to where you- where I am, which is kind of the case with you as well. But there are, you know, certain elements where you’re like, maybe I should have done it faster, because now I know that I really enjoyed it. And maybe I could have had that period of joy for much longer if I found it.

Gwyneth 29:37
I mean, I definitely do think it’s you know, it’s a matter of timing, particularly with sort of work workforce opportunities are often a matter of timing.

Sujani 29:43
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You did. You know, I mentioned that you do mentor a lot of people it kind of in the public interest side of things, but you know, I’m sure a lot of students also come to you for guidance in terms of their public health career. And you know, a lot lot of our listeners are in the early phases of their career, whether they’re students, new grads, or have been working for, you know, maybe under a decade or so, what are some, you know, pieces of advice, I guess, that you would often offer to these groups of individuals that you could share with us today.

Gwyneth 30:17
Definitely keep working on your writing. And full disclosure, this is someone who was an English major in college, whose mom has a PhD in English, who went to law school. But learning to write well, clearly, concisely is an art. And especially now, in the last couple of years, and particularly during the pandemic, the importance of clear communication, clear messaging, in public health is crucial. So no matter what you go into, I would say work on your writing. Specifically, I’d say during your MPH program, or whatever program you’re doing, really take advantage of the very curriculum and the programming opportunities to just really you know, expand your knowledge, get ideas about different career paths, different journeys. And then once you graduated, join at least one professional association. Now, obviously, this may depend on your budget and your financing. But for example, some organizations have early career professionals with reduced fees, because that really helps you build connections and build a network for whatever you’re going to do next. And then finally, and I think this is just sort of, on a personal level, particularly motivated by pandemic times, take care of yourself, you know, the public health workforce, however you define it is really facing lots of issues of burnout. And so take time for yourself. Now, I am certainly not a frontline worker. But I certainly have felt some burnout during the past couple of years, just because what we’re at two years plus and counting. And so for example, one of my go twos is twice weekly guided meditation sessions. So whatever that might be for you, you know, five minute walk, quick dance party to a song, a couple of yoga poses, whatever it might be.

Sujani 32:09
Those are some excellent pieces of advice. I think the writing one might be the first one, but then when you kind of like started talking about good communication, and like, okay, yes, I thought- I thought you were gonna say, you know, learn to just write I don’t know, like emails. Well, I guess that also comes into good communication when- Yeah. So when you kind of think about the future? What are you kind of looking forward to? What are some goals you’re working toward? What are you most excited about in terms of kind of the next phase of your career?

Gwyneth 32:39
Well, I’m this is gonna sound cheesy, but it’s totally true. I’m really excited to be teaching the next generation of public health leaders. And certainly they weren’t needed before now, but they’re needed even more so now. And that’s why I love such a diversity of students who take my core course. So they get exposed to all these different ways that you can, quote, unquote, do public health. For example, in the week where we talked about public health systems, we read this really great American Journal of Public Health article that was written by undergraduate and graduate students, on public health students as human rights advocates. I know a lot of students have said to me that they felt this article is really empowering, because some of the course content along the way can be a bit depressing. The health US healthcare system and other aspects of it. So they find this article, particularly because it’s written by them, you know, their peers, undergraduate and graduate public health students to be particularly empowering. So I hope to sort of have that kind of effect on the classes that I have, whether they’re on campus or via zoom. And then I really love introducing people to law. And I’ve had several students in the last year or so say that they’re either thinking of switching their concentration to health systems and policy because there’s this focus on law, or they’re thinking about some sort of law career, whether it be in law school, or, you know, some sort of policy analyst position. And so that’s why, for example, I do those yearly events with career and student services to have some sort of law related panel every year.

Sujani 34:16
Yeah, I think it’s so important to see what’s possible with your MPH degree, especially when you know, you have all these different interests, just knowing that someone has built a career with these different areas. Makes it more possible for you in your eyes.

Gwyneth 34:30
Yeah. And I mean, for example, the panel that we’re doing in October, it’s going to be me who’s, you know, way out of law school.

Sujani 34:37

Gwyneth 34:37
And there’s someone who recently graduated and is doing a fellowship, and then someone who is currently in law school, but also pursuing the MPH degree at the same time, so you’ll get kind of different views on why we picked the law schools that we did and why we’re doing it the way we did and that kind of thing. So I think they’ll be good in terms of seeing if there are different ways you can do this.

Sujani 34:59
Exactly, yeah. Because I know for me personally, I’ve I’ve heard more about people with a law background working within like the public health departments. And I think when we think of public health and law, that’s the first career path that comes to mind. But I think just hearing your journey and the examples that you’ve provided, it just really opens up other possibilities for individuals.

Gwyneth 35:23
Yeah. And I will say it doesn’t have to, quote unquote, just be law on policy. There also is kind of a qualitative and quantitative aspect to it. For example, last 10 years has been this increasing drive to do what’s called legal epidemiology, or policy surveillance, where you’re essentially taking certain quantitative methods and applying them to the scientific analysis of public health laws and policies to see are these things effective. And if they’re not effective, what can be done about?

Sujani 35:55
See that’s a new terminology that I just starting today, the one about it was illegal epidemiology.

Gwyneth 36:01
Yeah, one way in which doing is, you know, policy surveillance.

Sujani 36:05

Gwyneth 36:06
So if people are interested in that they can check out the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University’s law school, they’re one of the pioneering organizations doing that work along with the CDC’s Public Health Law Program and change lab solutions in California.

Sujani 36:19
Yeah, it’s so important to if you know, you have these various interests, but really don’t know what sort of a career that looks like. When you start talking to people in those fields, they kind of know the right phrases and terminologies and just kind of like set you on a path to go do further research, just a plug in there to go out and talk to people when you are confused about what to kind of pursue in terms of your career.

Gwyneth 36:45
Yeah, I mean, I definitely would say, you know, wherever you are taking advantage of your Office of Career, or your Office of Student Services, you know, check out their programming, meet with their staff. And then consider informational interviews and sometimes feel like people don’t really mention informational interviews that much, but they can be really informational. If you pitch them the right way. And this is where good writing comes in. Like you have to write a good sort of short to the point email requesting it. And for example, have a very time limited, you know, like 10 minutes or 15 minutes, because I’m sure the people that you’re contacting are busy, because that’s why you’re contacting them, because they’re going to be a font of information. Those can be really helpful in terms of seeing well, you know, this is how this person did it. Sometimes it can lead to other people. So sort of, like snowballing in terms of some contacts and connections.

Sujani 37:33
Yeah, yeah, we talk quite a bit about informational interviews, we have lots of podcast episodes and resources on our website. So I’ll be sure to link those up. I think the other piece that I really wanted to touch on, Gwyneth, and I think up until now, we were focusing on individuals who may be interested in a path similar to yours, where you emerging law in public health. But I think another theme that kept coming out for me just hearing the way that you approach teaching, and the way that you’re training the students is that you’re really looking at new and innovative ways to engage your students and kind of experimenting different things. And I think it might, it might be worth it to kind of just spend a few minutes talking a bit about that as inspiration for other professors and instructors who may be listening to this episode. So I don’t know if you have anything kind of just to mention on that whole topic of the passion that you bring to your teaching roles.

Gwyneth 38:34
Yeah, I mean, it goes back to what I mentioned earlier, which is sort of the general piece of advice. I’m working on your writing, which is something I continue to do, because there’s varied writing in academia versus legal practice versus consulting. So I’m actually currently reading this book called Teaching Public Health Writing by Jennifer Beard, who’s at the Boston University School of Public Health and is sort of their writing guru. And it’s interesting, because she is, in some ways, affirming some of the things I’m doing in this health politics and policy course, that I taught for the first time last year. And I’m hoping to teach again in the spring, because it’s offered once a year as sort of a selective for health systems are policy people. And the big writing assignment in that is a health policy analysis. And so for many of my students, this is something they haven’t been exposed to. But I think it’s a really key skill, no matter what you end up doing, whether you become a policy analyst or not. Because the idea is, in one page, literally one page, you are presenting a policy problem, you are giving some factual background on it some landscape about the stakeholders or the players coming up with some options that are feasible. In our course we define feasible as politically feasible, which often means economically feasible, because we’re talking about legislation, be at the federal state or local level. And then finally, your recommendation. So what’s the quote unquote Best option of the three that you’ve come up with. This all has to fit on one page. And the idea is that this is a real world thing. Like in the real world, you could be a congressional, staffer, or a state and local government staffer and asked to write up a memo on X problem. And this is what you’d be doing this kind of format. Now maybe in a different setting, you might, you might get two pages. One on the other hand, my feeling is, it’s nice to front loaded on the first because then someone who’s really busy may only look at the policy statement at the top sort of presenting the problem. And then the recommendation at the bottom, so your you know, your answer to the question that was posed at the top of the page. And so what I’ve done is I scaffold the assignment. So you start off with you pick a topic, and you tell me why you picked it and who your stakeholders gonna be. Because obviously, if you’re writing it from the point of view of a congress person, versus a state senator versus the head of a nonprofit, how you’re putting it, and then what the options are, what can be done is going to vary based on what those people can or can’t do. And then after you do that, then you do an outline where you just do a couple of the sections. And then you end up with the final product, which is all of the sections on the one page. And I know students struggle with it. But I devote class time to each of the steps. And it’s turns out to be a really useful if I’m going by student feedback, writing assignment, and something that they appreciate because it is not just for the course. But it has real world implications in terms of being something you might do. And also very pragmatically, it can make a great writing sample for internships for fellowships or jobs. This is perfect. It’s two pages, because the second page is the references.

Sujani 41:49
Oh, I love that I love when there are assignments that really translate to not only you know, real world stuff, but also ones that you could probably show off at job interviews or show it as part of your portfolio. And I think that’s so important because especially in grad school, when you’re really training professionals who are needing to hit the ground running from graduation, it’s really, really important that they have the skills and and they don’t feel lost when they’re graduating and feel like they don’t have the skills. And it’s sometimes heartbreaking when I do hear that from a lot of people in our community who feel completely lost at the end of graduation and not know where to go feel like they don’t have any experience, especially after graduating from a great grad school program. So hearing that you’re really you know, taking the time so that they do understand the assignment and are able to produce like good, high value products is excellent.

Gwyneth 42:47
And they’re proud of them, too.

Sujani 42:49

Gwyneth 42:49
So and then the assignment forces you to consider pros and cons. I mean, no policy is perfect. So am I even sort of asterisk you know, for your recommendation? What’s the, quote, best option? It’s not the perfect option.

Sujani 43:03

Gwyneth 43:04
But it’s the best option, for example, in the health politics and policy course, because it’s, for example, politically or economically, you know, financially feasible.

Sujani 43:13
Yeah, no, I love that. A similar assignment kind of comes to mind that when I was in grad school, we had to do a bit of a project. And I took the final product of that and actually launched a not for profit organization. And I use that as an example for people that I mentored to say, like, what you put into grad school is really, you know, up to you. And you could take it as just an assignment that you’re handing in for a grade. Or you could take it one step further and see how you could really build on that knowledge that you’re collecting through this assignment and do something more with it. So I think, as much as the the professors are going to do everything they can, there’s also an element where the students have to put in that extra piece of like passion or initiative to say, okay, how can I make this even more valuable for myself?

Gwyneth 44:04
Right and acknowledging that certainly since I finished, I think the student population has changed a bit. I think more and more students are working full time or part time.

Sujani 44:13

Gwyneth 44:14
More and more students have family commitments. Some of them have significant commutes. And then now we’ve got the added wrinkle of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Sujani 44:23

Gwyneth 44:23
So I think, you know, you definitely want to be telling students put your all into it. But with this sort of caveat that within limits.

Sujani 44:32
Yeah. And I think yeah, the way you’re, you’ve designed this assignment where you’re breaking down each section as part of your lecture is also a great way to support the students who do need that additional time.

Gwyneth 44:45
No, I mean, I’m obviously you can’t please everyone, some students are like, I’m fine. But the other students really liked the time and then also they can maybe brainstorm with other colleagues. I mean, usually people end up doing very different topics. So there isn’t a lot of collaborating on oh, you’re doing this aspect of healthcare insurance. While I’m doing that, usually people have taken very different topics in different areas. But nevertheless, a fresh pair of eyes and different perspective can always be helpful.

Sujani 45:15
Well, thanks so much Gwyneth. I mean, it’s been such a great conversation and like yourself, I love it. You know, we get to talk about different ways of educating the next generation of public health professionals. So this was a wonderful chat for myself personally. But I think for a lot of our listeners who are considering public health in law and thinking about a career in those areas, I think this will be a super valuable episode for them.

Gwyneth 45:40
I hope so. And it was such a treat. And you set a very high bar since this was my first podcast. I feel somehow that I have nowhere to go but down after this.

Sujani 45:50
Well, for any of our listeners who do have a podcast when it is looking for other opportunities, let’s just put it out there.

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 launch 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 on 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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