A conversation on the MD/MPH career journey, the case for more public-private partnerships in public health, and entrepreneurship, with Dr. Nitin Mohan

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Dr. Nitin Mohan who holds both an MD and MPH. They discuss how Nitin’s work experience in medicine led him to pursuing an MPH and talk about ETIO Public Health Consultants, a company co-founded by Nitin that works to bring evidence-based public health information and solutions to businesses.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Nitin’s path from completing his MD to pursuing an MPH and why he switched career paths
  • How training as an MD strengthened Nitin’s ability to be a public health professional and vice versa
  • What ETIO is including:
    • What the company’s goals are
    • What kind of projects ETIO takes on
    • What major projects and reports have come out of ETIO
    • What kind of backgrounds team members come from
  • Nitin’s keys to success for entrepreneurship in the public health world
  • What holding a faculty position and mentoring students in addition to his other work has taught Nitin
  • What lessons Nitin has learned about science communication working through the COVID pandemic
  • Advice from Nitin for public health students and early career professionals

Today’s Guest:

Dr. Nitin Mohan is an assistant professor who teaches courses in the Master of Management and Applied Sciences and Master of Public Health programs. He is also a partner and physician epidemiologist at a private public health consultancy firm and research think tank called ETIO which is based in Toronto, Ontario. He obtained his Medical Doctorate in 2015 and his Master of Public Health in 2017.

He formerly worked for the Government of Canada, at the Public Health Agency of Canada where he was a physician epidemiologist with the Centre for Food-Borne, Enteric, and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (CFEZID) as well as the Surveillance Coordination Unit under the Infectious Disease Prevention Control Branch (IDPCB).

He specializes in infectious disease surveillance and preventive medicine. He has experience coordinating national surveillance activities ensuring optimal data practices across multiple sectors.

Through his role at ETIO he works with private and public sectors and Non-Governmental Organizations on various projects ranging from knowledge translation, data management, research design and clinical guideline development, software development and program development. His experiences have allowed him to work in dynamic health systems, through clinical practice, research implementation and surveillance design. He is routinely featured on various media outlets as a key contributor during the COVID19 pandemic.

His interests include preventive medicine, global health, public health, health equity, health economics and population health.

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Episode Transcript

Nitin 0:00
So I think- I think everyone has to sort of figure out what their journey is and what their passions are within it. And you know, if you start off on the private side, it doesn’t mean you can’t end up in the public side. And vice versa. If there’s a certain project you would like to work on or experiences you want, again, build that competency, and the ability to work on a multitude of projects in various roles, and it’ll just sort of help you down the line.

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.

Hey, Nitin, thank you so much for joining me on our podcast and welcome.

Nitin 0:45
Thanks, Sujani. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to chatter.

Sujani 0:49
Yeah, I think I’ve been following your work on LinkedIn, I can’t recall exactly how I came across you and the great work that you’ve been doing here in Canada, specifically around the Ontario region for some of our listeners who are from this part of the world. So you wear many hats, which I’m very excited to get into. But maybe we could take a moment to hear kind of the inspiration for you to get into the path of public health. And maybe you could tell us a bit about that story.

Nitin 1:18
If I’m being honest, I’m not even sure if I knew what public health was prior to 2015. I wasn’t sure if it was anything outside of that mass vaccination programs. I was heavily involved in sort of the medical field clinical medicine. And then late 2015, I was training at linters, a rehabilitation center in Toronto, which was a University Health Network. And I got to work alongside a really smart physician, Dr., was training me at the time. You know, at the end of the day, we review patient charts, and I was always drawn to sort of certain indicators or metrics and what I believe to be valuable and understanding success for patients. I know I’ve sort of always been drawn to that part of medicine. And he really advocated that I take a look at public health programs, and I sort of dive into, you know, the data behind health outcomes. And, you know, I think at the time, I was a bit apprehensive, and through my research to sort of gain more insights, which led me to do my public health at Western University to the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. So did that between 2016 and 2017. And I think as many of us know, who are in this field, once you drink the Kool Aid of public health, it’s really hard to go back to anything else. And for me, I was used to seeing patients in a one on one setting. And my mind sort of exploded when I realized that can have population level impact, where at times in the clinical setting, I felt that they’re limited. And so for me, it was sort of a natural progression in my career path.

Sujani 2:37
For some of our listeners who may have a clinical background, my understanding, at least is that during medical school, you do get some insight into public health, you do get to take some courses such as, you know, Epidemiology, for example, why was it important for you to pursue an entire master’s level training in public health in addition to your MD degree?

Nitin 3:00
I think it starts with just the having the interest and ensuring that I truly understand the field from all of its angles. So yes, in med school, you know, we do take courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, I think, moreso now there’s an emphasis on public health knowledge and medical school training. But when I was in medical school, those opportunities were a bit limited. So for me, it was really understanding things like the social determinants of health, health promotion, you know, and again, even with regards to epidemiology and biostatistics, you know, in medical school, yes, we do study them, but it may be more so from an introductory standpoint, whereas through our program, we get to take more of a deep dive. Likewise, with health informatics, and, you know, really understanding at least in Canada, what’s important here is, and I imagine the same to be across the world is indigenous health. And so for me, having the opportunity to take a dive into these topics and get more of a fulsome understanding, really complemented some of the knowledge that I gained in med school.

Sujani 3:54
And it sounds like, you know, when you were working with that other physician, I guess the vision that you had for your career was slightly changing. And you were trying to focus more on this, like population level health, has that been a slow kind of gradual change for your career? Or was there a point maybe during your Master’s in Public Health Training, or at some other point where you took a really, you know, a huge sharp turn and thought, okay, I’m going to not do what I had initially thought I was going to do when I went to medical school. And this is what you know, the vision for my career is now going to look like did you have some sort of like a moment in time during that process?

Nitin 4:33
So during my master’s program, while I was studying public health, I think what I had envisioned was utilizing my public health knowledge and clinical practice. So I was very much clinically focused at that time, still, how do I take this knowledge that I’m creating here? How do I apply it to acute care settings? How can my patients benefit? That was really what I was thinking through my program and do many programs. Were asked to do a practicum placement and mine was at the Public Health Agency of Canada, where aftermath emplacement I sort of stayed on to work on various projects. And, you know, I think at that point to my experience at the federal government, it changed my perception on what I thought my role in public health could be. And that sort of, you know, I think that’s really we’re apt to is sort of launched on my partner, Mark Gara. And I sat down, I think, in one of our after one of our lectures in 2016, and we knew we want to do something. And I think that’s, that’s really where the spark of public health was late, I think in in our program, because we were just challenged to think outside the box, here’s our public health has worked, you know, we’re a case based program. So every day, we’re analyzing cases discussing what went right, what went wrong, what- what could have been done differently. And we just started thinking about public health completely differently at that moment, you know, whether it was from an AI standpoint, whether it’s from building products that help you know, more people understand the valuation of public health, you know, whether it’s creating apps, and then you know, I think through our career path, we sort of settled in on this consulting firm slash research think tank model, where we thought it’d give us the freedom to work on projects that we thought were really cool, and maybe outside of the typical public health realm, but also provide value to public health that we thought may be missing in the current model.

Sujani 6:09
I’m predicting what our listeners are probably kind of thinking now, because they’ve heard you mention a number of different things that you’re doing. You kind of talk about Western University and teaching there and this consulting firm and some work that you did at PHAC, and clinical work. So maybe the first question is, are you still pursuing clinical work? And then from there a little bit about how you went from finishing your master’s in public health doing that practicum at the federal public service, and then moving into discovering maybe there’s space for you in starting your own consultancy firm, and also being an assistant professor at the Western University? So how did that world of work happened for you?

Nitin 6:54
So I think in terms of the first question, if you would have asked me a year ago, if I had any inclination of going back to clinical medicine, I would say no, but we’re, we’re this far into the pandemic. And if I’m being honest with myself, there’s been times where I’ve felt very helpless about the pandemic. And I’ve almost felt like my time is probably better spent, you know, seeing patients because at least I know, I’m doing something tangible in front of me where I can make a difference. This pandemic response has been frustrating for a lot of reasons.

Sujani 7:20

Nitin 7:20
And, you know, we all learn this in our mph programs is that with every political cycle, there are opportunities for public health to take advantage of that, in some political cycles, as opportunities are abundant, some of their scars. You know, it’s been tough, at least in this political cycle in Ontario, to sort of understand some of the ways we move forward from knowing the evidence that we know. But I think that’s part of public health. So I you know, I do believe that the long run, there will be tons of opportunities for us to look back at how Ontario and Canada handled a pandemic and take lessons that were meant to build upon and lessons that we we think we should avoid in the future. So yeah, you know, maybe in the future, I might hop back into the clinical world. Right now, I will say, I’m pretty happy with the work that I’m doing. In most master’s programs at the public health level, I imagine all of them, there’s a practicum component, I decided to do mine at the Public Health Agency of Canada, because of the programmatic area that I’d be working in. So I started off in the zoonosis division, which was a lot of fun, I got to work with Dr. Michelle Delgado, who was my preceptor at that time, and really opened my eyes to the possibilities in the public sector, and I think is a champion of a lot of public health programs in the country. And so for students looking to get into public health or current students in public health, if you do have the opportunity to work at the Public Health Agency, I think it’s something that you should take advantage of. For me, what it did was it opened my eyes to the benefit of the public health agency and health Canada, but it also, it brought light to a lot of limitations I saw working in the federal sector. And I think some of those limitations and some of those bottlenecks, you know, they’re- they’re pretty prevalent. And what I wanted to do was address them. So again, that sort of led us to addressing some of those gaps in our private firm. But my time at the at the federal government was phenomenal. I worked with great people, I had great managers, I was put in positions to grow and work on projects that were really meaningful. And I think having that 50,000 foot view of what the role of the Public Health Agency of Canada is, helps you sort of understand what the work is at the provincial, municipal and regional level, and how important each sector is to continue to build upon getting that information, ensuring that the information is timely. And that you know, our policies are truly evidence informed and reflective of the populations that we serve. So I think that insight was very valuable for me my career, the Assistant Professor thing is something completely different. That sort of just came out of the blue and that’s the teacher course, once I graduated in the Masters of management and Applied Sciences here at Schulich Western and we focus on global health systems. Global Health, it’s been a passion of mine since I entered the healthcare industry, and they- you know, everyone listen to this podcast or all your guests. I mean, we’re all sort of part of this healthcare world, whether you’re in clinical medicine or public health or health administration. You know, we’re all sort of part of the same sort of machine that that works together. So I taught this course thinking it’d be a year and I think we’re five years into it now. And of all the things that I do, I think my favorite thing is to teach us one course specifically. And it’s been, it’s been interesting teaching the course, in a pandemic, students who are interested in global health and wellness, in a pandemic that has shown us the issues of global health and equity. And you know, we’re living that living through vaccine and equity right now. So I’m quite hopeful that the future of public and global health is in good hands. Because the experiences students have gained over the past few years, the insights they’ve gained, and they’re seeing things unfold in real time. I don’t know if you can get a better sort of learning experience in that.

Sujani 10:34
Yeah, that’s quite interesting, I guess you were a student pre pandemic. And now going in as an instructor, during a pandemic, has there been any additional eye opening moments for you during this kind of experience?

Nitin 10:47
I’ve had the chance to teach both in the public health and global health programs and in the public health program, I’ve taught a course called managing health services for about two years, it was fun to teach that course from my perspective, as you know, previously, as a clinician and give my insights, but also now as a public health professional, understanding some limitations from you know, budgetary constraints and how decentralized our systems can be and the difficulty around that. I think, for the global health side, I think the differences some of the materials that we covered pre pandemic, it’s really easy to point to some lessons now, seeing how the world is dealing with a pandemic, specifically, the struggles that low to middle income countries are facing, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches in Canada to be debating a booster shot, whether you want it or not, or folks are saying I’d prefer Pfizer and moderna, you know, if the new definition of fully vaccinated is two doses in a booster, 98.7% of the world is unvaccinated maybe. So it gives you an idea of where we are in Canada and some of these richer countries. And the onus I think, should be placed on us to really make an effort to build the capacity in other countries to do this sort of thing. And, you know, we can talk about releasing patents for vaccines, and also some of the stuff around community based research and sort of the Savior approach from Western medicine. You know, we don’t want to end up going to these, these places and say, Hey, we’re here to save you, here’s the here’s the stuff and we leave like there has to be culturally appropriate has to be based, there clearly is a path for us to make the difference here. And I think the students that have been part of this program from when I’ve started teaching, and especially in the past few years, they understand that in a way that I don’t think other students could. And I think that’s sort of exciting for me to see some of the projects that they’re doing, some of the ideas that they have. And in the global health program, we also have a practicum component. And in the past few years, some of the students have done a practical matter for him at ITO. And one of our favorite things, as partners of the firm is to just give students a blank template and say, “What are you interested in?”, “How do you see this unfolding?”, and “Let’s go forward with that.” And a cool example of that is one of our students, Daniel, was currently I think, in medical school at the University of Alberta was doing her practicum with us, I think, in the summer of 2020. I don’t know what date it is anymore, but I think it’s summer 2020. And that there was an unprecedented time, you know, we’re dealing with a pandemic, that was the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of social unrest and teach came to us and she said, “Hey, there’s something I want to do about this.” And we said, okay, I think there’s a way for us to approach this from evidence and form a methodology. And we think we can- we can do something that is valuable and impactful. And so she spearheaded this report, when they gained some national attention, the media and I think even provincially pushed some policymakers to really reevaluate how anti black racism, anti oppression, or inequitable practices are embedded in our systems throughout Ontario, specifically in Canada. So you know, they take a look at the education system, financial system, the judicial systems, and you know, they put a meaningful report with clear metrics and indicators and action items, you know, when you see that a student can take that leap from, you know, being in a classroom to doing something impactful for society in the world. That to me is the coolest thing. So I anticipate more of that. And I think that’s where the excitement is from the academic standpoint.

Sujani 13:48
Yeah. I mean, I hope that report is publicly available. And maybe it’s something we can link up in the show notes page.

Nitin 13:55
On our website. I think the SABC profile that a couple times publicly the materials and if you want to share it, I think a great, great read for the listeners.

Sujani 14:01
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And that’s interesting how you explain that, because when I reflect back to my time, during my Public Health Training, the idea of a pandemic was this foreign, something that you couldn’t really wrap your head around, because the example that we were given was that 1918, Spanish flu and a lot of our assignments was about, you know, if we had a pandemic, what would you do? And a lot of the assignments were broken down in that kind of perspective. But-

Nitin 14:27
What would John Snow do, right?

Sujani 14:28
I think yeah, exactly. And to see these students that are currently training in public health have a completely different understanding, I think, I think we’re in good hands. And in thinking about the future of the public health professionals that are coming out of these programs.

Nitin 14:45
I think you must have seen this as well. I came across some organization, I want to say in 2017, 2018. And so we first connected and at that time when we were launching it, too, you didn’t know there were other public health organizations out there that were you know, may not be doing the same things but just you know, I think trying to do something Like to help and make an impact. And I remember we started off in 2018, we launched an Instagram page, and we thought it’d be cool to populate some information there. And I think there was like two pages at that time.

Sujani 15:09

Nitin 15:10
At least in Canada, there was a few more in the States. And what I’m fascinated by is the online footprint of public health pages. So Instagram, or Facebook, or Tiktok organizations like yourself, but even the Ontario Canada project, I’m so blown away by the depth of talent and the ability to execute at a high level, you know, for this generation coming up, I almost want to sort of, you know, raise a flag and wave it aggressively to the folks in the public health world on the federal provincial side and say, hey, take a look at this talent and what they’re doing. And I think there’s lessons that you can take in terms of getting information out to people and, and really engaging in a meaningful manner. And I hope that that bridge is sort of built from, you know, what people are doing in the quote, unquote, grassroots level, because it’s really more than grassroots. If you look at their execution and their ability to do things, I really hope that the public sector takes notes on that and sort of builds that bridge to create that partnership where we can utilize that expertise better.

Sujani 16:04
Yeah, there is a clear difference between what used to exist when I think you said 2017, is when ETIO launched as well. Did I hear that correctly?

Nitin 16:13
We- I think we started in 2016, 2018. August is when we officially launched HR but what we thought we would be at the timeout we are now it’s evolved rapidly. But yeah, it’s a lot of changes.

Sujani 16:25
Oh, yeah. Yeah, because PH SPOT when we were formulating the idea of what this platform could look like it was late fall of 2016, launched in 2017. And at the time, it didn’t make sense to have an online platform, because we did have in person events, workshops, conferences, where a lot of the knowledge exchange and mentorship and you know, everything that we need for our career was happening, then with the pandemic, I think it’s like you explain beautiful to see so many more individuals really lack of a better word taking matters into their own hands to try to spread this message, various topics, various methods, and I think it’s a good call out to really encourage the public sector to see how we can build that bridge.

Nitin 17:09
Yeah, I hope so.

Sujani 17:10
Yeah. And no, that’s a good segue into, you know, talking a bit more about ETIO and what your goals are, you said it started off as a completely different mission and has evolved into what it is today. And maybe you could take us through that journey.

Nitin 17:26
You know, I think we- we had this a part of our program called brown bag seminars where it was a Thursday, we have professionals or industry leaders come into our program and just chat for about an hour. And we got the one of the brown bag lectures we heard about, I think it was a medical student or a resident who had a public health background, who essentially found a way to incorporate demographic data into clinician charts in a way that wasn’t burdensome on the clinician. And I’d say that, you know, I said that respectfully, I think clinicians overwhelmingly want to take the time to chat with patients and, you know, have meaningful consults. But due to the nature of our our industry, sometimes, you know, a clinician can sit down with someone for half an hour and have a fulsome conversation. So they may not be able to fully understand things like “What type of housing are you living in?”, “What’s your income?”, “What are some limitations that you have from your daily life?”, “Do you rely on public transit?”, “Do you live in a neighborhood that has sidewalks which allows you to to walk the bus stop?”, or, you know, just things along those lines, and I remember, you know, after that lecture, I sort of my brain was jumping all over the place. And this is great that there’s possibilities for us to truly integrate what- what we view public health to be into the sectors that matter. And so when we, when we sat down in 2016, we thought we would open the create an app, and I probably shouldn’t give those ideas away right now, my partner’s gonna kill me. But essentially, you know, we were at base and then, you know, through mentorship, the director of our program, someone named Dr., who just, you know, had his door open for us. And we can walk into his room and ask him questions. And he spent a lot of time mentoring us ensuring that we were asking ourselves the right questions that helped us sort of create a framework for what we thought the firm would be. And then in 2017, Mark, and I sort of knew that we were limited just based on time and our abilities. And we bought on element E and A, who really helped us sort of streamline the company. And when we started off, but what we were doing was we were helping, at the time, there were a ton of medical marijuana companies that we’re launching, hoping to put products onto the market. And so what we were doing was helping them with some of their research. So you know, you would have a company that says, hey, the CBD drink can cure cancer, for example. And our job was to help explain to them that that information necessarily isn’t out there. And that data doesn’t reflect that. And while it’s a possibility, you know, there’s no more studies need to be done. And that’s really where we started off that in that space. But you know, as a pandemic, sort of picking up prior to the pandemic, we created a software called RMP2 so risk mitigation and program planning. So we have public health units throughout Ontario and throughout Canada, same as in the US and some public health units have more funding than others. So smaller public health units are a bit limited in terms of how they gather information, how to analyze it, and so we thought that if we created the software, it would allow those public health units to track data to store it and to monitor things better than they were doing on a paper model. So we launched the software in 2019, which was a lot of fun to do, because you’re working with people outside of your industry. So it worked with IT folks, that business folks, and we’re helping inform the content from a public health perspective. So yeah, I think we were trying to get the software to market and we thought, you know, it may not be the best time. And so we realized that there was a space where private companies needed help to navigate their COVID process. And it started by private companies reaching out to us saying, “Hey, can you help us with a protocol or a guidance document? Can you help us secure testing?”. And so we spent a lot of time working on that. And we sort of got an in depth understanding of how public health can be utilized by private industry, you know, and I think it’s not just on the health and safety standpoint, but also from a marketing and research and development standpoint. So I think we’ve helped certain industries, understand their role in communicating through equity, and ensuring that their products can be equitable in terms of whether it be price points, or who they’re targeted for, and what their impact is, are their sustainable. And, you know, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how willing companies are to grow in this space, we’ve obviously run into issues where there’s another side of the private world as well, where, at times, you may have a client that says, hey, I understand that research says X, but we’d really like to say Y. And I think that’s where we sort of have to, as a firm, really dig deep into who we are and what we stand for. And, you know, we’re heavily entrenched in evidence informed methodology. And if that evidence is not there, we can’t recommend or support things. For the sake of doing that, we’re happy to say that there may be gaps in the data, and there may be room to gain more insights. But you know, currently, based on the evidence and the research, these- these, you know, recommendations have to sort of fall into mine. I think that sort of the uniqueness of private Public Health Consulting, you know, it’s a bit of a interesting space, because in the public model, it’s sort of a clear path forward, right? Like your obligation is to, ideally should be to the population you serve. But I think if you look at the hierarchy, it’s to the political party that’s in charge first, and then the population that you serve, and how they view that population, and who in that population matters to them. Whereas in the private side, what we do is we’ll work with these companies to help them understand where their product should land and how best to develop things. And that allows us to work on research Think Tank projects, which- which we want to be population based. And you know, we don’t have any bureaucratic processes that hold us back. There’s no red tape for us to worry about. We’re not tied to a political party. So we can sort of take a bit of a more aggressive approach to public health research, and publish things and work on projects that otherwise we didn’t think you had the opportunity to do.

Sujani 22:40
That’s one fascinating the many pivots that you took since founding ETIO, and then this perspective about how you’re working with private industry, I think, you know, stereotypically, when you think about collaborations with private industry, it doesn’t sit too well within the public health world. But the way you’re explaining it, I think that makes complete sense.

Nitin 23:00
I appreciate you bringing that up, because it’s something that I think about often. And I think that’s sort of where you go back to the point that you and I discussed about the partnership from the public health world to a lot of these NGOs and grassroots movements is, we as an industry have to evolve. And I think we have to grow. And a lot of times what happens with these sectors that are heavily involved in the systems is that it’s hard for individuals to think about a system that’s different than the one that they’re in. And I think for me, you know, working at the federal level, having some experience on the provincial side and municipal side, I think there’s a lot of things that work really well. And I think there’s a lot of movement to progress and evolved in the industry. But I don’t think that there should be a limitation to that. Right? And I think that’s what we’re seeing in the pandemic is that we as an industry have to be quite nimble, if we aren’t, you know, leading the change in that. It’ll be hard for that to be reflected in our policies and our practices.

Sujani 23:53
And I think, yeah, one people have a lot of ideas outside of the public sector that we can definitely learn from and use to the benefit of the entire population. And I think one example comes to mind within Toronto was the vaccine hunters. I think they were Toronto based organization. And I think the city of Toronto ended up partnering with them. And I think that’s a perfect example of where we can really bridge that gap, fill in each other’s needs, and really lean into what the strengths are of the public system versus the private system and utilize it to essentially at the end of the day, serve the population.

Nitin 24:29
I couldn’t agree more.

Sujani 24:30
What are some exciting projects or reports that you’re most proud of that either you- Explain the couple but is there one that really stands out as something that you’re most proud of?

Nitin 24:40
So there’s there’s a few that I think are really important. So one is the report that I mentioned that were led by the new wall. The other is, you know, I’m quite proud of the RMPT software. My partner, Mark Gara, sort of spearheaded that and I think seeing that that process unfold and then seeing public health units to use it. It was really meaningful to know that we were making a difference and helping these people out. I remember, once we launched that product, we heard back from some of the LPS in the public health units, and they were just sort of over the moon that they had a tool at their disposal that they could use to help them be more efficient and effective. And I think that that’s sort of really exciting for us, you know, that we’re making that type of impact. You know, we had a chance to work with this notion, the global health side, there was a group of medical students from from Pakistan that I think they placed second in an MIT competition for software they launched, which essentially, during the first few ways helped low to middle income countries and regions in these countries source PPE. sort of it was like an open dashboard, where open source PPE and companies can have it listed, and they were graded on the quality of the PPE. And at that time, it was- it was great, because people were scrambling to get things. So I think we help them sort of launch and put in a space that we thought was- was more widespread. And it’s called p3. So prepare, prevent or protect. But you know, for our our role in this project was really just to say, hey, this exists, we think it’s really cool. Let’s help you guys get it to where you think it’s best suited. And I think some of the projects that have been my favorite are some of the things that we’ve done on social media, which- which are social media is completely run by either new graduates or current students in terms of their undergraduate or public health. And I’m always blown away by how creative and meaningful some of the posts are. I’m pretty limited in my ability to do things creatively. So every time I see someone take advantage of that, I’m always impressed by it. And we have some things in the pipeline that we’ll be releasing this year that I don’t know if I can publicly mentioned, but I think they sort of pushed that, that the ideology of that public private sector partnership and public health. And also, I think, you know, more so understanding what some of the limitations are in the public health world from an employment standpoint, but I think it’s something that I’m sure you- you’ve experienced alongside me that you know, you want to get into the space, you get in and then initially you’re trying to find your foot in the space, where do I belong? What can I do, and then you’re figuring out how to work within the system of public health, right? And I think because we are so closely governed by the political arm of our society, it ends up being very much that you’re part of the political system. You know, I think there’s a lot to take away from, from learning how to navigate the nuances between that, and it’s clearly a skill that people need to develop. But my hope is, is that the talent in public health is allowed to do the work that- that it’s meant to do. Right? So outside of that, that governance, you know, if someone’s talented in knowledge translation, or as strong epi or strong color, what our hope is, is to really give them the platform and the position to really flourish, and work on projects that we think are meaningful and impactful.

Sujani 27:37
Yeah, a lot of things there. But the- the point that you made about the workforce and public health, that’s exactly what we’re trying to support here with PH SPOT. And so I’m happy you mentioned that you’ll also be kind of tackling that problem and this idea of entrepreneurship in the public health world. And I’d love that you’re involving students and interns within your organization. And I’d like to chat a little bit about that. Because, you know, when I think about entrepreneurship, it, it certainly lights up my world. And when you add public health into that it’s kind of the perfect mix for me. So was that something that you’ve always been interested in founding your own firm or, you know, pulling together great minds to build something, is that something that you are always interested in?

Nitin 28:20
I come from a background of business, my parents have owned businesses their whole lives. And it’s funny that you know, I think my both partners in my marketing, and they also come from a similar background, I don’t think any one of us thought we’d be doing this. I like to think that after we graduated, so our program was k space. And all of us were putting learning teams, I’d say about 70% of your deliverables throughout the year are team based. And then you obviously have individual ones. But I think that team model is sort of what we extended to our firm, collaborative, interdisciplinary work that we think leads to the best product. So you know, in terms of that model, I think it sort of came together organically. And you know, we’re still growing, we’re learning a lot about how the industry is changing. And I think in a cool way, we’re able to dictate some of that change as well. So you know, having worked in this space for a little while now, and I’m sure you’ve heard this thing where you can almost see what’s coming down the pipeline. Okay, so this is- this is going to be something worth talking about six months from now, this is going to be a bottleneck that we addressed now. It’ll be, you know, important in the conversation a year from now. And I think that lens has helped us sort of attack certain projects and strategically, and we have students that join us on a practicum basis, oftentimes, we hire them once their practicum is done. But we are a relatively new firm, we’re less than five years old, and we’re growing. And you know, the benefit that can do a quick plug is, is when students come to us because we are relatively small, we’re able to give them hands on experience. And so oftentimes, we’re able to work directly with one of the partners or a senior consultant. And what we’ve seen is students use the opportunities that they gain added to the platform and they’re able to leapfrog into other roles in public health. So I think you know, from our firm now we have people that are at least a blue dot people that are in the federal service and the politics serve as some folks at CDC, many have gone on to medical or law school or dentistry school, which again is exciting because you can see a path where five years from now there’s physicians and dentists and policymakers that have this keen understanding of how to utilize a public private partnership. And I think as the world moves forward, one thing we’re learning is that anything that’s a market inefficiency is quickly being addressed. Right? So there’s a gap in the market, whether we like the idea of Uber or not, but there’s a gap that’s been addressed. Right? And I think that when we envision that to helping sort of spearhead is that if there are gaps in public health or fair gaps and programmatic areas and public health, there’s a marketing efficiency, we can help fund that. And again, you know, the private side is fine. But we often work with public health units as well. Right? So we often work with organizations that may not have the same funding as a PHL. But they need the same type of work. So what they can do is put out a project proposal, or they’ll reach out to us directly and say, hey, we need this report done in six months, can you help us do it, and then we assemble a team. And we sort of attack that. And I think that sort of that model is very important going forward. And especially when we take a look at some of the ways that we think public health and become more impactful in our societies. So you know, ensuring that equity, diversity and inclusion is reflected in all projects. And I think part of that is ensuring that the correct individuals are on projects to ensure that that methodology is reflected in the reports. And then hopefully, you start seeing that in senior leadership teams and executive teams as well. And you’re starting to see now and I think it’s great that we’re on that path to do so. And, you know, we’re seeing it in some of the RFPs that are being released, as well as that there’s a clear focus on EDI work and anti oppression and anti racism, which is exciting, right? Because I think that’s something that we all understand is important for us to tackle, especially coming out of a pandemic or in the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately affected certain communities and parts of our society more than others, right? And I think it’s important for us as a industry to start addressing these things, and we can address them at the population level if they’re not being addressed within our organizations first.

Sujani 31:56
Yeah, very exciting. I think the- the most exciting thing for me personally, as you explained this is you’re able to actually see some of these students that interned at your firm go on to work in different parts of our system, whether it’s public or private, or going for additional education, and just seeing them understand that model that you kind of instilled with them. And that ability to work both within the private and public sector and kind of carry that knowledge forward and teach it hopefully, to their future colleagues, it’s really exciting to hear.

Nitin 32:27
I think the blog was a lot of fun for me personally, is that one of the things that we like to do at our firm is we want people to put their names on their work. So something is, you know, it’s a report that’s publicly shared, and the author’s name needs to be on there, right. And the reason I think we’re very heavy on that is we want people to build up their resumes, and we want them to build up their portfolios, I think you and I have been in this position where you know, we work with teams at whatever organization you’re at, and your work is sort of it exists, but no one knows that you did the work. And so if you want to move on to another organization, or you want to want something, it’s very hard to say, well, I worked on that, right? You’re saying you worked on it, but there may not be the paperwork, support that we want people to sort of flex their pelvic health muscles here, here’s what I can do, here’s my ability, and my name is on it. We don’t want to hide behind anything like you know, we believe the work that we’re doing, and we want people to know that, that we believe in it. Anytime you put your name beside something, I think that’s sort of the highest form of respect you can give the project. And I think what we’re trying to show is that there’s a depth of talent in our country of the public and global health, and that that talent is there, the knowledge is there. And it’s just about utilizing it to maximize the effectiveness of people’s abilities.

Sujani 33:34
Yeah. And that’s so important. I think, as an early professional, you’re kind of in this mindset that you can’t put something on your resume, if it’s not full time work that you’ve done, or it’s not a peer reviewed journal article. And I kind of challenge that when I coach early professionals within PH SPOT to really think about everything they’ve contributed to, and it could be social media campaign, it could be a report that’s living on your organization’s website, you really want to showcase all of that. And it’s great to hear that your organization, you know, takes it one step further to put the author’s names right on the report. And I think that you’re giving that respect to the individual as well.

Nitin 34:12
I’m, I’m so glad to hear you folks do that. Again. I think when it came across organization, I was so impressed that there was a forum for people to gain this insight. I think it’s so important for us to have that community and public health, whether someone goes down those private or public side, I think understanding that optionality is very important. Organizations like they could probably hold spot, I think they’re so valuable in doing that. So you know, I really appreciate you folks giving me the opportunity to chat about what we do and a little humble organization. Appreciate it.

Sujani 34:41
Thank you. And you know, just to wrap up our episode here, good segue, you’ve given us such like great value and great advice for early professional students, new grads, but is there anything more that you would really leave this episode with to our listeners, whether it’s about pursuing a traditional Public Health role or, you know, stepping into entrepreneurship within the public health world, I’d really like to kind of turn the mic to you for the last few minutes so that you can provide some advice.

Nitin 35:11
Sure, I think everyone has a unique career path. One of the things that I learned from my preceptor at the Public Health Agency, I think it’s a quote that was said by I want to say, Steve, because I might be wrong, you can ever connect the dots looking forward, I think, is a quote. So I think- I think everyone has to sort of figure out what their journey is and what their passions are within it. And you know, if you start off in the private side, it doesn’t mean you can’t end up in the public side, and vice versa, I tell experiences is sort of the way forward. So if there’s a certain project you would like to work on, or experiences you want to gain, I think that’s at least early on in your career. That’s really the advice that I would give, build that that competency and the ability to work on a multitude of projects in various roles. And it’ll just sort of help you down the line. Certainly, I like one thing that you said previously, is that when you photometric people have probably been spot, and people are trying to understand what they should put on your CVs. And oftentimes, it’s a published peer reviewed journal is sort of the gold standard. I think that’s quite important. Still, I think it’s important to have those published pieces. But the argument I’ll make is that if you take a look and leadership, there are social media posts that have hundreds of 1000s of likes that have been seen by a ton of people in talking about public health posts that disseminate knowledge that will have far greater impact than than possibly a peer reviewed publication, and not to diminish either or, oh, what I’m trying to say is, I think there’s, you know, we live in a new world where we have to take a look at not only how we’re sourcing the information in the research, but more importantly, how that information is being conveyed to lay audiences so that they can best inform decisions that not only benefit themselves, but you know, as we’re seeing our communities and societies as a whole. So I think we’re an exciting time and public health, despite my many products that they’re building, you know, the future is quite great.

Sujani 36:51
And yeah, I think just add to that each product that you put out, serves a different purpose, you know, the peer reviewed journal, it serves its purpose and social media posts or reports, they all serve their individual purpose. And I think the reason I kind of said this was to encourage public health professionals to not undersell the work that they’ve done, if it’s not up to that gold standard of a peer reviewed journal article, I think you hit the nail on the head by saying like, look at these products that have been consumed by individuals whose behaviors are trying to change. And there’s been so many public health professionals, I’ve been recognized on social media that are doing great work to really advocate for individuals to go get their vaccines or whatnot. And I think, really look into all of the work that you’ve done as a public health professional. And it doesn’t have to be the the traditional work that we’re so used to, because we are in this new space of public health right now.

Nitin 37:47
Yeah, well, I couldn’t agree more.

Sujani 37:49
Well, thank you so much, Nitin, and it’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. And I hope we can, you know, bring you back on the podcast again in the future to chat some more about the exciting journey that you’re taking within public health.

Nitin 38:01
Anytime, again, I appreciate you reaching out and I’d be happy to answer them.

Sujani 38:06
Hey, so I hope you enjoyed that episode. And as always, if you want to get the links and information mentioned in today’s episode, head over to pHspot.org/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about our hands on intensive training program that empowers early public health professionals, recent graduates and students with the mindset skills and tools required to land a public health job, advancing your career and become future public health leaders. So if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about building your dream public health career, then we can help you through this program. And right now, you can join the waitlist at pHspot.org/program. And we’ll notify you when the next cohort opens up. And so until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight, and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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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