Maryann Koussa, MPH

Maternal and Child Health, Minority Health and Health Disparities

1. In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Public health is community empowerment through reduction of health disparities, awareness and education of risk reduction strategies, and prevention and policy development.

2. What inspired you to study public health?

In my undergraduate career, I was convinced that my calling was to become a physician. However, I was faced with the conflict that I would only be able to reach people individually, while navigating an evolving system, heavily constrained by insurance and politics. I decided to take an Introduction to Public Health course, serendipitously led by an exceptionally passionate professor, and everything changed. I had no idea that this entire field of study and practice existed, allowing for direct implementation of community programs that affect positive change to entire communities.

3. What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?

The most amazing experience for me has been the implementation of the Community Voice: Taking it to the People initiative, in Miami-Dade County (supported by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Jasmine Project). This Black infant mortality prevention and awareness program was my first leap into a leadership role in public health practice. It is a great feeling to actualize the implementation and sustainability of something that started out as an idea. However, by far, the single most rewarding experience is having a participant tell me that the Jasmine Project probably saved her unborn baby’s life; absolutely irreplaceable.

4. What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were starting out in public health?

You must absolutely believe in yourself and your vision. It is easy to get intimidated thinking about the magnitude of the scale and scope of a community-based project, but you must persist. You will be met with politics, resistance and rejection, but stand your ground and be confident. Public health is full of activists and advocates ready and willing to work in partnership, so do not be afraid to reach out and cold contact potential collaborators. You will find your niche!

5. What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

Public health is caught in a tangled situation with the current healthcare changes and initiatives. There must be a symbiotic, cohesive partnership formed between public health and the medical fields in order to focus on prevention, better reduce health disparities, and increase wellness and health. It is not an easy task, but a more open dialogue and collaboration between the two fields of practice has the potential to shift the paradigm of a nation currently focused on reactionary medical practices.