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YSPH Alumna Addressing Global Antimicrobial Resistance

November 01, 2021

What is your current job?

P.P: I am currently a technical officer in the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) division at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, primarily working on the monitoring and evaluation of country AMR national action plans.

Why did you choose this path?

P.P: Even when I started my M.P.H. at Yale, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in global health, especially something related to global health policy. AMR is a multisectoral issue that touches on many areas of work, from health care worker education on AMR and appropriate antimicrobial stewardship to infection control in health care facilities and WASH access in community settings. The area I’m most interested in is the intersection between health security and AMR, especially in the face of increasingly resistant pathogens and a dwindling antibiotic pipeline, which creates the potential for a pandemic of resistance.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your work?

P.P: I started with the WHO AMR division as an intern during my summer internship at YSPH, then joined as a consultant after graduating from YSPH. I was recently selected for a technical officer position within the division, and I have loved developing new skills and knowledge throughout that journey. Due to the complex nature of AMR, and its establishment as a new division within WHO, I am constantly learning and developing new skills in everything from technical writing to data analysis, which has been great for my professional development. However, this also presents a challenge because you can never fully feel like an expert while you are learning, so I have had to battle imposter syndrome and the feeling of being not “good enough.” I have learned to be proud of my achievements. I think this is something that many people struggle with but might not express publicly. Acknowledging it to myself has helped me move beyond this feeling and I hope mentioning it publicly lets people know they are not alone and that they deserve the achievements they have worked for.

How did your YSPH education prepare you for your current work in public health?

P.P: My experience at YSPH strengthened my ability to think critically about the social and cultural influences of health and helped me realize that health can never be disconnected from politics. Health and access to health is inherently political, since a population’s health is connected to the environment and cultural and socioeconomic factors that are influenced by national policies. This has helped me look at a certain public health issue from many perspectives to identify the various barriers and drivers of a problem.

Was there a seminal moment for you at YSPH?

P.P: One of the most memorable experiences was my Public Health Communications class with Robert Bazell. The class partnered with local organizations including one NGO which worked on consumer advocacy against antimicrobial use in livestock, which was how I first learned about the complex issue of AMR. The class also inspired me to make public health research more understandable and accessible to the public. Some classmates and I attempted to do this through a podcast we started at YSPH called Public Health Decoded, which unfortunately had a short run. I think we have seen just how much health misinformation has affected the global COVID-19 response and vaccine hesitancy. One of the key methods to combating misinformation (other than increasing news literacy) is through translating public health information and research into more accessible language and using our platforms as public health professionals to share accurate health information with our families, friends and the public.

Do you have one memory or experience that best illustrates why you like your current work in public health?

P.P.: During the height of the initial COVID-19 wave in 2020, I was assigned to the WHO COVID-19 Incident Management Team as a science writer for WHO COVID-19 guidance documents. This was my first experience being a part of an incidence response to a public health emergency. It was a challenging and stressful time with incredibly high stakes for everyone. But being part of the pandemic response really deepened my interest in health security and risk communication. Those months will always stick with me because I got an opportunity to see how an incident response to a global public health emergency is coordinated. I saw how the world’s technical and operational expertise is translated into coordinated action and I got to contribute in my own way to helping combat COVID-19.

What advice would you give to current public health students?

P.P: The central skills instilled by public health training, no matter your specialty, are always needed in the world. COVID-19 has made this point crystal clear and revealed the obvious - public health needs to be valued, strengthened and invested in properly. For our part, we can also help combat health misinformation in our personal life by reaching out to friends, family and acquaintances who might be misinformed about health information. Listen with empathy and point them to other sources of trusted information. It’s exhausting sometimes to continue to do this, but as public health professionals, we need to be the “go to source” for trusted information and communicate with others about where trusted health information can be found.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your job? Has it led to any significant changes in how you conduct your job moving forward?

P.P: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved to a work-from-home model as many other workplaces did, which impacted our interactions with each other and external partners. While it was a bit difficult to adjust socially, I think this model provided a way to be more flexible in how I approach my work by blocking times for meetings versus technical work. It also made our team better at communicating on regular intervals throughout the week compared to the ad-hoc way we used to interact in the office. I think seeing the many responsibilities some colleagues had to juggle during lockdown at home with kids, elderly parents and their work also made us more empathetic of one another.

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on October 29, 2021