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Doctoral Student Finds Calling in Data Analysis and Public Health

July 15, 2021
by Colin Poitras

Justin Markowski, M.P.H. ’17, found the perfect pairing for his interest in quantitative analysis and improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations when he enrolled in the Health Policy and Management Ph.D. program at the Yale School of Public Health.

Now in his third year of the program, Markowski says he is eager to apply his skills in statistical analysis to frame research, gain insights, and help identify potential solutions to today’s pressing health issues – particularly those impacting traditionally underserved and minoritized communities.

“I knew pretty early on that these were the sort of questions I wanted to grapple with,” Markowski said. “And I was looking for the right place to build the toolkit I need to answer these tough health-related questions.”

Markowski’s “toolkit” includes an impressive mix of scholarly knowledge and practical work experience. His CV lists a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry from the College of the Holy Cross (2015) and a Master of Public Health degree (Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases) from Yale (2017). He is currently on track to receive a Master of Arts degree in Statistics (Data Science) from Yale in late 2021 or early 2022 and a Ph.D. in Health Policy and Management (Economics) in 2024.

In between degrees, Markowski gained valuable work experience – analyzing clinical data to identify barriers to care at a federally qualified health center in Connecticut’s lower Fairfield County; collaborating with colleagues at the Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital to increase cancer screening rates; and developing an infectious disease surveillance questionnaire for health care professionals in Lebanon. And that’s just a sampling of his work experience and various projects.

Given today’s data-driven world, Markowski says quantitative analysis has become an essential tool in health care, policy, government, business and many other areas.

The amount of data being gathered daily, he says, is startling. In 2019, Forbes magazine predicted that 150 trillion gigabytes of real-time data will need analysis by 2025. The magazine also reported that 95% of companies admitted in a survey that they needed help managing unstructured data, while 40% said they planned to incorporate Big Data analysis into their operations more frequently.

“Whether it is hospitals, government agencies or in the private sector, we are creating all of this data in our daily lives and storing it in a usable fashion now,” Markowski said. “What used to exist on pen and paper is now contained in a database, and I think the person who is going to be at a disadvantage is the one who doesn’t have the skills to make sense of that information.”

Recognizing its significance and potential applications, Markowski said he would love to teach quantitative analysis to others in public health or a related field.

“I love teaching and I would love to teach quantitative methods to future leaders in public health or public policy,” said Markowski, who served as a teaching fellow, teaching assistant and guest speaker during his time at Yale and the College of the Holy Cross. “I think they are important skills that can be used to create new ideas, interpret large amounts of information, and help people draw informed conclusions in order to do their work and provide their services in a more effective and targeted manner. That’s something I really care about.”

Markowski credits YSPH Research Scientist and Lecturer Beth Anne Jones, Ph.D. ’93, M.P.H. ’86, with helping him develop impactful approaches for addressing health disparities in a quantitative, analytical and empathetic manner.

“She really guided my development as a young scholar and showed me how to use quantitative analysis to address the shortcomings in the world around us,” Markowski said of Jones, who advised him on his M.P.H. thesis, “Assessing the Effects of Acculturation in Predicting Mammography Screening Behavior Among Hispanic/Latino Women Living in the Northeast United States.”

More recently, Markowski said he has appreciated the guidance and encouragement of YSPH Associate Professor Chima Ndumele, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Assistant Professor Jacob Wallace, Ph.D. “They are both really passionate about the same sorts of questions that I have,” Markowski said.

Besides the opportunity to work closely with distinguished faculty in his chosen field, Markowski said one of his fondest memories of being at the Yale School of Public Health has been the ability to branch out intellectually. He said the school’s broad range of opportunities for interdisciplinary instruction have really been helpful.

“You can really explore your horizons, and that allowed me to branch out and develop expertise in multiple areas,” Markowski said. “Being able to now combine that expertise and have it coalesce has already served me well, and I expect it will continue moving forward.”

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on July 15, 2021