Skip to Main Content


Jennifer Mandelbaum keeps a hand in academia as a lecturer

May 17, 2023
by Fran Fried

Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Mandelbaum, MPH ’16 (Social & Behavioral Sciences, Global Health Concentration)

What is your current job?

I’m a health care economics consultant at Optum (part of UnitedHealth Group) and a part-time lecturer in the Department of Community Health at Tufts University. I knew I wanted a role in industry, but I was also looking to keep/maintain an academic affiliation. I love working with undergraduate students and hopefully inspiring the next generation of public health leaders.

Describe your work and why you find it rewarding/challenging.

At Optum, I use behavioral, medical, and pharmacy claims data to measure the value of Optum’s services. I’m passionate about using data to tell stories that can improve patient care and public health, and my work gives me a lot of latitude to do that. Claims, like electronic medical records, show a lot of promise for deepening our understanding of population health and health care services, but these data sources weren’t designed for research in the way that, say, a national survey might be. There are definitely limitations to using these types of data, but I also see so much untapped potential.

The rigorous courses definitely gave me the methodological background I needed to be successful in my PhD program, and now in my current role at Optum.

Jennifer Mandelbaum

How did YSPH prepare you for your current work?

The rigorous courses definitely gave me the methodological background I needed to be successful in my PhD program (at the University of South Carolina, '22), and now in my current role at Optum. Beyond classes, I learned a lot about conducting research with administrative data as research director of the HAVEN Free Clinic. This experience also gave me opportunities to travel and present at some of my earliest conferences, which was so fun! I’m very involved with the American Public Health Association (APHA), and I can trace a lot of that back to being vice president of Yale’s chapter of APHA. I’m currently serving as a governing councilor for the Public Health Education and Health Promotion section and a member of the Education Board. YSPH was always supportive of Yale-APHA and the work the group’s president, Adedotun Ogunbajo, and I championed (along with a stellar crew of volunteers).

Were there any faculty/staff mentors who influenced your YSPH experience?

The connections you can form with faculty and staff at YSPH are incredibly valuable. Rafael Pérez-Escamilla and Amber Hromi-Fiedler served as my thesis advisors, and I truly loved working with them. Although I’ve gravitated more toward quantitative research as my career has progressed, I’m so appreciative of the training they provided me in qualitative methods. I also can’t say enough about the staff at the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute. I worked there as a project assistant and did my summer internship there. It was such a warm community of people dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing challenges in global health. Nicola Hawley’s Global Noncommunicable Diseases class was one of my favorites at YSPH, and it shaped a lot of the work I did (and continue to do) around NCDs [non-communicable diseases] and the social determinants of health.

Do you have a favorite YSPH experience you can share?

In my second year, I served as a research assistant for CARE (the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), working closely with Kathleen O’Connor Duffany, Alycia Santilli, and Jeannette Ickovics. I was used to reading academic papers that had methods and results neatly written up; my work with CARE showed me how much effort goes into data collection and analysis, and how it isn’t always as straightforward as a write-up may make it sound. I also really enjoyed getting to know the city of New Haven better. I think it’s important that, as Yale students, we be active members of the wider community.

What advice do you have for current YSPH students?

Your MPH program goes by so quickly! A practical piece of advice as you put together your course schedule is to think about not only which content areas interest you most, but also what concrete skills you want to come away with (e.g., experience in a specific statistical program, qualitative methods, evaluation). And then, building on what I previously said, be sure to get to know New Haven and the surrounding area. See performances, eat at local restaurants, and walk through the neighborhoods. Campus is beautiful and has so much to offer, but don’t forget to take advantage of the wider community while you’re here.

Submitted by Fran Fried on May 16, 2023