Like so many others when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Yale School of Public Health alumnus Justin Mendoza, M.P.H. ’15, stepped away from his usual work duties to address the national health threat head-on.
As an advocacy lead at the Boston-based nonprofit health care organization Partners in Health, Mendoza went from developing policy positions on health care systems and prescription drug pricing to helping build a better response to the pandemic and prepare for future outbreaks.
Mendoza is currently part of the organization’s U.S. Public Health Accompaniment Unit where he engages lawmakers on key COVID-19 policy issues and helps craft policies that advance the U.S. public health response to the pandemic, health equity and the future of health care.
“My work is all about finding a balance between evidence on the ground, political limitations and working in partnership with many different experts to build toward a shared goal,” said Mendoza, who obtained his M.P.H. in health policy. “When we’re successful in moving the needle, the work is incredibly rewarding. But the challenge is in managing dozens of relationships, writing persuasively and building nimble but informed strategies along the way.”
Mendoza credits his time at YSPH with helping him better understand the historical contexts behind U.S. health care and the science and best practices surrounding public health interventions.
“YSPH made it easy to step into a role like this,” he said.
One of his most memorable moments at YSPH was participating in a project led by Debbie Humphries, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.A., as part of a global nutrition course. Mendoza was part of a team that built an entire public health intervention plan based on a real nonprofit client’s needs.
“We assembled the plan, presented it, and our professor submitted all of the plans to the organization to see if they wanted to use any pieces of it,” Mendoza recalled. “It was great to learn the processes involved, dive into public health and apply what we learned in real time.”
Lately, Mendoza has been working with colleagues and allies to influence how parts of President Biden’s landmark American Rescue Plan would affect investments in public health, particularly the public health workforce. The collaboration resulted in the creation of Public Health Jobs Now!, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to the creation of a federally-funded, locally-managed Public Health Jobs Corps that would support the fight against COVID-19, improve economic and health outcomes and help dismantle the systemic and structural factors that drive health inequity.
When asked what advice he would share with current and future YSPH students, he said he would urge them to be focused yet also aware.
“Make sure you take the deep dive on the topics you are most interested in, for sure, but also take note of the skills you learn that can work for any issue in public health,” Mendoza said. “Whether that's the skills you learn in policy analysis and writing, skills learned in your practicum, public speaking skills or biostatistics/epidemiology skills, the tools you learn in your program will be a part of what you use in the real world.”