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Onward! Convocation 2017


Two Candidates On What They Learned, Where They're Headed, and What They'll Miss the Most

In celebration of the Bloomberg School’s upcoming Convocation, two students share their experiences and a few lessons learned from their time here in Baltimore.

Radhika Gharpure, MPH candidate

NAME: Radhika Gharpure

HOMETOWN: Plainsboro, New Jersey, USA

DEGREE: MPH, Certificate in Professional Epidemiology

Why public health? I graduated from veterinary school in 2016, and I was interested in the interface between human and animal health. I originally thought I would be doing comparative research—I wanted to investigate chemotherapy agents that could be used in canine cancers and human cancers. But I had a couple of lectures on population health and epidemiology, and I loved them. I loved that it was research-oriented in that you were asking questions, but also population-oriented rather than being at a bench doing lab research.

Why Hopkins? I had several mentors at various parts of my [veterinary] training that had done their MPH at Hopkins and they all highly recommended the program. I wanted to go somewhere that was oriented towards human health, but that had a wider, multidisciplinary approach.

Tell us about your Capstone. There is a trial being conducted in rural Zimbabwe by Jean Humphrey looking at the combined effects of WASH (Water And Sanitation Hygiene trials) and nutritional interventions on childhood stunting. While doing that research, they noticed that many households in the study community have chickens, and infants who are crawling around on the ground come into contact with chicken feces and sometimes the chickens themselves. The researchers are interested in figuring out how the children’s interactions with the chickens contribute to stunting, where microbes and different bacteria can cause the gut to become leaky and not able to absorb nutrients as well. I’m doing a literature review on how different interactions with livestock might contribute to stunting and proposing some interventions for corralling poultry and treating poultry diseases that can help children and animals at the same time.

How will you plan to incorporate the School’s mission–Protecting health, Saving Lives, Millions at a Time–in your career? To me, that statement—saving lives, millions at a time—applies not only to humans but to animal species, and how we can work from a dual perspective of human health and animal health. They both have important ramifications for each other.

What will you miss the most about Hopkins? Every day, I meet someone that has a different angle on public health. I’ll miss the vast interests around me.

What’s your advice to others interested in getting an MPH at the Bloomberg School? My advice would be to look for opportunities to apply and hone your public health skills as a Hopkins student. Faculty members are always looking for students to help with projects and this is such a rare and unique opportunity to expose yourself to different avenues in public health. In the last 10 months, I've helped with a canine leishmaniasis vaccine field trial, worked on rabies guidelines at the state level (for my practicum), helped analyze data for a CDC survey about Lyme disease, and contributed to the SHINE trial on stunting in Zimbabwe for my capstone. Each opportunity taught me something new and I'd encourage future students to take advantage of all the wonderful and diverse resources at their disposal!

What are your next steps after graduation? I'll be working as a Congressional Science Fellow on Capitol Hill, jointly supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program. 

Radhika Gharpure, DVM, is a Reed Frost Scholarship recipient and serves as an officer of the Anna Baetjer Society. She also volunteers in her free time as a clinical veterinarian at BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter). She is a classically trained violist and during an elective at the Sacramento Zoo when she was in veterinary school, she performed a physical exam on a (anesthetized) jaguar.


Usama Bilal Convocation 2017

NAME: Usama Bilal

HOMETOWN: Gijon, Spain

DEGREE: PhD in Epidemiology

Why public health? One of the things I noticed from being a medical student is that there are only so many things that doctors can do working one-on-one [with patients]. There are many things we can do from upstream like policy and political change that will impact many more people. [Doctor-patient care] is important for people who have a specific disease or specific condition, but when we talk about the entire population we need public health measures.

Why Hopkins? Some of the people I started working with in Spain were alumni. I always heard very good things about the School and about the Department, so I decided it was the optimal choice to go to school here in the U.S.

Tell us about your dissertation. My focus was to study the macrosocial determinants of cardiovascular disease and risk factors. I looked at how social and economic change in the local food environment affects things like diabetes in Madrid. What I found is that areas that were getting richer, losing diversity and becoming more segregated, those had a higher incidence of diabetes when controlling for the socioeconomic status of the people living there. That was shocking. One of the things that could be happening there are that increases in property [values] are leading to a displacement of people or to a fear of displacement. People living in these areas, some of them may not be able to afford to live there anymore and those are the people we expect may have higher incidences of diabetes. One of the speculations is stress.

How will you plan to incorporate the School’s mission – Protecting Health, Saving Lives, Millions at a Time – in your career? Part of what I want to be doing is working on policy and the political determinants of health. Those are affecting millions of people at a time. When we talk about policy change or political change, these kinds of things have the potential to affect a whole country or a region or an entire city.

What will you miss the most about Hopkins? The hustle, the nonstop litany of things to do. When I visited other schools, there wasn’t as much. Here, there’s always something to do at any time of the day. There are so many people here from so many places doing so many different things.

What’s your advice to others to make the most of their experience at Hopkins? Trying to remember to take it easy is a fundamental thing for PhD students—the fear of missing out is a strong fear! [For international students] cultural shock can also be dangerous because it adds to the stress of being in grad school. Someone told me when I came here that it’s important to keep a group of friends that speak your same language. Keeping a close-knit group of friends from your background, or language or culture is important. I have a lot of Spanish friends.

What are your next steps after graduation? I am starting a research fellowship in Philadelphia at Drexel University. I’m going to be working on a project that will look at urbanization patterns in Latin America, how that leads to different health outcomes and understanding how policies affect those issues.

Usama Bilal, MD, MPH, is a Center for a Livable Future-Lerner Fellow and serves as Co-director of the Social Epidemiology Student Organization, a group that coordinates a monthly journal club, meetings and an annual lectureship around social determinants of health. He can cook codfish more than 10 different ways!



RELATED: Read Global Health Now's Q&A series with Convocation 2017 speaker Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO - Part I and Part II

See more candidate profiles on Instagram!