What sparked your interest in global health, and how did you hear about the M.S. in Global Health program?
Before attending Georgetown, I worked a senior policy research associate in Manila, Philippines for the Department of Health, preparing briefs for the Secretary of Health and managing research projects. After working in government, I co-founded a public health research firm called EpiMetrics, Inc., which conducts health policy and systems research. I was also a teaching assistant and research associate for Ateneo de Manila University, a Jesuit institution similar to Georgetown, where I helped teach epidemiology and community health to undergraduate students, and was involved in evaluating a mobile health intervention for leprosy patients.
I heard about Georgetown’s M.S. in Global Health (MSGH) program from our former president in Ateneo, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, for whom my scholarship grant is named. As a Member of GU’s Board of Directors, he sought to expand opportunities for Filipino students at the University. The scholarship, funded by a generous Filipino benefactor, covers two programs: the MSGH and the Master of Global Human Development. I took advantage of that timely opportunity and sent in my application.
What was the classroom instruction like?
I loved the intimacy of class sessions at Georgetown; all of us had ample time to ask questions and we were free to explore our own interests. I looked forward to every course I took, but my favorite was my advanced epidemiological methods tutorial with Dr. Jennifer Huang Bouey. We worked together on a paper about peer outreach work for injected drug users in China. I'm pleased to report that the resulting paper will be published in a peer-reviewed journal soon.
Where did you complete your field research module and what was your project?
I expressed my desire to complete my field research module in a location where I could focus on social health insurance. My home country (The Philippines) has strengthened its commitment to enhance its national social health insurance scheme, and I wanted to see another country that had approached these issues. Doing so would help me better understand, gather lessons, and apply them back home.
The Department placed me with Dodowa Health Research Center in Ghana, where I examined patient perceptions of the Ghana National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). Given the vast number of countries with which the program partners, Ghana was the perfect choice, since both Ghana and the Philippines are members of the Joint Learning Network (JLN) for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) – a network of experts and policy makers from low- and middle-income countries that share their experiences in achieving UHC.
What were your project findings?
My study was twofold: the first half was a secondary analysis of a previously unanalyzed dataset from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS); the second half was a rapid review of literature in Ghana on patient perceptions of health services covered under NHIS. Using a novel approach called item response theory (IRT) in my secondary analysis, I found that users of NHIS reported poorer perceptions of quality of care in general, but the difference was much more significant among those who sought care in public facilities. From my rapid review, I found that many quantitative surveys had high perception ratings, giving an illusion that the NHIS was responsive to the needs of Ghanaians, but qualitative and mixed methods studies concluded the complete opposite. I recommended that while continuing with DHS monitoring of perceptions is very useful (it provides a robust, national estimate), more qualitative studies should be conducted to help understand patient perceptions.
I was very fortunate to present my research findings to senior officials of the Ghana NHIS. I was able to secure that meeting through a series of referrals from local professors with whom I corresponded during my stay. It was definitely an enriching experience to see how policy makers respond to research results. It was also humbling to see them engage with me as part of their policy discussions before and after that meeting.
What did you learn from your experience abroad?
My three-month stay in Ghana was my first time in Africa. I learned a lot by interacting with colleagues inside the research facility and neighbors around our guest house. I did not realize how Filipinos were similar to Ghanaians in a lot of ways (which is probably why Ghanaians love Filipino telenovelas!) but also different in some (such as the level of spice in West African cuisine that is totally unheard of in Filipino cuisine).
Are you applying your research and education in your current work?
I am back in Manila, working at EpiMetrics – the firm I co-founded – where I now serve as the Executive Director. I'm also a junior faculty member at Ateneo de Manila University, where I teach undergraduate courses in global health and epidemiology.
I have definitely used every bit of my Georgetown experience in my current work. The program could not have fit any better into my career goals. I feel more confident in conducting health policy and systems research, and in teaching my classes.
Would you recommend the program? What was special about Washington, DC?
I would definitely recommend the MSGH – especially to Filipino students eligible for the Fr. Nebres Scholarship. I love how the program balances academic coursework with professional preparation. The program’s structure provides a unique experience for anyone who wants a broad understanding of global health and access to research and career opportunities. All of the faculty members serve as highly experienced mentors who have an open-door policy; they will not hesitate to provide opportunities for growth as long as you ask for it.
Washington, DC is probably my favorite city in the world! As an admirer of politics, I believe there's no other place like Washington to experience politics in real life. During my year in Washington, I witnessed two presidencies, the historic 2016 election, participated in the Women's March and many other demonstrations, and lobbied for global health in Congress. I met a lot of like-minded young professionals inside and outside of Georgetown. My graduate school experience shaped me in so many dimensions that I am still processing my experiences four months after finishing the program!