Currently a student in the Master of Public Health program at Tufts University School of Medicine, Ciana Hartman ’20 offers her perspective on how her interdisciplinary undergraduate education prepared her for graduate work. As a double major in health, medicine, and society (HMS) and psychology at the University of Redlands, Hartman was able to confront the complexity of health and healthcare and envision her future in the field. Hartman’s call to action within the public health world is centered on maternal and child health and the epidemiology of diseases that impact this population. Here, Hartman speaks about her background, goals, and experience in the HMS program (interview edited for clarity and length).
Bulldog Blog: What are some goals, academic or personal, you have set for your first year as a graduate student at Tufts?
Ciana Hartman ’20: My biggest personal goal is to not let the stress and craziness of school and being in a completely new place on the other side of the country limit my experiences. I want to keep exploring and learning about the city [Boston] and myself while focusing on school. So, one goal is maintaining a work-life balance that allows me to still be a 22-year-old. Academically, I want to become a better writer and more concise with what I say, while being thoughtful. Also, I want to work to become more skeptical of the data I'm looking at, not taking everything at face value, and to become able to look at a public health issue and consider all possible influences (social, political, environmental, etc.) instead of relying on preconceived ideas.
BB: Could you describe an experience or a course during your undergraduate education that inspired you to pursue your area of study?
Hartman: I had wanted to go to medical school since I was five. Then, as an undergraduate, I took Bioethics: Doctors and Patients with [Professor] James Krueger, and I realized that healthcare was so much bigger than just the individual. The more I read through the materials of that course and connected them to what was going on in the world at the time, the more my eyes were opened to realizing that something wasn’t right with the healthcare system. I took HMS 100, where we read Illness by Havi Carel, and that book changed my life, prompting me to think about the body and what it truly means to be sick or ill and whether or not I wanted to be a doctor. Then that summer I met some connections who began working in healthcare in the 1960s and who talked about how medical institutions are run by big pharma and corporations. I realized there is a business model of healthcare and I did not want to be involved in that; public health was a better fit for me because it has a social health model with a multitude of other disciplines within it. By spring of my junior year, I knew what I wanted to do and started to have conversations with Krueger about it. Organic chemistry, genetics, anatomy and physiology can tell you everything about what is going on in the body—the body is just an organism—but health is about the body, environment, social structures, everything.
BB: Why are you pursuing a Master of Public Health?
Hartman: I want to, tentatively, work in a children’s hospital and do research on maternal and child health—more specifically, the social and physical factors that influence diseases in moms and babies. How are certain diseases are passed down? What is genetic? What is influenced by genetics, but also by the environment? What can we do socially to prevent more kids from developing a certain disease? Maybe later I will sit on cohorts and possibly be a professor. There are many avenues I am considering.
BB: Do you feel your graduate education is tailored to your personal, academic, and professional goals?
Hartman: Yes. Everyone takes four core classes, Intro to Epidemiology, Intro to Biology Statistics, Public Health Assessment and Analysis, and Public Health Action. I’ll get to take electives and other classes as well, such as intermediate Bio Statistics and intermediate Epidemiology for my epidemiology biology concentration. But right now, in my core classes I am learning how to be skeptical of the data I am reading in studies. I am learning how to generate my own data. I am learning how to calculate and make sense of the numbers in scientific papers and the incidents and situations they make prevalent. Many of my professors and advisors are connected to maternal health. Boston, as a whole, also emphasizes maternal care. My education is definitely steering me in the direction I want to go in. Tufts is a university committed to being anti-racist. So, in every single course, we are also looking at the racial and social determinants of the topics discussed. The program’s goal is to shape you into the best professional it can through classes, but also real-world discussion.
BB: What are some of the biggest differences between a graduate and undergraduate academic program?
Hartman: The workload is completely different. In order to graduate from a master’s program, you have to have a 3.0 average, but C+ and lower is failing. My courses are currently flipped classrooms, so every week I have things to do but always for the session after. For example, for my Monday Epidemiology class, I'm reading the chapter that will be discussed in class. I'm watching videos and reading papers prior to class, allowing me to bring my ideas for discussion. So, it's all forward-thinking and continuously building off itself. I love it. The other biggest difference is that you are treated as an equal. My public health assessment professor comes in every single class and says, “We are all learning today; we are all going to talk and learn things, and this is a collaborative environment.” I’m coming in as a 22-year-old, and I am learning from people sitting on the Pfizer efficacy board. They view you as an equal, because in two years you will be; in two years, I will be collaborating with them as a practicing public health professional. They expect more of you, but it's because they view you as capable of delivering that level of excellence.
BB: What does the interdisciplinary foundation built through your HMS major bring to your academic experience in your graduate school?
Hartman: Every time I get overwhelmed with school, I look at the grand scheme of things and I know exactly why I am doing this. I also think the mere fact of being interdisciplinary was incredible because a lot of students I am going to school with just got their BA in psychology, for example. I have taken classes in psychology, math, science, and sociology. I know how to turn my brain from one subject to another and make them mesh and find their connection. I learned that health involves so much more than itself, and now I'm in graduate school where most of my peers have never done that before. So, I definitely think there is a foundation in the philosophy of HMS that, in my experience, paves the way for becoming the best healthcare practitioner or official possible with a wide-open view of health.
BB: As a graduate student, how do you reflect on your undergraduate education and experience at the University of Redlands?
Hartman: HMS and the conversations I had in the program really shaped me into who I am. The relationships I built with my peers were extremely beneficial as well because it felt like failure wasn’t an option—in the sense that we were all supporting each other, so no matter what you did you weren’t failing. You were working towards something together. The community within HMS was absolutely incredible and taught me how to communicate with different people, from a variety of disciplines, who had similar goals.
BB: What advice do you have for students interested in public health and epidemiology?
Hartman: I would say to choose your graduate school wisely. I got into three schools and went to Tufts due to its theory that health is social, environmental, and based in all disciplines. Push yourself and apply somewhere you don’t think you will get into; if you had asked me in January if I was going to get into Tufts, I would have said “no.” But the worst thing that could have happened was being rejected and out 300 bucks. Do whatever makes you happy, and apply to the school with a 14% acceptance rate because you just might get in!
Learn more about the U of R’s Health, Medicine, and Society program.