MPH Student Spotlight: Shirley Lam

We would like to introduce Shirley Lam, a second year student in the USF Sacramento Masters of Public  Health; Health Policy Leadership program! Shirley is a delight to have on campus and we are so grateful she is sharing her experience with us!

Tell us about yourself, what degree you are working towards, and what led you to this career path?

Hello! My name is Shirley Lam and I am a 2nd year Masters in Public Health with my concentration in Health Policy and Leadership. What led me to this career path was I have always wanted to help people and I kept going back and forth between medical school or graduate school. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit where I was furloughed from work where I was able to see public health thrusted into the spotlight and that was where I knew I wanted to be. Being a doctor has the capabilities of helping people get better, but working in public health policy has the capabilities and opportunities to create policies and programs that will impact populations of people. I wanted to work in a career that I would be challenged to think critically on issues and really engage with people to figure out what I can do to help improve their lives.

How is your degree program going, and how is it helping you to improve your career and life?

My degree/program is going very well! I just finished my Spring Semester and I only have Summer Semester left before I am finished with my program. My courses and classes have tremendously helped to improve my career and my life. I am always excited when I come to class even though they start at 5pm. I have been tremendously grateful and lucky to be in the cohort that I am in.  My cohort and I have consistently engaged amongst one another in discussions that really mimic the types of interactions and discussions I hope to have when I am officially a public health professional. I am able to practice inter professional and intercommunication skills, learn life-skills such as a work-life balance and how to work amongst peers and colleagues if we have differences in standards and opinions.

What is your favorite thing about your degree program so far?

My favorite thing about my program is really the professors. They have made this experience so wonderful and have been supportive of all my professional endeavors. There is not a single professor that I have not kept in contact with, nor have I had anyone ever be unresponsive to any of my endless

amounts of questions. I truly believe my professors have my best interest at heart and that they only want me and my colleagues to excel and succeed in our field. They always reach out and provide professional opportunities and networking events and they always connect us with their colleagues, so we can continue to network beyond our cohort and program.

Can you share a specific example of something you have worked on in the program that you are really passionate about?

Back in the Spring of 2021, I was taking my Health Policy and Ethics class and the big assignment for that semester was our Policy Analysis on any health topic that we wanted to write about. The topic I chose was the rise of the uninsured population in the United States. This was a topic that I am incredibly passionate about as I have a unique experience with it. I grew up in a multi-generational household with parents who immigrated to the U.S. solely to provide a better upbringing for my sister and I. My parents did not speak perfect English, and at the early age of 12 I started learning about the U.S. healthcare system and the ins-and-outs of health insurance. I became my family’s authorized health representative and translator for all their health needs, and I had to learn how the navigate the messy world of health insurance, the Marketplace Exchanges, Medicaid etc. I know how difficult and confusing it is to navigate

and understand health insurance and if it’s difficult for me, it would be just as difficult or even more so for other people. It can be downright terrifying when you don’t even know what you don’t know, and you have no idea where to even start. I wrote this policy analysis in the hopes to shed light to how those who are uninsured impacts those who are insured and how it needs to be addressed from a place of understanding and recognizing that this is a societal issue.

What inspires you and why?

What inspires me is the inequities that I see, read, and experience. There are so many things in our society that can be improved to help others live a better life and I want to be a part of something bigger than myself where I can make changes that impact others for the better. My experiences of having to learn about health insurance and navigating our health care systems propelled me into the world of public health because I want to be able to help others understand how it works and potentially make navigating the system easier and more tangible for others. We learn in our courses that healthcare access is a big issue, but once someone has access doesn’t necessarily mean they know what to do with it or where they can even get s

ervices once they have it. Public health expands to so many different fields and there are so many things to be done, it’ll never be a boring day. One of my big ambitious goals is to eventually help build public health systems in developing countries. COVID-19 illuminated a lot of failings in our health care system, but in comparison to other countries I felt very grateful for the social programs we had; other countries did not have stimulus checks, or deferred payments in rent etc., instead they were left to fend for themselves. These are the situations, issues, and inequities that drive me to work as hard as I do so I can help those who need help advocating and creating programs/policies to ad

dress the health inequities.

What advice would you like to give to future students?

My advice to future students is to connect with your professors and stay connected with them past the term of your course. Most of my professors only taught for the one course, but I have always kept in touch with them to see how they are doing and to let them know where I am on my journey as a public health professional. I have felt that my professors are my professors for that course, but they are also public health professionals in their own right and they are also a mentor to help you along the way, if you want them to. Always stay on top of your assignments because they can sneak up on you if you don’t write it down, so have planners and calendars with you to stay organized! Communicate with your colleagues and peers as they will be with you throughout your time at USF and never be afraid to ask any questions! The worst that could happen is they respond with “No” or they ask you a follow-up question; if you have questions, chances are your colleagues also have them too!