A doctor builds public health policy skills and finds analogies with the challenges of the U.S. health care system and those faced by his hometown, a continent away.
During his four years practicing general medicine in Nigeria, Dr. Adesola Akinyemi came to the unusual conclusion that his best hope to improve patient care would entail a 5,200-mile journey to New York. With his patients at home facing barriers to care like limited access to life-saving medication and severe shortages of medical personnel, Dr. Akinyemi decided his best hope to influence care would be to influence his nation’s health policies. Fast forward to his current undertaking, earning an M.P.H. in Health Policy and Management in the School of Health Sciences and Practice at NYMC. Studying public health in New York where diversity is a hallmark of patient populations, is offering lessons Dr. Akinyemi can already see applying to populations in his native Nigeria.
Tell us a bit about your personal journey.
After graduating from Sumy State University in the Ukraine in 2011, I practiced general medicine for four years in Nigeria-including one year in a remote village, Afuze, Edo State. We mainly treated cases of malaria, gastrointestinal diseases, and many chronic diseases. I found it is one thing to understand how to apply clinical science, but without good health policies, you really can’t get the best for the patient. We didn’t have the facilities, personnel or transportation that we needed. That was when I decided I could have the biggest impact on patients’ health by trying to affect health policy. When I complete the M.P.H. at NYMC, I intend to continue practicing medicine. And when I go back to Nigeria, I definitely will bring my public health experience with me to try and improve the country’s health policies.
Tell us what led you to New York Medical College.
While NYMC’s student population is relatively small, it is incredibly diverse—and that was very appealing to me. I also liked the idea of being in New York where I would be exposed to diverse public health challenges. I thought the chances of seeing the kind of challenges Nigeria faces—poor health-seeking behaviors, for example—would present themselves in New York more so than elsewhere in the U.S. Here, I would have a chance to learn approaches to handle similar kinds of challenges we face in Nigeria.
What do you see as the most positive force for change in public health today?
The relative success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—in improving access, affordability and quality—is a strong force in public health in the U.S. today. With 20 million new people enrolled in health insurance, and many preventive services being covered, we have set a new bar for what quality health care should look like. And now we have evidence of the benefits of coverage for previously uninsured Americans. Even if the law changes, the ACA set the bar, and we will always want to do better. Through my studies at NYMC, I have learned about the economics of the Affordable Care Act—and the power of preventive care. It is not just good for health; it makes economic sense too. Evidence-based public health is also a strong force as it ensures we are not just “working” as public health professionals, but we are doing the right thing. It gives the public confidence that their health is our main concern.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in public health?
In the U.S., people’s core values about health care are fundamentally different. Many in the U.S. see health care as a basic right, while others see it as a business proposition. This sets people on different sides about how to approach health care, and makes it hard to agree on solutions.
What NYMC faculty member has had the greatest impact on your experience at NYMC?
My faculty advisor isProfessor Denise Tahara (Denise C. Tahara, M.B.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., director, M.P.H. Studies, associate professor of public health practice), and she has been wonderful. When I first arrived in the U.S., she said I could come to her with questions about things that were not related to academics. It was very helpful to have someone to assist me with issues about integrating into the U.S. culture. She has provided support on many occasions.
How do you like living in the U.S.?
In the U.S. you have the freedom to enjoy your own culture, and having so many different cultures around you makes it interesting. And no matter where you’re from, everyone can still participate in all the fundamental opportunities and liberties the country offers. Everyone is allowed to contribute.
What achievement at NYMC are you most proud of?
I am proud that I was able to adapt to a new culture in the U.S. while doing well in my studies. So many things were different here than in my home country or in Ukraine where I had my undergraduate degree—different values, different foods. I am also proud to have been elected president of the NYMC Student Healthcare Executives Club (StuHE) in October 2016. We recently held a Public Health Career Mentor Session featuring recruiters, commissioners of health, behavioral scientists, epidemiologists and dentists—all from organizations outside of NYMC. Students had a chance to meet one-on-one with mentors who could help them in their careers and get an impression of how public health works. We had a great turnout, and the feedback was very positive.
What advice do you have for students entering the SHSP?
Spend your time doing two things: studying and connecting. The environment at NYMC gives you abundant resources to be a good student and succeed. Classes are in the late afternoon and evenings. Faculty is always available. The library is open 24 hours. Everything is in place for you to be the best you can be.