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Abby Cofsky Forges a New Career in Public Health Training and Communications

SHSP Class of 2024 Student Commencement Speaker Looks Forward to Driving Change Through Public Health Training and Communications

April 25, 2024
Abby Cofsky, M.P.H. Class of 2024
Abby Cofsky, M.P.H. Class of 2024

What inspired you to pursue your degree?
I was a design and environmental analysis major, but I didn't do that professionally. I loved my first career in project and change management, but it didn’t feel like my “calling.” Then life intervened, and I chose to stay home to manage some personal and family health issues. Over the last decade, I underwent treatment for breast cancer, two of my three children struggled with a pediatric autoimmune disorder (PANS/PANDAS), and my mother had terminal pancreatic cancer. Throughout these years, I was exposed to medical terminology, conducted research, and interfaced with doctors. I realized I was drawn to the topics of health and medicine. Medical school at age 50 with three teens wasn’t practical for me, but I explored how I could take my existing skills and experience into a career in health care. My research kept leading me back to a Master of Public Health degree.
What type of research have you been involved in during your time at NYMC?
I assisted Professor Penny Liberatos, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., former associate professor of public health, in research assessing the impacts of maternal and early childhood home visiting services for families on Native American reservations. I completed my applied practice experience with the International PANS Registry, where I designed the surveys and procedures needed to merge multiple datasets and begin collecting ongoing patient data updates. My capstone is developing a guidance document for the New York State Department of Health Bureau of Emergency Medical Services to help their agencies provide mental health and suicide prevention services for EMS first responders.
What has helped motivate you along your educational journey? Have you encountered any challenges along the way?

My personal experiences handling health issues were a big challenge and motivator. I think they gave meaning and purpose to moving into public health. I realize how much can and needs to be done to help people prevent and manage illnesses. I recognize how my skills can fit into that, and I want to contribute to efforts that make health care easier.
After you graduate, what is your dream career?

I would love to be Jane Brody, who was the “Personal Health” columnist for The New York Times for more than 50 years before retiring in 2022. I love the power of words. I love making ties between health and wellness and life experiences, especially in ways that are inspirational and thought provoking. That's what her column was — she didn't mandate health decisions, but she encouraged them by explaining why they were important. She led people to make good health choices by explaining issues and letting readers arrive at decisions on their own. I find that to be a very gentle, persuasive, and effective approach. Unless The New York Times calls me, however, I’ll look for jobs in health training, communications, or program design.
What made you choose NYMC?

I loved that NYMC was local and tied to organizations in Westchester. The option to take classes online or hybrid was perfect, as I had three school-age children at home. The COVID-19 pandemic started while I was applying, so the option to be remote became even more important. My decision was confirmed when I reached out to the school with a cold call. The chair of public health and Dr. Liberatos responded to me quickly and directly. Dr. Liberatos, who became my advisor, called me to conduct an informational interview. The chair of public health sent me a detailed email explaining differences between clinical care and public health, why prevention is important, and the role of NYMC. They cared about my cold call request for information, and that care and attention told me a lot about the program.
What has been your favorite aspect of being an NYMC student?

I appreciate that the school is empowering without being forceful. We are all adults with different backgrounds, interests, goals, and outside commitments. Opportunities were provided, and we could choose to go deep into the areas we each found important along the way. They encouraged our curiosity, while acknowledging that we are older students.
What advice would you give applicants or incoming students?

If you're going to make this commitment, jump in with both feet. Do your best on the work, take your time with the readings, do research completely, and get everything out of it that you possibly can. If we're getting a master's degree, most likely we are choosing to be here.  If you're making that choice, then own it and take advantage of it.
Outside of your studies, what are your hobbies or interests?

I am a lifelong runner. I love hiking, Pilates, and I started weightlifting during the pandemic. I love craft making and I'm a voracious reader — articles, podcasts, and audio books during the day, and fiction at night. I hope to get back to travel now that my kids are a little older.     
What is a fun fact about you?
My husband proposed to me at the finish line of the 2002 New York City Marathon. We ran together and 10 feet before the finish line, he got down on one knee and proposed.