Meaghan McHugh earned a PhD in Behavioral and Community Health at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health in the spring of 2018. She currently works as the Director of Healthy Athletes at Special Olympics International in Washington D.C.
Before coming to the SPH, she worked with advocacy and research group, the University Centers for Excellence emphasizing on children with autism spectrum disorders and youth who are deaf and hard of hearing. She also worked on tobacco control and prevention with Special Olympics International and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
She has a B.S. in economics from the College of the Holy Cross and a master's in public health from Johns Hopkins University. While a PhD candidate, she worked with the Prevention Research Center (UMD-PRC) on community-based participatory research as a faculty research assistant.
In one sentence, what is public health to you?
Public health is the interdisciplinary field of working toward a world where all people enjoy equitable access to quality healthcare, and access to resources that support behaviors and environments leading to optimal health and well-being.
What inspired you to study public health?
My father was a pediatrician who encouraged me to seek out the cause of a health problem, not just the remedy. But it was not until I began to travel, that I realized the role that the environment and socioeconomic factors play in health and well-being. It was this combination that inspired me to study public health.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
While it is difficult to name one challenge, I believe public health professionals should focus on reducing health disparities and closing the gap in health literacy.
Why did you choose public health at UMD?
My decision to enroll in UMD came after an interview with the SPH faculty. I was so impressed with their diversity of experiences and dedication to mentoring students.
How has your degree program at UMD’s School of Public Health shaped your career goals?
My degree has given me the confidence to take risks in my career allowing me to address public health challenges that I believe are important. I am excited about my future!
What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?
Dr. Robert Gold had the greatest impact on me during my degree program. Through his mentorship, I learned about more than just how to succeed in my doctoral journey, I learned the skills to succeed in life’s journey.
What is your job now?
I currently serve as the Director of Healthy Athletes at Special Olympics International in Washington D.C. In this position, I manage a local team of four as well as a team of clinical consultants located in several countries. People with intellectual disabilities (ID) often experience both poorer quality and diminished access to health services and systems. Through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and the Golisano Foundation, our overall goal is to unlock health systems (globally) for 11 individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) by the year 2020. One of the ways we are doing this, is by training health care providers to work with people with ID and by offering health screenings and the necessary referrals to athletes during athletic events offered within communities, at the regional level and through world games. The next World Games will be held in March 2019 in Abu Dhabi.