Paula Escott, a senior public health science major at the University of Maryland, received a Fulbright grant to fund a nine-month stay in Argentina, where she will research how telemedicine services can improve access to pediatric healthcare.
Escott will travel to Hospital Juan P. Garrahan in Buenos Aires next February to study how the hospital’s telehealth system provides consultations on complex cases to a network of hospitals in 21 Argentinian provinces where medical care is more limited.
She will interview doctors, administrators, psychologists and social workers both at Hospital Garrahan and at one of its partner hospitals in Jujuy, a province in northwest Argentina where the program was first piloted, to understand how the telemedicine system works and how it builds connections between doctors and administrators in disparate regions.
Hospital Garrahan’s system can serve as an important case study for the United States, demonstrating how to efficiently distribute specialized medical care, particularly to rural areas, Escott says.
Escott’s project stems from the semester she spent in Argentina last spring studying public health in urban environments and interning at Hospital Garrahan.
In addition to her public health studies, Escott is working toward a minor in Spanish and has participated in the four-year University Honors Program through the Honors College. She serves as a research assistant for Neil Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management in the UMD School of Public Health, and has previously interned with Verizon Health and Wellness and St. Luke’s University Health Network.
She plans to earn her master’s in public health before pursuing a career in health policy and administration.
Why did you choose public health at UMD?
I came to UMD as a pre-med chemistry major, but I quickly realized that was not what I wanted to do. The work was very specific, and if I didn’t go into medical school, I didn’t want to work in a chemistry lab. So I was looking at my other options, and I realized the public health is still healthcare, but it’s bigger-picture. And I like the research in public health so much better since it’s more involved with people — you do surveys, you get to talk to people and everything’s on a larger scale. You can feel the impact of what you’re doing more tangibly.
How has your degree program at UMD’s School of Public Health shaped your career goals?
With the public health science degree, I got a breadth of experience, which has given me a better idea of what I want to do in graduate school. And classes like HLSA300 Introduction to Health Policy and Services and HSLA750 Healthcare Management Information Systems, a graduate course I took with Dr. Neil Sehgal, really pushed me toward the content of my Fulbright and my study abroad experience.
What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?
Dr. Sehgal from the Department of Health Services Administration. I took his class (HLSA750) about integrating information technology into health systems last semester. It was my first experience with a graduate class, and I thought, “This is what graduate school is like? I love this.” I’m doing independent research for him this semester on healthcare disparities in the military.
He’s definitely been pushing me. There’s a long wait period between submitting the Fulbright application and hearing back, but the whole time he was very confident I would get it. He believes in me, and he always talks about how I’m going to graduate school, I’m going to get my PhD and we’re going to work together on research projects for years to come. He tells me: “These are possibilities for you, and these are things you should really think about doing because you have the skills to do it.”
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
The obesity epidemic because it’s a risk factor for a lot of noncommunicable diseases, and it’s on the rise. My capstone is [focused on] access to cardiovascular disease treatment and how policies can improve the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in Argentina. I’m looking at related issues — how obesity is causing cardiovascular disease and diabetes and hypertension — and how it’s all creating rising healthcare costs. If we can make some lifestyle and diet changes, that might reduce the burden of a lot of other diseases.
What is public health to you?
A big team of people who all have their own special skills but work together for the common good — for everyone to have equal access to healthcare, the same quality of healthcare, for everyone to live in healthy environments.