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Why I Chose Public Health

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For these Fielding School students, the decision to pursue an MPH is intensely personal.

Elia Salazar

Elia Salazar “I strive to be a voice for those who are unable to speak up.”


Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." Growing up in southeast Los Angeles, I experienced this inhumanity. My parents worked in hazardous factory settings in jobs that involved repetitive motions, heavy machinery and chemical exposures. They labored long hours with short breaks in stressful occupations, constantly worrying about becoming injured or ill.

Translating for them in medical clinics, I saw the disconnect between doctor and patient in the form of language barriers and cultural insensitivity. When I was sick, lack of health insurance meant that we depended on the services of a local clinic, or on homemade remedies.

I was the first person in my family to go to college, and now I am pursuing a masters degree. In the community in which I grew up, many of my peers have seen their hopes for a college education derailed by issues such as teen pregnancy, drugs, and incarceration. As a role model and ally for my community, I strive to be a voice for those who are unable to speak up. With my MPH, I want to fight to make sure people in all underserved communities have equal opportunities to prosper, and to be part of eliminating the shocking and inhumane injustices I have seen. 

Ejiro Ntekume

Ejiro Ntekume "I want to help make the world a place in which a child's health status is not a reflection of his or her socioeconomic status."


Prior to attending UCLA, I worked extensively with youth in underserved communities throughout Northern California. My experiences varied, from mentoring and providing academic support to serving the community as a health educator. But I saw something similar wherever I went: high rates of adolescent obesity. This realization ignited a fire in me to create change.

In 2011, I took my first step in addressing the issue as a health educator in East Oakland. I created Healthy Kids on the Move, an after-school enrichment program designed to encourage healthy eating and physical activity among school-aged children. In facilitating academic classes that engaged, educated, and empowered children to make healthier choices, I witnessed the power of public health. I saw the extent to which children are products of their environment, and how growing up in resource-poor neighborhoods had shaped their ideas on nutrition and exercise. 

These experiences solidified my decision to pursue an MPH at UCLA. I want to help make the world a place in which a child's health status is not a reflection of his or her socioeconomic status, race, gender or neighborhood. Public health gives me an opportunity to address the issue of adolescent obesity on a grand scale. 

Claudia Vargas

Claudia Vargas "I plan to work to ensure that immigrants, including those who are undocumented, receive basic health care services."


Working at the Feminist Majority Foundation in Los Angeles after college opened my eyes to the importance of access to reproductive health services, especially in underserved communities. I was outraged to learn about women who had to drive many miles to get a legal abortion, and about legislation that would force women to have ultrasounds or to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. I applied to the Fielding School with the goal of working in the Latino immigrant community to increase access to reproductive health services, but I now realize that the underlying problem is broader - it is lack of access to basic health care. 

Coming from a Mexican immigrant family and knowing people who are undocumented, I have seen the effects of not having health insurance. Without primary care doctors and regular check-ups, my family and my community relied on free clinics for health needs as they came up. In the absence of such basic access, people can't be expected to be knowledgeable about reproductive health, or to seek important reproductive health services. As the Affordable Care Act goes into effect, millions will gain access to health insurance, but many will remain without it. With an MPH I plan to work to ensure that immigrants, including those who are undocumented, receive basic health care services.

Natalie Sanchez

Natalie Sanchez "Having been a terrified young adult who was pregnant in my first year as a college undergraduate, I can relate to life-changing events and empathize with people at vulnerable points in their lives."


For the last 12 years I have dedicated my career to transforming the way HIV prevention is delivered and perceived. As the HIV prevention manager at AltaMed, I created and led some of the largest and most successful HIV campaigns, and implemented a combination of public health strategies to reduce HIV infections in Southern California. I was writer and creator of the telenovela web series "Sin Verguenza (Without Shame)," an Imagen Award-winning campaign aimed at reducing HIV shame and stigma in the Latino community; and the Top, Bottom, Vers condom campaign, aimed at empowering gay men to engage in safer sex.

Having been a terrified young adult who was pregnant in my first year as a college undergraduate, I can relate to life-changing events and empathize with people at vulnerable points in their lives. Being in this field has taught me compassion, tolerance, acceptance, and how best to work with and understand marginalized populations. My personal experience and lessons learned from persons living with HIV have shaped me into a strong and resilient woman and public health advocate. Having a leadership and management role in public health has enabled me to shape and develop regional programs delivered by dedicated teams of skilled and passionate employees. With the Affordable Care Act bringing dramatic changes to the health care industry, I want to equip myself with the policy and leadership skills to continue leading HIV efforts in this evolving environment. Enrolling in the Fielding School's EMPH Program in Health Policy and Management was the step I needed to elevate and expand my public health career.

Stephania Olamendi

Stephania Olamendi "I am passionate in my belief that health is a human right."


I want to better understand how the community in which we live can so profoundly affect our health behaviors and outcomes - and to use that understanding to address Latin American issues around poverty, health, and inequality. Public health will provide me with that knowledge, along with the ability to participate in reducing and eliminating health disparities. Through a focus on the social and environmental factors that play such an important role in health - including food access policies, community structures, climate change, and pollution regulations - I hope to help create and cultivate healthy communities.

I am at the Fielding School to learn from and collaborate with faculty members toward an all-inclusive culture of health - in particular, one that addresses the health needs of the undocumented Latino population. I want to contribute to a paradigm shift that will recognize undocumented immigrants' health needs. Documented or not, all people are entitled to live in conditions that will facilitate positive health outcomes. I am passionate in my belief that health is a human right - and committed to a future of promoting that right for all as a public health professional.

Gabriel Pimentel

Gabriel Pimentel "I am pursuing an MPH as a means of addressing the significant health disparities in my Native American community."


As a Native American growing up in Los Angeles, I experienced many challenges. Like many Native American families, mine was looked down upon. It was assumed because of my racial category that I would never amount to anything. This type of discrimination, all too familiar to Native Americans, creates barriers to academic success, which is a key predictor of health. Individuals with a college degree eat better and are less likely to involve themselves in risky behaviors. They are more likely to be able to afford quality food and health care. 

For the past several years, I have been fortunate to be able to work for Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health, Inc., a consortium of 10 tribes that promotes wellness and healthy lifestyles for my people. I have instituted programs to support academic success, prevent disease and risky behaviors, and reduce obesity and depression through exercise. I have seen firsthand how these exercise and movement programs can help teens lose weight, regain self-confidence, and increase academic achievement. Now the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health gives me the opportunity to learn from the nation's best experts in the field of public health. I am pursuing an MPH as a means of addressing the significant health disparities in my Native American community, in particular those that result from the risky behaviors of our youth. As a Fielding School graduate, I can be a facilitator of change for my people.

Marcie Lee

Marcie Lee "My mother raised me to value our Hmong culture. It was her unpleasant experiences that inspired me to go into public health."


I am at the Fielding School because of my mother. For as long as I can remember, she struggled with a health system that failed to provide the type of culturally competent care that could have prevented the chronic medical conditions she now suffers from. Although I tried to help, I had a difficult time describing her symptoms to medical providers through translation. I also witnessed insensitivity among these providers to her needs. Doctors laughed at my mother's concerns over medical premonitions that she took from our cultural shamanistic practices. 

My mother raised me to value our Hmong culture. It was her unpleasant experiences that inspired me to go into public health - not only for her, but to address the linguistic barriers and lack of cultural competency in the health care system that work against many in the Hmong community, as well as other misunderstood communities. Through public health I hope to improve the strategies for disseminating culturally competent health information and programs to communities that experience health disparities, particularly when they are geographically spread out or in rural areas. At FSPH I can gain the skills I need to alleviate the health informational shortages and barriers that afflict marginalized communities like my own.