Alejandro Vanegas

Alejandro Vanegas, MS '16

I’ve been a researcher for over five years, but it wasn’t until I began working the coursework in the Executive MS program in Epidemiology that everything started to come together. It took me longer than some, but I finally realize there’s another way to impact health outside of becoming a physician. Now, I’m building the foundational understanding of the theory behind my working knowledge. And our class is a great mix of people, as well, with a clinical researcher that used to fly in from Seattle on Fridays and a physician that commutes from Ohio, just to mention two.

As a pre-med student at New York University, I was never really exposed to public health. All I ever heard about was medicine. But when I started working at Columbia after graduation, the first study I worked on in 2010 was a multi-ethnic study on atherosclerosis, and even though it was through the Division of General Medicine, the principal investigators were also epidemiologists. Then, in 2013, when I started working on studies in the Mailman School’s Department of Epidemiology, I saw I could work with faculty and researchers and our cumulative effort could lead to direct effects on populations of people.

I knew I wasn’t going to stop working, so I started looking into programs that would enable me to work full-time and deepen my understanding of public health. To my surprise, there weren’t many options that met these critical criteria, and none of them are as rigorous as what I found at Columbia University's Mailman School.

The program is amazing at working around our schedules. The professors know that sometimes people are on call, so they make themselves and their materials available if we need it. With 20 people, it’s such a tight-knit class that we all get to know, help, and learn from each other while also building relationships with our professors.

I just finished my first year, and I already know that I want to take my work in public health to the next level. Our study design course taught me the underlying theories behind developing our own research, and in another I was able to write an authentic abstract from data that I analyzed and interpreted. Those were real “Aha!” moments for me. I’ve been doing work in public health for years, but I finally get to understand health from the inside out, combining my practical working abilities with my new, theoretical knowledge.

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