Student Profiles

Mailman School Student Honored by The National Hispanic Health Foundation

The National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF) of the National Hispanic Medical Association honored Columbia Mailman School’s Alejandra Silva Hernández, a first-year MPH student at its 17th Annual Ceremony held virtually on November 19th. The association presents scholarships to outstanding Latinx health professional students who have transformed their community and demonstrated academic excellence, leadership, and a commitment to providing healthcare to Latinx communities.

Alejandra is a first-generation student in the accelerated General Public Health Program. Earlier in the semester, her team pitched one of the winning solutions in the Data Bias and Clinical Research track at the MIT Hacking Racism in Healthcare Hackathon, a two-day virtual event to dismantle racial injustice in healthcare delivery and address the social determinants of health. In the spring semester, she will be working with Sandra Albrecht, assistant professor of epidemiology, as a translator for the “Dear Pandemic” website, introducing new content for the Spanish-speaking community. After graduation from Columbia Mailman School, she intends to apply to medical school.

The United Health Foundation and Centene Corporate are the Major Sponsors of the award; other sponsors include NovoNordisk, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and American Heart Association among other institutions. NHHF is an arm of the National Hispanic Medical Association, a nonprofit organization that represents 50,000 Hispanic physicians across the U.S. The mission of NHHF is to improve the health of Hispanics through research and educational activities. 

I grew up in Mumbai and spent my whole life wanting to be a doctor. I love that I was able to realize that dream, but after working in India for public and private sector hospitals, I learned that there is a widespread systemic problem with Indian healthcare. Large portions of India’s semi-urban and rural populations do not have access to affordable, good quality, effective care. The increasing commodification of health is not responsive to the needs of the people and will hinder the progress of a developing country like India. This is a public health issue. To confront it, I need to work in public health.

From the moment I read about the accelerated MPH with the General Public Health track, I knew this was the place for me. I could grow my skills as a public health professional and define my own identity.

Before I came to the Mailman School, healthcare was a one-dimensional concept for me. I just thought of it as clinical medicine. My education at the School, coupled with my medical background, communication skills, and new understanding of health systems, has given me a holistic approach to health. Things really came together for me when I realized that health systems strengthening is the niche I’ve been longing to pursue my whole life.

I joined Global Health Strategies, an international health-consulting firm that specializes in advocacy and communications in the United States, India, Brazil, China, and pretty soon, Africa, in November 2014. I was hired as a manager of a tuberculosis (TB) project in New Delhi. Three months later, I was promoted to senior manager. I head a TB project in India and act as global coordinator for the TB projects based in our other offices. We partner with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for advocacy and communications. In India, we work a great deal with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to enable policy change for improvements in TB prevention and control.

My job is exciting, fast-paced, and allows me to think of the big picture and create strategies that can lead to better health. I get to interact with veterans of the public health sector on a daily basis and have already learned so much about the challenges of changing policy. Looking ahead, I want to go with the flow and see where life takes me in my quest for universal health coverage. This all started for me when I realized I wanted to be an advocate of public health, and it became realized once I made it through my studies at the Mailman School.