Penelope Milsom, MPH '14

Two years after graduation from Mailman, Penelope Milsom has already been a force in Global public health. While at Mailman she interned on the Child Health Team at the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Health Alliance, an initiative of the UN’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs. After graduating Penelope worked as a Research Associate at Harvard University's Program in Global Surgery and Social Change. She has since been employed by the International Rescue Committee during Liberia’s Ebola epidemic where she worked on a health system restoration project based at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia. Her role included providing technical assistance for the integration of Ebola suspect and case management into the regular health system and clinical care in the pediatric department.

A physician by training, Dr. Milsom has practiced medicine in New Zealand, Cambodia, Samoa and Liberia. She first became interested in public health during medical school, when she took an elective in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There, she witnessed firsthand the impact of the political system on health care and the associated social injustices, and wrote a paper on the impact of structural adjustment programs on the Argentinian health system. In her time working as a clinician, she became increasingly frustrated by her inability to have an impact on the social and structural determinants of health inequalities. On a daily basis, she saw low income patients suffering from advanced illnesses because they could not access early interventions. That frustration led her to change career paths, working in public health to address health inequalities both within and between countries.

Currently based in London, she plans to undertake a PhD studentship in the UK focusing on policy mechanisms to address the social and structural determinants of health inequalities in low-to-middle income countries (LMIC). Her trajectory was impacted by several professors at Mailman. She continues to be influenced by Dr. Lynn Freedman, who showed tremendous commitment to the Human Rights approach to health. She was also inspired by Dr. Peter Muennig’s challenging and engaging teaching style and his encouragement of critical thinking on complex public health issues, and Terry McGovern, who taught her a great deal about health and human rights and the role of advocacy in public health. When asked if there was anything she would like to share with other alumni, she said “Global public health provides an opportunity to not only imagine but also develop some of the skills to contribute to shifting our society to an alternative reality with different structures and systems - social and economic - such that there is a fairer distribution of power and better mechanisms to support healthy decision making at all levels.”

Based on an interview by Nina Rothschild, MPH ’92, DrPH ’00 and Anette Wu, MD, MPH '00