Stony Brook University
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Stony Brook University: Producing tomorrow’s public health leaders

Mmutaka Ajulu-Okeke found her life’s calling when she found herself coming up against barriers to healthcare access in Nigeria and the US. She did not back down. Instead, it fueled her to be part of the solution. She aimed to bring better health and access to care, especially for vulnerable communities – starting with a Combined Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Stony Brook University.

“What brought me to Stony Brook was its reputation for academic excellence and its stellar faculty members,” Ajulu-Okeke says. “Stony Brook’s esteemed reputation as one of New York’s top public institutions and the opportunity to learn from its incredibly knowledgeable faculty sealed the deal for me.”

A member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), Stony Brook University is among the top 35 public universities in the nation and is the number one public university in New York (US News and World Report). In public health, the university ranks #35 nationally, according to US News and World Report.

What drew Ajulu-Okeke was the MPH’s unique integration with business administration. “The Programme in Public Health offers a variety of combined degrees such as the Combined MBA/MPH, MPH/Master of Arts in Public Policy, Master of Social Work/MPH, etc. This holistic education style enables students like me to diversify our skills and perspectives, making us better equipped to drive change in an increasingly complex healthcare landscape,” she says. “Realising that I could integrate my passion for public health with my business acumen convinced me that Stony Brook’s MPH programme was tailor-made for my aspirations.”

Other combined and concurrent degree programmes include the MPH/Master of Science in Nutrition, Medical Doctorate/MPH and Doctorate of Dental Surgery/MPH.

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Stony Brook University offers many dual degrees in collaboration with the HSC and the larger University. Source: Stony Brook University

Accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), the MPH programme offers several concentrations: Community Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Health Policy and Management and Climate Solutions and Health.

Pascale Fils-Aime, another MBA/MPH student, first chose the Health Policy and Management concentration but switched to Community Health after her second semester. “Although learning about the inner workings of healthcare systems and current events with Dr. Norman Edelman was fascinating, I quickly realised my true passion lay in direct community engagement,” she says. “I find immense satisfaction in engaging with people and using problem-solving skills. I have never been one to have a plan set in stone. I like staying fluid and finding what feels right at the time. This is the beauty of public health – it is what you make it!”

Students learn from an outstanding faculty with research expertise in clinical, social and behavioural sciences and the humanities. They prioritise teaching and mentoring, infusing their research into the student experience in various settings, from classrooms to clinics. Research areas include healthcare disparities, sleep health, cognitive ageing, environmental epidemiology, and resilience in the context of disability and illness.

Take Dr. Lisa Benz Scott, Executive Director and Professor for the PPH, for example. Her research and projects encompass various aspects of community health and healthcare. This includes addressing social and behavioural determinants of health in collaboration with public libraries, promoting team-based inter-professional education in the health professions, enhancing access to outpatient cardiac rehabilitation programmes, and training lay health advisors to deliver essential health education and support in underserved communities.

Dr. Benz Scott is just one of many researchers here who are influencing the public’s health locally, nationally, and around the world. Engaging with them can take students far. Yun Zhang, who pursued the Population Health and Clinical Outcomes Research Programme at the doctoral level from 2017 to 2022, can attest to this.

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The PPH faculty continues to contribute to an impressive list of public health and health administration achievements which grow each year. Source: Stony Brook University

“I specialised in population health track with an emphasis on cognitive ageing,” Zhang says. “Under the guidance of Dr. Sean Clouston, an expert in ageing research, I completed several research projects, publications, and conference presentations. I also collaborated with Dr.  Wei Hou in biostatistics and several other clinical professors. These collaborations enriched my skills and experience, setting a foundation for my career.”

As the world confronts pressing climate challenges, Stony Brook takes the lead with the first-of-its-kind international centre — the New York Climate Exchange. This initiative aims to address the urgent climate crisis by developing dynamic solutions while serving as a hub for New Yorkers to participate in the burgeoning green economy. In addition to convening the world’s leaders and climate experts, the centre will provide job training and skills-building programmes for local residents, enabling them to pursue careers that positively impact the environment and the region.

The impact of the Governor’s Island New York Climate Exchange on the MPH programme is clear. “It has enriched our curriculum, bringing a renewed focus on climate’s role in public health. It’s a testament to Stony Brook’s commitment to staying at the forefront of pressing global issues,” says Ajulu-Okeke.

Stony Brook’s location ensures access to many more enriching experiences. As the university is on the north shore of Long Island in southeastern New York, commuting is convenient. There’s rail access to New York City, which is just 65 miles east. This residential neighbourhood is easy to reach by air, ferry and car too.

The perks of being in one of the most dynamic states in the world extend far beyond easy access. For example, Ajulu-Okeke was able to actively engage with healthcare management organisations, through unique networking and learning opportunities that have fueled her professional growth and ambitions. “I’ve had the privilege to easily attend seminars and networking events that allow me to connect with seasoned professionals, many of whom occupy roles I envision for myself in the future,” she says.

Meanwhile, Fils-Aime got to be part of the Healthy Libraries Programme. This partnership, between the Public Libraries of Suffolk County and a unique group of healthcare professionals and graduate student interns from the fields of social work, public health, nursing, nutrition and library science, provides access to both in-person and virtual healthcare-related resources for public library patrons throughout Suffolk County.

“Dr. Benz Scott started the programme after a meeting with my former employer, The Long Island Health Collaborative (LIHC). Because I was still a student of the PPH, I was able to be part of the start of a beautiful partnership between the Public Libraries of Suffolk County and Stony Brook University,” she says. “This project led to my first publication!”

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