“Invest in new experiences that will not only provide you with enhanced skills but varying perspectives. Being able to look at an issue from multiple viewpoints will help you become a stronger advocate, leader, and contributor.”—Bhakthi Sahgal, MPH ’15
Health policy alumna shares insights into her journey through the Milken Institute SPH and how it informed and prepared her for a bright future.
What was the impetus for getting your degree at the Milken Institute SPH?
I worked in a variety of community health settings prior to beginning the program, and when reflecting on those experiences, I realized I wanted to better understand the context of our health care system and the factors that influence it. Whether it was leading operations for a mobile health clinic out in Oregon wine country, or working with the immigrant community in South Philadelphia—I wanted to understand how federal, state, and local policies trickle down to affect all of our lives, as well as how to influence and innovate within our system.
Please tell us about your path from the Milken Institute School of Public Health to where you are today.
In addition to the highly applicable and engaging courses I took while pursuing my degree, I had a chance to explore multiple enriching policy environments. In my first semester of the program, I began working for Dr. Susan Wood as Research Assistant at the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health on a nationwide research project exploring patient experiences with family planning in community health centers. I also worked with Liz Borkowski as an editorial assistant for Women’s Health Issues. These two experiences helped me understand more about the research process from inception to publication, and how to ask the right questions and collect meaningful data. In tandem with my work at the Institute until graduation, I had a chance to work for the D.C. Committee on Health on teen pregnancy legislation. Working at the D.C. Committee was my first foray into utilizing what I was learning in class – understanding a problem from a policymaking perspective, conducting policy research, collaborating with stakeholders, and coming up with a list of legislative recommendations.
As I proceeded through the program, I also had the opportunity to work at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Obama Administration on the opioid epidemic, hepatitis C, and policy issues emerging from the legalization of cannabis in various states. This experience allowed me the opportunity to jump into a topic that I had limited prior knowledge of, and get up to speed quickly – a skill that has served me well in my time since. Fast forward to graduation in 2015, and I began to think about other environments in the policy ecosystem that interested me. Upon encouragement from my advisor, Dr. Wood, I applied for the Women’s Congressional Policy Institute (WCPI) Fellowship — a program intended for current graduate students/recent graduates interested in learning about legislative work on the Hill. I was so excited about the opportunity to get into the details of federal policymaking!
Who inspires you and why?
There are so many incredible individuals who I have had a chance to interact with as a result of the MPH program that it is hard to choose. I am inspired by many of my professors—Susan Wood, Pierre Vigilance, and many others—who take the time to give back and invest in their students. They inspire me to pay it forward in whatever capacity I can.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
Don’t feel confused by your curiosity, embrace it! There are so many interesting facets of the public health field, and it can be overwhelming to have to choose your area. Do what interests you and focus on gaining new experiences—it will ultimately help you understand what you want moving forward and help you make the right moves to get there.
Please tell us a bit about your job with the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
In March 2017 I started a position at the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, here in D.C. I work on the research synthesis team in the Office of the Chief Science Officer, and my job is to support the organization’s initiatives around precision medicine and predictive analytics projects, in addition to supporting collaborative efforts with other organizations and agencies. In this new position, which is partly research focused and part policy focused, I find myself utilizing many learnings from all my past experiences to contribute the most to my team.