Student Spotlight

Rebecca Hill

Rebecca Hill

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina 

Degree Program: DrPH, Epidemiology concentration 

Class Year: 2016 (expected 2021)

Undergraduate Major: BAs in Biology and Psychology (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Graduate Degree(s) Received: MA in Criminal Justice (CUNY John Jay College); MPhil in Criminology (CUNY Graduate Center) 

Professional Interests: R (programming language); racial/ethnic minority health and health equity; chronic disease; emerging zoonotic infectious disease; mental health 

Extracurricular Activities/Involvement: Poster presentation at APHA in 2019   


1. What drew you to the DrPH program at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University? Why did you choose to study public health? 

In short, I wanted to study public health because of its interdisciplinary approach and focus on improving the lives of the underserved. There are several reasons why I chose the DrPH program at SUNY Downstate specifically, compared to other programs in the area. Working full-time while also in school, the evening course times and emphasis on part-time attendance were incredibly important for me. SUNY's program also provides flexibility; in addition to in-person classes, I was able to take several classes online. Affordability was also a priority, as I needed a program that I could pay for without having to take out loans. I also really liked the location of the Brooklyn campus and the focus on urban and immigrant health. Prior to enrolling in the DrPH program, I completed the 5-course Advanced Certificate program in Public Health. The classes were interesting, and the professors were engaging, responsive, and willing to go above and beyond to help students. That experience really cemented my determination to continue with the doctoral program at SUNY.  


2. What is your favorite aspect of the program and what have your gained from it? 

My favorite aspect of the program is the faculty. In all my years in school (undergraduate and graduate), I've never had professors who have exhibited such passion for their work and genuinely care about the progress and wellbeing of their students. As a result, I have gained an amazing group of advisors and mentors.  


3. Can you recall a memorable in-class or general SUNY Downstate experience that struck you as particularly meaningful?

I can't recall the specifics, but I do remember on several occasions where I thought I had made mistakes during the registration process, wasn't signed up for the right number of credits, or didn't have the proper form submitted to the correct individual, etc. During these instances when I didn't have complete confidence in myself, I knew I could always rely on Mr. Daniel Ilyayev to walk me through every process, whether in-person or via email. His patience knows no bounds, and as an occasionally-confused student, I am very grateful.  


4. Could you describe your dissertation work? 

My dissertation examines the role of perceived discrimination on cardiometabolic risk. Using a longitudinal survey of adults in the U.S. (Midlife in the United States [MIDUS]), I'm interested to see if individuals who perceive experiencing major discrimination events (e.g., getting fired from a job) and/or chronic or daily discrimination (e.g., others thinking they are better than you) effects certain biological markers that are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Some examples of these biological markers that are being assessed include cholesterol, blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and insulin levels. The underlying theory is that perceived discrimination leads to chronic stress, which in turn results in inflammation, and inflammation can negatively impact health.  


5. Could you describe your career path and experience? 

I started off as an undergraduate studying biology and psychology, though not really knowing where I wanted to go in my career. I wrote my thesis on the role of psychosocial stress in the development of AIDS and after realizing that I did not want to work in a lab or go to medical school, I continued with an MA in Criminal Justice and a research project that examined the impact of needle exchange programs on the transmission of Hepatitis B and HIV. I spent several years afterwards working as an analyst at several academic research institutions, spanning the fields of policing, terrorism, and higher education. I eventually realized that I missed health research and transitioned to working as a behavioral scientist for a non-profit that focuses on emerging infectious zoonotic diseases (such as Ebola, SARS, and COVID-19). Most recently, I spent several years as an epidemiologist at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (in the bureaus of Mental Health and HIV/AIDS). During my tenure, I played an active role in the initial COVID-19 response, which was probably the most rewarding moment of my career. I've been lucky to a varied work history, and while slightly unorthodox, has brought a unique perspective to all of my professional endeavors.  


6. Please tell us your current profession. What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your position? 

After several years with the NYC Dept of Health, I recently took a job as an Associate Statistician at Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Health Systems Effectiveness. I was hired to work on 2 NIH grants: one focuses on the impact of Medicaid reforms on racial/ethnic minority adults with serious mental illness; the other examines the effects of alternatives to opioid treatment on individuals with chronic back pain. Although I've only been at this position a few months, I'm enjoying working with a small organization of dedicated epidemiologists and health economists. It's great being able to work on a variety of topics and I feel that I'm also learning a lot and gaining so many new skills. Starting this job during the pandemic has been challenging, especially given that my team is in a different state/time zone. However, since the job is permanently remote, I'm grateful that I can remain in Brooklyn with my partner and 2 cats. 


7. Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in Downstate’s DrPH program? 

If you're interested in the program, I highly recommend reaching out to any of the faculty, staff, or current/former students. In my experience at SUNY, I've found that everyone is incredibly responsive and helpful. If you are debating pursuing an MPH or DrPH, definitely consider in the Advance Certificate program. It's 5 classes, it can be completed in one year, and all of the coursework counts toward the MPH or DrPH degree. The certificate program is a great way to see if an advanced degree in public health is right for you without a huge monetary or time commitment. One of the main reasons why I chose to complete my DrPH at SUNY was due to the excellent experience I had in the advanced certificate program. 


8. Is there anything else you would like to highlight about yourself, your education, community involvement, career goals, etc.? 

I think that there is the assumption that in order to pursue a career or advanced degree in public health that one needs a background in science. This is absolutely not the case. One of the best things about public health and the program here at SUNY is that it is truly interdisciplinary. I've had classmates and professors with all sorts of professional and educational backgrounds. The faculty here are truly supportive and are willing to work with each individual based on his/her interests. Participation in the DrPH program has opened up many opportunities for professional advancement and personal enrichment and I feel lucky to be a part of the SUNY Downstate community.