Emma Kaishian ’19 Is Working to Make a Difference in Public Health

Kaishian is preparing for a career in the public health by pursuing a master’s degree in health policy at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Emma Kaishian standing in front of Columbia University's Iriving Medical School sign that reads "Mailman School of Public Health".As the globe combats the coronavirus on all fronts, the field of public health is receiving increased attention as a source of accurate information and science-based solutions. Emma Kaishian ’19 is preparing for a career in this critical field by pursuing a master’s degree in health policy at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, Kaishian, who majored in kinesiology at Manhattan, is seeing academic concepts reflected in real time, and often finds herself explaining the “nuances of the chaos” to friends and family. She joined Columbia’s COVID-19 Student Services Corps (CSSC), a volunteer organization that seeks to support health systems through interprofessional student service-learning projects, and has worked on its PPE (personal protective equipment) and telemedicine teams.

“Being a student during COVID-19 has given me the opportunity to fully understand a crisis as it is unfolding,” she says. “I am very aware of how poorly we have handled this crisis, which is frustrating. That being said, it has been truly inspiring to see how the faculty and my peers have risen to the challenge. These are very scary, unprecedented times, but I find immense comfort in knowing that there are many, many people dedicating their time and efforts to end this problem.”

As part of her studies, Kaishian is also earning a certificate in child, youth and family health and working as a graduate assistant for a nationwide survey Columbia is conducting to assess healthcare barriers, outcomes and experiences for postpartum women. 

“Ideally, the results of this survey will help lobby for policies that will protect the health of mothers in the future,” Kaishian says. She is tasked with project coordination and relationship management, which includes frequent communication with state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Kaishian notes the influence of her education at Manhattan, where she did hands-on projects in classes like Kinesiology and Public Health and conducted research with Lisa Toscano, professor of kinesiology, through the Jasper Summer Research Scholars program. 

“The professors gave me the skills to thrive in a graduate program, as well as the confidence to feel like I belong in a professional setting,” she says. “My research experience throughout undergrad provided me with the necessary competencies I needed to obtain a competitive research position.  

For anyone interested in the field of public health, Kaishian says, “Go for it! There is something for everyone, from epidemiology to hospital administration to international policy.” And, for those seeking to positively impact public health in their communities, she adds, “Spread the information from reputable sources like the CDC, not just what is on social media.”

Kaishian acknowledges that this is a unique time to be a public health student. To those who seek advice, she recommends practicing self-care, finding a routine, socializing with others virtually, checking in on vulnerable community members and “finding joy in whatever you can.”

“It’s times like these that highlight the importance of having a strong, prepared, fast-acting public health system,” she says. “COVID-19 has shed light on issues with many countries’ health systems, particularly the U.S. Hopefully this will mean more funding for and more focus on public health in the future.”

By Cecilia Donohoe