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May 4, 2021

Student view: Pursuing public health as a working mom

Cristina Szelingowski is entering her final year in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Health (MPH) Program in the College of Human Medicine. Szelingowski is currently employed at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. in New Jersey. She holds an M.S. in healthcare management from The College of Saint Elizabeth and a B.S. in business administration from Catholic University of America. Professionally, Cristina is interested in increasing patient diversity and creating access to oncology clinical trials. 

As a working mother and student, it is my goal to show my boys the importance of education and the value of hard work.

Growing up in an Italian-American household, my parents and grandmother, who lived with us my entire life, instilled the importance of education in my brother and me. Taking their lead, I am pursuing my second master’s degree and following my passion for lifelong learning. Most importantly, my classwork in the MPH program helps me do my job better and helps increase patient access to healthcare, especially clinical trials. 

As my career developed, I realized that I wanted to learn more about the relationship between complex clinical trials and public health. MSU offered me — a working mom — what no other school did: flexibility. The MPH program allowed me to be a mother first, to have a successful career and to pursue another master’s degree. There was no in-person/on-campus commitment (we live in NJ), no structured class time and no commitment to a cohort structure — I could truly go at my own pace. 

My husband and I spoke at length about the decision because I was worried that I couldn’t handle juggling being the best mom with my career and the program work. I was nervous and scared, so I started the program with one course. As my confidence grew and, with the help of my academic adviser and faculty mentor, I slowly took on more courses. 

My academic adviser helped me strategize my coursework to align with my professional and personal life commitments. At the same time, my faculty mentor guided me through public health debates and helped me select elective courses that would be best suited for my career at Novartis. The most satisfying part of my coursework is that it directly relates to the work I do in pharmaceuticals every day. 

My ultimate career goal is to confront disparities of access in health care related to the field of oncology. In the COVID-19 environment, the population does not have access to the same level of preventative health care compared to previous years. No matter the environment, treatment or diagnosis, patient access to health care resources is extremely vital to public health. Education along with cancer treatment should be available to all community members no matter their background.

I am forever grateful to MSU for providing me with the opportunity to grow and develop as a public health employee. The program’s abundant resources, expert faculty advisers and mentors, and flexibility have allowed me to succeed — as both a mom and a student.  I would not be where I am today without the support from my family, parents, friends, boss and colleagues. 

Some days are tough and exhausting; however, waking up to smiling, healthy faces is absolutely worth a little daily chaos. I want my boys to learn to respect women as caring mothers and loving wives who simultaneously juggle successful careers. 

I look forward to the cheers from my husband and sons as I walk across the stage next May. And who knows? Maybe a doctorate in public health is in my future.


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