A Passion for Public Health
For Nileesa Gautam ’18, it’s not just knowing she has a job to go to after graduation that is giving her peace of mind, it’s knowing she has one for the foreseeable future. A biomedical science major with a medical and veterinary sciences option and a minor in public health, Gautam has accepted a two-year position as a research assistant in the division of pharmacoepidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She starts work May 28.
Gautam’s parents, who came to the United States from Nepal, wanted her to be a doctor. But at the beginning of her junior year, she took a course with Semra Aytur, associate professor of health management and policy, and realized she was drawn more to the study of disease than to the idea of working with patients. Gautam went on to conduct research under Aytur’s tutelage and presented her findings on the clinical and social risk factors associated with low birth weight at this year’s Undergraduate Research Conference (URC).
“Professor Aytur's passion for public health inspired me to dive into the field. Since conducting research with her, I have had doors open for me,” Gautam says, noting those doors include attending the American Public Health Association's National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, presenting at the URC and learning valuable research skills.
Gautam has accepted a two-year position as a research assistant in the division of pharmacoepidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“As a doctor, you’re only helping one person at a time, but if you’re in public health, you’re serving a large population,” she adds. “I’m interested in the different aspects of disease — the cause, the treatment, how it spreads — and how that affects people.”
The Rochester, New Hampshire, resident also is interested in how medications fit into disease; Brigham and Women’s pharmacoepidemiology program has researchers evaluating medications for their effectiveness in relation to costs and risks.
“There aren’t a lot of research positions that are that specific,” Gautam says. “It’s a good opportunity.” And one she feels prepared for, she says, thanks to the support she received from St. Martin Career Exploration Office.
“The career center has helped me in every step of the job hunting process,” Gautam says, noting that staff worked with her to refine her resume, write cover letters, conduct mock interviews and “prep in every single way to ensure career-related success.”
During her college career, Gautam volunteered with Hope on Haven Hill, a substance use treatment center in Rochester that serves homeless pregnant women and new mothers. Additionally, through Kappa Delta sorority, she has supported the New Hampshire Children’s Trust, the state chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America.
“Their goal is to do the work before abuse happens, which aligns with the kind of work I want to do,” she says.
Gautam, who speaks Nepali, is involved with UNH’s Desi Students’ Association, which promotes the Desi culture, and Holi, an Indian and Nepali spring festival also known as the festival of colors.
Looking toward the future, Gautam sees herself working in public health as an epidemiologist, perhaps in the area of infectious disease or the environment. Or…
“I’m also interested in maternal and child healthcare. When you look at it, you see there isn’t just one factor that impacts their wellbeing,” she says. “If you’ve got a mother living in poverty, working 24-7, she probably lives in a poor area, probably isn’t eating well — it creates a perfect storm. That’s an area where I can see myself. But we’ll see where the river takes me.”