Dr. James Macinko

photo for Dr. James Macinko

Dr. James Macinko is a Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences and the Department of Health Policy and Management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Dr. Macinko received his M.A. in International Affairs at George Washington University and his Ph.D. in Health and Social Policy from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prior to becoming a UCLA faculty member, Dr. Macinko was the former director of the NYU MPH program. His research interest include global health and health inequalities specifically pertaining to Brazil. In Brazil, he assessed existing primary health care programs and policies. Domestically, he works pertains to eliminating primary health care barriers faced in Latino communities within Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.

What led you to pursue a career in global health?

Like many people, I didn’t even know global health was a field until I was already doing it! After college, I thought I wanted to be a diplomat, so I went to Washington D.C to work on an MA in international Affairs. During the program, I applied for a summer internship at the US Embassy in Ethiopia and was involved in election monitoring for the country’s first democratic election. I had never before been to Africa and the experience was transformative. Within the first few weeks, it became apparent that health issues permeated nearly every aspect of the country’s social, political, and economic development. I remember telling my colleagues that what seemed like modest participation in the elections wasn’t just due to the lack of clearly defined electoral districts or other technical matters, but that serious health issues ranging from malaria to malnutrition to injuries from decades of civil war were fundamental barriers keeping to supplement people from exercising their new political rights. When I returned to Washington, I began my studies with training in international health (in the 1990’s people didn’t use the term global health). I found that although public health training was essential, my background in international affairs and economic development studies was also important in understanding global health challenges. Eventually, I began to work with universities and different NGOs in Latin America and East Africa and then landed a job at USAID. Those years of work in the field gave me the motivation to eventually pursue my doctoral degree and continue to inform my global health work today.

What was your most memorable experience working in Brazil?

Brazil is a huge and complex country and working there has really forced me to evaluate my own strengths and weaknesses and to develop new ways to develop partnerships and collaborations. This has taken time, but I have found a real community of colleagues and friends that I would never have imagined existed before spending the time to learn about the country’s history, culture, language, and public health accomplishments and challenges. The most memorable experience probably came from the launch of the Lancet series on Brazil (http://www.thelancet.com/series/health-in-brazil). Imagine my delight when the leading Brazilian academics and activists that I had grown to admire so much invited me to join them in writing what would become the definitive article on the Brazilian health system! I’m still deeply grateful for that opportunity and continue to work with many of those same colleagues today.

What classes do you currently teach?

I generally teach courses on global health, applied research methods (such as program evaluation and analysis of survey data) and courses on health policy. Over the next few years, I’m hoping to do more teaching on Latin America and on comparative health systems and services.

What research opportunities that you focus on are available for students and UCLA collaborators?

My research group has a number of ongoing projects focused primarily on understanding how health systems and services in low and middle income countries are beginning to grapple with rapidly ageing populations and increasing rates of chronic disease. I often have opportunities for students to get involved in different ways: some work on data collection, others work on data analysis, and others work on literature reviews. It’s always helpful to have people who speak and write Portuguese and Spanish, since we often need to do our communications and reporting in these languages as well as English.

Do you have any advice for current UCLA MPH candidates who are interested in pursuing a career in global health?

I always advise people who want to enter the global health field that multidisciplinary training, a willingness to take reasonable risks, and a dedication to learning more about other cultures and languages will make their experiences much richer and enjoyable, and allow them to do essential work that has the potential to make a sustainable impact on the world’s health. Another important piece of advice is that you don’t necessarily need to leave your own city to do global health work—there are huge opportunities to work with people from different cultures right here in LA and many of the skills you learn doing this kind of work are directly transferable to working in other country contexts. What’s essential is to develop a set of skills and to apply them in real situations, even if that means doing volunteer work at first. Investing time in gaining field experience can be difficult, but it really does pay off when it comes to landing a good job in the increasingly competitive world of global health. Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that a good portion of global health work involves grant writing and fundraising. Gaining skills and experience in these areas will likely open many doors for anyone hoping to enter the field.