Leah Abrams

Leah Abrams

MPH '17, Epidemiology; PhD Candidate, Health Management & Policy

I'm a dual-enrolled student. I'm finishing my master's degree in epidemiology now and have started working toward my PhD in health management and policy. I'll become a full-time PhD student this fall.

I went to undergrad at Emory University. It's a very medically oriented school. I was interested in social science, religion and writing, and I majored in anthropology. All the anthropology classes I took were about health. Every project I did ended up being about health—that was always the outcome that mattered to me. So, I had a feeling I was going to go into public health.

After college, I ended up at the NIH, working at the National Human Genome Research Institute. My branch was looking at the social and behavioral implications of genomics, and my work focused on what the public understands when they hear about genomics in the media.

I chose Epidemiology because I wanted quantitative training. Anthropology is very qualitative. I needed something new. I needed the quantitative skills that I was missing.

I felt like my interests fell between Epidemiology and HBHE, and I was convinced by the University of Michigan that I could do it all here. They said they'd let me have those multiple interests and dabble in a lot of different things, which I have.

I did Innovation in Action last year. Through Innovation in Action, I connected to students across campus to find solutions to public health problems. It becomes a big part of your life when you're doing it. I worked with three other students on a solution that aims to give community health workers the tools they need to do their jobs better.

Through our start-up, Confluent Care, we tried to find a way to help community health workers communicate with their clients—the patients they are working with outside the medical setting. Home visits are resource- and time-intensive, so we wanted to give them a way to touch base with clients between visits. They typically set goals during their home visits. Our app allows clients to report back on how they are doing between visits. If someone's struggling, the health worker knows right away and can intervene. It also collects a wealth of data that health systems and health plans can tap into.

I think my dissertation will center around the topic of multiple morbidities. I want to look at older people who are trying to manage more than one chronic condition. I spent this year focusing on diabetes and depression. Both conditions increase the chance you'll have the other, and they have some shared risk factors. I'm looking at how health behaviors change when people have both, and resulting changes in healthcare utilization and mortality.

I'm very aware of the privileged place it is to be a grad student. I get to spend my days studying what I'm interested in. I structure my days around that. And I'm surrounded by so many smart people. I'm grateful that that's my life.


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