With a bachelor’s degree in mathematical biology, Nadia Abuelezam once considered herself a mathematician who used her skills to tackle public health problems. But after five years as a doctoral student at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), she no longer identifies herself as a numbers person first: “I think I’m an epidemiologist at heart,” she says.
Between her junior and senior years of college, Abuelezam took advantage of an opportunity to travel to Uganda to work with The AIDS Support Organization. The work was described as an IT project to improve the organization’s information-storing capacity as it transitioned from paper to electronic medical records. But after arriving in Uganda, she discovered the organization had a greater need for hands-on help with direct services, and her visit turned into a crash course in the field of public health. Abuelezam counted antiretroviral therapy pills in a pharmacy, traveled to villages for HIV testing days, and sat in on counseling and group therapy sessions with patients. It was a “transformative and formative introduction to HIV,” she said.