Assistant Professor, Community Public Health
"For me, public health is an intellectual challenge, but with a great ethical dimension."
“People have different motivations for going into public health,” says James Macinko, “from personal experience to humanitarian impulses to curiosity. For me, public health is an intellectual challenge, but with a great ethical dimension.”
Macinko is in the midst of several projects that look at primary health care around the globe. “Governments everywhere need to bring primary health care to the forefront of the international agenda,” he believes, “because it maintains health and prevents disease. It can also reduce the costs of health care, while improving access to it.”
One of his studies is an examination of the effectiveness of Brazil’s primary health care system, the workings of which he observed as a Fulbright Scholar in that country, and as a visiting professor at the National School of Public Health in Rio de Janeiro.
Another project, with the Pan American Health Organization, seeks to develop an international consensus on what future primary health care systems should look like.
More locally, Macinko is involved in a collaboration with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he received his PhD, to evaluate how federally funded community health centers in the U.S. might improve racial and ethnic disparities in health.
Macinko makes sure his students are involved in his research, by collecting and analyzing data or by reviewing existing literature. “We talk about how they should perform a meta-analysis, which is taking the results of many studies to assess the strength of the knowledge base in that area. This focuses public health on evidence, which is a goal of our program in community public health.”
Macinko finds his students challenge him to make the connection between research and practice. “Many of them are already working full time in the field. Because they are truly front-line health workers and advocates, they constantly make sure I get out of the ivory tower and convey knowledge that has day-to-day applicability.”
This search for practical knowledge is why they find tremendous benefit in interning at community-based organizations in New York City. “Places such as Planned Parenthood of NYC, the New York City Department of Health, Queens Pride House, and the Caribbean Women’s Health Association offer the MPH students an important link to the community. Their research should not only benefit themselves, it should also benefit New York City.”
Macinko is glad the department fosters such associations, while also offering an interdisciplinary approach to public health. “Learning to use the tools of different disciplines - like politics, epidemiology and economics - to answer complex problems is the strength of public health.”
He himself collaborates extensively with faculty from the Wagner School, advising doctoral students who are researching public health in Mexico and Brazil, and developing proposals to evaluate health care initiatives in New York City. He is also involved in the Global Public Health program, a University-wide initiative that brings together people who work internationally to train the next generation of global health leaders.
“Interdisciplinary work is integral to our department’s growth,” he says. “Students benefit by learning different techniques and tools for analyzing nutrition, food studies, and public health. The department then becomes a kind of laboratory for understanding how people from different disciplines and backgrounds can really work, research, and teach together.”