MPH alumna works to improve public health through policy

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CPHHS MPH ’11 Alumna Nicole Burda, pictured above, serves as deputy director of government relations for the American Public Health Association.

While some have the luxury of signing up for a weightlifting class or hiring a personal trainer, not everyone is fortunate to have the means to seek out professional services to help with their health goals.

As a former strength and conditioning coach, College of Public Health and Human Sciences MPH ’11 alumna Nicole Burda quickly realized her desire to help others improve their health and well-being. She also realized that not everyone could afford to pay for services such as the ones she offered, which led her to pursue a graduate degree in public health.

In her new position as deputy director of government relations at the American Public Health Association (APHA), Nicole advocates for policy change to improve the health of all people and communities.

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Nicole advocates for policy change to improve the health of all people and communities.

“APHA helps fill the gap between academic research and federal legislation – taking the best evidence available and applying it to help shape public debate and federal policy that will impact public health,” she says.

Having previously served as APHA’s manager of government relations, Nicole helped advance APHA’s advocacy and legislative agenda and engaged APHA members and affiliates in grassroots advocacy activities.

“I wanted to work in the government relations field to be able to influence the government, the laws and regulations that impact public health,” she says. “Regardless of the outcome, it is rewarding to know that I am contributing to the collective voice in support of public health. And even better is when our position prevails and the public’s health benefits as a result.”

She got her start in government relations after a health graduate fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington D.C., where she worked in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. There, she helped manage the public health portfolio for the chairman, former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.

“More than anything, I enjoyed learning the process of and participating in crafting legislation,” she says. “It was fun to be a part of developing legislation that as a result of becoming law could potentially help protect millions of people. It was a unique opportunity to understand how decisions are negotiated and made in Congress.”

“It is rewarding to know that I am contributing to the collective voice in support of public health.”

While studying in the CPHHS, Nicole held two internship positions at the Benton County Health Department as a substance abuse prevention program intern and later working with the Healthy Kids/Healthy Communities program. While there, she gained practical experience that supplemented the theoretical knowledge she learned in the classroom.

“Being able to work at Benton County Health Department helped tremendously so that I could make better sense of the information I was reading and writing about,” she says. “My time at OSU allowed me to better understand the public health framework so that I could begin identifying how I could best contribute to the public’s health.”

During her final year in the MPH program, she gained practical experience with the Oregon Department of Human Services in the Office of Multicultural Health and Services, now called the Office of Equity and Inclusion, working as a research analyst.

“Internships are great opportunities to learn more about public health, and they also allow you to refine your professional interests,” she says. “Every experience allowed me to learn and grow personally and professionally, and also to make easy adjustments to my career path to find where I could best make contributions that I felt good about. These experiences helped solidify for me my interest in pursuing public health.”

The field, she says, is “a measurement of how we are honoring other humans and the environment through laws, regulations, daily actions and intentions toward one and other. I hope to contribute to achieving a more equitable and just world, and to achieving a more democratic process along the way.”