Variety is the spice of life for Taylor Mackay, M.P.H., MBA who earned his M.P.H in epidemiology from UTHealth School of Public Health in San Antonio in 2015. Mackay has spent the past decade pursuing a dizzying array of public health opportunities — from conducting medical checks at a local prison and tracking infectious disease on the Texas-Mexico border, to managing health insurance and translations services in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Currently, he’s an associate in the graduate development program at not-for-profit insurer CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield in Baltimore, where he’s working to improve the continuum, quality and cost of health care for members.
When I began my undergraduate studies, I wanted to be a doctor. This desire began to fade when I went on a mission trip to Brazil and was put in charge of managing the health insurance of our missionaries, as well as providing health care translation for those who didn’t speak Portuguese. In Brazil, they have universal healthcare, however, another tier of care exists for those who can pay for it. I experienced both levels of care during the mission, receiving treatment for low severity illness in public hospitals and on two occasions, treatment for dengue fever in a private hospital.
Upon returning to the United States, I wasn’t convinced I wanted to be a doctor. I started thinking about how to improve health on a wider scale. This led me to take an internship with the environmental division of a local health department. The experience made me realize there is another way to have an impact — not on a granular level like a doctor, but on a community level, which affects tens of thousands of people. That’s when I decided to pursue an M.P.H.
I felt like epidemiology was most in line with what I had done at the health department. I am a very hands-on individual. I like interacting with the community. However, I also enjoy working with numbers and performing data analysis. Epidemiology does a great job of marrying the two, and is closely tied to the clinical aspect of medicine.
I was graduating from college in December and I wanted to avoid a gap in my education so I could continue with what I loved. UTHealth School of Public Health was the only school I found that offered rolling admissions, was well-ranked, affordable, and had a great brand. I’m originally from California so Texas seemed like another country to me. I never imagined I would live in Texas, but I ended up falling in love with the culture and natural beauty of the state.
One thing I really enjoyed was the cohort aspect. When you come into the program at a regional campus, you are grouped with a handful of individuals. They quickly become your family as you grow and learn with them through the experience. Also, regional campuses are smaller, so there are abundant opportunities to become involved in research and leadership.
I also enjoyed how the research I was involved in integrated epidemiology with health promotion to address health disparities. In addition to my studies, I helped investigate the environmental impact of fracking in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale Region. We were the boots on the ground — interviewing people in the community to understand their health concerns about fracking in order to identify potential environmental measurements to address these concerns. Fracking is very complex issue, because the energy industry is so entrenched in Texas, and many people depend on this industry to make a living. As researchers, we had to be sensitive to differing viewpoints.
In epidemiology, data drives decision-making. The ability to know what data to collect and how to collect, organize, and analyze it is an invaluable skill that the UTHealth School of Public Health helped me to develop. Additionally, while an M.P.H. student, I had an opportunity to assist in a needs assessment. This experience opened my eyes to the gaps between the public health side of health care and the business side of health care. I felt that one way I could personally bridge that gap was to seek out more business knowledge. As a result, I decided to follow up my M.P.H. with an MBA to give me this additional insight. I draw upon both skill sets daily at work.
At the moment, I’m focused on improving the health of our members in patient centered medical homes. In this care delivery model, the primary care physician (PCP) is essentially the quarterback of care and has a huge influence on how and where the patient is treated. We’ve been working to integrate new technology, including virtual visits, to improve PCP workflow, and help patients avoid trips to the ER or urgent care, which drive up cost. My goal is to help people receive a higher quality of care at a lower cost.
On a personal level, my wife Larissa and I recently had a baby boy. Not only was this an amazing, life-changing experience, but it has offered us the opportunity to learn and grow as parents.
The most important thing you can do is professional research and networking. It is essential that those entering the workforce look at job opportunities through a wide lens. So many times, we focus within our concentrations, neglecting to see the full extent of rewarding public health opportunities.
Also, take advantage of alumni as a resource. Seek them out and ask for their advice. Where possible, shadow them for a day. It’s only through putting yourself out there that you might learn about a public health job you never knew existed. It could be exactly what you are looking for.
— Written by Anissa Anderson Orr