Student Voices

Heller MS students are simply amazing. We believe that our program attracts people who are uniquely driven to improving health systems for local communities. Our students come to Heller with an already-impressive array of skills and experiences, from doctors and nurses, to returned Peace Corps volunteers and public health workers. On this page we have collected student quotes, blog excerpts and stories, letting our students speak for themselves.

Funke Falade, MS GHPM'18 (Nigeria)

“Nigeria’s health system is really broken,” says Funke Falade, an accomplished management consultant from Abuja, Nigeria. “It makes me really sad and frustrated. My country hasn’t taken responsibility for its own development. One of the things I want to be able to do is wake the government up and say, ‘You have to be responsible for this. You have to take responsibility for making sure your system works.’”

“When I was working with KPMG, I did some development sector work, and I noted the inefficiencies in the public sector,” she says. “There was a significant amount of money that was going into development projects around HIV, malaria, TB, but not a lot of impact or sustainability. When the source of funding dried up, everything went back to where it was before.”

After her stint at KPMG, Falade tried public health consulting, supporting the Federal Ministry of Health, thinking she could bring her private-sector skills to the government.

“But I realized the problems and the solutions were not as simple as I thought they were. I needed a background on the health issues and how the health system is structured.”

That’s why she turned to the Heller School, so she could help create systemic change. 

“I didn’t want a master’s in public health—I don’t want to be a public health specialist. I want to be a systems specialist. At Heller, the program is very skills-based, and it’s like a lightbulb has gone off. I think all the time, ‘I wish I knew this back then,’ which would have enhanced the way I managed a project.”

During her time at Heller, Falade aims to strengthen her skills in health systems financing, data utilization and evidence-based policy development. After completing her degree, Falade will return to her husband and two young children waiting for her back in Abuja. She plans to focus on health systems strengthening and reform initiatives in her home country and throughout the sub-Saharan region.  

Lokesh Bhatt, MS GHPM'18 (Nepal)

Lokesh Bhatt comes to Brandeis from one of the most remote Himalayan districts in far western Nepal. He recalls the arduous journey he had to take to get to school each day—a three-hour round-trip trek by foot.  

“There are many disparities in Nepal,” Bhatt says. For example, “we don’t have enough health services in the rural areas. But if you go to other parts, we have everything.” 

He became particularly aware of those differences when he went to Kathmandu, the capital city, to continue his education, earning a bachelor’s degree in public health.

“I’ve worked with different populations in Nepal, different communities,” says Bhatt. His work has ranged from administering HIV programs for Bhutanese refugees to malaria monitoring for the Nepalese government to studying malnutrition in children and pregnant women in rural Nepal.

“I realized, if you don’t have proper policy, if you don’t have appropriate systems in place, working in any activity or any project is not enough,” says Bhatt, who also holds a master’s degree in public health. “You have to work with policy. I wanted to learn how policy impacts the change in our communities.”

That’s why Bhatt chose Heller. Here, he hopes to gain a global perspective on public health, and use the knowledge and skills from his education here to develop evidence-based policies focused on reducing maternal and child malnutrition in Nepal.

With a Heller education, “I can think from a new perspective: why do those disparities exist and how can we address them? I can contribute to reduce that gap,” he says. 

Head shot of Ahmed Ghanem, MS GHPM’17
Ahmed Ghanem, MS GHPM’17

Ahmed Ghanem, MS GHPM’17 (Egypt)

"How was my first semester at Heller? Wonderful, I think is the one word that could summarize the whole experience. Heller is quite diverse, quite deep, and complicated sometimes, but it's always an interesting place to learn, to interact, to reflect on our previous experiences and current knowledge. I think one of the most interesting things here in Heller is that most of the professors and students have hands-on experience that allows them to give and to get real-life advice and knowledge.

We can consider not just how theory interacts with practice, but also how social policies and health policies formed at the highest levels of our communities impacts the field and the lowest levels of our communities. I think there are something like 70 countries represented here at Heller. Every conversation, every interaction, I learn something new."

Providing therapy to children with special needs in Uganda

Pamela Titi, MS GHPM’16 (Uganda)

Pamela Titi was originally trained as a lawyer in her home country of Uganda, but her career trajectory changed sharply after the birth of her daughter, Gabby, who was born with severe brain damage. After seeking specialized health care for Gabby in the United States that was unavailable in Uganda, Titi decided to found the Tunaweza Children’s Centre for children with special needs in Kampala. It is the first therapy center of its kind in East Africa. She then enrolled in the Heller School’s MS in Global Health Policy and Management program to gain the skills she needed for Tunaweza to succeed.

In her Heller commencement speech, Titi recalled, “Now, I am ready to return to Uganda and bloom where I was planted. And bloom for the tens of thousands of Gabby’s in Uganda who are hidden, abused, maltreated, or untreated, because of ignorance. Gabby is my most precious blossom, and with the skills I have acquired at the Heller School, others will blossom. Today the center attracts interns and professionals from USA, Canada and Europe. I am already using, to great benefit, what I’ve learned at Heller.

“Though, as a lawyer, science had never been my subject, yet here I am a proud recipient of a Master's in the Science of Global Health Policy and Management… Our learning is built on what we have known, what we have done, new skills we have gained, and students enriching each other’s experience through their own experience. This is the beauty of the Heller School, a place where you share knowledge and experiences. All of us who have been part of the Heller School will recognize what I describe as such a diverse place with extraordinary professors who are generous with their knowledge and networks.”

After graduating in 2016, Titi returned to Tunaweza Children’s Centre as its founder and managing director. She is also an advocate for the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation’s self-advocates and families initiative. Read the rest of her Heller commencement speech here.

Pamela Titi, MS GHPM’16, speaking at the 2016 Heller Commencement
Pamela Titi, MS GHPM’16, speaking at the 2016 Heller Commencement

Parisa Kharazi, MS GHPM’13, (United States) Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

Head shot of Noella Bigirimana, MS '15
Noella Bigirimana, MS GHPM’15

Building cardiac care capacity in Rwanda

Noella Bigirimana, MS GHPM15 (Rwanda)

Heller student Noella Bigirimana, MS’15, grew up in the Rwandan health system. With a doctor for a father and a nurse for a mother, she spent her childhood in and around the hospitals of Kigali. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Cornell, she moved to Boston and became a project manager at Team Heart, a Boston-based group of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons who perform pro bono valve replacement surgeries on rheumatic heart disease patients in Rwanda. 

In 2013, Bigirimana went back to Rwanda for a two-week visit—but this time, on a Team Heart surgical trip. "The whole first week was screening for patients at the top of the waitlist. The waiting room was packed—completely packed, for 12 straight hours every day, no matter how many patients we saw. It was just so full," she said, "and these were the people who were lucky enough to get diagnosed, lucky enough to get placed on the waiting list, and lucky enough to physically get to the health center. Some of them slept in the hospital overnight, just waiting and hoping."

"It's one thing to look at the numbers, but it's another thing to look at their faces," she continues. "I realized that, despite tremendous progress, the Rwandan system isn't ready for these patients. Something has to be done." When she returned to Boston after that trip, Bigirimana applied to the MS program in Global Health Policy and Management at Heller.

While she was enrolled in the MS program at Heller, Bigirimana and Team Heart joined forces with MS program director Diana Bowser to explore adding permanent cardiovascular care to the Rwandan health system. Read the rest of the story about Team Heart’s efforts to expand cardiac care in Rwanda.

Head shot of Ndukaku Ogbonna, MS '16
Ndukaku Ogbonna, MS GHPM’16

Ndukaku Ogbonna, MS GHPM’16 (Nigeria)

"I have a class at 2 pm, however I am currently doing some work on my final paper in cost-effectiveness analysis class. Cost-effectiveness has become very important especially for low- and medium-income countries where there are limited resources with decreasing health budgets. For instance, the Abuja Declaration recommended countries to budget up to 15 percent of their total annual budget on health, however almost all the countries who signed that declaration are not able to keep it. A number of them are decreasing their health budgets instead of increasing them. Therefore, cost-effectiveness has become so important for these countries to manage their available resources effectively and efficiently."