Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Henrietta Awo Osei-Anto

Ghana

PhD student

Knowledge in the service of Africa

Henrietta Awo Osei-Anto plans to bring her health policy knowledge to her home country of Ghana

Heller second-year doctoral student Henrietta Awo Osei-Anto (Awo) has a dual country view of health and education. A native of Ghana, she has spent most of her adult life in the U.S., where she attended undergraduate and graduate programs and was employed doing consulting and health services research for a variety of firms for over seven years in Chicago and Washington, DC.

Awo is determined to use her knowledge acquired in the U.S. in service to Africa. “The policy analysis process in Ghana could be better,” she says. “Policies are often developed with little supporting background research and when programs are implemented, there is less accountability and evaluation than I see in the U.S.”  

Awo’s world view developed early with her high school education in Ghana at an international boarding school where the motto, knowledge in the service of Africa, governed education both in and out of the classroom. There, she was encouraged to continue her education abroad. Awo thought she was headed to the U.K. for college, but a generous scholarship offered to her from Illinois Wesleyan University trumped that plan and she was off to Bloomington-Normal, a college town in central Illinois.   

After graduation Awo accepted a job at a firm that specialized in benefits consulting, where she designed programs for clients and developed an understanding of ever-increasing insurance rates. From there, she returned to school, earning an MPP with an emphasis in health policy from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. The policy world aligned with Awo’s interests and after a summer back in Ghana she was off to DC with her newly minted degree.   

She returned to Chicago in 2009 to work for the American Hospital Association (AHA), after two years of consulting to the pharmaceutical industry. At the AHA, she learned that patient-centered work was of more interest to her. Conducting research in health care quality and delivery and disseminating findings to drive care and delivery was more up her alley.

Awo says, “I always knew that I would return to school to get a PhD because I knew the training would better position me to make the kind of impact I want to make when I return back home to Ghana.” She had looked at Heller back in 2001, while still in college, but with the new PhD global health concentration in place, she took a second look. 

When she came to campus and talked with Stan Wallack, Director of the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy, that conversation had her rethinking global health as a concentration and she switched to health policy. This allowed her to receive the AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) fellowship.  The AHRQ program at Heller links health outcomes, providers, organizations and health policies.

Awo’s first year at Heller has been both exciting and challenging. The social justice focus of the program provides a unique lens for analyzing policy and thinking of research conduct. The coursework has been challenging, despite having a pass/fail grading system which Awo thought would make things easier. To supplement her coursework, she also works part-time on a research project. She says “the research opportunities for doctoral students both in and out of Heller are plentiful.”

An important part of the Heller experience for Awo is her classmates. “The other students at Heller are uniquely diverse and contribute to learning in significant ways,” she says. As a recent class was discussing an article, Awo was impressed when a fellow student gave a unique analysis of the piece that reflected her cultural background. “Her interpretation broadened my thinking. My classmate saw things in a way I had not thought about and now I can discipline myself to consider more about end results and impact rather than just about process,” she says.

During the summer break, Awo is working on research projects both at the Schneider Institutes and off campus at the Cantor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “The burden of cancer in Africa is increasing and the gaps in cancer care are becoming more evident as patients are often diagnosed too late and resources for treatment are limited,” she says. Awo is excited to be part of an organization seeking to make quality of life improvements for people with cancer and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Dana-Farber supports cancer care delivery in Rwanda and Malawi. This partnership and cross-cultural learning between Dana-Farber and its partners in low-resource countries embodies the work that Awo hopes to foster throughout her career as a health care researcher.

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

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