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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Heather Mavronicolas Forges the Path for Public Health Degree

By: Tasnima Nabi, Content-focused Co-Copy Editor

The College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has officially launched a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program and accepted applications for Fall 2013. Public Health has become an increasingly important area of study over the years as our country experiences rising numbers of chronic disease, health care costs, and health disparities. Public health professionals promote healthy lifestyles and disease prevention through planning, monitoring, and evaluating. Ensuring proper public health in communities also increases access to health care.

Heather Mavronicolas, PhD, MPH, has a dual appointment as the Director of the Master of Public Health degree program and Assistant Professor-Industry Professional at St. John’s University. Before joining St. John’s University in October 2012, she was the Director of Quality Management and Special Projects for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s HIV Care, Treatment, and Housing Program. She coordinated and oversaw the quality management contract and program conducted through the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute.  She reviewed work plans, budgets, scope of services, and updated the quality management contract annually. Dr. Mavronicolas also supported planning for regional quality learning networks.  She conducted research that informed planning for Ryan White Part A-funded services in New York City, a program that offers HIV-related services to uninsured and underinsured patients. The research included an analysis of disparities in community viral load in NYC, and a study that examined collaborative practice amongst HIV primary care providers and case managers in NYC.

Prior to holding prestigious positions, Dr. Mavronicolas was involved in public health efforts. One experience that resonates with her is a volunteer community sanitation project in rural Paraguay that she participated in at the young age of 17. Dr. Mavonicolas spent her summer in a town with no running water and electricity. Here, she oversaw latrine construction for the town and often participated in “charlas”, or health education talks.  The experience was very humbling and it made her critically think about poverty and social justice. After obtaining her undergraduate degree in International Relations, Dr. Mavoronicolas took her experiences and knowledge a step further and chose to pursue public health. She wanted to make a difference on local and global levels, and she knew that public health would be the ideal path.

When asked to define public health, Dr. Mavronicolas quoted C. E. A. Winslow: Public health is

“the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health and efficiency through organized community effort for the sanitation of the environment, the control of communicable infections, the education of the individual in personal hygiene, the organization of medical and nursing services for the early diagnosis and preventive treatment of disease, and for the development of the social machinery to insure everyone a standard of living adequate for the maintenance of health, so organizing these benefits as to enable every citizen to realize his birthright of health and longevity.”1

Public health professionals work to improve and protect the health of populations by performing an array of essential public health services, evaluating population-based health services, researching new solutions to health problems, and educating a community about health issues.  She further explained that public health is grounded in science, embraces a social justice philosophy, focuses on prevention, and that government plays a large role.

Dr. Mavronicolas explained that public health protects the health of communities and responds to public health issues. Public health also prevents epidemics and the spread of disease, assures the quality of health services, promotes and encourages health behavior, and protects against environmental hazards.2 There are a vast number of conditions that influence health and well-being, which both contribute to life expectancy, quality of life, mortality, and health disparities. Some of the public health challenges that New York State faces include high rates of cardiovascular disease, low graduation rates, and a high percentage of children in poverty.  Health disparities are marked in New York City with respect to HIV/AIDS mortality, childhood mortality, diabetes hospitalization rates, pneumonia hospitalization rates, and teenage pregnancies.

When asked why she chose to join St. John’s University, Dr. Mavronicolas explained that the University’s Vincentian values, commitment to service learning, diversity, and prime location in the heart of Queens, all are invaluable qualities that will help the MPH program grow and prosper. She also added that the program will integrate the University’s Vincentian mission to address poverty and social injustice.

The mission of the MPH program at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is “to promote public health, with the goal of empowering individuals to work with both local and global communities to improve health, prevent disease, and protect the public.”3 It is a 45-credit graduate program that offers coursework and fieldwork experience (internship) with concentrations in community health and global health. Full-time students can complete the program in two years, and part-time students can complete the program in up to five years.

An MPH degree will offer graduates significant career opportunities. Public health professionals are in high demand and can work in various settings and disciplines. For instance, public health professionals with a concentration in global health can work as in-field consultants, researchers, program managers and administrators, health educators, and health policy analysts. Professionals with a concentration in community health can work in private and public settings as program planners, community health educators, outreach specialists, health promotion coordinators, and health advisors. The range of career opportunities is tremendous and the degree is a great addition to the vast array of programs that the St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences offers. With a Masters in public health, people can go off in any direction to help improve the health of local, national and global communities.

Dr. Mavronicolas’ qualifications and past experiences show how dedicated and passionate she is about public health. Her knowledge will allow St. John’s University to develop a program that is uniquely intertwined with its own mission. The addition of the MPH program will surely strengthen St. John’s University’s Vincentian values.

For more information about the program, visit: http://www.stjohns.edu/mph

For any questions, contact Heather Mavronicolas, PhD, MPH

Tel: (718) 990-8456

E-mail: [email protected]



  1. Winslow CEA. “The Untitled Field of Public Health.” Mod Med. 1920;2:183-191.
  2. “Public Health in America.” health.gov. May 1, 2008. Available at: http://www.health.gov/phfunctions/public.htm
  3. “About the Program.” St. John’s University. Available at: http://www.stjohns.edu/academics/graduate/pharmacy/departments/pas/master_of_public_health_/about_the_program_
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