ACPHS In The News

Panther Profile: Jonathan Braithwaite

BS in Public Health student Jonathan Braithwaite in a Panther Profile frame
April 1, 2024

Panther Profiles are Q&A interviews that highlight Panthers of all stripes -- students, faculty, staff, alum, board members and anyone else in the campus community.

Jonathan Braithwaite is a senior in the Public Health program and expects to receive his bachelor’s degree in May. He originally visited ACPHS with the intention of preparing for medical school, but on the advice of faculty, he chose a different path. He has now been accepted into a handful of top-tier institutions to pursue his master’s degree in health policy and management. He talked about how his college experience cemented his commitment to public health.  

When did you know you wanted to pursue public health as a career?  

I was set on pre-med when I visited ACPHS. But one of the public health professors sat down with me and said, “You would enjoy public health.” I ate my lunch and listened. The stuff that he said made sense. And then the program director told me that public health aligned with what I had said I saw myself doing in the future. And that started me on this road of discovery, where I did a lot of research. I learned about careers and realized public health was something that I wanted to do. 

Why did you decide to come to ACPHS?   

I decided to go to ACPHS because of the great public health faculty. Before I even put in my deposit, they were already advising me, telling me about all my classes, answering my questions. And also, with COVID happening in my senior year of high school, I didn't know how schools would handle the pandemic. But here, they knew what was going on and had a good plan.  

What was it like starting college at ACPHS in Fall 2020, at the height of the pandemic?  

A lot of things were different from a normal first year of college. We had a lot of classes online, a lot of social distancing, not a lot of hanging out like most people do their first year.  

There was also the COVID testing center on campus. I like to be involved in the community, and that was something I wanted to participate in. I volunteered and I got to test faculty and staff and area residents and learn all the procedures. I did that for two years.  

How important was that experience to you, as someone going into public health?  

When people came to the testing center worried that they were exposed to COVID, I would educate them, which is a huge part of public health, as well as administer the test and their results. Most people were negative for COVID. It was a great feeling to tell someone, you can take a deep breath and get back to your studies.  

Some of the older individuals that I tested asked me lots of questions about the vaccine, which I didn't know too much about. But it led me to do my research and talk to a lot of the faculty about it. I was pretty good at giving advice and making sure that people were educated about what they were putting in their body. It was transformative. 

What other experiences have confirmed your commitment to public health?  

For internships, I've done a bunch. My first year, I did one at Columbia that was virtual as well as one at Cornell. My junior year, I did an internship at Yale in the urology department, which was very cool; I ended up going to Wisconsin for a conference and I got to present in front of a bunch of urology and kidney professionals. 

I've received nothing but support from the public health faculty, as well as my advisors in the program, which made it very easy for me to go for big internships where the cohort is 10 to 15 people, and there's hundreds of people applying, if not thousands.  

You took a class that really opened your eyes to what you wanted to do.   

In the public health curriculum, in the last two years, we take a few policy classes, and those are taught by Alfredo Cardillo, who is active in the Albany policy scene. He has a lot of experience and has a ton of speakers that come in to tell us that even though it says one thing in the book, this is how it is in real life, this is how we fight for more funding for some group or cause, this is how we try and stop disparities.  

That class was revolutionary for me. It told me that I could have an impact on a community, state or even national level, using my voice and advocating for different groups and people.  

And that led you to the internship you’re in now.  

Yes. I'm a session assistant for the New York State Senate. I'm working under Sen. (Samra) Brouk, who is the senator for the 55th District in Monroe County and chair of the Mental Health Committee. All the policy that I've learned has helped me enormously, because we talk about Medicaid, Medicare, assisted living, on a daily basis; I’m having meetings with CEOs as well as advocates who are fighting for better resources, and I can understand what they're talking about.  

What are you going to do after graduation?  

My time at ACPHS has been a whirlwind. I started off gung-ho to become a physician, and there's a part of me that still wants to do that. But in the past few years, I realized just how important legislation is, as well as health policy. So I plan on starting a master's of public health, in health policy and management. 

Your whole direction changed. How do you feel about that now?  

I think that person who recommended public health had me pegged very correctly, and I think it speaks to just how wonderful our faculty are. Because I had that one conversation, I am closer to finding out how I want to contribute to the health of society in my career.