The making of a public health professional

Growing up in a low-income area, Francisco Marquez MPH’20 saw firsthand the effects of health care inequity. Thanks to a fellowship, he's able to fully focus on research and community work to improve health outcomes for disadvantaged communities.

Francisco Marquez MPH’20 traveled nearly 3,000 miles from home to pursue his master's degree at Brown's School of Public Health. And that decision has been life-changing, opening up new avenues of study and broadening his professional outlook in ways he never imagined.

Marquez—a native of Bell, California, a town located minutes from downtown Los Angeles—originally came to Brown thinking that he would research how blindness in communities of color can contribute to various health outcomes. But he soon realized that this focus was too narrow. A trip to the 2018 Health Equity Summit in Providence—for which Brown paid his registration fee—exposed him to a host of broader ways in which he could address the health care challenges that low-income communities of color face.

I’ve found something I was passionate about that I didn’t even know I was passionate about.

Francisco Marquez MPH’20

"At the summit, I learned about work that was being done related to childhood adversity," he says. "Seeing all this research devoted to addressing the kind of inequities I saw growing up inspired me. I always thought certain issues were just an inevitable part of the environment I was in. I never thought people were doing practical research to address these obstacles. I've found something I was passionate about that I didn't even know I was passionate about."

Helping students fulfill their potential

Marquez made the switch from West Coast to East Coast for two reasons: the opportunity to conduct health disparities research with Brown faculty and the financial assistance he receives to support his studies.

"I was offered a research assistantship and a graduate fellowship," he says. "Without that, I might not have been able to choose Brown."

Through the BrownTogether campaign, Brown has put a particular emphasis on raising funding for graduate fellowships. For many, graduate school is an expensive proposition, and too often students decide against it due to financial concerns.

With his focus trained on his studies and not on financial demands thanks to his assistantship and fellowship, Marquez has been able to conduct research with Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences Patricia Risica, who collaborates with colleagues Audry Tyrka M.D., Ph.D. and Karen Jennings Ph.D., RN to examine the effects of childhood trauma and maltreatment on adult diet and obesity risk. This work includes analysis of a large data set to identify potentially important causal relationships.

"Francisco has been an excellent team member," says Dr. Risica. "He has outstanding research abilities, independence, creativity, and a passionate approach towards his work. The collaborative work between Francisco and [our] study has been tremendously beneficial for both groups. The research has been significantly furthered, while also providing him with an opportunity to immerse himself in a topic and clinical content area that may result in an important career path choice."

Marquez's personal thesis is based on this work, as well. In it, he investigates the associations between early-life trauma and adult dietary habits.

"Being exposed to such brilliant faculty here at Brown has been a great experience," he says. "I appreciate the opportunity to learn how to conduct research with them. It's exciting to take part in their research and have them take part in mine."

Gaining real-world experience

The School of Public Health supports students like Marquez in pursuing meaningful engagement beyond Brown, contributing to the positive impact the University has on the surrounding community.

Marquez has chosen to spend time volunteering at Clínica Esperanza, a clinic for the uninsured in Providence.

I would have never thought I’d be taking part in projects that are so much bigger than myself. It gives me great pride to be able to come from somewhere where I experienced these issues firsthand and enjoy the privilege of pursuing an education that allows me to represent and ultimately help my community.

Francisco Marquez MPH’20

"Some auxiliary parts of my research look at how being uninsured might affect health care utilization," he says. "I wanted to be involved in the work of providing care to the uninsured so I can better understand the needs within the communities similar to the one I grew up in."

He is training to become a "navegante"— someone who helps disadvantaged populations navigate the health care system. This includes language interpreting and helping to bridge any cultural gaps between medical providers and their patients. He also assists in collecting and interpreting data using surveys, which may help further various researchers' studies.

"Being from a low-income community of color, I would have never thought I'd be taking part in projects that are so much bigger than myself," he says. "It gives me great pride to be able to come from somewhere where I experienced these issues firsthand and enjoy the privilege of pursuing an education that allows me to represent and ultimately help my community."

(December 2019)