Soumitra Bhuyan, PhD, MPH is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Health Systems Management and Policy at the School of Public Health, The University of Memphis. Dr. Bhuyan received his PhD in health services research, administration and policy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2014. His primary research interests include Health Information Systems Management, Health Disparity, and Health Care Workforce. Some of Dr. Bhuyan’s papers have appeared in journals such as Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Journal of Medical Systems, International Journal of Medical Informatics, Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research, Obesity Research and Clinical Practice etc. Prior to joining the University of Memphis, Dr. Bhuyan worked as a research assistant for the Center for Health Policy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center where he published several policy briefings related to primary care workforce. These policy briefings were cited in local and national media outlets including the Associated Press. Dr. Bhuyan was the recipient of the “Rising Star” award from the American Public Health Association’s Health Administration Section in 2013. The award recognizes outstanding potential in the field of health administration and public health practice. Dr. Bhuyan is currently serving as a Section Councilor for the APHA Health Administration Section (2014-2017) and sits on the AcademyHealth’s Health Workforce Interest Group advisory committee.
1. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I am originally from India. I grew up in a culturally rich town called Tezpur in the state of Assam.
2. What previous degrees and educational experiences have you earned?
I graduated with a Ph.D. in Health Services Research and Administration from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. I have a MPH in Health Education and a Bachelor Degree in Clinical Medicine.
3. What brought you to University of Memphis?
When the University of Memphis was opened in 1912, it was reasoned, “every great city deserves a great university”. After a century, I may not be wrong if I rephrased it to: “every great city deserves a great school of public health”. Memphis is one of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas with huge unmet public health needs. As a researcher, Memphis provides endless opportunities to learn, grow, and serve. Second, I was very impressed with my department colleagues, especially Dr. Dan Gentry. At present, Dan is one of the most recognized experts in healthcare management, nationally and internationally. I hope to learn the intricacies of healthcare management education under his guidance. Our successful CEPH accreditation also underscores the presence of a fantastic leadership team at the school level that includes the dean, associate deans, and the division directors.
4. What got you interested in the field of public health? Was there a defining moment that made you decide to go into public health?
From an early age, I saw medicine as a crucial tool for social development. While such sentiments initially led me towards a career as a clinician, I soon realized that despite of the miraculous advancement of medicine, the health of millions of people around the world is still marginal. The public health issues are often unable to find a place in the national priority lists, even in developed countries like the United States. After a few years, I began seeking a wider perspective and developed an interest in impacting individuals’ health on a structural level through research, education, and the implementation of theoretically backed programming.
5. What are you the most proud of in your career?
When I was a few months old baby, my father passed way in an accident. The day was 20th January 1985. He was a college professor at that time. It was 20th January 2015, I walked into a classroom to teach my first class as a university professor. Nothing can beat that moment of joy.
6. Do you have any interesting, funny, or unusual stories from your journey in public health?
While I was at the College of Public Health in Nebraska, I had a few colleagues working right across from my cubicle. They were very passionate and dedicated in their work. Early in my career, I naively asked this question to myself: “how these people are making differences in the society?” Last year when Ebola terrified our world, some of my old colleagues stood up to the challenge and became the part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Ebola response team. The hospital successfully treated a few Ebola patients and got worldwide recognitions for their work in infection control. It taught me an important lesson. As public health professionals, we may not see immediate results of our actions or policies. At times, we face with severe criticism. But we must continue our mission with a hope that our actions will make this world a better and a healthier place to live in.
7. What one public health change would you like to see in the Memphis area?
As I said earlier, Memphis is a very interesting place to learn and practice public health. We have some of the finest medical institutions of the mid-south. However, the current health indicators of the city’s residents do not support this advancement in medical facilities. Two years back, one survey showed that Memphis is the fattest city in the country. Last year, one scientific study that generated a lot of media attention nationwide found that Memphis is the deadliest major American city for African-American women with breast cancer. Black women diagnosed with breast cancer in Memphis are more than twice as likely to die of it than white women. Another Urban Institute study ranked Memphis in the 5th spot among 100 U.S. metropolitan areas with high-risk profiles for preventable chronic disease. More recently, in 2015, Memphis was named as the “Asthma Capital” in the U.S. due to poor air quality, inadequate public smoking bans, high reliance on asthma medications and many emergency room visits for asthma. These numbers are sad but provide tremendous opportunities for our students to learn and practice public health. Both the faculties and students at the School of Public Health are committed to address some of these pressing public health issues through research and practice. Our school is continuously striving to make Memphis as one of the healthiest city in the Mid-South and nationally. We hope that our hard work will reflect on Memphis’s health indicators in next few years.
8. What is the most important piece of advice you’d like to give to current MPH students?
Learn at least one “hard and marketable skill” while you are at the program. The School of Public Health has some exceptional faculty members covering a very wide array of “specialized” expertise from geographical information system, healthcare finance, statistics to health informatics. Having a specialized skill will make your degree more brandable.This can be guided by a very important question before you even start the program or at least during the first two semesters: “what you would like to see yourself in next 5 years and what do you want to do with your master degree?”. This question is very important, as a clear answer will let you master the skills that you would need once you make transition to the real world. Although it is not an easy task, the real key is to match your learning to your aspiration in life.
Finally, in the face of the vast public health problems the world is facing, your individual contribution might seem small, but as Mother Teresa once said, “A drop in an ocean might seem too little, but every drop you give will one day make a big difference.” Just do not give up.
9. What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies/interests?
One common thing among all the public health professionals is their passion to make the world a better and safer place to live. I am passionate about making differences in someone’s life, no matter how small it may be. I also try to do it through my research, mainly at the systems and policy level. During my free time, I like to play Tennis. I also enjoy listening to senior adults about interesting stories from their lives.
10. Did you ever encounter a situation that demanded a skill you had not expected or developed?
Life, in itself, is a learning experience. I have come across such situations a few times, both in my personal and professional life. We cannot avoid but can only minimize such situations. For example, students planning to pursue a career as an epidemiologist after their MPH degree, should have some kind of understanding about the job expectations of an epidemiologist. They can learn about these expectations by meeting an epidemiologist during their practicum training or internship. The students can use rest of their time in the program to hone the required skills. A lot of times, new skills can be learned during first one or two years of employment. This is usually a period of steep learning curve and you will come across many challenging situations. Another good way to learn the job expectations before joining a job is to read the job vacancy announcements related to your field and match each of the listed requirements against your existing expertise or those need to develop. Last but not the least, the school will probably be the last place where you will be working independently. Learn to collaborate with your colleagues and build some solid communication skills. Again, thank you for choosing the University of Memphis, School of Public Health. I wish you good luck with your studies.
independently. Learn to collaborate with your colleagues and build some solid communication skills. Again, thank you for choosing the University of Memphis, School of Public Health. I wish you good luck with your studies.