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Olimpia de la Rosa Vázquez Olimpia de la Rosa Vázquez is health advisor in the Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Emergency Unit in Barcelona, Spain, and a University of Liverpool online Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate.

“I decided on the University of Liverpool because of its reputation. The MPH has given me confidence in my job and the opportunity to get involved in research initiatives. I am a quiet and organised person, so people who meet me for the first time may be surprised to learn that I have devoted most of my life to emergency work in often chaotic environments.”

In her work with Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF), Olimpia has served as a field doctor in Colombia and as a doctor and/or emergency coordinator in in various crisis settings, from floods in India, a tsunami in Sri Lanka, a Marburg outbreak in Angola, to war in Darfur and nutritional crises in Niger and Angola. In 2012 she was emergency coordinator for the MSF team fighting an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Uganda.

How did you manage to fit a masters degree into your busy life?

In 2006 I took a break in my humanitarian career. I went back to clinical practice as a General Practitioner in Spain. I also took advantage of having a more ‘stable’ daily life to finalise my masters degree with the University of Liverpool.

What motivated you to study an online MPH with the University of Liverpool?

I felt that I needed something beyond my clinical skills and my humanitarian experience to perform better in my job. I started looking for ways to study public health. I could not afford give up my work for many months, so I started looking for online courses. If I was to invest a lot of money and effort in my masters, I wanted to study in a University with some prestige. After many internet searches, discussions with friends, and reflection, I finally opted for the University of Liverpool online masters.

What were the highlights and challenges of your time as an online MPH student?

The MPH gave me invaluable knowledge of public health and showed me the importance of thorough and critical analysis and of discussion with other people with different levels of experience and different backgrounds. Now I always try to base my decisions on evidence. I question what I read and look more critically at statements or proposals.

My main challenge was finding time for my studies without neglecting my work and my social/ family life. The masters took up most of my free time. My family and friends helped me succeed – though it’s true that it took me more than three years to finish. I also faced a financial challenge. The masters was very expensive for me. Still, in the end I managed. I don’t think I will regret it!

How has the online degree helped you in your work?

During my MPH I learned a lot of practical things which I find useful in my daily work. My new knowledge about management of health systems, epidemiology and international crisis management was extremely helpful in the ebola outbreak response [in Uganda, 2012]. It was much easier for me to analyse the local health system and the consequences of an outbreak in it.

Also, during the MPH, I analysed multiple documents and polices from other organisations like the World Health Organization, who were key actors in the response to the Ebola outbreak in Uganda. This made it easier for me to work with them.

I would recommend the University of Liverpool Online because...

It provides quality learning, based on critical thinking and analysis, with experienced teachers and students from different cultures and backgrounds.

Improving health and saving lives:

Olimpia’s recent challenges include working to save lives and alleviate suffering in Syria and Mali. You can read more about her work with MSF in the Ebola outbreak in Uganda on the MSF website. She also featured in the University of Liverpool’s e-newsletter for alumni and contributed an article for the Africa Health Journal reflecting on the response to the Ebola outbreak.


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