September 26, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally interested in practicing medicine, Nabil Natafgi first learned about public health through an introductory course offered at the American University of Beirut in his native Lebanon.
“That was my first encounter ever of what public health is, and it was eye opening to the plethora of opportunities one can delve into to help improve the health of others,” he says. “As opposed to treating one patient at a time in medicine, you can heal a community or population, one at a time in public health.”
The realization led Natafgi to minor in public health and then complete a Master of Public Health in Health Management and Policy at the same institution. During his master’s program, Natafgi engaged in a practicum in the quality department of a hospital where he gained exposure to various tools related to performance improvement, patient safety initiatives and accreditation practices. He also held a graduate assistantship within his department that gave him experience in research studies focusing on health management and policy, including projects that dug into quality of care and telehealth.
To further expand his interests in these two concentration areas – as well as their impact on patient care, decision making and health policies – Natafgi enrolled in the University of Iowa’s Ph.D. in Health Services and Policy program. There, he continued his research in these two domains, investigating the quality of surgical care and the value of telemedicine in contexts such as small, rural hospitals.
Following his 2017 graduation, Natafgi completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship with The PATIENTS Program (University of Maryland), which partners with patients and healthcare providers to answer questions about the best treatment options to improve health and quality of life. During this time, Natafgi built a set of complementary skills by conducting patient-centered outcomes research and community-based participatory research – two types of research that he says are of incredible value to researchers aiming to make their research more relevant, meaningful and community/patient driven.
“That experience transformed how I think of research, from dealing with health data as a compilation of individual ‘subjects’ of research to actually realizing that there is a story and relevance behind each and every ‘subject,’” Natafgi says. “There is a patient or consumer of healthcare service or provider of healthcare service with individual and different experiences behind each row of data in our datasets. Hearing these stories and engaging patients, providers, and other stakeholders in the research process through mixed-methods approaches can help you answer questions that couldn’t be answered with numbers and mathematical models alone.”
After wrapping up his fellowship in August of this year, Natafgi moved to South Carolina to join UofSC’s Department of Health Services Policy and Management. He chose the Arnold School because of its national rankings and recognition. In addition to continuing his research, he looks forward to teaching and mentoring students as well as serving as associate director of the department’s Master of Health Administration program.
“The Arnold School gathers a team of brilliant researchers who work on innovative and policy-relevant questions in public health, broadly, and in health services management and policy, in specific,” Natafgi says. “One of the most important factors that made me choose to come to UofSC and Arnold School of Public Health is the great resources it provides to its faculty members to conduct state-of-the-art research. This includes the access to an interdisciplinary team of health services researchers from different backgrounds and expertise to collaborate with and advance my research on quality of care and telehealth interventions in rural areas.”
“Dr. Natafgi brings a unique skill-set to the department and the School – analyzing the effectiveness and value of rural telehealth interventions in the context of patient-centered care delivery,” says HSPM professor and chair Mahmud Khan. “At the University of Maryland, he led an innovative patient-centered research, working closely with patients, community members, healthcare professionals, researchers, and other stakeholders. He is already planning to replicate a similar model in South Carolina, and I wish him all success in his academic endeavor here in the university.”