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Arnold School of Public Health

  • Mayank Sakhuja

Doctoral graduate leverages policy and health literacy research to advance tobacco control in the fight against cancer

December 14, 2023 | Erin Bluvas,

Mayank Sakhuja’s commitment to public health goes back to his childhood. Growing up in Delhi, India, healthy living was a family value.

“My family frequently used to engage in discussions around the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle – emphasizing the significance of balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and being informed about our family’s history of heart diseases,” Sakhuja says. “I think those familial conversations that I have been a part of since my childhood sparked my awareness of the critical role that preventive measures play in overall health. Eventually, the desire to live a healthier life and to promote healthier living at the community level drove my academic and professional pursuits in public health.”

He began his studies with a degree in business economics at University of Delhi, followed by a Master of Health Administration at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences – an overnight train ride to the Konkan coast in Mumbai. Being enrolled in one of India’s premier social sciences institutes provided Sakhuja ample opportunities to gain practical experience through collaborations with non-governmental organizations and public health departments for implementing national level health programs across diverse regions of the country.

I am interested in learning how we can effectively develop, implement and enforce tobacco control policies and interventions and effectively communicate the risks associated with the use of tobacco products, including emerging products.

Mayank Sakhuja

When Sakhuja began looking at doctoral programs, the Arnold School’s Ph.D. in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB) program caught his eye. His research interests aligned well with the faculty’s expertise, past and present students shared positive experiences, and he liked the interdisciplinary and collaborative environment – which stretched beyond the department, the university and even the country.

The Norman J Arnold Doctoral Fellow has worked closely with HPEB chair Daniela Friedman throughout his time at USC. He spent three years contributing to a project funded by The Duke Endowment to enhance health care by improving health literacy. For the past year, Sakhuja has worked with Friedman and Health Sciences Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology James Hébert on their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded South Carolina Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network.

“My doctoral journey progressed so smoothly because of Dr. Friedman’s unwavering support,” Sakhuja says. “Her perspective, wisdom and her mentorship style has played a pivotal role in shaping my academic and research trajectory. I look up to her as a role model and as an ideal leader as she has always encouraged me to take up a challenge, offered me leadership opportunities, and never missed any opportunity to celebrate my achievements, both professional and personal. She will always be my mentor, and my go-to person whenever I will need guidance in the future.”

Mayank Sakhuja
Mayank Sakhuja graduates this month with a Ph.D. in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior.

Inspired by these research experiences, Sakhuja’s own interests focus on work that informs cancer prevention policies and communication – particularly related to tobacco control. His efforts have resulted in his acceptance into the CDC-funded Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network’s Scholars program and his selection to receive his department’s Olga I. Ogoussan Doctoral Research Award. In addition, Sakhuja secured competitive funding from the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to support his dissertation project on the implementation of the loose cigarette ban in India. 

“I am interested in learning how we can effectively develop, implement and enforce tobacco control policies and interventions and effectively communicate the risks associated with the use of tobacco products, including emerging products,” he says. “I am also interested in working with health systems, especially the work that is focused on improving patient-provider communication and health literacy. I have a strong interest in doing global work, especially in low-and-middle income countries that bear the greatest burden of non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases and cancer.”

To further these goals, Sakhuja’s next step will be to continue his research training. Next month, he begins a postdoctoral fellowship with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He looks forward to mentoring students who are interested in pursuing health-related careers – especially those who are traveling outside their native countries to do so.

“I think that is just my way of forwarding the kindness that I have received from my mentors,” Sakhuja says. “I help them with streamlining their research interests, assist them by providing feedback on their CVs, help them establish connections with the right people at the university they are interested in joining, and answer any other questions that they may have about living in the U.S.”


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