Skip to Content

Arnold School of Public Health

  • Anika Nair

Pandemic inspires passion for public health and pediatric medicine

May 16, 2024 | Erin Bluvas,

Moving to downtown from the Northeast area was a big enough change that it felt like a different world to Columbia native Anika Nair. Immersed in a diverse student population and in a different setting, she found college to be a completely different experience with many new places to explore and things to do.

“I have been able to meet so many people from different states across the U.S. and really find people that are most compatible with me,” Nair says. “I have also most importantly been able to have access to so many opportunities, such as the research group that I am involved in and being able to get to know and work with so many amazing professors.”

If I hadn’t put myself out there and had not been open to new and non-familiar opportunities, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Anika Nair

Another reason USC topped Nair’s list of potential colleges: the public health program. Prior to her senior year in high school, she had been unfamiliar with the field. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that.

“Seeing epidemiologists and public health protocols regarding the pandemic sparked my interest,” the Capstone Scholar says.   

Academic advisor Amanda Barney taught Nair about time management and effective communication skills while overseeing her mentee’s instruction as a U101 Peer Leader. Through her public health classes, Kersten Cope opened Nair’s eyes to the history of the field, the social determinants of health and the nuances of the health care system.

“She is one of the individuals who has sparked my interest in public health and the application of it in my future,” says Nair, who plans to spend a year gaining clinical experience before attending medical school. “As a physician, I plan on addressing health disparities and promoting preventative care – including the importance of physical activity, nutrition, social support/motivation – and to address, empathize and advocate for patients, and provide solutions for barriers when it comes to accessing health care.”

Anika Nair
Anika Nair graduates in May with a B.S. in Public Health.

Edena Guimaraes was also a mentor – emphasizing the importance of identifying and addressing the needs of the priority population. It’s another approach Nair plans to implement as a physician when it comes to caring for each individual patient and making sure that they all feel heard, understood, and well cared for.

Outside of the Arnold School, Nair found a second home at the College of Nursing working with Allison Sweeney on the assistant professor’s National Institutes of Health-funded Together Everyone Achieves More Physical Activity (TEAM-PA) project. As an undergraduate research assistant for the past two years, Nair conducted qualitative analysis for the program, which promotes physical activity among inactive African American women.

During her senior year, Nair’s work has been supported by a Magellan Apprentice Grant. Together, the team has looked at the role of factors such as social support and motivational strategies in increasing physical activity to prevent chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Her grant-funded project examined the use of Fitbit devices in delivering these elements of the program.

In her spare time, Nair volunteered hundreds of hours at the Good Samaritan and Columbia Free Medical Clinics, shadowed physicians in various specialties, joined a pre-health professional fraternity (Alpha Epsilon Delta) and held leadership roles with Advocates Against Alzheimer’s.

She graduates this month with Leadership Distinction in Research and is the recipient of the USC Outstanding Senior and President’s Awards. Nair is planning a career in pediatric medicine and is considering a master of public health degree in the future as well.

“It is so important to seek out opportunities and not be afraid to reach out,” she says, looking back on her experience. “Getting to know and reaching out to professors and other mentors through the Arnold School is important and will definitely pay off. If I hadn’t put myself out there and had not been open to new and non-familiar opportunities, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.