Faculty Spotlight: Mel Minarik

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Today’s health systems seek leaders who embrace reform. That’s what drove online Master of Public Health instructor Mel Minarik to leave her career as an executive and become an educator. Her goal is to share her strategic insights so students can stay ahead of major shifts to become impactful advocates for public health.

What was your motivation for becoming a public health educator? When did you know this was something you wanted to do?

I was doing health care administration for 20 years as an executive in a very large health system. The reason I left to go into education is because I felt like there were a lot of things that I saw needed to happen. People were very fearful and egotistical about health care reform and I thought, “Why am I not afraid?” I’m somebody who likes change, and I think that I had really good teachers, so I thought, “Maybe I need to go further upstream in the system.” As the vice president of this large health system, I was spending probably six or seven hours a day doing conflict resolution. I got really good at it, but that’s not what I want to do for a living.

A lot of things fell into place and I was welcomed by the folks at the community college here and then subsequently got hired on at the University of Nevada, Reno. It put me where I wanted to be, using my skills and knowledge to hopefully impact students in a positive way — maybe they can learn something sooner than I did. That’s my mantra.

Can you talk about the connection between spirituality and public health? How does a background in spirituality help you offer a unique perspective on today’s public health challenges?

There are a lot of programs with courses like Spirituality and Health or Spirituality and Medicine. These define spirituality as something meaningful to someone, as opposed to speaking of religious beliefs. Spirituality is the way we reduce stress. In some cases, it might be taking the dogs to the park, deep breathing, visualization, but everybody has their thing that they go to when they’re stressed. From the population health perspective, if you survey 10,000 people, what are the common elements of those stress-reducing activities? If there are common elements, how do we teach that? How do we share that with people? That’s the goal.

What are the greatest public health challenges facing today’s MPH graduates?

I would look at social behavioral health. We’ve got this whole issue with chronic disease, whether it’s pain, obesity or mental health disorders, whatever it happens to be. I think there’s an opportunity to dig deeper to the root causes of these issues, and that’s where I would like to see the research go.

The question is if we know those things already, if we know we should be eating a healthier diet, exercise or do things that are good for our souls, why don’t we do them? What gets in the way and how do we train ourselves to overcome it? I think that means working more in the neurosciences to figure out health behavior psychology — that’s the area that I think is the future.

What is the value of an MPH in today’s public health marketplace?

When they come into our program, a lot of our students don’t know much about the health system or the political system that they live within. Here they can get the skills, knowledge and a vision of the future out of our program — on top of having a great network of colleagues. They come out with a sense of where they might belong in the future.

What makes the University of Nevada, Reno online MPH program stand out from the crowd?

Because Nevada is small and we have such horrible health data, the opportunity to make a difference here is huge. You can take just about any topic and say, “OK, I’m going to run with heart disease, autism or depression” and you will find somebody who you can work with face-to-face. I don’t think that happens in other states as much. Because if a student is really interested in autism, for instance, even if they’re living in Colorado, we can still link them up with folks here who might have relationships with people in Colorado. The folks here are more accessible to be able to make that happen. Our faculty is also more accessible because we don’t take 200 online MPH students every year.

Not only are you a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, but you are also an alumnus. Talk about the connection you feel with the university. Are you proud to be a part of the Wolf Pack family?

I’ve been here since 2000. When I think about where the university has come from versus where it is now and where it’s going, I am so impressed with the administration. My education at University of Nevada, Reno was fantastic. I had a great doctoral program here. I have a dissertation that I still think about every day. I was truly inspired by the faculty and I think that there’s also a lot of wonderful stuff about the state of Nevada and the fact that we’re a land grant institution. There is a culture here that I think is really significant. There is a lot of pride, and I think University of Nevada is a really fine institution.

Do you have questions? Learn more about your role in the future of public health with the University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Public Health program today. The School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno provides the educational and research experiences to transform students into the innovators, educators, practitioners and researchers that are needed to promote public health in our communities.