Alumni Profile: Zoltan Teglassy: From MD to MPH

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University of Nevada, Reno graduates at ceremony wearing cap and gownWhile working full time as a family physician, Dr. Zoltan Teglassy earned his Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice (MPH) degree online at the University of Nevada, Reno in August 2022. With an MPH, he hopes to better serve his patients and may someday pursue a role in public health leadership.

A Physician Drawn to Public Health Education

As a family doctor with a drive to support underserved populations, Dr. Teglassy had three main motivations for pursuing an additional master’s degree in public health.

First, in his current role at Oregon State Hospital, a publicly-funded psychiatric hospital, Dr. Teglassy found that an understanding of public health is crucial for helping his patients, whose struggles are multifaceted and pervasive. “Most of our patients are actually homeless or near homeless … Most of the patients have no resources or no family members left,” he explained.

Second, he said he wanted something more rigorous and public health-focused than the continuous medical education (CME) classes required of all family doctors by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

“I wanted to go back to school to refresh my brain, to learn something new,” he said. He was excited to dedicate time to an in-depth study of public health — something he’d been interested in since medical school. Instead of simply reading articles or attending conferences on his own, he sought a learning community. “I wanted to get this really concentrated knowledge,” he said.

Third, Dr. Teglassy wanted to inspire his college-aged children — to model how earning an advanced degree is challenging but attainable. “I just tried to show them a good example. Okay, this is hard, but it’s doable. You can do it too,” he said.

Immigrant and Licensed Family Doctor

Dr. Teglassy is a naturally curious person who’s no stranger to summiting steep learning curves.

He received his MD in Hungary in 1998. But when he immigrated to the U.S. in 2004, he had to meet many additional requirements to practice medicine stateside.

He completed his U.S. medical residency between 2005 and 2008 in upstate New York, then moved across the country with his family to Oregon, where he has worked as a licensed family physician for nearly two decades.

In his years as a practicing physician, Dr. Teglassy noticed the structural issues that affect patients from less privileged backgrounds. “I’ve worked in outpatient clinics, community clinics, [for] people with no insurance or state insurance. And then I’ve worked for the prison system for a year — all of these are underserved populations.”

He found that a knowledge of public health was needed to understand his patients’ persistent challenges, including “high risk for a lot of diseases, for mental illness or STDs [and] untreated chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension with no optimal treatment,” Teglassy explained.

‘We Are Taught to Never Stop Learning’

For many family doctors, practicing medicine alone provides plenty of intellectual stimulation and personal fulfillment. But Dr. Teglassy felt prompted to challenge himself further and deepen his knowledge of public health systems. “In medicine, we are taught to never stop learning,” he said, noting that a few of his colleagues had also earned an MPH. “And also my wife suggested that I do it.”

He recognized that pursuing an MPH online while continuing to see patients would not be easy — and neither would returning to school after a two-decade gap.

“[When] I signed up for the MPH, it was 20 years after I started to practice as a physician, and it was 27 years after I started medical school. I realized, if I don’t do it now, if I don’t study something in an organized way — not just reading a few articles on the weekend — I will probably never do it,” he said.

But Dr. Teglassy found that along with his family and peers, he also had the support of his professors at the University of Nevada, Reno to guide him. “They were really helpful. And most of the time, they responded within 24 or 48 hours,” Dr. Teglassy said.

In terms of the curriculum, he said that many public health topics were surprising and interesting. “When I started public health, I thought it’s gonna be like public health in the good old medical school, you know, like tuberculosis and syphilis.

“And that’s still part of it, but [public health also focuses on] the opioid epidemic, LGBT population health, environmental health — people who don’t get proper food or drinking water, or who live in areas where the air is very polluted, or those who don’t have housing. And it kind of surprised me, that these are the topics we learn about,” Dr. Teglassy said. “But it was just a perfect fit to my patient population.”

Applying the Social Determinants of Health

Since graduating with an MPH, Dr. Teglassy has continued seeing patients as a family physician, but now he has a deeper understanding of the structural issues they face.

He reflected on some of the many ways that his education at the University of Nevada, Reno affected how he views population health.

“Injustice. I never heard that term before. But I learned it during the UNR courses,” he said. “I learned that gun violence is increasing. [I learned more about] the LGBT population, racial differences, ethnic groups — you know, I’m an immigrant, too.”

Dr. Teglassy said that he learned how the social determinants of health — which encompass the conditions in a person’s life that influence health, including where they live and their access to basic necessities — affect a patient’s ability to engage in health-promoting activities.

Health, he says, is the result of many factors. “It’s education. It’s the safety and walkability of the neighborhood. It’s access to healthy food, access to exercise. And then [lower] exposure to pollutants, guns, drugs and alcohol.”

A Mentor to Future MPH Students

What’s next for Dr. Teglassy? He’s excited to mentor the next cohort of MPH students at the University of Nevada, Reno.

He views mentorship as an opportunity to give back to the MPH community — and as an opportunity to continue his work as a lifelong learner.

“Since my professors helped me, I’m trying to help them and pay it back. And then, [mentoring] also keeps me connected and keeps my brain sharper,” Dr. Teglassy said.

And more than that, he’s enthusiastic about continuing to grow the community of MPH students, professors and alumni.

“I’m happy to be affiliated with the university. It’s great. [I don’t want to be one of] those family doctors who sinks in their chairs somewhere in the countryside just alone, isolated. I’m happy to be affiliated with UNR.”

As for the value of his MPH degree, Dr. Teglassy hopes to reassure prospective students that “it’s a high-quality education with a really good price.”

Pursue a Career in Public Health

Many people who have an interest in health may not be aware that there’s much more to the field than the practice of medicine. Professionals with an interest in understanding the social, economic and environmental determinants of health may find that a career in public health is the path for them.

The online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice at the University of Nevada, Reno can equip students with the skills required to support the health of individuals, families and entire communities. Learn more about the MPH program and how it can lead to a rewarding career in public health. 

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