Emily Henke, a graduate of the Master of Public Health, Health Management Policy program at OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, now serves as the Executive Director of the Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI). OPHI is a nonprofit organization advancing health and equity in Oregon and beyond. In addition to her role at OPHI, Henke has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 in Public Health by the de Beaumont Foundation. This list celebrates leaders making significant contributions to public health, particularly those who are committed to equity and service, and who bring an entrepreneurial spirit to their work.
Q: What inspired you to pursue Public Health?
A: “After graduating from college in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, the job market was challenging. After a couple of years of odd jobs and gig work, I got a part-time job in Washington County enrolling uninsured, Spanish-speaking families in Oregon’s Medicaid program. I loved that job because it took me out into the community, and my work had a direct, immediate impact on improving families’ access to health care. I loved that I working for the county, but placed within the Beaverton School District, because it made building trust and outreach relationships much easier. However, there was a lot about the job that I found frustrating—there were too many barriers to enrollment for many people and I felt powerless to solve these problems. I needed a management role to do that. I quickly realized that the fastest route to a management position in the field was to get an MPH. I knew I wanted to work in Portland, and it was clear that the OHSU-PSU program would offer not only the degree I needed to do that, but also the professional network.”
Did you face any challenges during your academic journey?
A: “I intentionally sought a graduate degree early in my career, before I had much work experience in the field. There were times throughout the MPH program when I wished I had more practical experience to share in the classroom or apply in projects and papers. I remember appreciating the wisdom and experience of fellow students who had decades of work experience, and I was grateful to be in a program that welcomed students of all career stages. I learned a lot from them.”
How did your program prepare you for your current career?
A: “The MPH program gave me a foundation of technical knowledge, practical skills, and professional connections upon which I’ve been able to build my career in public health. In the HMP track, I honed my systems thinking—a perspective that has been invaluable in my work, and also in this moment in time, as we seek to modernize our public health system to deliver equity and health. When I finished my MPH classes, I completed my field experience at OPHI, and eventually became the organization’s executive director.”
What are the benefits of being named a 40 Under 40 in Public Health leader by the de Beaumont Foundation?
A: “The de Beaumont Foundation’s 40 Under 40 program is all about connecting emerging public health leaders across the country to each other and giving them the support they need to thrive in their careers, remain in the field, and collaborate. The program offers training and professional development opportunities, but the greatest benefit to me has been an instant national network of diverse leaders from across the country, all of whom are in the same career stage as me. After spending just a few days together this year, my 40 Under 40 class knew we would be in each other’s professional networks forever. At the same time that this job is exciting and inspiring, it’s also difficult and tiring. Having a group of peers to share the ups and downs with has been invaluable, and each member of the class has so much expertise and experience to share. Being in the program has already had a significant impact on me, and I know that impact will only grow with time.”