Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) and Portland State University (PSU) School of Public Health

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PhD Student Steven Fiala Balances Studies, Work With Prestigious AJPH Fellowship

Having excellent time management skills is a given for pursuing a doctoral degree in public health, but Steven Fiala, a PhD student in the Health Systems and Policy program, has more than mastered them. In addition to his studies and a full-time job as a health research analyst, Steven has recently completed a 2-year fellowship as the student editor for the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).

Fiala is currently an Evaluation Lead at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) where he has worked as a research analyst since 2009. He oversees the development, implementation, and dissemination of evaluations for public health programs and policies related to tobacco, alcohol, and other drug prevention, chronic disease self-management, and related cross-sector partnerships. Most recently he evaluated the implementation of the governor’s executive order to mitigate vaping-associated lung injuries.

For Fiala, his PhD will provide valuable support for his professional interests in the fields of health systems and policies. “My goals for the PhD program are to develop a strong theoretical and interdisciplinary foundation in health systems and policy that support a thoughtful approach to public health practice,” he said. “I’ve served in research analyst and program evaluation roles at the Oregon Public Health Division for the last decade, but have always been interested in the potential for policy and systems changes to improve population health and well-being.”

“It’s an opportune time to be studying policy and systems change given Oregon’s pursuit of public health ‘modernization,’ a systems change initiative that is building the expertise and capacity of the governmental public health workforce to collaborate with community partners and across sectors on reducing health disparities,” Fiala noted. “I am excited to see how my eventual dissertation work can serve public health modernization efforts in Oregon and similar systems change initiatives throughout the U.S.”

In addition to his doctoral studies and his work at OHA, Fiala recently published a piece in AJPH, the journal of the American Public Health Association, in which he reflects on his 2-year fellowship there as the student editor. This prestigious fellowship, which is awarded to one student with a Master’s degree or higher, provided him with hands-on experience, inside knowledge of how journals review submitted manuscripts, and personal mentorship from journal editors. “I worked with Editor-in-Chief Alfredo Morabia to identify editorialists for more than 170 articles accepted for publication and in doing so have been exposed to the varied forms that public health research can take: from articles on the economic vulnerability of female health care workers and the impact of political economy on population health to special sections of the journal dedicated to gun violence and water rights.”

“Steven was awarded the AJPH editorial fellowship, and successfully integrated these new responsibilities into what was already a full load of PhD coursework AND a full-time job at the OHA, while maintaining a very strong GPA in his studies” noted Dr. Sherril Gelmon, DrPH, Professor of Public Health and Director of the PhD in Health Systems and Policy Program. “He gained valuable insights through the fellowship, and lead a session for the HS&P doctoral students on what he had learned both about preparing to submit manuscripts for peer review and serving as a peer reviewer and editor.”

“These insights should be invaluable not only for Steven’s dissertation, but also for future academic and professional writing in his career,” Gelmon added. “We are very proud that one of our OHSU-PSU PhD students was selected for this prestigious student position with AJPH.”

The fellowship ended in March, but Fiala was afforded the opportunity to stay on as a guest editor to oversee a proposal he developed for an AJPH “Public Health 3.0 Supplement”.

Fiala received his BA in Biology and English from Willamette University. He received his MPH in Epidemiology from OHSU in 2011, where, as a teaching assistant, he provided academic support to students enrolled in biostatistics courses.

In addition to the essay on his AJPH experience, Fiala has published in peer-reviewed journals, particularly on the use of tobacco, marijuana, and e-cigarettes.