BRIDGES & BEYOND: JOURNEY TO PITT PUBLIC HEALTH
With a warm and inviting smile – and a colorful tattoo of the Andy Warhol bridge on his forearm – Christian Garcia-Calavaro is eager to share his public health journey from his native Chile to Pittsburgh and back again.
Just last month, the Pitt Public Health alum was named head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Chilean Ministry of Health, where he also serves as an executive coordinator on the commission for the country’s pandemic response.
Reflecting on his career path, Garcia-Calavaro, who worked as a primary care physician, was struck by the common occurrence of amputations in patients with long-term complications from diabetes. He began to wonder if the problem should be solved in the operating room at all, or if it could be better managed by looking at the various epidemiological factors that affect health and well-being. Things like where people are living, their education level, and how they access food or medical treatment.
As Garcia-Calavaro continued to think about these issues from both social and populational viewpoints, he felt compelled to pursue certification in health administration and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Chile. This led him to his first position at the Chilean Ministry of Health as the National Tuberculosis Program director, and eventually, head of the Ministry’s Infectious Diseases department.
When Garcia-Calavaro later decided to realize his dream of pursuing a doctorate in public health, he began earnestly searching for the right program. Ever the epidemiologist, Garcia-Calavaro used a spreadsheet to weigh the pros and cons of almost 120 programs, contacting those schools whose programs he found best fit his goals. From his past work experience in public health, he knew he wanted a program with rigorous academic standards and a focus on public health practice. Pitt Public Health fit the bill, and soon Garcia-Calavaro relocated to Pittsburgh with his wife and two young daughters.
LIFE IN PITTSBURGH
While it wasn’t easy transitioning to life in the United States – coping with the stress that comes from immigration, lacking the social network the family had in Chile, and keeping up with the academic workload – he found Pittsburgh to be welcoming.
“You feel safe in this city, and you feel that people care for you, and that is not seen everywhere,” says Garcia-Calavaro. He credits this feeling with giving him the foundation to learn and succeed. He also took advantage of the resources offered by the university. His favorite? The Center for Creativity where he was able to take a break, relax, and do things to free his mind from the daily stress of academic life.
To pay homage to the city he called home for four years, Garcia-Calavaro visited Black Cat Tattoo in Lawrenceville to illustrate his love for Pittsburgh’s famous three rivers and its bridges. The tattoo faces him as a daily reminder of his time in the city. The other piece of Pittsburgh Garcia-Calavaro took home to Chile? A Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap that he wears every day.
Garcia-Calavaro is particularly proud that he fulfilled the promises he made to both his family and the Ministry of Health to return home to Chile after completing his doctoral degree. Shortly after finishing classes, and exactly four years after he first left home for Pittsburgh, he was standing in front of his former supervisor ready to get back to work. He continued to work on his dissertation in Chile and successfully defended in February 2019.
With his journey far from over, Garcia-Calavaro reflects back on his experiences at Pitt Public Health.
“Through knowledge and example, I learned what made me the public health professional I am today and the foundations of the virtuous person who I am working to be in the future.”