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Sommer Scholars

Emily Hurley, PhD, MPH

  • Country of Origin: United States
  • MPH '12

It was a documentary about the AIDS epidemic that inspired Emily Hurley—then an undergraduate psychology major at SUNY Geneseo—to found a chapter of the student advocacy group FACE AIDS at her school. The organization took off, hosting events to raise money and awareness, and is still active today. This experience, Hurley says, was the beginning of her dedication to promoting health, globally. To that end, she joined the Peace Corps after graduation as a health education volunteer. Assigned to a rural health clinic in Mali, Hurley soon became frustrated with the ineffectiveness of simply trying to provide resources to the scattered population. “Children that we'd maybe see once or not at all were dying out in the brush where we were unable to reach them,” she says. Hurley soon began training some of the villagers in disease prevention, first care response, and communication techniques. These individuals became community health workers (CHW's), or liaisons between the central clinic and their distant villages. By the time she left, 30 active CHW's would report monthly on the status of patients in their village and their efforts to promote preventative health. Upon her return to the U.S., Hurley continued to pursue studies in behavioral health as a research assistant at the University of Rochester before starting her MPH at the Bloomberg School. Ultimately, she wants to work to extend the role of CHW's through community-based programs in the most remote areas of the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa. She believes that social and behavioral change at the grassroots level is crucial in treating and preventing HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other infectious diseases. “Real change is slow,” Hurley says. “Social change moves slower than medical advancements but is essential for its success. It may seem easy to go into a village and vaccinate all of the children. But the first step is to get mothers to buy into the idea, and then internalize it.”

Current Position

Postdoctoral Researcher, Children's Mercy Hospital