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Lima, Peru
Andres (Willy) Lescano

Andres (Willy) Lescano

Lima, Peru

Occupation: Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Administration, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia 

Current Residence: Lima, Peru

Degrees: PhD ’07 (International Health), MHS ’00 (Biostatistics), MHS ’02 (Health Policy and Management)

The Bloomberg School is home to over 2,000 students from more than 85 countries who meet here in Baltimore to pursue their public health education. Many of those students then return to practice public health in their home countries.

Their careers span consulting, research, academia, and more. Whether they’re influencing policy or training future practitioners, they’re all working to protect health and save lives—millions at a time.

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What was the path to your degree at the Bloomberg School of Public Health?

When I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I met Professor Bob Gilman, who worked in Peru for a number of years. He and his colleagues offered me a wonderful opportunity to participate in their research. For a long time, I was the only engineer in Bob’s infectious diseases research group which included physicians, veterinarians, biologists, and people from the medical sciences in Peru.

There were several Peruvian students whom Bob had helped with applying to the PhD program at the Bloomberg School and in developing the next stage of their careers. I was fascinated by that possibility and, after a few years, Bob encouraged me to apply. I was accepted to the PhD program, and Bob continued to support me in my training. He’s been my mentor ever since, and a role model from whom I’ve learned a lot.

What do you think makes the Bloomberg School unique compared to other schools of public health?

It’s an incredibly international place, where someone like me, coming from Peru—or from India, or Africa—immediately feels at home. It’s not just that you find other students like you, but also that you find faculty who work all over the world and understand what you may need and how you can develop a career in public health. The other unique aspect is the emphasis on research methods. You learn how to design, conduct, and disseminate the highest-level quality of science.

What was your experience like living in Baltimore? Were your expectations different from reality? 

When I went to the Bloomberg School, it was my first trip to the U.S., so everything was new. I had worked with Hopkins professors and students before, but it was really an eye-opening experience. I particularly remember being at the Welch Medical Library, looking at the early editions of The Lancet, and just being amazed at having access to that level of knowledge. I was also amazed to have access to some of the brightest researchers in the world, asking them about their subject matter expertise or just having a regular conversation with them. Every day I was like, “Wow!” It was beyond my wildest dreams.

What about the city of Baltimore?

I love Charm City. The memories are everywhere, from Homewood campus to East Baltimore. It’s such a welcoming place with so much culture.

Was returning to Peru always part of the plan?

The program I was a part of was aimed at building capacities in Peru for research in public health. The idea was for me to come back to Peru to do my thesis and become an established researcher here.

A few years after I came back to Peru and started to work, we proposed not only that we train people in the U.S. but also create a master’s program in epidemiology in Peru. This would be supported by the faculty who were coming back to Peru from international training.

I developed a master’s program at Cayetano University, and we’ve been running the program for 12 years now and also a doctorate since 2016. This training program has been the nest for many Hopkins grads who come back to Peru and want to pass on what they’ve learned to the next generation.

You think about the classes, the research you’re going to do, but you don’t realize how big of a network you’re joining and how strong it is.

How are you applying what you learned at the Bloomberg School to your work?

Two of the disciplines I learned at the School are epidemiology research methods and biostatistics. We pass that on to our students here, teaching them the basic methods in the classroom and then working with them one-on-one for the more advanced methods.

The other aspect we try to replicate is that every faculty member needs to do research. We additionally tell our students that they need to be part of a research group or start their own research group. We encourage our students to replicate the model of a research university that we learned at Hopkins.

What has been your biggest professional accomplishment? What moment are you most proud of?

Knowing that we have trained hundreds of researchers who will probably stay in this country and help this country immensely. Seeing successful young scientists, and knowing that we may have something to do with their success in some small part, that motivates me to come to work every day.

What are some of the biggest public health challenges facing Peru?

I’m going to use an idea from a colleague, Dr. Patty García, former minister of health in Peru and former dean of public health at Cayetano. She posited that corruption was one of our biggest challenges, and we need to study it as a scientific issue to be able to solve it. I think that’s one of the most important diseases that we have. It affects our ability to deliver effective public health interventions, and it prevents us from being better educated.

What career and research opportunities are available for public health professionals in your home country?

As the country grows, the opportunities are diversifying. Epidemiology within government is strengthening as a field. You need academically trained epidemiologists to design, implement, and evaluate interventions based on the most advanced scientific knowledge you can have.

I also see our students applying these concepts in other areas, becoming clinical researchers with a well-balanced career of clinical service and research within it. I see clinical research as a growing field, and the demand we have for our epidemiology program suggests that as well.

What advice do you have for prospective public health students from Peru?

We need to train the next generation of leaders for our country at the best level they can get, and that just means Hopkins. You go to a place like Johns Hopkins to try to become a leader in your field. It’s a special opportunity.

Anything else you'd like to mention? 

It’s truly amazing when your Hopkins life comes back around almost 20 years later. When two of my classmates from the doctoral program came to visit, it was like it had been a week since I had last seen them. We were sitting with my wife, who’s also a Hopkins graduate, talking about collaborations, and how we’re going to visit the vice dean, who’s also a Hopkins grad, and the director of an NGO, another Hopkins grad. You never think you will get that. You think about the classes, the research you’re going to do, but you don’t realize how big of a network you’re joining and how strong it is.

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