Ruqayya Ahmad (MPP ‘21) leverages international experiences to combat healthcare inequities

July 26, 2021
I would like to help implement effective and ethical health policies that balance respect for marginalized communities and their agency, along with the responsibility of the government to provide quality care and improve access to health care services.”
Headshot of Ruqayya Ahmad (MPP '21)

Ruqayya Ahmad

MPP, 2021
Harbage Fellow, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network
Location: Los Angeles, CA

First job out of Ford School: Harbage Fellow

After a single semester at the Ford School, Ruqayya Ahmad (MPP ‘21) felt compelled to switch her focus. Coming in with a background in international studies, that’s what she expected to continue to concentrate on. 

“After my first semester of grad school, I knew that I wanted to transition into the health policy field, and work in public service at a local level because I felt like that would give me more of an opportunity to make specific targeted improvements in policy, which can positively contribute to the lives of so many people,” Ahmad said. “My trajectory kind of changed completely.”

But it wasn’t just the courses she took that changed her focus. As an immigrant from Pakistan, Ahmad has been a beneficiary of California’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal paid for her mom’s eye surgery and her dad’s heart disease treatment. But, the healthcare system also presented challenges for Ahmad and her family, like stacks of confusing paperwork and dismissive doctors among other challenges related to coverage and benefits. 

“I am so grateful for the social safety net that’s made these treatments possible, but I know throughout our lives, we’ve also faced many challenges that have contributed to the longstanding health disparities among communities of color,” Ahmad said. “Because of my background, I understand the significance of reimagining our healthcare systems to ensure that they work better for marginalized groups. I know that when they do work, they can provide life-saving care to low-income families like mine.”

Because Ahmad had focused on international studies up until her first year at the Ford School, she was nervous about finding internships in the health policy field. But, resources at the Ford School helped and reassured her, allowing her to secure an internship at the LA County Department of Public Health and, now, the Peter Harbage Fellowship.

“We were encouraged to reflect on our experiences and the type of work that we wanted to do,” she said. “I remember thinking about the various interests in health policy that I had, but how most of my professional experiences were related to international policy issues and immigration. I was worried that I would just be rejected from every position I applied to because of my lack of professional experience in health policy … Jennifer Niggemeier (Director of Graduate Career Services) told me … the skills that I’ve gained in my previous experiences were highly transferable and I would be able to translate them into the health policy field.”

Ahmad appreciated the support the Ford School provided her and had one piece of advice for other Fordies.

“Don’t be nervous to step out of your comfort zone and try new things,” Ahmad said. “When I came into grad school, I felt like I had to have everything figured out and I had to know exactly what I wanted to do once I graduated, and couldn't deviate from my planned goals. But, our interests and motivations can evolve over time, so it’s okay to explore other new passions and seek out different opportunities.”

Read more about Ahmad’s fellowship here.