Episode #29: Interview with Christian Vigil: Global Public Health and Cultural Experiences with MEDI
Updated: Jul 9
In this episode, I introduce you to Christian Vigil, as he shares a great story of the global public health initiatives with Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC). He shares his amazing journey into public health, and how he combined his personal experiences growing up, his education, and his passion to see positive changes in health throughout his community. Christian talks about the robust health system in Cuba, and how MEDICC is taking action to help foster collaborations between the Cuban health system and communities within the United States. You definitely don’t want to miss this episode! Click here to listen to the full episode now.
A little information about Christian Vigil, Program Manager for MEDICC;s Gateways Travel Program
Christian talks about his background and his personal experience with global public health growing up. He comes from a working-class immigrant family of Salvadoran-Mexican descent. He was born in Los Angeles County but raised in Tijuana, Mexico during most of my childhood before moving to the border town of San Ysidro, California.
Christian received a BA in Latin American History from the University of California, Berkeley. During his time in Berkeley, he worked with student advocacy groups such as the Chicano/Latino Student Development Center and RAZA Caucus. After Berkeley, Christian worked for a year in the forwarding & logistics industry before he started working for Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC) as a Program Assistant for the Gateways Educational Travel and MD Pipeline to Community Service programs. He is currently the Program Manager for the Gateways Travel Program.
Christian used his personal experience with global public health, formal educational training, and other cultural experiences helped him prepare well for his current role.
Christian told me that as a student in UC Berkeley, I took several courses related to Cuban history, politics, and culture. This allowed me to gain a more informed perspective about the country, which usually contradicted the narrative that I had learned from news outlets growing up.
Regarding the logistical aspect of his job, his experience as an Ocean Export Agent allowed him to develop skills in customer service and global logistics. Additionally, coming from a bilingual background allowed him to better connect with his Cuban counterparts and other health professionals who had not mastered the English language.
Growing up in San Diego and Tijuana, Christian was able to gain important insights about trans-border health. Since his family was uninsured, they would go to Tijuana for affordable primary medical care and medicines. He witnessed how the clinics in his community were often understaffed and underfunded. So, making an appointment for a physical meant long waits and high costs.
Having experienced these health inequities, he became fascinated with the Cuban public healthcare model and the way that their health outcomes match those of developed nations at a fraction of the cost. Being able to actually travel to Cuba and witnessing how their system functions has allowed him to think of different ways that we can re-structure how healthcare can be delivered in the United States, especially in disenfranchised areas. Christian hopes to become an educator in border communities someday to teach about effective health practices and methods.
Christian’s advice for students and graduates trying to start a public health career:
Don’t invalidate your academic or personal experience. When he applied to MEDICC, he feared that the lack of a global health background would automatically disqualify him for the position. However, during his interview he mentioned how his experiences growing up and the courses he took in college related to the program’s vision and how he would be an asset for the organization overall.
Field work: He had the opportunity to talk with faculty from the Cuban National School of Public Health and they have emphasized the importance of on-site experience. Almost 50% of the Cuban Public Health education curriculum consists of students working in hospitals, institutions, and community center. This bridges the gap between theoretical and practical experience. It’s important to find ways to apply your educational experience on the field, especially in communities where you would like to work in.
Continue your research: Research your field to learn about new developments and job opportunities. For example, find ways to learn about the public health systems in different countries and get acquainted how population health, primary care, and practice are applied in other systems.
Christian shared this bit of job-seeking advice for people interested in public health careers
Networking is vital to put your foot in the door of any profession. Conferences (such as APHA) offer recent grads the opportunity to not only learn about different career paths, but also the ability to connect with personnel. While some conferences can be expensive to attend, there are scholarships and grants that can fund travel, lodging, and registration expenses. Also, developing a portfolio (website, podcasts, blog) is a new way that comes in handy when you are applying for fellowships and internships.
Links to information discussed in this episode:
Watch – “Salud” The Film - to learn about the Cuban health system
Connect with Christian Vigil: