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Episode #223 Public Health Consulting, Communication, and TEDx, with Vinu Ilakkuvan, PhD


On this episode of the Public Health Epidemiology Conversations (PHEC) Podcast


Becoming an entrepreneur in the public health industry is a daunting prospect. Join us as we hear why Dr. Vinu Ilakkuvan chose to found her public health consulting firm, PoP Health, and how she landed on this path. Dr. Ilakkuvan is passionate about supporting and strengthening multi-sector community efforts to address the upstream, root drivers of health - including structural, commercial, social, and political determinants of health.


Dr. Ilakkuvan is also a Professorial Lecturer at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, where she teaches Public Health Communication and Marketing, advises thesis students, and collaborates with the Center on Commercial Determinants of Health and the Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools. She holds a DrPH in Health Behavior from George Washington University, a Master's degree in Health Communications from the Harvard School of Public Health, and Bachelor's degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Economics from the University of Virginia. She recently gave a TEDx talk entitled "Square Peg, Round Hole, Why Our Approach to Health is All Wrong - and How to Fix It".


We hear what Dr. Ilakkuvan most enjoys about being a consultant, and what inspired her to enter into the public health sphere in the first place. Discover the importance of understanding epidemiology in implementing public health changes, and what Dr. Ilakkuvan’s advice is to aspiring entrepreneurs about who they need to work with and for. From two seemingly conflicting characteristics (humility and confidence) that Dr. Ilakkuvan feels are crucial in working in public health, to the three pillars that she has founded her consulting firm on, you don’t want to miss this inspiring episode!


Listen To This Episode of the Public Health Epidemiology Conversations (PHEC) Podcast



Key Topics Discussed During This Conversation


  • An introduction to today’s guest, founder of Pophealth, TEDx speaker, engineer, and public health expert, Dr. Vinu Ilakkuvan.

  • How Dr. Ilakkuvan keeps her interests alive through Pophealth.

  • Learning about public health and how the broad scope of it attracted Dr. Ilakkuvan.

  • The public health problem that Dr. Ilakkuvan is most concerned about and what she is working on right now.

  • Bridging the gap between high-level policymaking and direct community involvement: how Pophealth allows Dr. Ilakkuvan to do this.

  • Why your zip code is your biggest health determinant, and how this impacts school children’s mental health.

  • Advice from Dr. Ilakkuvan for young entrepreneurs about who you work with and for.

  • How Dr. Ilakkuvan addresses each of her three pillars: community collaboration, communication, and research and evaluation.

  • Why Dr. Ilakkuvan feels the level of precision in research sometimes hinders communication of an idea (and a practical example of this).

  • What the TEDx talk was about: the public health 101 class Dr. Ilakkuvan has always wanted to teach.

  • How Dr. Ilakkuvan’s understanding of public health allows her to better serve the communities she works with.

  • Why understanding epidemiology is so important in public health.

  • How systems shape choices: why there is too much blame on the individual in terms of public health practices.

  • Dr. Ilakkuvan’s advice for those entering this niche: being simultaneously humble and confident.

  • How to connect with Dr. Ilakkuvan and the show, and Dr. Huntley’s favorite takeaways from this episode.

Dr. Ilakkuvan's Career Advice To Public Health Students and Graduates


Have both humility and confidence. These may seem like opposing characteristics, but holding onto both simultaneously is vital.


It is important to value and respect the experience and knowledge of community members as well as others in your line of work.


Listen deeply and keep an open mind.


Whenever possible, seek out and elevate marginalized voices as part of your work.


Simultaneously, take pride in your expertise, know your value, and approach your work and career with confidence.


You got this!


Get Connected


Dr. Vinu Ilakkuvan on Twitter


Dr. Vinu Ilakkuvan on LinkedIn


PoP Health