While some heroes wear capes, Dr. Lourdes Valdez puts on a white coat and sets off to work with one mission: to keep young people in her community healthy.
Born and raised in the beautiful city of Lima, Peru, Dr. Valdez completed her medical school at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia before moving to the US for her pediatric training.
Despite her qualifications and experience, learning never ends for Dr. Valdez. She is currently a student at UC Berkeley, pursuing the Online Master of Public Health (MPH) through an interdisciplinary programme customised for her career goals. Dr Valdez's programme of study integrates coursework in epidemiology, global health and the design and evaluation of public health programmes.
It’s a rewarding educational experience, made possible by the programme’s distinctive structure. Here’s what a typical week looks like for Dr. Valdez:
On Saturday mornings, Dr. Valdez continues to improve her knowledge and practice in public health — all in the comfort of her home. Many courses are built around group activities that help foster a sense of community, even in an online setting. Through this design, students like Dr. Valdez get the best of both worlds: their families and the famed Berkeley collegial camaraderie. “The best part about learning at UC Berkeley is the lecturers. It’s not only about having my questions answered, but actually getting to meet them, share my work and get their point of view,” Dr. Valdez explains.
An average online MPH student is expected to spend 15 to 17 hours per week on coursework on top of their full-time professional work hours. Those hours include watching video lectures, doing problem sets, and engaging in group projects.
Dr. Valdez is pursuing three specific areas of specialisation. The healthcare industry “needs champions that can integrate these disciplines so that we can work together to have better outcomes,” she explains. It’s a heavy workload but one made possible by her time management and the programme’s flexibility.
Early 2020 did not start easy for Dr. Valdez — the pandemic, the loss of her mother and the shift in organisational structure at work; none, however, dampened her spirits. Even in those trying times, she remained optimistic and turned chaos into challenge. “I had more time on my hands. I used that time to focus on my education that requires a lot of my attention.”
Dr. Valdez’s three-day work week begins on Tuesdays. At 6 a.m., she goes for a walk before a wholesome breakfast. Then, she sets off to work, which is a convenient 15-minute drive away.
At work, she gets to use her online MPH knowledge and impact in real-time. “During my career, I saw that there was this need to have more skills, and that for me, practising medicine was not just about treating individuals for their diseases,” Dr. Valdez shares. “It was about caring for the community as a whole and focusing on populations instead of individuals.”
She wanted to create “more impact on people's health” by helping to curb diseases and diving into the root cause of underlying health issues — at the clinic from 8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., she gets to fuse this vision with her medical practice.
After work, she makes her way home to her family where she spends the evening with her husband and kids over dinner. She then dedicates one to two hours of studying after dinner before the lights go off at 10.30 p.m..
On days that Dr. Valdez isn't busy saving young people, she prepares for it. Her Mondays begin early. She tries to get at least two hours of studying done before having breakfast. Chores and errands — such as shopping, laundry, and spending time with her dogs — follow, before she gets down to studying again.
The online MPH is ~90% online and ~10% on-campus. Most of Dr. Valdez’s coursework is online and asynchronous but she can also access faculty/GSI’s in real-time remotely during office hours.
Some can finish the programme in two years with approval by an Academic Student Advisor. Dr. Valdez chose to space out her modules and length of study to best suit her convenience. “I had a goal. I wanted to finish this in two and a half years, no longer than that. Last fall, I took extra classes on outbreak investigations — it was motivated by my personal curiosity. I wanted to learn more about outbreaks in general and the coronavirus, specifically.”
Being a part of a flexible MPH programme has its perks. Her week kicks off with a few hours of revision before her weekly meal prep. This is so her family can enjoy fresh meals that differ each day — her specialties are vegetarian, chicken, pasta and Chinese — despite being a mother juggling both work and study.
Family is everything to Dr. Valdez — having a master’s programme that fits around her schedule means she never has to miss out on life’s important moments. When her mother passed away last year, she did not have to drop everything to return to her home country. “I was able to connect with Berkeley all the way from Lima when I had to go back to attend to my mum who was sick before she passed away. It’s brilliant how I could continue my studies and get the support of my new cyber friends — all without leaving my mother’s side.”