Student Profile: Minaz Mawani

Minaz Mawani’s path to public health began as a critical care nurse in cardiac intensive care unit in Pakistan.  Now a Fulbright Scholar pursuing a Ph.D. in epidemiology and biostatistics at UGA Public Health, Minaz is broadening her expertise in order to improve health outcomes for populations struggling with cardiac conditions.

“Seeing patients progress from being dependent on life-saving medications and devices to being discharged home was immensely fulfilling for me. While I loved saving lives and making a difference, I had a strong desire to expand my work from helping individuals to helping populations,” she said.

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology & Biostatistics

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Aga Khan University, Pakistan
Master of Science in Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Aga Khan University, Pakistan
Critical Care Nursing Specialization, George Brown College, Canada
Fellowship in Acute Care, Injuries, and Trauma Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

May 2024

Karachi, Pakistan

What is your educational background?

I started my career with an undergraduate degree in nursing from Aga Khan University in Pakistan, followed by working as a critical care nurse and team leader in the cardiology and cardiac intensive care units for about four years. Working with adults and children post-cardiac surgery was an extremely satisfying experience. Seeing patients progress from being dependent on life-saving medications and devices to being discharged home was immensely fulfilling for me. While I loved saving lives and making a difference, I had a strong desire to expand my work from helping individuals to helping populations.

I started working with a research group to study the outcomes of pediatric cardiac surgeries, and soon I realized the need to study research methods, epidemiology, and biostatistics. This led me to the MSc program. I received admission to the program as well as a competitive fellowship training opportunity in acute care, injuries, and trauma research through the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health funded by The Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health.

After completing the program, I started working as a Senior Instructor in Research for Aga Khan University. I conducted research and taught research methodologies to clinicians and graduate students for about five years. Meanwhile, I published and presented my research at national and international conferences.

My motivation to pursue a Ph.D. stemmed from an aspiration to learn advanced concepts and methods in epidemiology and their application in the clinical world. Currently, I am a Fulbright Scholar and Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. I am currently focusing on my dissertation research, for which I am studying modeling and machine learning as a way to predict outcomes in critically ill children under the expert advisement of Dr. Mark Ebell.

What research are you passionate about? How did you become involved in your field?

My clinical experience at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (ICU) gave me an opportunity to reflect on my long-term goals. While taking care of patients in the Cardiac ICU, I realized the risk factors for poor cardiac outcomes were not uncommon in the population. There was a dire need to have structured programs to reduce the problem. I also developed an awareness that cardiovascular diseases were associated with high morbidity and mortality and were in fact the number one cause of death globally. That is when I became passionate about my research area. We now know that the mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases are even higher than some lethal cancers, COVID-19, and injuries.

My master’s thesis focused on examining the outcomes of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) in Karachi, Pakistan. We set up a 24-hour surveillance system in major hospitals and emergency medical services systems. This project was the first large-scale study on this topic in Pakistan. We also used the capture-recapture technique to calculate the burden of OHCA, which is an innovative method to calculate the incidence/prevalence of a disease in the absence of structured surveillance systems. The findings were helpful in planning a large-scale population-based project to improve bystander CPR rates by teaching CPR to lay responders.

Later during my work experience, I focused on studying the population burden and outcomes of some cardiometabolic risk factors such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, etc. as well as clinical trials to improve the outcomes of such diseases.

What attracted you to your graduate program at the College of Public Health?

There are a lot of factors that made me choose UGA. First, the coursework is comprehensive and aligned with my objectives. Second, the faculty members’ expertise is aligned with my research interests. I wanted to learn advanced methods in epidemiology such as causal modeling, marginal structural models, propensity scores, different options for imputation and the application of advanced epidemiological concepts to solve complex clinical problems in infectious and chronic diseases.

My area of research interest has been cardiovascular conditions and outcomes of critical illnesses. I have been very interested in applying and comparing different statistical and machine-learning approaches to solve clinical problems.  I found that Dr. Mark Ebell’s area of research is closely aligned with mine, as he has done extensive work around developing decision models that are helpful in critical care and clinical practice. He is now my major professor. Other members of my committee include Dr. Jessica Knight and Dr. Ye Shen with expertise in epidemiological and statistical methods with clinical application. Dr. Bryan McNally had advised me on my master’s thesis work back in 2013 and is currently a subject expert on my committee.

Lastly, UGA has an absolutely wonderful and supportive environment for students that not only inspires them to achieve excellence but also provides a creative outlet and encourages work-life balance. UGA definitely exceeds my expectations in many areas. I received huge support and helpful resources from UGA’s Department of International Student Life, particularly at the beginning of my journey. The UGA Graduate School and the College of Public Health have been very helpful throughout. I feel blessed to work with faculty members who are experts in their respective fields and are also kind human beings.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your time at the College (so far)?

There have been many highlights so far. During the summer of 2020, I was fortunate to work as an intern with Dr. Bryan McNally at the Emory University School of Medicine, where I helped link big data sets from the CARES registry, the American Hospital Association, and Medicare to study long-term outcomes for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients and many other related research topics. This work led to continuous collaboration and a rewarding learning experience with Dr. McNally and his team.

I was also selected to be a part of the competitive ‘Emerging Leaders Program’ offered by the UGA Graduate School. It was a wonderful learning experience focusing on capacity building and developing skills such as leadership, team building, emotional intelligence, intercultural communication, systems/design thinking, career competencies and transferable skills around leadership.

I have also been very interested in learning how to be a good mentor. I am currently enrolled in a mentorship course at the UGA College of Education where I am learning about mentoring, leadership and related topics from an expert in this domain, Dr. Laura Bierema. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. Through this course, I have benefited from peer mentoring and connections through the UGA Mentor Program.

What achievements/awards during your time here are you most proud of?

I am proud to be a first-generation college graduate, an international student, and a woman of color. I worked hard for years to plan for a Ph.D., secure university admission and a Fulbright grant. Besides other benefits of Fulbright, I receive training opportunities around professional development and being a successful graduate student.

I am also collaborating with colleagues in Pakistan and here in the U.S. on different projects and have published a number of studies. Our recent publication is a phase-II multi-country clinical trial testing a new drug for the treatment of the hepatitis delta virus. Besides other editorial experience, I have been serving as a guest editor for PlosOne since last year.

Do you have any external activities that you are passionate about?

I like doing arts and crafts and using acrylic on canvas is by far my favorite. I also like traveling and being in nature, and I love the beaches here in the US. I  enjoy watching medical dramas and romantic comedy shows. I am also passionate about rescuing and rehabilitating birds. I have independently rescued birds, and when needed asked for help from a veterinarian or animal rescue organization.

Additionally, I volunteer for the community and have mostly done career advisement for students interested in public health. I have served as an independent career counselor and as a part of mentorship programs through the Local Education Board in Pakistan and Ismaili Health Professional Association in the U.S., Both are community organizations. I also get requests for career advisement through LinkedIn, other professional websites, and through my colleagues in Pakistan. In past I have served as a member of Girl Guides Association, and participated in immunization and health education campaigns and health promotion activities in rural areas in Pakistan.

What insights have you gained as a public health student?

I started my program in August 2019, and from December onwards we were struggling to survive in a totally different era with the COVID-19 pandemic beginning. That experience changed everything. I learned how to switch gears and deal with complex public health situations, how to educate people and do my share of work to improve public health.

I penned an open letter to our state governor highlighting what we can learn from the COVID-19 response from other countries and how we can improve the response here in the state of Georgia. I also learned about the challenges of research and public health in developed countries.

What are your plans beyond graduation?

I am eager to use my clinical and research knowledge and experience to improve health outcomes through large impactful population-based research. I am seeking a role within the federal government where I can expand my work in the prevention of cardiometabolic risk factors and improve survival outcomes from cardiac conditions.

Posted on June 1, 2023.