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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Research

Student Q&A: Ado Rivera, Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program

Ado Rivera

Ado Rivera is a second-year student in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program.

Where is your hometown?

I grew up in Caloocan, Philippines. It’s a city just north of the capital.

What are your research interests?

My field is health systems research. When I say health system, I follow the World Health Organization definition of “all organizations, people and actions whose primary intent is to promote, restore or maintain health,” and not limit it to just healthcare organizations.

Specifically, I am interested in studying how changing inputs and processes in the health system translate to changes in population health outcomes, especially in the context of low- and middle-income countries. Example of system changes include introducing a new health financing scheme, health worker deployment programs or restructuring the health information system.

I enjoy the fact that I need to always deal with complexity since a change in one component would always affect others, often in unpredictable ways. I also like that I get to use various methodologies and with different forms of data. It’s quite fun switching between quantitative and qualitative projects and utilizing different ways of thinking.

What exciting projects are you working on?

Currently, I’m working with colleagues in the Philippines on studying how government hospitals comply with a no co-payment and out-of-pocket policy for poor patients mandated by the national social health insurance. Prior to this project, we’ve evaluated the effectiveness of the policy in protecting patients from catastrophic health expenditures.

This time we shifted our focus to implementation issues. Since the national insurance program operates on a capitation scheme, hospitals must shoulder the excess costs of admission. We are studying how hospitals making sure to provide the necessary services without draining their financial resources. We’re in the process of analyzing the focus group discussions and I’m enjoying reading how hospitals innovative have been in implementing the policy.

What attracted you to the PhD program?

My PhD program was one of the few programs I found where one can specialize in health services research. That was one of the main pulls for me since it aligned very much with research interests.

Another big draw was that the program was interdisciplinary and embraces the need for multiple methodologies and perspectives in studying health service and health system issues. I’ve always thought that health research demands a mixed methods approach just because of the complexity and interconnectedness of the phenomena we study.

Finally, the program assures full funding support (through fellowships and assistantships) even for international students. I wouldn’t have been able to pursue graduate studies without this support and it’s nice not to constantly worry about where to find funds so I can focus on performing research.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

I’ve really enjoyed working on projects with various researchers outside my general field. I’ve worked with Dr. Megan McHugh studying how shift work affects health especially in the manufacturing industry. I’ve also worked with Dr. Claudia Hawkins tracking how HIV and Hepatitis B interact and affect liver health of people with HIV in Nigeria.

This month, I’ve started working with Dr. Matt Feinstein who focuses on HIV and heart disease. Through these projects, I was able to apply skills I’ve learned in the classroom as well as teach myself some new things. I also gained some soft skills that I think would be useful in the future. The PhD tends to be such a solitary experience that this opportunity to work with other people or in teams are so valuable. It’s also nice that the principal investigators I work with are nice people that willingly provide opportunities for me to grow as a researcher.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

Faculty in Feinberg are very supportive and approachable. I have not met anyone who has been dismissive of my ideas, and they were always willing to extend help or point me to someone that could help me translate my idea into reality.

What do you do in your free time?

I prefer to escape reality during my free time by reading fiction, usually science fiction, fantasy, and manga. Although, escaping is not always successful since most of the sci-fi today includes a social issue that reflects what is happening in our world.

I also enjoy dancing and I’m part of a student hip-hop/urban dance group based in the Evanston campus. I find it therapeutic since I can just forget about research during dance class. You can’t really think about data analysis when you’re trying to coordinate your limbs to do a sequence.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I intend to go back to the Philippines and work in academia. Hopefully, I can lead my own research group and do research at both the local and international level. I’m also thinking of doing a postdoc to enhance my skills and expand my research network. I still have at least two years left in my program though so none of my plans are fixed.