Using Digital Technologies to Improve Health

Commencement offers graduates a moment to reflect on their time as a Columbia student before they take the next step on their life path. It is an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments, but also pause and appreciate the people, relationships, and lessons that coalesce to make each graduating student’s experience unique. 

Olivia TenHarmsel, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Olivia TenHarmsel

We asked Olivia TenHarmsel, who received her master's in health administration from the Mailman School of Public Health, to share a few highlights from her time at Columbia and their impact on her personal and professional development.

What drew you to public health and, in particular, to Mailman's Department of Health Policy and Management?

From a young age, it has always astonished me that we live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet certain groups of people suffer or have poor health outcomes simply because they don't have access to the health care services to which they are entitled. And then in college, I realized I did not have to do clinical work to improve the health of the populations that often are overlooked.

I was drawn to the Department of Health Policy and Management (HPM) in particular because it exposes students to a wide range of areas of health care, such as hospital administration, long-term care, digital health, and venture capital, just to name a few. And it gives students the necessary skills to understand the complexities of health policies and regulations of the health care system.

HPM also encompasses a strong network of professionals who are passionate about addressing the needs of the rapidly growing aging population and making our health care system more centralized and accessible for people of all backgrounds. 

Was there one course or seminar that made a deep impression on you?  

Olivia TenHarmsel with Mailman School classmates

HPM’s "Health System Simulation." This intensive and all-encompassing weekend course simulated managing a hospital system. I enjoyed working with a small team and using the skills and knowledge I had acquired in courses such as strategic management, finance, and health care quality. It was gratifying to put everything together and apply what I had learned in a practical setting. 

Can you tell us about a project you worked on that had special meaning to you?  

In "Law and Policy: Mass Incarceration in the U.S.," a course taught by Professor Hernandez Stroud, several of my classmates and I produced a podcast in which we interviewed Dr. Rachael Bedard, the first geriatrician and palliative-care physician in New York City’s justice system. She is one of the very few geriatric physicians anywhere in the country dedicated to treating the imprisoned population.

Dr. Bedard shared with us what it's like to care for our oldest and most vulnerable patients, who are often forgotten. Producing the podcast gave me insight into the lack of specialized care provided to the incarcerated as they age and the almost inhumane palliative and end-of-life care situations these older adults endure. It also showed me how giving an expert a vehicle to communicate with non-specialists can bring awareness to an important issue.

Is there one professor that you would especially like to thank?  

While I have had several professors at the Mailman School who have made a positive impact on me, I would like to give a huge THANK YOU to Dr. Larry Brown in HPM. Professor Brown's deep knowledge and expertise in health policy analysis really laid the groundwork for my first-semester education as a health administration student.

And beyond his expertise, Dr. Brown is always approachable. He’s willing to provide students with guidance and support, often over dessert, and I am especially grateful to him for inspiring me to pursue my personal and professional goals.  

What’s the next step for you in your career? And further ahead, what do you hope to accomplish?  

I will be starting my career at CVS Health, where I will be a part of the Digital Academy Leadership Program. My ambition is to use digital technologies, including AI, to improve the health of individuals in marginalized communities across the United States and the globe. 

What one thing will you miss most about Columbia?

The community! Columbia has provided me with a unique opportunity to engage in in-depth and meaningful discussions with professors and peers who are as passionate about public health initiatives as I am. And to have those discussions in the greatest city in the world, what’s not to like?