Today, the term “public health” is almost synonymous with “COVID-19.” Though his title might tempt questions about the pandemic, Assistant Professor of Public Health Ernesto Moralez is a specialist in chronic, not infectious, disease. He’s passionate about developing health education and chronic disease prevention strategies to address health disparities with holistic, empowered community care.
“I research chronic disease management, but I also do mental health research. To kind of sum it up, my early career research was focused on clinical research—hospital settings, family practice, clinical settings. I became interested in how to increase medical providers’ skill sets, so they don't ignore depression and anxiety and their patients actually feel comfortable talking about depression and anxiety,” he says.
According to Moralez, psychiatric care is a luxury for marginalized and rural communities. Not only can it be expensive, it requires taking time off or arranging childcare in order to attend appointments. For most people, that means the short amount of time they get with their primary care physician during their yearly physical is the only substantive medical care they receive all year.
Moralez advocates for more holistic care, equipping providers with the confidence and knowledge to address underlying issues, and empowering community health workers. These issues shape the questions he asks in his research and guide the systemic change he advocates for:
“Can we increase providers’ confidence, if their patient happens to say something about depression or having psychiatric symptoms, that they feel comfortable to go ahead and talk about it? Is it about communication training?” he asks. “Do we need to change the medical school model to make sure that family doctors are getting hours in residency? Are they doing rotations for mental health?”