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Alexa Eckembrecher Alexa Eckembrecher

Eckembrecher family continues tradition in public health

Alexa Eckembrecher, a first-year Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) candidate in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences (DPHS), is the youngest sibling in the Eckembrecher family who will pursue graduate studies in public health. Alexa is the younger sister of two University of Miami public health alumnae, Daphne and Francelia Eckembrecher.

Alexa

Interest in Public Health

Alexa Eckembrecher decided to pursue her M.P.H. degree at the University of Miami due to her sisters’ enriching and fulfilling experience with the M.P.H. program. Her experience working as a research assistant with the Familias Unidas initiative in DPHS – a family-centered, evidence-based behavioral health intervention for Hispanic youth and their families – also sparked her interest in public health from a human perspective.

“Public health is always something that has interested me. When my sisters started the program at the University of Miami for the MPH, they were really involved on campus. They would go to health fairs. They would also volunteer at clinics and churches,” said Alexa. “So when they would tell me about all the things that they were doing, it always intrigued me into what it is that they would see and learn, especially the fact that they were giving back to the community.”

“The researchers were working with Hispanic youth between the ages of 12 to 17 by targeting a certain problem in their community. After working with Familias Unidas, I realized that the impact doesn't have to be so big, it starts small. And that's when you have the greatest impact is when you reach someone,” added Alexa.

Lastly, Alexa mentioned that her participation in a course by Dr. Denise Vidot focused on public health issues in the South Florida community as an undergraduate student also deepened her interest in public health.

“Once Dr. Vidot had speakers come in, she had information. She had us do these projects that were really meaningful and fulfilling. That's when I started realizing that there's something more here,” explained Alexa. “This is a class that I would always look forward to. So I know that the course was not only relevant. It was just important to me.”

Career Goals and Aspirations

Alexa would like to pursue a career in health and public policy and has been accepted to the M.P.H./J.D. joint degree program with the School of Law. She will begin her law studies in the fall. She recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Miami in 2021.

Furthermore, she is interested in improving policies and practices that impact the health of communities and would like to work in the government and non-profit sectors. She is particularly interested in addressing health disparities and maternal and child health.

“The M.P.H./J.D. dual degree would allow me to combine both of my passions. So that's when I decided that I would like to do law school, not just to be a litigator or not just to be someone in a courtroom, but also to help with policies.”

The dual degree would enable Alexa to not only impact people’s lives on a personal level, but also focus on law and policy to achieve a broader impact on a systemic level.

“Something as simple as for instance, a child that needs a signature from their parent or legal guardian on a field trip form. A child in the foster care system would need to talk to their social worker and the social worker has a case load of 40 children. And then, in addition to working with 40 kids, the social worker now has to go in front of a judge and the judge is out for the week,” described Alexa. “So I know for me, I have an interest in kids, women, and essentially minorities. After graduation, I want to work here in South Florida. I want to stay here, and I want to help my community.”

Daphne and Francelia

Interest in Public Health

Daphne and Francelia Eckembrecher are currently in their third year of medical school at the San Juan Batista School of Medicine in Puerto Rico. Both Daphne and Francelia also graduated from the M.P.H. program in the Department of Public Health Sciences in 2019.

Daphne Eckembrecher, MPH

Daphne Eckembrecher, MPH

The identical sisters mentioned that their early interest in health is based on their mother’s experience with the siblings’ pregnancy and a health condition that the sisters encountered called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. As the children of Honduran immigrants, Daphne and Francelia also described the critical importance of having access to health care and overcoming barriers in navigating the health system to ensure positive health outcomes.

Francelia Eckembrecher, MPH

Francelia Eckembrecher, MPH

“So, for our family it's been very important to have access to health care. It’s one of the things that we've always grown up with, which our parents instilled in us, is the importance of having access to care,” said Francelia.

“Our parents are from Honduras. They didn't know how the health system works here, especially the language barrier. They are always very grateful to have had someone advising them how to get insurance and how to do stuff,” said Daphne. “Health is the number one priority. It’s important because you need health to be able to accomplish anything in life.”

Public Health Education

Daphne and Francelia participated in many extracurricular activities, including the DOCS Health Fairs which allowed them to gain valuable community experience. Both Daphne and Francelia participated in a student-run free health clinic and contributed towards the development of a social needs assessment to connect patients with resources and improve their utilization of health care services. The Eckembrecher sisters also worked with the Familias Unidas initiative in the Department of Public Health Sciences.

Moreover, the diverse academic, research and community experiences that Daphne and Francelia obtained during their M.P.H. studies enabled them to continue their community engagement and activities in medical school. The sisters also developed strong research methods during their public health education, which are skills that they continue to utilize throughout medical school.

For instance, as a public health student, Daphne evaluated breastfeeding mothers’ use of an online forum to understand information-sharing and best practices related to breastfeeding. Now, in medical school, the sisters are developing a community research project focused on breast changes that women experience during pregnancy, particularly to their skin, as part of their culminating medical field experience. The Eckembrecher sisters attribute their research skills to the M.P.H. program and have been able to advance on a different phase of the project every academic year.

Both Daphne and Francelia would like to specialize in dermatology and are particularly interested in skin cancer prevention.

Personal Relationships and Community

The University of Miami also enabled the family to stay close together.

“Most definitely. I think for both of us, we've always been very family-oriented and my sister and I are inseparable in everything. Also with Alexa, even though she's seven years younger, we're really, really close,” added Daphne.

Furthermore, Daphne and Francelia mentioned that some of their best experiences has been with the MPH at UM and the lifelong relationships that they have built, including close friends and mentors that they continue to be in contact with.

“I feel like some of my best years were doing my MPH. I had so much fun. It was the tight knit community and we loved it so much. Our MPH program is by far one of the best memories that we have,” explained Daphne.

“I feel like everyone there wants you to succeed. It's such a nice program and it's so tiny. Our classes were super small. And, you could really interact with the professors and meet friends,” explained Francelia. Lastly, “The Department of Public Health Sciences does a great job of preparing the students for a career in public health. They do the best they can to either help you directly or connect you to a resource that will advance your professional and career goals.”

Written by Veronica Bustabad
Published on January 26, 2022