“My practice is using collective action to improve health for all people in all places and my passion is providing an epidemiologic and methodological backbone for public health,” Dr. WayWay Hlaing said.
Born and raised in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), the USF College of Public Health alumna began her career as a medical doctor before discovering her passion for public health and her love of teaching.
Hlaing had always been interested in public health after watching her parents work. Both were clinicians who worked in the public health field and her father also worked as a World Health Organization consultant.
Her interest sparked to a new height, though, during a medical school training trip for her preventative and social medicine course where she was required to provide public health services to a rural, remote area of the country.
After graduating with a medical degree from the Institute of Medicine 1 in Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon), Myanmar in 1986, Hlaing decided to further her education and learn more about public health at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill.
“The practical training I received during medical school was great but we learned only bits and pieces of different public health disciplines,” she said. “There were too many clinically-focused courses to take in medical school and I was curious to learn more about all public health disciplines especially epidemiology. ”
Hlaing was invited by Dr. Paul Leaverton, former chair of the USF COPH Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, for a PhD candidate interview at the COPH after earning a MS in health sciences at Western Illinois University.
“I met a few faculty and students. It was a small program and I felt comfortable and confident that I would receive the necessary education, guidance and training in epidemiology,” she said. “After my interview, I did not look into any other schools. Luckily, I was accepted!”
Graduating in 1998, Hlaing decided to pursue a career in teaching, inspired by her COPH professors.
“I learned much from each one of them — they are the mentors, colleagues, instructors, and the friends that I aspire to be to my own students,” she said.
Hlaing is currently an associate professor of epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine in Florida.
“What I love about my current position is being constantly in touch with young and curious individuals who are equally passionate about epidemiology as myself,” she said.
Hlaing said her proudest moments in her career have been when her students get recognized for their outstanding work — either through their published research work or the impact they have made on population’s health.
“Teaching also encourages my own growth because to teach it well requires my own continuous education. The feeling of accomplishment is incredible seeing my students grow in knowledge, confidence and skills,” she said.
In addition to teaching core epidemiology courses to graduate students, Hlaing is also the director of the PhD in epidemiology program. Her main responsibility is preparing future researchers and practitioners in the field of epidemiology by developing curriculum, teaching, mentoring, career planning and advising on how to navigate the doctoral education journey.
“I always love teaching but this director position allows me to sharpen my administrative and people-skills,” she said.
During her time as a professor and director, Hlaing has won many awards for her work. The most recent one is the Outstanding Graduate Program Director Award, University of Miami. Other student nominated awards include: Faculty Advisor of the Year Award and the Faculty Senate’s Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award both at Florida International University.
Thinking of the future of epidemiology Hlaing said, “The term ‘etiologic research’ is going to have a whole new meaning — epidemiologists will be evaluating causal pathways rather than identifying individual risk factors of a disease. We are also going into the era of big data and are collecting, combining and sharing all systems and levels of data and ethical/legal challenges associated with big data.”
Hlaing plans to continue to be instrumental not only in course and program development, but also in development of doctoral students so that they are prepared for the future and become the next generation of excellent epidemiologists.
Fast Five for COPH Alumni:
What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
Where would we find you on the weekend?
My husband and I spend a lot of time with our daughter and her friends either participating in community service work or having fun at social events.
What is the last book you read?
“Falling Leaves” by Adeline Yen Mah.
What superpower would you like to have?
Ability to read people’s mind.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
“Out of Africa” (OK, if I must pick one).
Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health