Dr. Lynette Menezes honored with USF COPH Outstanding Alumni Award

| Academic & Student Affairs, Chiles Center, Featured News, Monday Letter, Our Alumni

Born and raised in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, USF College of Public Health (COPH) alumna Dr. Lynette Menezes immigrated to the United States after completing her undergraduate degree in microbiology and master’s degree in social work (MSW) from the University of Mumbai.

Menezes was first introduced to the field of public health at the age of 14 when she began volunteering to teach “street children,” children who depend on the streets for their survival. These children may live on the streets, work on the streets, have support networks on the streets or a combination of the three. 

In high school, she began volunteering at a leprosy hospital visiting with patients and witnessing firsthand the immense suffering from a stigmatizing disease.

“These visits motivated me, my siblings and friends to form a youth group and raise awareness about leprosy,” Menezes said. “Our hope was that by promoting early detection and treatment we could prevent the neurological effects of the disease and, thus, reduce the stigma associated with the accompanied disfigurement.”

Lynette Menezes, PhD (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Lynette Menezes, PhD (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Upon graduating with her microbiology degree, Menezes began working in a hospital laboratory—but she wanted more.

“Through my networks, I learned that a rural hospital serving leprosy patients was in need of a basic lab. I joined the Mukta Jeevan Leprosy Hospital and established a lab for the hospital providing basic lab diagnostics,” she said. “Living amidst leprosy patients for nearly two years was a life-changing experience. I knew that I needed an advanced degree if I wanted to make a difference in improving the health of marginalized communities. As there was no public health degree in India at the time, I enrolled and graduated with a MSW degree with a concentration in health.”

When Menezes made the move the U.S to join her husband, she jumped at the opportunity to earn an advanced degree in public health.

“I met with Dr. Bob McDermott, the chair of the former Department of Community and Family Health, who introduced me to Dr. Martha Coulter, former director of the Harrell Center,” she said. “They were both very welcoming and convincing about the PhD program at the COPH, and I was excited to enroll.”

As a new immigrant Menezes said she had little idea about the American educational system and the expectations of graduate students, but that everyone at the college was kind and welcoming.

“One of the senior students, Brenda Morrissette, now Dr. Brenda Joly, who was a year ahead of me in the PhD program was particularly helpful and supportive. I was so moved by her sincerity and graciousness to help me, and we have remained friends since,” she said. “Growing up in a competitive milieu in Mumbai, she was a wonderful role model for me. The other activities I enjoyed the most were the classroom deliberations and debates with faculty and peers on any given public health topic and learning from and commiserating with my peers after hours when the going was rough.”

Dr. Lynette Menezes at a data collection site for her PhD dissertation in Mumbai, India. (Photo courtesy of Menezes)
Dr. Lynette Menezes at a data collection site for her PhD dissertation in Mumbai, India. (Photo courtesy of Menezes)

Graduating with her PhD in public health, Menezes has been with USF Health ever since.

“After my first stint at the Chiles Center as a data analyst for the National Friendly Access Program, I was hired by the USF Division of Infectious Disease to expand their global programs and joined as an instructor and director of USF Health International” she said. “In 2006, I expanded these programs across the entire USF Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM), becoming the founding director of the USF Health International program at MCOM and an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Disease.”

Dr. Lynette Menezes with partners of USF Health from Dakar Pasteur Institute, Hospital Principal in Dakar, Senegal. (Photo courtesy of Menezes)
Dr. Lynette Menezes with partners of USF Health from Dakar Pasteur Institute, Hospital Principal in Dakar, Senegal. (Photo courtesy of Menezes)

Menezes is currently the assistant vice president and assistant dean for international affairs at USF Health MCOM. In her roles, she’s been building and supporting international programs, faculty and student exchange in 38 countries.

She also founded the international medicine scholarly concentration for medical students where she teaches global public health principles and pioneered a robust medical student exchange program between USF and 25 academic institutions in 14 countries. The students engage in research as well as clinical training.

“In these roles, I have loved the opportunity to create, sustain and support global programs for USF Health students and faculty across the four colleges by mobilizing the diverse faculty and staff expertise at USF Health,” she said. “As a bonus, I have gotten to interact with some of the smartest and most interesting individuals from varied cultural backgrounds at USF and abroad. I’ve learned so much from their personal and professional stories of overcoming obstacles on their journey to success.”

COPH Alumni Fast Five

  • What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
    • A doctor.
  • Where would we find you on the weekend?
    • Volunteering with the homeless, reading, walking in a park or cooking.
  • What is the last book you read?
    • “Paradise,” by Abdulrazak Gurnah.
  • What superpower would you like to have?
    • To convert the skeptics that climate change is real and must be reversed.
  • What’s your all-time favorite movie?
    • “The Sound of Music.”

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health