Tracey Pérez Koehlmoos, a professor and researcher, receives USF COPH Outstanding Alumni Award

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An Army veteran, Prof. Tracey Pérez Koehlmoos wanted to work in health care, but she knew clinical care was not a good fit for her family.

“Public health was a natural choice,” said Koehlmoos, who received her MHA from the USF College of Public Health with a concentration in health policy and management in 2002 and her PhD in Public Health in 2005. “I’m most interested in improving the health of populations. I really think public health professionals are optimists by nature.”

Koehlmoos’ journey to the COPH began in Hawaii.

“I was a military wife,” explained Koehlmoos. “My husband had accepted a position in Washington, D.C., and that turned into a position in Tampa. I called the COPH from my patio in Hawaii, where I was sitting in my pajamas, and one of the faculty helped me realize that what I wanted was an MHA.”

The road to a master’s—and then a doctorate—was not an easy one for Koehlmoos, who, in addition to juggling school demands, had to care for her three young children, often without the help of her husband, who was gone on deployments.

“There were so many times I wanted to quit,” Koehlmoos recalled. “School was expensive, the boys needed me, and I couldn’t always find child care. Great friends in the community stepped up to help me, and we did it. I’m thankful to this day.”

Tracey Pérez Koehlmoos, PhD, stands with her three sons in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Koehlmoos)

When asked what she’s most proud of accomplishing during her time at the COPH, Koehlmoos says it’s the relationships she developed.

“I made some great friends and had some wonderful mentors,” she said. “Dr. Barbara Orban told me about the PhD program—she changed my life. And I always felt so supported—from writing essays that won the Hill-Rom Essay Competition [a national essay competition for students studying health care management that’s now known as the Richard J. Stull Student Essay Competition] two years in a row to defending my dissertation.”

Koehlmoos’ work has taken her around the world and back again. She was the program manager for the Health and Family Planning Systems Program in Dhaka, Bangladesh. While there, she helped lead an effort—funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—that used zinc for the treatment of childhood diarrhea. The measure saved the lives of tens of thousands of children per year. Back in this country, she served as the special assistant to the Assistant Commandant of the US Marine Corps at the Pentagon.

Koehlmoos in the Terai Region of Nepal during a measles vaccination campaign. (Photo courtesy of Koehlmoos)

Today Koehlmoos is a professor of preventive medicine and biostatistics at the Uniformed Services University (USU) of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. In addition to leading a $20 million research portfolio focusing on health services research for the military health system, Koehlmoos also teaches classes, advises military health leaders on research issues and directs the doctoral programs in public health.

“I am so thankful to the USU and the Department of Defense for the opportunity to do research, service, program development and teaching that improves the health of —and the health care received by—soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and their families. Our students are the future leaders of the Military Health System. But this is also the health system where my children, friends and I receive our health care, so there is something personal about it. I feel so fortunate to be able to do this work in the company of such wonderful colleagues.”

Koehlmoos says the COPH and the lessons she learned there are with her “all day, every day. The analytical tool kit I got at the COPH—things I learned about biostatistics, epidemiology and policy analysis—I apply every day. The COPH gave me a great education.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health