Dedicated to Public Health through Public Service

By Julia D. Berg and Brittney Bomnin

Dedicated to Public Health through Public Service

By Julia D. Berg and Brittney Bomnin
Foote Fellow, Stamps Leadership and National Merit Scholar Kristiana Yao earns two degrees from the University of Miami.

Kristiana Yao Commencement ProfileKristiana Yao, a self-described “health policy nerd,” is on a mission to improve the health of vulnerable populations. 

“My dream job would involve innovating win-win regulatory structures that incentivize the private sector to serve public interest,” said Yao, recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Student Award and the Bachelor of Science in Public Health Academic Excellence Performance Award from the School of Nursing and Health Studies (SONHS). 

Yao’s path toward her career goals has been laser-focused. She earned two degrees during her time at the University of Miami, a Bachelor of Science in Public Health and Bachelor of Business Administration in Health Sector Management and Policy. 

“Integrating the two curricula advances my understanding of the health care system through a social justice lens,” said Yao, a UM Foote Fellow, Stamps Leadership Scholar and National Merit Scholar who won the prestigious Truman Scholarship in 2017. 

The Illinois native chose UM, and specifically the SONHS public health program, because “interdisciplinary study is strongly encouraged, and community practice opportunities are ample in a range of multicultural settings,” she explained. “This school and its amazing professors have instilled in me a social justice-oriented, ecological perspective of public health, which will inform every future project I undertake." 

Yao attended UM on a full merit scholarship, pursuing extracurricular activities that reinforced her commitment to advancing population health through the public service sector. She served as president of the Student Health Advisory Committee and was a member of the UM President’s Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention and Education. 

Beyond campus, Yao held internships at Jackson Health System in patient access, as well as in Washington, D.C., at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, with the Domestic Policy Council of the White House, and briefly with the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance in health policy where she later took on a staff role.

During her internship at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, she worked with the body charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act and ensuring access to quality, affordable coverage for all Americans. “I was in the office when the Supreme Court decision was handed down, basically affirming the existence of non-state-based marketplaces,” recalled Yao. “It was exhilarating to work every day alongside the architects of our nation’s groundbreaking healthcare reform movement.” 

The Federal Register, the official daily publication of the U.S. federal government, published one of her original policy pieces, a proposed provider network adequacy standard.

Yao already has some hard-earned wisdom to share from her time in D.C. “If you want to be a successful public health professional in today’s world,” she advised, “you have to know how to navigate our political climate in order to enact evidence-based, multi-stakeholder solutions.”

Yao credits her success to a “small army” of supportive peers, family, faculty and staff who she says pushed her to pursue opportunities and supported her as she mapped out her life plans in their offices. “I most appreciated the opportunity to build strong relationships with my professors,” she added. “I felt I could always drop in to talk about health policy news or difficult career decisions.”

Yao often reflects on advice from President Obama when considering her professional path thinking less about what she wants to be and focusing more on what she wants to do. After graduating from the U, Yao will begin her role in the Office of the Governor of Illinois as the James H. Dunn, Jr. Memorial Fellow focused on Health and Human Services Policy.

She looks forward to connecting with UM alumni in the Chicago region and plans to stay in touch with friends and professors.