Upstate students Roberto Martinez and Cheryl DuMond in Nicaragua in 2013, walking to a rural community to help with a community health project. Roberto and Cheryl are married. He is a physician pursuing a Master of Public Health degree, and Cheryl is a third-year student in the College of Medicine.
Roberto Martinez has “a true passion for public health” that was evident from his first day on the Upstate campus, according to Simone Seward, MPH, assistant director of the CNY Master of Public Health program.
Roberto came to Upstate in 2013 from his native Nicaragua to pursue a degree in Public Health and a certificate in Health Administration. He earned his medical degree from the UNAN Medical School in Managua, the country’s capital, in 2010.
In Nicaragua, Roberto worked as the medical program coordinator for the AMOS Health and Hope agency. He led a 10-member health team providing primary care and other services to 13,000 people living in rural areas.
In Syracuse, Roberto is project coordinator of a county wide collaborative effort that aims to reduce substance abuse among pregnant women. It’s the essence of his required capstone project for the MPH degree, which he is on track to earn in May.
“I don’t see it as my project,” Roberto said. “I’m just facilitating the process. Depending on what we find, (I hope) we can expand it.”
Master of Public Health student Roberto Martinez, MD, has “an innate, intrinsic desire to improve the health of the population. It’s evident (he) has a true passion for public health,” said Simone Seward, MPH, assistant director of the CNYMPH program.
The goal of the project, funded in part by the New York State Health Foundation, is to identify and mentor “Community Connectors” in neighborhoods affected by prenatal substance abuse, Roberto said.
Those connectors can be a bridge to health care services and provide peer-to-peer education to young pregnant women. Healthy Families is providing mentorship and organization.
“It’s a tough task, but so far we have a big team, a broad list of partners to help identify Community Connectors,” Roberto said. “We’ll aim for 20, and I hope we get five or six. It’s about relationship building.”
Among the community partners is the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University, where Roberto is a fellow. At the center, he manages a grant that has helped develop the collaborative program involving the Community Connectors.
Cynthia Morrow, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Upstate, praised Roberto’s work in the Syracuse community and his understanding of public health intervention.
“He just has this extraordinary ability to connect with people,” Dr. Morrow said. “He has knowledge and an extraordinary skill set to reach people and put public health concepts into action.”
In April, Roberto will lead a group of 20 community members to Nicaragua, to install water filters in 40 homes. He also has been advising Upstate students before they go on two- and three-week medical missions in the country.
In Nicaragua in 2011, Roberto met a Cornell University student traveling there. Roberto and Cheryl DuMond struck up a friendship and were married in 2013. Roberto had been looking into applying to public health degree programs, and wound up at Upstate – where Cheryl is now a third-year student in the College of Medicine.
Their plans include applying for medical residencies for 2016, and eventually returning to Nicaragua to combine their skills and passion for clinical and public health.
Roberto feels strongly that medical students should have contact with community health workers, both in the U.S. and abroad.
“They’ll be able to see the amount of change these humble people can produce in a community,” Roberto said. “They have so much power for good. My encounters with them have shaped my desire to work in public health.”