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Medical student's achievements include policy work on opioid epidemic

By Jen King | Emory Report | May 10, 2018

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Headed to a residency in internal medicine, Maggie Salinger completed her medical studies at Emory while also pursuing a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Here, she poses with Dr. Ira Schwartz, an associate dean in Emory’s School of Medicine, while presenting research on the opioid epidemic.

Having grown up in Greensboro, North Carolina, Maggie Salinger has fond memories of a childhood filled with opportunities. 

She trained in ballet and tai kwon do, played basketball and sang in choir. She traveled around the world with her family, learned new languages and played instruments. She credits her parents with providing the foundational experiences and broad exposures that ultimately led her to pursue a career in medicine. 

“I think my decision to select a career in medicine and public policy dates back to the first day my mom brought my brother and me to build Habitat for Humanity houses,” Salinger says. “At the time, I was too young to understand poverty, so I initially regarded it as a fun activity.

“But through continued engagement in community service, I grew to appreciate the fulfillment of helping others. By the time I reached high school, I had decided to define success for myself as ‘substantially and sustainably improving the lives of as many people as possible,’” she continues. “That definition has continued to suit me, so, to this day, I use it as my guide.”

Prior to entering medical school at Emory, Salinger’s undergraduate studies and work experience focused on anthropology, international development and clinical research. She was particularly interested in the factors that created and perpetuated inequality and became passionate about designing systematic interventions to address health disparities. Eventually, she was drawn to medicine by the desire to have a direct, tangible impact on people’s health. 

After graduating as a Robertson Scholar from the University of North Carolina, Salinger completed a post-baccalaureate pre-med program at Goucher College, then worked in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an agency of the National Institutes of Health, for two years prior to medical school. In this role, Salinger collaborated with a network of hospitals in Mexico City studying emerging infectious diseases. 

Salinger entered Emory School of Medicine as a Woodruff Scholar. Then in 2016, in addition to her medical studies, she began working toward a master’s of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School — a degree she will be awarded May 24. She also spent a summer working for the governor of Rhode Island as a Dukakis Fellow writing state policy and programs to address the opioid epidemic

Following Commencement, Salinger will begin a residency in internal medicine at Duke University. She took time out of her preparations to share thoughts on her Emory education.

Why did you choose Emory?

Two main factors piqued my excitement about Emory. The first was the warm, collegial spirit of Emory’s faculty and student body. They were so welcoming during my interviews; it seemed like everyone took “Southern hospitality” very seriously here.

The second was Atlanta’s patient population. I knew that the city was home to people from all corners of the globe and all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Getting to care for folks with such diverse backgrounds was an important consideration in my decision to matriculate here.

What are the most important things you’ve learned during your time at Emory? 

More than any other place or experience, Emory School of Medicine helped me to expand my comfort zone. There are an infinite number of ways the medical profession can push learners to their limits. This is valuable in and of itself, but perhaps the most important thing I took away from it was the ability to achieve some level comfort with discomfort.

Why did you decide to pursue a dual degree in public policy?

I pursued an MD and an MPP because I wanted to be able to care for my patients both in and out of the hospital. I hoped the dual degree would allow me to take a multi-faceted approach by giving me a high-powered lens that looks at the physiology of disease alongside a wide-angle lens that examines the interplay and effects of social systems. 

What advice would you give an incoming medical student? 

The best advice I can think of for incoming medical students, soon to be stressed by grades and evaluations, is to cultivate relationships with supportive mentors and friends who can remind them to pursue happiness instead of external validation. Maybe an additional note is to make sure that those two – happiness and external validation –  remain at least somewhat separate. In our profession, it can be easy for these to get conflated.