No Wrong Path to Public Health: Marina Pieretti’s Zufall AmeriCorps Story
When Marina Pieretti, MPH, completed her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Hispanic cultures with a minor in film at Barnard College, Columbia University in 2013, she had never considered working in public health. In fact, at that time, Pieretti was eager to begin a career in film.
An aspiring dirctor, Pieretti’s first postgraduate job was as a production assistant with the TriBeCa Film Festival. She spent about a year in this position and when she realized it did not fulfill her how she had imagined, she went into issue-based public relations and then corporate communications before deciding it was time for a bigger change. She had become interested in disease mitigation after a complicated bout of Lyme Disease and Bartonella in college, but she wasn’t aware of its professional application.
“I didn’t know of careers in public health being advertised to young people anywhere,” Pieretti said.
She instead turned to AmeriCorps, the federal service program that matches volunteers with service terms in civic, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations. Ready to explore work that benefited others and to reengage her Spanish language skills, she took an AmeriCorps volunteer role with Literacy First, in Austin, TX, teaching English and Spanish to low-income children from Spanish-speaking homes. The service project was immensely rewarding for Pieretti and aligned strongly with her values.
In 2017, Pieretti’s father’s passing from cancer brought her back to the east coast and renewed her interest in disease mitigation. She discovered and was admitted to Zufall Health’s AmeriCorps program shortly after, and it felt like the perfect fit. The opportunity blended service with helping people in her home state of New Jersey live healthier lives and even required fluency in Spanish.
Pieretti’s primary responsibility at Zufall AmeriCorps was to provide pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting education to pregnant teens in local high schools. Pieretti also helped with Medicaid enrollment and patient communications, education, and translation during her term.
“Resources were sparse for most of the pregnant teens I educated. The majority were Spanish-speaking with limited access to primary and behavioral health care as well as prenatal and postpartum education. I knew that I was filling a significant gap as a compassionate listener who connected the teens to resources at Zufall,” Pieretti said.
For Pieretti, Zufall’s AmeriCorps program highlighted disparities in health care access and motivated her to pursue public health. After her service year, she enrolled in a master’s in public health program at Rutgers University with a focus in epidemiology. She stayed with Zufall as the part-time AmeriCorps Coordinator while completing her MPH and, after graduation, worked as a clinical research coordinator studying Hepatitis C in a high-risk population.
Today Pieretti is the regional director of public health workforce development for Appalachian District Health Department supported by the North Carolina Division of Public Health. She’s responsible for recruiting, retaining, and training public health employees for eight health departments in the state with focuses on communicable disease and environmental health.
“Like federally qualified health centers like Zufall Health, local health departments in North Carolina provide safety nets for people with limited health care access as part of the many community-specific services they offer. In my role, I work to increase the pathways into local public health while also ensuring the current workforce has the training it needs to meet growing public demands,” she explained.
During her time in local public health, Pieretti has received promotions from consultant, to manager, to director and has managed teams of up to five staff. Pieretti isn’t sure she’d be where she is today without her Zufall AmeriCorps experience. She says that programs like Zufall AmeriCorps provide one of the very few pathways into public health careers for young professionals.
“I recommend the program to anyone enthusiastic about improving the wellbeing of people and communities. The valuable lessons I learned at Zufall will serve as a constant inspiration as I continue to build my career in public health.”
Top Image: Marina Pieretti (back row, fourth from left) sits with Zufall Health founder Robert Zufall, M.D. (back row, third from left), and fellow members of Zufall AmeriCorps class of 2017-2018.