Mac McCullough

40 Under 40 Class of 2019

Phoenix, Arizona

Assistant Professor and Health Economist

Arizona State University
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I steadfastly believe that strengthening the financial, economic, and managerial capacity of the public health workforce can strengthen the programs and policies delivered to communities across the U.S. These stronger public health programs and policies can have a real impact on public health organizations and the health of the communities they serve.

BOLD SOLUTION: Mac recently led the development of a novel dataset to measure local governmental investments in health and social services. This has enabled long-term tracking of how both spending and population health outcomes change over time.

Five Questions for Mac

1. What are the greatest challenges you face in your public health work?

The central question to me is — does our work as public health professionals make a demonstrable impact on the public’s health? Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to answer that question. I spend a lot of my time at the intersection between public health practice and academia, and while we’re making progress with new data sources, new partnerships, and new research methods, it’s still really difficult to make the case that public health actually works. This results in the situation we find ourselves in today, where many public health departments are underfunded and practitioners are underpaid or underappreciated.

2. What would success in public health look like to you?

Getting to a point where 1) we know what public health strategies work to improve the public’s health and 2) we have the resources to provide these services to the populations that need them. I’d love to never hear “We’re just so underfunded!” again.

3. What’s a story or experience that keeps you going, even when you’re feeling challenged?

I knew I made the right choice to work in public health when, in first lecture of the first day of my MPH program, a professor asked us to raise our hand if our life was saved by a vaccine. In a big enough crowd it’s likely that someone’s life has been saved by a public health intervention. Of course, the trick is knowing who! These kinds of challenges motivate me to look at new ways of not only improving lives through public health practice, but also to track and demonstrate the value of public health in ways that can connect with a range of audiences.

4. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Originally, a pro baseball player. But clearly lacking those skills, I pivoted to wanting to be a baseball writer. Lacking even those skills, I settled on being a scholarly writer.

5. Describe yourself in three words.

Evidence-driven. Persistent. Boundary-spanner.