Looking forward to practicing psychiatry and advocating for mental health reform

Photo of Marielle Reataza

Marielle Reataza plans to finish the Health Policy and Law degree within one year.

  1. Medical relief in Tanzania in 2007 = commitment to a healthy population
  2. Involvement with Teach for America and AmeriCorps, while teaching science courses to underserved high school students in South Central L.A. = interest piqued in policy

It was these two defining life experiences that spurred Marielle Reataza to complete her medical degree from UC Irvine. But when a chronic-illness diagnosis forced her to rethink pursuing a demanding medical career, Reataza turned inward to discover her calling: “I wanted to go back to health policy, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” she recalls. “There wasn’t really anyone I could turn to to talk about health policy.”

And like so many of us faced with unanswered questions, Reataza turned to the Internet. “I did a lot of research into the different types of programs; when I found the HPL program, it made the most sense. The HPL program’s goals and curriculum aligned more with what I believe in and what I want to do in health policy. It made sense that I would be learning health policy and law because they go hand-in-hand and are complementary.”

Planning to complete the degree in just one year, Reataza took time after completing her finals to speak with us about her experience thus far and her career aspirations.

On choosing an M.S.:

After learning about the M.S., I knew I didn’t want an M.B.A. as it’s more geared toward health administration. An M.P.H. is too broad. The M.S. would give me the knowledge of public health and the business knowledge of an M.B.A. Because it’s health policy and health law, it’s all-encompassing in terms of the knowledge and expertise that I want to build. Also, the M.S. equips me with the knowledge to pursue careers that someone with an M.P.H. or an M.B.A. would go into.

The M.S. equips me with the knowledge to pursue careers that someone with an M.P.H. or an M.B.A. would go into.

On learning in an online environment:

It’s been quite different because I was always a lecture-attending person; I was the one who sat in the front. What I really like about the online program is that I can log on to the lectures whenever I want. I don’t have to be in a lecture hall at 8 a.m., I don’t have to have four lectures in a row. I can be at home or at a coffee shop. Because the lectures are recorded, I can pause and rewind, making it easier to learn the material. The professors are clear about deadlines; I can tailor my schedule so that the class material syncs with my lifestyle. I can set aside time for lectures and reading and homework.

On interacting with classmates and professors:

The online environment has surprisingly brought a lot of our classmates together despite geographical differences. Even though we don’t see each other face-to-face, I still have strong connections and bonds with my classmates and professors. I’ve learned a lot from my classmates’ and professors’ class posts. The professors have created an environment in such a way that if you ever need help, you can schedule office hours: You just log in and the professors are there to answer your questions.

On fellow classmates’ different perspectives:

I’m so glad that I read their posts and their perspectives because I would think, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” When you’re in a classroom environment, you don’t have those lengthy discussions with your classmates because it’s not on any forum that has been recorded or you don’t have access to your classmates’ posts. It’s been a really great experience.

The online environment has surprisingly brought a lot of our classmates together despite geographical differences.

On her capstone project:

My project is about shared decision making: when a patient comes in to discuss with his/her physician and they have a common understanding of what the goals of the care are going to be. It’s a lot more patient-centered, because patients now have a lot more information about different care options. In medical school, I was taught that I was the gatekeeper of information. But when I got sick and wanted to discuss options with my physicians, I didn’t feel that my physicians were having this type of conversation with me. Why aren’t my physicians listening to me and coming up with goals that matter to me? A lot of studies have shown that when you involve a patient in the decision making, they have better health outcomes because it’s more meaningful to them when you include them in the conversation. I’m also looking into how the Internet and social media have affected shared decision making.


I think Internet access and social media are great platforms to access all kinds of useful information. Unfortunately, you also have patients who are also accessing a plethora of inaccurate and sometimes potentially dangerous medical “advice.” Because of this access to so much information and the current dynamic between physicians and the patients, implementing shared decision-making can be admittedly difficult because achieving this balance may only come naturally through lots of experience.

I was talking to Professor King about my capstone and the future of health care under the Trump administration. Basically, Trump wants to decentralize health care, placing more emphasis on local and state governments. California is a very unique state in that it adopted a lot of ways to help more people get insurance. When you look at other states that didn’t adopt the Medicaid expansion, was it political or financially related? It’s really hard to say why. What I really like about the HPL program is that I can ask these types of questions. I’ve heard a lot from my professors about where health care is going, but there is still a lot that we don’t know.

On career goals:

I have decided to return to medical residency to practice psychiatry. My interests in mental health have been prevalent since my medical trip to Tanzania and my experience as a teacher, as well as being a minority and immigrant in the U.S. because minorities are less likely to access mental health services. One of the reasons this occurs is because of the stigma toward mental illness, which I think is even greater in minority populations, particularly among immigrants and the LGBTQ community.

Altogether, minority, immigrant, LGBTQ and women’s rights have been and are current important hot topics, and movements addressing these communities’ needs have really been gaining momentum. It’s a challenging, albeit exciting time to be part of these communities and movements, and I feel compelled to act with my community members, especially if I can mount up the resources for them.

The HPL program has really helped to align my interests and brought these issues to a more explicit consciousness. Additionally, the knowledge, experience and connections I’ve made through the HPL program will allow me to better serve my community as a psychiatrist and a mental health community advocate.

Are you ready to gain the skills you need to shape health policy and law? Check out how to apply!