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Graduate Student Seeks to Influence Public Health

August 27, 2015

Gracy Mantoan is not what you would call a traditional graduate student — but her past experiences are precisely what drive her as she pursues a Ph.D. with the public health graduate group at UC Merced.

In her native Brazil, Mantoan earned her degree in medicine from the University of Campinas, Sao Paulo. She then served for three years in the Brazilian army as a general physician officer, caring for soldiers and their families.

In 1999, Mantoan and her husband moved to the United States, where he pursued a nursing degree and she hoped to enter a medical residency program. But most U.S. residency programs won’t accept students who are more than five years removed from receiving their degree, and Mantoan’s time spent in the Brazilian army and moving to the U.S. had pushed her past that point.

Mantoan made the best of the situation, spending more time with her husband and their growing family, but she always planned to pursue her career once her four children were a little older. She looked into Ph.D. programs in Utah, but wasn’t quite ready to apply. Then in 2010, her husband got a new job in Merced, and the family relocated.

She was thrilled to find that UC Merced had exactly the kind of program she was looking for. In 2013, she started volunteering as a research assistant with the Health Sciences Research Institute (HSRI). Not long after, she applied and was accepted to the new public health graduate group.

This fall, Mantoan is starting the second year of work on her Ph.D., while her youngest child is entering second grade and her oldest is entering high school.

“Being back in school has been a positive influence on my kids,” Mantoan said. “Even though I’m not home with them as much as before, I know that this is a great example for them about how valuable education really is.”

This year, Mantoan has been researching public perceptions of organ donation with professors Paul Brown and Kurt Schnier. Their study surveyed close to 100 participants to find out what factors are important when people decide whether to donate organs.

“It’s really clear to me that simple exposure to the concept of organ donation really could make a huge difference in a community like ours,” Mantoan said. “The more you get people thinking about it, the more likely they are to consider it — which speaks to my reasons for pursuing a public health Ph.D. As a medical doctor, I could only influence the life of one person at a time. As a public health specialist, I will be able to have a greater impact and influence the health of an entire community.”