Each Monday, the Daily Voice introduces you to a member of the UMass Medical School community—could be a new face, or maybe one that’s has been around for a while. We’ve asked our subjects, in their own words, to answer a few questions that might give you insight into their personalities. If you have a suggestion as to someone who might be profiled, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abigail R. Averbach is the assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff for Commonwealth Medicine.
What brought you to UMass Medical School?
I was living in Worcester and getting on the commuter rail every day at 6 a.m. and in the back of my mind wondering whether UMMS would ever be an option for me. At some point, a colleague told me about Commonwealth Medicine. I was very intrigued and as soon as I learned more about it, I knew it was exactly where I wanted to be.
What do you love most about the work that you do?
Having worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public health for more than 10 years, I knew first-hand the challenge state agencies face in having to make critical decisions and implement complex programs without sufficient financial resources or access to the specialized knowledge bases that are needed. In this respect, Commonwealth Medicine is like a refreshing glass of cold water on a blazing hot day. I love being part of the solution. I also enjoy working with people who are driven at their core by the public service mission.
How would you explain your work to your spouse/child/a student?
My daughter says it best: I go to a lot of meetings. Depending on the audience, I leave it at that. If I still have your attention, I explain that the chief of staff is responsible for ensuring that the deputy chancellor, Tom Manning, has the information he needs to steer the ship and manage the crew. Tom favors a participatory leadership style so part of my job is to make sure he hears the voices of staff and other stakeholders whose ideas and opinions he values. A lot of my work is done behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes and hopefully deal with issues before they bubble up or bubble over.
What’s the question you’re most often asked about your work – and the answer?
What’s it like working for Tom Manning? He’s faster than the speed of light and a wonderful boss to try to keep up with!
Describe yourself in six words or fewer.
Is eight okay? “You can take the girl outta Jersey but …”
If you were stranded on a deserted island, name three things you would want.
A fully stocked kitchen, a subscription to Bon Appetit, and natives who are willing to eat what I cook.
If you could have dinner with a famous person, living or dead, who would that be?
Who or what inspired you to enter your field?
My father. His commitment to public service and integrity.
What is your most treasured possession?
I certainly don’t possess my daughter but I treasure her to no end.
What do you consider the most interesting thing about yourself that most people might not know (and you would want to tell them)?
I was a diner waitress from the ages of 14 to 21. During college, I worked the graveyard shift, 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. I learned a lot about a lot of things during those years and I discovered a hankering for French fries with brown gravy. I’m also an epidemiologist.
What book have you read, or what movie have you seen, most recently, or what kind of music do you most enjoy?
I’m re-reading “The Outsiders.” My daughter passes books along to me that she’s reading in school. It’s amazing how current it is, still.
What’s the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?
Lately I’ve been thinking about how the field of public health is taking us back to basics. In the mid-1800s, Dr. John Snow, considered the father of epidemiology, discovered the origins of a cholera outbreak in a particular area of the public water system in London, so he removed the handle to the water pump and contained the spread of the bacterium. Over the course of the last 150 years, much of public health has been focused on clinical interventions and pharmaceuticals. Within the last 10 years, however, the spotlight has been on the social determinants of health, namely the social and economic conditions under which people live and their contribution to poor health outcomes. In thinking about containing the obesity epidemic in kids, public health practitioners are looking at whether or not kids live in neighborhoods where they have sidewalks and can walk to school, as well as other factors related to the built environment. It kind of reminds me of the water pump. Very exciting and very practical.
What would you tell someone who was considering applying to UMass (as a student or for a position)?
I can’t say enough good things about UMass. I come to work every day feeling great pride in what we’re doing here in Worcester, the impact we have locally, nationally and internationally, and the excitement, passion and commitment of the UMass workforce. Those who know me know that I’m also a cheerleader for the city of Worcester, so I probably would plug the quality of life here, too, as a selling point.