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Berkeley Public Health alumna profile: Phaly Pichota

Phaly Pichota, 46
  • Online MPH ’18
  • Home country: Cambodia (immigrated to US at 7)
  • Hometown: Boston
  • Currently lives: Carlsbad, California
  • Preferred pronouns: she/hers/her

What is your previous work and educational history and how did your degree fit into that?

My background was in advisory and consulting at a Big Four accounting firm (financial services), which later propelled me to get an MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. After business school, I took on the role as chief auditor of a startup insurance company and later transitioned into VP of customer experience and then headed up the direct life insurance business for American Family Insurance Company. I was passionate about health and nutrition and also wanted to be an entrepreneur, so after my company’s acquisition, I pursued the MPH, graduated in 2018 and started my own digital health company—Cibus Health—that same year.

What sparked your interest in public health?

I had spent over 20 years in military healthcare, first as an active-duty field medic (four years in Army), then as a Medical Service Corp officer in the USAFR [US Air Force Reserve]. While I had a successful career in the corporate environment, I knew I wanted to work full-time in healthcare in some capacity after I was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Noble Eagle in 2003–but I never had the opportunity to pursue it and had to put that aspiration on hold. I ended up advancing to the executive ranks at a startup insurance company and finally saw an opportunity to pursue my dream after my company was acquired by a fortune 500 company in 2014. It was then that I started to search and plan out the MPH degree and start a career change.

What was your concentration at Berkeley Public Health?

General MPH through the online program—I wish there had been the Nutrition concentration when I was still in the program, because that is awesome!! I’m very excited that the Online MPH program added this. I would consider getting that concentration as an alumna now.

Why did you choose the online program, as opposed to a traditional program?

I was a working professional with a family, trying to execute a career change and needed the flexibility of online versus on-campus.

Can you tell us about your career since graduating from the Online MPH program?

Since graduating in 2018, I co-founded Cibus Health, a personalized nutrition technology platform designed for clinicians to prescribe, at point of care, a complete nutrition support program for patients suffering from chronic conditions, with an immediate focus on patients suffering from heart disease and diabetes.

How has your degree from Berkeley Public Health helped you achieve your career goals?

The MPH was a really critical aspect of my second career change into healthcare, which I had been planning for close to 10 years. After the MPH, I pursued the field of nutrition which had been a lifelong passion for me and received a certificate in Integrative Nutrition at UCSD in 2020. I’m pursuing credentials as BCNS through the American Nutrition Association.

How did your time at Berkeley Public Health challenge you, and how have you applied what you learned?

Berkeley MPH has been instrumental in giving me the knowledge and theories to apply nutrition intervention within my own startup company. It really drove this idea of technology and innovation in health interventions, with a deeply human-centric approach. I use these learnings often today (especially from classes such as program planning, survey methods, and mass communications) as I develop my personalized nutrition tech platform, engage in customer discovery, and design efforts with patients, clinical users, and sponsors.

What were the most transformational parts of your experience at Berkeley Public Health? How did those formative moments help you on your current path?

The most transformative part of Berkeley was being able to deeply connect with like-minded and immensely caring individuals across different healthcare efforts who simply shared my passion for improving human health. These individuals have since become my greatest champions, mentors, and friends. For me, coming from the corporate sector, the program has really given me a new sense of purpose on how I can contribute to health for the better in, I hope, some meaningful way.