SPH Student Clarisse Vidal Has a Passion to Change Healthcare Systems

Clarisse Vidal

Clarisse Vidal didn’t take a traditional path to graduate school at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. 

A seven-year gap during her undergraduate career means it took her 13 years to graduate with a BA in sociology from UCLA at 31 years old. But it also means she gained valuable work and life experience working in government agencies, and affordable housing and mental health nonprofits. 

During her gap in studies, Vidal, who’s originally from Daly City and currently lives in Brentwood, worked on affordable housing issues for the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation and with adults with disabilities and mental illnesses for Anka Behavioral Health, before moving on to Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department, where she was a Medi-Cal and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps) case worker.

“I was hired when the Affordable Care Act was being rolled out, so it was a very exciting time,” Vidal says. “In that position, I continued helping different types of vulnerable subgroups, such as  low-income disabled, elderly, immigrants, and homeless populations.”

“It was good exposure to learn more about the challenges they face in their daily lives and not taking basic necessities like food and health insurance for granted,” she says. “It was emotionally difficult and I had to remind myself that I was doing the best I could to help them.”

Vidal had started her undergraduate studies as a premed student, but when she entered the work world and realized that she could help patients as an administrator, not just as a physician, she started getting excited about a career in public health. 

“My work experience confirmed my desire to get into public health to make a larger impact on a systemic level,” she says.

And Berkeley Public Health was the perfect fit. Not only was it local (“I’m from the Bay Area, so I’m very blessed to stay local with my family,” says Vidal) and near the healthcare startups of Silicon Valley, but the school’s dedication to social justice really resonated with her. 

“It’s a very prestigious institution that’s highly esteemed,” she says. “I wanted to get the best training in public health because I wanted to make a meaningful impact and I knew I was going to get the best training at UC Berkeley. “

Vidal is now starting the second year of her Health Policy & Management MPH. Over the summer, she interned at Blue Shield of California, where she worked in the healthcare quality and affordability business unit, working to improve members’ experience with the insurance company and healthcare providers. 

She says that, through her internship, she can see some of the principles of her coursework in action. “I took a design course last spring,” Vidal says. “And from taking that class and from work experience, I realize design affects everything, even just simple paperwork. Government paperwork is really complicated and some populations have difficulty understanding that. I appreciate Blue Shield’s commitment to innovation and design in order to make it more patient-centric.”

When she graduates next spring,  Vidal hopes to continue working to make healthcare systems more accessible for patients, as a program or project manager.  

For now, though, she’s really enjoying her time at Berkeley Public Health, despite the pandemic-necessitated pivot to online learning. 

“I am just really grateful for all the supportive staff at UC Berkeley,” Videal says. “They are very dedicated to training the students well and I feel confident that I’m going to be prepared when I graduate.“