When Michael Nies graduated from Fresno State last year with a master’s degree in public health, he was already well on his way to earning another degree — his Doctor of Medicine from St. George’s University School of Medicine on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. While simultaneously completing his last year of his graduate program at Fresno State, Nies was also pursuing his first year of medical school.

Nies was selected by St. George’s University as a Humanitarian Scholar and is now in his second year of the rigorous medical school program. He said his education at Fresno State was the perfect stepping stone to help him pursue his lifelong goal of becoming a physician.

“Fresno State helped me to achieve my goals in so many ways,” Nies said. “Taking certain courses and prerequisites at the University fully prepared me once I got to medical school.”

Nies earned his bachelor’s degree in public health at Fresno State in 2010 and later returned for his master’s. The flexible nature of the two-year master’s program and its mostly hybrid courses made it possible for Nies to pursue both degrees from nearly 4,000 miles away.

“We are proud of our alumni — like Michael — who are working to decrease health disparities in the Central Valley and beyond,” said Dr. Miguel Perez, coordinator of the Master of Public Health program at Fresno State. “He is a prime example of the many ways in which our public health program prepares graduates to be effective leaders and practitioners not just at the local level, but internationally as well.”

About 90% of graduates of the accredited Master of Public Health program come back to serve the Central Valley. The program gives students the skills, knowledge and resources needed to provide public health services in diverse settings from community-based organizations to government agencies.

Nies admits that his ambitious endeavors were not without struggles.

“Hard work, consistency, and dedication were key,” Nies said. “I also had a wonderful faculty of professors back at Fresno State who cared about my goals and vision that I have for my future in public health and health care.”

Nies’ humble upbringing paved his future. Born and raised in Fresno by his grandfather, he would experience both strength and heartache. In his later years, Nies’ beloved grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s. As his grandson and caretaker, Nies felt firsthand the pain and suffering of patients, but also the immense challenges faced by those entrusted in their care. It was in those moments that Nies discovered his passion for helping others.

“My grandfather was my best friend, and I loved him greatly,” Nies said. “That experience made me realize how important it is to give back as a health care professional. I gave 110% to my grandfather every day and it is my pledge to the profession of medicine and community that I will care for all of my patients just as I did for my grandfather — with 110 percent.”

This experience would lead Nies down the path to public health. While completing volunteer work at UCSF Fresno, Nies saw a common occurrence — many people visited the hospital for preventable ailments. They just needed education and awareness, he said.

“Additionally, I also saw a weakness in our health care system in which many patients were not receiving access to health care,” Nies said. “I knew that with a strong background in public health I would later on be able to address these problems as both a public health worker, but also as a physician right here in Fresno, where I can play a role in reducing health disparities and increasing both access and quality of care to underserved communities.”

Nies is committed to returning to the Central Valley, where he attended and played football at Reedley College before transferring to Fresno State. Nies’ goal is to continue giving back. Upon completing his second year of medical school, Nies plans to complete his clinical rotations in California, rounding out his third and fourth years of the medical school program.

He has his eyes set on UCSF Fresno for his residency, in which he will serve patients at Community Regional Medical Center. He aspires to eventually serve as an attending physician with Community Regional.

“The advice I would give to others is to never settle, and don’t worry about how long it is going to take you to accomplish your goal and vision” Nies said. “I had many people tell me over the years that becoming a doctor is going to take too long and is too much debt, but none of that mattered to me. I have a dream and a vision I formulated a long time ago when I started my college career, and I want to share that dream and vision with the world. I plan to bring superior health care to the San Joaquin Valley once I return.”

To learn more about the Master of Public Health program, visit fresnostate.edu/publichealth.