Editor’s Note: As another UVA graduation approaches, the Department of Public Health Sciences of the School of Medicine recognizes the important work that its graduates do to improve the health of those in the community, locally and around the globe. This article highlights two graduates with a unique history, a close bond, and certainly great potential: Konstantine Khutsishvili, MPH (2018) and his daughter, Liza Khutsishvili, a 2023 graduate with dual bachelor’s degrees in Global Public Health and Commerce.
Caring for others to promote better health and wellness is what people do in the medical profession. However, in his native country of Georgia in the early 2000’s, Konstantine Khutsishvili, a physician, realized it was becoming increasingly difficult to care for his family much less for others due to the poor economy and political tensions in the nation.
In Georgia, Konstantine was a practicing physician in Obstetrics and Gynecology, while his wife was a pediatrician. But, with hopes of providing a better life for their family in the United States, Konstantine’s wife applied for and gained a position with UVA in clinical research. So, happily, in 2006 they moved to Charlottesville, Virginia when their daughter Liza was just 5 years old. This decision proved to be a positive one for the family, which soon expanded to include a little brother for Liza. Konstantine proudly declared, “It took one year to get a green card, and only five years to become US citizens!”
Although unable to get a job as a physician in the US, Konstantine went into basic research at UVA. But, used to caring for others, he recalled, “I wanted to be more useful to people—to continue learning and improving, and I wanted to know more about the US healthcare system– how policy and laws were made.” So, Konstantine applied and was accepted to UVA’s Master of Public Health degree program. Attending classes while working full-time, he earned his MPH with a concentration in health policy and ethics in August 2018. (Konstantine also speaks four languages: English, his native Georgian, Armenian, and Russian. Georgia was part of the former Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991.)
With his new degree and knowledge, Konstantine was then promoted in UVA’s Histocompatibility (tissue typing/donor matching) Lab. “I became Lead Technologist and ‘director in-training’ because with the public health program, I learned more about US healthcare and how to talk with people and how to motivate them,” he emphasized.
While studying for his courses, Konstantine often shared and discussed his reading assignments and papers with his family. He said, “When I was in the program, I used to talk to Liza about the issues. She was my first advisor and was the first reader of my papers. Liza is also an expert in the US education system, which is different from how I learned, so she helped me with essay rules.” Konstantine said he also appreciated the PHS staff’s patience with him and his many questions, since for him this was a totally new system of learning with different formats.
Liza Khutsishvili was quite inspired by her father Konstantine’s studies as well as both of her parents’ commitment to the medical profession. Liza, now a fourth year at UVA, graduates this May in both Global Public Health and Commerce with a concentration in Information Technology. Konstantine added, “Can I brag a little? I am very proud–she is smart, a good student and successful! I always ask her questions because she is our best advisor in life!”
“I began college in pre-med, but my thinking and focus was more on the bigger picture,” Liza remembered. “So, I finished the pre-med requirements in two years and applied to both the Global Studies – Global Public Health program and McIntire’s School of Commerce. I was accepted to both programs and though I was a bit nervous about it, I decided to pursue both because I wanted to understand how business works with health care.” She added, “I am really interested in how technology can apply to healthcare, such as with telehealth, and how to manage people and healthcare innovations. To make innovations work, we first need to understand how people interact with technology to be able to focus it into helping provide for patient needs in healthcare.”
Reading her father’s papers in public health and Liza’s practical work at UVA honed her interests. For three years, Liza worked with the PACT (Program for Anxiety, Cognition and Treatment) lab where they worked on the new app, “Hoos Think Calmly” with Bethany Teachman, a professor of psychology in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The program, offered by computer, smartphone, or tablet, is a UVA-specific training targeted to the University community and the specific stressors they experience. Liza noted, “Traditionally in psychotherapy, marketing has not been done direct to the consumer, like pharmaceutical firms have done with medications. So, we must determine how to market and reach parents, patients, counselors, and students to help them understand how and why to use the psychotherapy tools.” Due to her advanced knowledge of Spanish, Liza also provided the Spanish translation of the website.
In the GPH program, Liza’s focus was on how to manage people and systems to bring innovative technology projects into healthcare. Liza said, “My mentor was Dr. Craig Kent, who has given me some very good advice. I also took the Darden CEO leadership class which provided great training on how to build and manage teams.”
This summer after graduation, Liza is applying both her knowledge of public health and skills in technology to a humanitarian project with the Center for Global Health Equity. She will travel to Tanzania to help determine how to customize an app to the culture to effectively track tuberculosis and mitigate its spread in the local population. When she returns in the fall, Liza will work for a year with the UVA Health Strategy Team (Jason Lineen, Chief Strategy Officer), and apply to medical school.
Konstantine and Liza had a close relationship before, but her time as a UVA undergrad has built on that. Konstantine smiled as he said, “I was walking near the Rotunda, and someone came up to me from behind–I was so scared, but it was Liza–she saw me and ran and hugged me! We try to give her privacy and her own time, but it’s always so nice to see her here.”
Liza shared, “He works in the next building from my room, so it’s only about a minute walk. When I go visit him, they [his co-workers] say, ‘Oh, this is Konstantine’s daughter!’” She laughs and adds, “It has been good to get advice about choosing professors and classes in the public health program. My parents also bake bread and bring it to me.”
When asked how it will be if Liza moves away, Konstantine replied, “I want her to go where she wants for medical school—other places may have more opportunities for what she wants to do.” Liza shared, “Although I grew up in Charlottesville, I have immersed myself in college at UVA, so it’s totally different than living off UVA Grounds. Last year I studied in Madrid, so I have lived away from home. I may go away to med school somewhere, but I’m fine with staying here if that’s how it works out. Plus, I wouldn’t get the fresh bread on demand anywhere else!”
Originally established in 1995, the Department of Public Health Sciences in the UVA School of Medicine works with clinicians and researchers to improve the health of individuals and populations. The department aspires to be the hub in the School of Medicine for the generation, analysis, interpretation, and management of clinical outcome and population health data, and to provide leadership in research methods and in education to enable the highest quality of clinical and population health research in the School of Medicine. The PHS Vision is “to promote health, to foster respect, and to advance health equity in Virginia and beyond.” For more details about the PHS degree and certificate programs and ongoing collaborative research, see the PHS website: https://med.virginia.edu/phs/
When people mention Georgia as a location, those in the US usually think of the southern Peach State with Atlanta as its capital. However, the nation of Georgia is a strategic crossroads where Europe meets Asia and boasts a rich cultural heritage of many centuries. The Georgian language is one of the family of South Caucasian languages with its own alphabet, originating during the 5th century. An object of rival control by neighboring countries, the nation gained its independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, tensions continued from 2001 to 2008 for various territorial reasons that escalated into a 5-day military conflict with Russia in 2008. Although that last conflict ended in a peace agreement, heightened political tensions continue to the present within the country.