María Luisa Zúñiga is an epidemiologist and an avid global traveler. She received her Master’s degree at UC San Diego in Pacific International Affairs and Public Policy and her Doctorate in Public Health/Epidemiology from the UCSD/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health. She is a professor in the School of Social Work and associate adjunct professor in the Division of Global Public Health and Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego. She also serves as the Co-Director of the SDSU-UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Interdisciplinary Research on Substance Use.
Bridging her passion for global health and Community-Based Participatory Research, Dr. Zúñiga undertakes research that allows her to collaborate with professionals and community members in different international settings to improve public health. Her career has focused on improving health access and care engagement for persons living with HIV and persons who are impacted by alcohol and drug use, poor mental health, and Tuberculosis. Dr. Zúñiga has worked extensively with communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region as well as Mexican transnationals and domestic migrants and their families in Mexico. Her ongoing research is designed to improve engagement and retention of patients in health care, patient and clinician communication, and care continuity in the context of the U.S.-Mexico border. Dr. Zúñiga is currently developing a new interdisciplinary collaboration in HIV/TB/Substance use research with colleagues at SDSU and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Living and working in the San Diego/Tijuana US-Mexico border region since 1990, Dr. Zúñiga highlights the importance of creating awareness among students, researchers and local communities of our shared, binational border population, “Our region is home to one of the busiest land border crossings in the world. We have over 40 million combined north-south and south-north border crossings every year, representing binational persons with economic, social, sexual, and family ties to both sides of the border.” Dr. Zúñiga hopes to inspire students to understand and learn about health systems, policies and culture on both sides of the border in order to become more effective professionals who will effectively work with this shared population of individuals and families living on both side of the border. To accomplish this, she is a member of regional binational organizations, participates actively in binational research meetings, and mentors/teaches students from Tijuana and San Diego. As a researcher, she also wishes to help students become good consumers of research and health information and be able to evaluate research with a critical eye. She hopes that students become engaged in research and become inspired by their own curiosity and take advantage of any opportunity to work with faculty researchers at SDSU to work locally and globally.
As a passionate world explorer, Dr. Zúñiga has traveled to 30 countries. In her travels, she seeks to learn about others, their cultures, traditions and perspectives. She said that every place she has traveled to has helped her become a better researcher and a better professor— “I am a global citizen, every place I go enriches who I am and helps me connect better with others.”
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Written by Claudia Gonzalez, MSW student