Employee Spotlight: Natalya Martins

Natalya Martins, MPH, has a placard with a quote from Indigenous Australian and activist Lilla Wilson hanging in her office:

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

As MHQP’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, this 28-year-old graduate of Skidmore College and Simmons University leads MHQP’s health equity work.  And to say she has a passion for the topic of health equity would be an understatement.

Nat didn’t start out with this focus. She went to Skidmore College with an interest in physical therapy.

“I had a lot of sports injuries as a kid,” she says. “That gave me an interest in physical therapy. I was on what they called a pre-health track.”

Ironically, things started coming into focus around her research for her senior year thesis topic, which was more of antithesis for Nat.

“We were researching the effects of a combined protein and anti-oxidant supplement on the athletic performance of young men,” she recalls. “I was working under a professor in the Health & Exercise Science Department, and he chose the topic. I liked the research aspects, the literature reviews, the statistical analysis, and I learned a lot about the IRB process and how to code. But to me, I didn’t feel like it had real world impact – optimizing the health of already fit folks.”

In contrast, a gender studies class she took in her senior year had a major impact and her interests began to crystalize.

“We started talking about concepts like intersectionality and anti-racism,” she recalls. “That’s when I first started thinking about equity in health.”

“Back then, I was thinking more through a behavioral paradigm – let’s give people healthy food and teach them how to cook healthy meals,” she says. “It makes sense because my physical therapy work was geared toward the individual. But I started to have more of an interest in programmatic and policy-level change.”

That burgeoning interest led her to MHQP. She had done an internship with MHQP in the summer between her junior and senior years, and then joined the organization fulltime as a project coordinator after graduation in 2016.

“Some of my friends make fun of me. They change jobs every year or two,” she says. “But this is a place where I’ve been able to focus on topics I’m passionate about and have a real impact.”

That grad school was an MPH program with a focus on health equity at Simmons University. Nat enrolled after working at MHQP for a couple of years and continued to work at MHQP part-time during the program.

After she graduated from Simmons, she was promoted to project manager and she started taking on more responsibility and leading some major projects.

Then, in 2020, when MHQP’s Board of Directors overwhelmingly endorsed making the advancement of health equity one of MHQP’s strategic imperatives, Nat was the logical choice to lead this work. Soon thereafter, as Director of Strategic Initiatives, she helped form a Health Equity & Anti-Racism Workgroup to identify directions for MHQP to systematically move towards health equity and justice, and to eradicate inequities in health outcomes and experiences.

“I always go back to Camara Phyllis Jones’ definition of racism, which is that it disproportionately advantages some, disproportionately and unfairly disadvantages others, and it saps human potential,” she says.

“MHQP’s mission is to improve the experiences of patients in the Commonwealth. That means ALL patients, not just commercially insured, not just white patients,” she says. “Access and capacity and trust, these things disproportionately impact BIPOC individuals. They are issues for everyone, but they are exacerbated in those populations due to the systemic and unequal allocation of healthcare resources.”

MHQP is grateful to have Nat’s passion and wisdom to help us on our journey to improve health equity in Massachusetts.