When MaryGrace Apostoli, ’11, realized her interests were too broad to fit into a single academic department, she didn’t let it stop her from following her passion for studying health care around the world.

Apostoli came to the University of Richmond as a pre-med and music major, but after taking a class on health care policy and politics in the U.S. — and discovering she was “pretty dismal” at music theory — she realized there was much more to health care than science and clinical medicine and changed majors.

Apostoli completed the pre-med curriculum, but dropped her music major to a minor and created her own major — international health care policy and practice — with the help of her adviser, political science professor Rick Mayes. Because the topic involves a variety of disciplines, she took courses in political science, economics, anthropology, business and leadership studies to understand health systems and disparities around the world.

“So many industries and interests intersect to create the system of public health in a given country,” she said, “and the decisions made in the public health field affect the health of millions. So, I think it's really important that we have a good grasp of how to keep people healthy from a systems and community level as well as in an exam room or a hospital.”

In addition to her time in the classroom, Apostoli also traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to study public health at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. She visited doctors, hospitals, policy organizations and government offices to see how the system worked firsthand.

Apostoli said she learned about the issue in a different cultural context, taking a lot away from how Denmark — which she said has impressive health statistics — organizes its health care systems.

But Denmark isn’t the only place outside of the U.S. where Apostoli has studied health care. She spent her sophomore spring break on a “life-changing” mission trip to the indigenous community of Pampas Grande, Peru, where she and others volunteered in a local clinic.

“It really motivated me to learn more about why health disparities exist and how they can be eliminated," she said, "and to build a career that would enable me to reach out in third-world communities and offer skills and experience they could benefit from.”

Beyond her travels, Apostoli is also putting her studies to practical use in Richmond as co-president of the Global Health Club, an organization that works to raise awareness about health disparities around the world. She also worked as a recruiter for Teach for America, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a Richmond Artist Scholar, a Westhampton College Distinguished Leader and National Merit Scholar.

Overall, her time abroad and the interdisciplinary nature of her coursework — looking at similar issues from different angles — are what Apostoli credits as being crucial to her academic experience at Richmond.

“This major has given me such a well-rounded view of health care and of the world that I feel it has really prepared me for a number of paths within the field,” she said.

After graduation, Apostoli said she eventually plans to attend medical school and become a pediatric physician in poor-resource settings. But first, she will work as a research associate for the Advisory Board Company in Washington, D.C., looking into the best health care practices around the country and the world.

“Following my rationale for creating my own major,” she said, “I am really eager to continue learning about how health care is delivered around the world, why countries make the choices they do, and how we can pool our resources to improve health care across the board.”