Q&A: Spyridon Marinopoulos is UMD’s Health Center next director

The University of Maryland's Health Center on Feb. 14, 2020. (Suze Creedon/The Diamondback)

In just three months, Dr. Spyridon Marinopoulos will take the helm of the University of Maryland’s Health Center amid the coronavirus pandemic. Marinopoulos, who currently leads health services at Johns Hopkins University, will be taking over from interim director Dr. Sacared Bodison.

Dr. David McBride announced he was leaving his position in September 2019 after widespread mold and a subsequent adenovirus outbreak on the campus. One freshman, Olivia Paregol, died of complications relating to the outbreak in the fall of 2018. 

In the summer before the mold outbreak, Jordan McNair, an offensive lineman on the Maryland football team, died of heatstroke after athletic staff did not adequately implement guidelines for player safety. 

Bodison stepped in as interim director following McBride’s resignation last year. This September, the university announced Marinopoulos would take over in January 2021. 

The Diamondback spoke with Marinopoulos to learn more about his priorities and stances going into this position.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What led you to college student health? 

A: I’ve been working in a university environment now for several years. I believe that students are at the very core of what we do — they’re like our family. I really enjoy engaging with students, faculty, deans and other stakeholders to try to improve the student experience and make sure that students can receive the health services and the care that they need in order to thrive in a competitive environment. 

Q: I saw that you were conducting research when you were at Johns Hopkins. Do you still plan to conduct research while you’re at the University of Maryland, and if so, could you elaborate on your plans? 

A: When I first came to Hopkins, research was a larger component of what I did before taking on my current leadership position. I’ve continued to do some research, most recently, surveying medical students about their health and wellbeing with questionnaires related to depression, anxiety, stress and burnout. I envision myself looking at similar issues at UMD. Most students are not the same. There are different student groups that have different needs. I think that’s really important for us to understand in health services. I envision finding ways to engage with stakeholders, including student groups, and figuring out how can we ask some questions that would then provide us with answers to tailor or improve services, or apply what we’ve learned to improving the health and wellbeing of students.

Q:  What do you think are some of the biggest priorities for maintaining safety on a college campus in the era of COVID-19? 

A: I think the main area that is critical is the prevention of COVID-19. It’s very important to make sure there is outreach and education with all campus stakeholders, especially students. I think having a communication campaign and collaborating is absolutely critical to stem the spread of the virus. The approach is really a public health approach, and it also puts us, as individuals, at the center of it, because we are responsible for protecting both our own health and the health of the community, including vulnerable populations.

Q: Emerging infectious diseases are becoming more common. How should the health center respond as new infectious diseases come up?

A: I think, again, it goes to communication and being very proactive about identifying cases that are new, and then notifying the campus community. I think that’s absolutely critical. So I think the key to that is really just communication, communication, communication. I can’t stress that enough. And being transparent about the process of doing that. So that that would really be my approach.

[Health Center administers flu shots as influenza season overlaps with pandemic]

Q: What are some of the main differences in general between Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland? 

A: So I need to visit. I visited UMD once in-person, and I’ve had a lot of Zoom meetings in the last few months. UMD is a much larger community, with a lot bigger undergraduate population. A lot more students are local from within the state of Maryland. UMD is also a larger residential campus with Greek life and athletics. The response at a large university is a little different from the response of a medium-sized university or smaller one where you don’t have those constituencies.

Q: Could you comment on some of the differences between undergraduate students versus graduate students in terms of their health needs?

A: In my current work, I have been in charge of taking care of more of our graduate population. Undergrads are a larger essential community. We don’t have residences like we do for graduate and professional students, so there needs to be a lot of outreach into that community, being proactive about engaging the community by involving student representatives. There are also students who are leaving home for the first time to come to college. I go back to when I came from Greece as an international student, and I didn’t know very much about U.S. culture or the health system. I remember going to my health center at the University of Chicago with some health issues that I had, and after various experiences there, I eventually had a positive experience. I still remember that. It’s actually interesting how 30-some years later, I actually remember that experience as a college student. The way I view college students goes back to my own experiences. There is a lot of first times in college, becoming independent, your parents aren’t there and you depend on them. All those things are differences that I’m eager to engage with, and I feel quite comfortable. I think it is part of the excitement of joining a college health community.

Q: What role does a student health center have in addressing health disparities and social determinants of health?

A: I think it is very important for us as physicians to ensure that we understand where patients are coming from, what their background is, and how we can actually provide health care, health services and wellbeing services to them that are actually equitable — that is a word that means understanding their needs, background, financial issues, social issues and who they are in order for us to actually be able to reach out to them and effectively take care of them. That is absolutely critical. I look forward to engaging with the different populations of students regarding their needs and ensuring that we provide equitable health care.

Q: Thinking about the financial models of different health centers, should a university’s health center be actively aiming to increase the number of people who utilize the center, and why or why not?

A: I don’t believe finances should have anything to do with whether a health center is accessible to students. I believe that access to high quality health care is a public good. In a large university community, the health center should be there to take care of the health and wellbeing needs of students and learners and others in the university community. That’s been my approach at Hopkins, and that is what I believe at the core. I think we understand that now we’re in the midst of a pandemic. I think that is an important realization for all of us because health affects each of us individually, but it also affects all of us as a community.

[UMD experts advise students on taking care of their mental health during the pandemic]

Q: What are some of the things you like to do outside of work? 

A: COVID has changed a lot of the things we do. I try to stay in close touch with family and friends. I think it is so critical to maintain connections, and I advise everyone to do the same. I’ve been cooking, which is great. Pre-COVID, I love traveling and exploring places. I love going to the theater. I haven’t been able to do that for a while and I am looking forward to going back to that. And then walking by the water. I live in Fells Point, and I find that to be very relaxing.

Q: What led you to the University of Maryland? 

A: I was approached about the position, and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to grow professionally. A challenge in my mind is an opportunity to grow and to really make a difference on a larger scale. I really love university communities. I love engaging, and the more I talk to folks, the more I realize that this really is a wonderful opportunity. I also felt that everyone was truly engaged in the process of finding their next student health leader, from the university leadership down to every single person I interviewed, including students. I really thought that was wonderful, and it inspired me to become very, very excited about this. I’m really excited and eager to engage and take on this new role.

Q: What are you looking forward to doing once you finally get to College Park?

A: I’m looking forward to engaging with all of you — students, staff, faculty, the wonderful colleagues in student affairs — and learning much more about the community, learning as much as I can about all of the needs of the campus and how we can best meet them. I deeply care about the health and wellbeing of students, and my goal is to engage with the community and collaborate to provide excellent health and well-being services. That is my goal.

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