Q&A with Max Clermont
Senior Project Lead, U.S. Public Health
Once a month, Steppingstone Alumni will share insights on their career journey and provide career tips and guidance for Steppingstone Scholars. For this month, Scholars will get a chance to learn more about Max's career journey in the field of public health!
Q: Tell us about yourself! Where are you from? What were your post-graduate high school plans? What year did you commence from Steppingstone (if you remember)?
I’m Max Clermont (he/him), I was born and raised in Boston, MA (mostly Dorchester and Hyde Park). My family immigrated here from Haiti. I’m Steppingstone Class of 2001 – specifically the Magnet program for all those who remember. During my time in Steppingstone and most of high school, I was most fascinated by a career in medicine. I read Ben Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands” and set my sights on a career in trauma surgery…flash forward to today, I am no trauma surgeon but hope that my work on the prevention side of health helps reduce the caseload for our local trauma centers. Currently, I work as a Senior Project Lead with Partners In Health - United States where I lead a team that provides technical, operational, and strategic support to public health departments across the country as they work to become more resilient, community-oriented, and equity-first health systems. 
Q: What has the journey to your current role been like for you?
I have spent most of my professional journey working at the nexus of community engagement, public policy, and health equity. After graduating from grad school, I moved to West Palm Beach to serve as regional field director for President Obama’s re-election campaign. From there I moved to DC/Chicago to join a political consulting firm partner with clients from all industries and walks of life -- whether they be doctors or researchers or teachers or designers or students or parents -- to change culture, build capacity, and leverage their organizational power to make an impact on a policy and systems level. That work took me to San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, and even Trinidad & Tobago. After working on the 2016 Presidential campaign, I decided to pivot to direct work in the healthcare sector. I returned to Chicago and helped stand up a Level 1 Adult Trauma Center at the University of Chicago Medicine. It was almost a full circle moment after wanting to be a trauma surgeon growing up. In this role, however, I was able to tap into my political, community engagement, strategic planning, and public health skills...no surgery skills necessary! It was an opportunity to bring together people and organizations across sectors to address intentional violence on the south side of Chicago from a public health perspective.
Q: If your plans after graduating high school involved pursuing a college degree, how did your experience or studies while in school prepare you for the roles you have been in and/or are currently in?
Applying for and attending college felt like the most logical step for becoming a surgeon. I intentionally chose Brown University because of its open curriculum that allowed one to explore various courses and departments before declaring a concentration. That made me focus my entire college experience on discovery – finding the answers to the questions I had about what I saw in the world and why things were the way they were. Most of those questions centered around disparities in health which led me to take courses in anthropology, environmental studies, sociology, public policy, political science, and biostatistics. My declared concentration did not limit me to a certain career path. I was able to highlight the story and experiences behind the concentration. I helped people see the major or concentration as the book title and the various courses and experiences in between as book chapters. Don’t forget the footnote section – you’ll likely have some redirection and pivots that need some added context.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your current position?
The opportunity to train and mentor the next generation of public health leaders. We focus our conversations on the lessons learned from the current state of our healthcare system but we take the opportunity to innovate and imagine an even stronger, more just system and what it is going to take to achieve it – that’s the fun part. We can write the playbook.
Q: What tips might you have for Scholars hoping to pursue a similar career path that you’ve taken?
This might sound counterintuitive, but I recommend exploring opportunities outside of the traditional healthcare system for anyone interested in public health. For example, find jobs in education, public policy, community organizing, social services, criminal justice, finance, data & technology, etc. Public health is defined as the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities and my journey has focused on understanding all the different systems that influence health and wellness. Understanding those systems means working within them to learn about the ways in which they create harm or circumstances that prevent people from achieving optimal health.
Q: What tips might you have for Scholars looking to strengthen their resume-building or interview skills?
1) You might hear this often but I definitely believe in focusing on the quality not quantity with your resume. Did you take on that project, role, or job because you thought it would look good on your resume, or did it help advance your own personal mission/interests statement? 

2) I recommend taking on roles that expose you to different skills related to the management of people, the management of projects, or both. These often help build your leadership ability, help you learn what it means to bring folks together around a common goal, recognize individual skills and contributions, learn what it means to fail, and more importantly, how to recover from it and get back on track.

3) On the interview front, I’d work on tying everything back to either a question you are trying to answer or a problem you are trying to solve. The best interviews are when you can outline the steps you are taking, through your professional and personal endeavors, to get clarity on that question or problem. Help the interviewer understand how you will bring that curiosity and experience to their organization but also the value the organization will bring to you.
Q: Networking can be hard…how do you recommend Scholars connect with others in the fields they’re interested in and strengthen their relationship-building skills?
1) I would reach out to people via LinkedIn and ask if they have office hours or offer informational interviews. It’s important to do some background research on the individual and their background and see what you have in common. It could be a sports team or maybe you grew up in the same neighborhood or went to the same college. That helps to break the ice a bit and from there you can tell them more about your interests. Oftentimes they will want to connect you with someone else who could be a better fit for the conversation – take those introductions seriously and follow through. 

2) Before going to a networking event, try to request a list of attendees so you have a sense of who is going to be there. If there is anyone on that list that you may want to connect with, send them a note before or track them down at the event. 

3) To nurture and strengthen these connections, find some way to share updates with them about where you are and what you’re up to. Take time to keep track of new things happening for them too – whether they got a promotion, taking on a new role at another company, or even a milestone birthday.
Q: What are some questions to ask of your future employers?
I would focus some questions on company culture and professional development opportunities for staff. Ask about new initiatives they are supporting around diversity and inclusion…what does staff retention look like…what are some characteristics of employees who do well at the company…what kind of employees tend to struggle and why? Questions about the entrepreneurial spirit – does that exist or is it a more structured environment. Questions about if they have gone through a strategic planning process and what came out of that in terms of goals for the next several years or areas of focus.
Q: Did you attend graduate school? If so, what school did you attend/what degree did you pursue?
Yes. I attended the Brown University School of Public Health and graduated with a Master of Public Health (MPH), concentration was Health Services, Policy & Practice

Follow-up: What was the application process like for you?

The process was pretty straightforward. It was a 5 year BA/MPH program that allowed me to apply during my junior year in college. It required a personal statement as well as two recommendation letters.

Follow-up: What’s one piece of advice you would give to Scholars interested in pursuing graduate school?

Graduate school can be expensive. It’ll be important to find fellowships that help fund the costs or if you are in the private sector, see if your employer will support you. Any decision about grad school should focus on how helpful the degree will be for your profession or sector. A graduate degree can be connected to higher pay, more senior roles, etc. Outside of the technical skills you’ll develop, graduate schools are a great place to build your network and collaborate with peers. I’ve seen graduate school colleagues move on to co-founding companies together, managing programs, starting a nonprofit, etc.
If you want to connect with Max to learn more about his experiences or for more advice, feel free to reach out to Thai Luong at [email protected].