KGI alumna Franco Pillsbury

KGI Alumna Franco Pillsbury Earns Dual Degree to Address Root Causes in Children’s Medical Issues

Doctors can diagnose and treat conditions, but often larger societal forces are driving these medical trends. Dr. Frances “Franco” Pillsbury, a 2014 Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) alumna who just received her MD from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, knew that while becoming a doctor would allow her to help people on an individual basis, her medical degree would not be enough to initiate change on a systemic level.

That is why Pillsbury decided to take time off halfway through her medical program to complete a Master in Public Policy program at Harvard University. As a prospective child psychiatrist who wants to work with children in the welfare system either on the foster care or the juvenile justice side, she entered this program to gain a deeper understanding of the social causes that are often correlated with psychiatric issues.

“While I knew I would get a lot of really useful training in medical school and through residency in terms of how to care for these children, I didn’t necessarily get exposure to these systems on a more intimate level or an understanding of how they work and how to change them for the better,” Pillsbury said.

The Public Policy program includes courses in economics, policy analysis, management and leadership, and ethics. Overall, the experience provided Pillsbury with a thorough knowledge of the socio-economic factors tied to mental health issues and major players in the child welfare system as well as on-the-ground experience.

“I was able to intern at the office of child protection of LA County, and I worked as a case manager for a youth homeless shelter,” Pillsbury said. “Many of those youth had recently aged out of the child welfare system. I have started to appreciate just how complicated these issues are and how much people are really trying to do. It’s just such a complex and deep problem.”

In addition to performing clinical work, Pillsbury plans to pursue a government role at the county level. If she stays in Los Angeles, she would like to work for either the Department of Mental Health or the Department of Child and Family Services, where she would help make administrative policies.

At KGI, Pillsbury completed the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Certificate (PPC) program. She felt that Senior Director and Instructor of Postbaccalaureate Programs Joon Kim was instrumental in helping her to improve upon her medical school applications and become a stronger candidate.

“He was always very realistic but supportive, which I think is a really important balance to strike,” Pillsbury said.

Pillsbury found that KGI’s emphasis on group work encouraged collaboration, which is a skill she will carry with her working in a hospital environment. She also enjoyed the school’s innovative spirit.

“I had many inspiring professors who really encouraged innovative thinking.” 

“Even though I don’t plan to go into the private sector, I think a lot of that encouragement inspired me to continue to search for exactly what kind of change I want to help people bring about,” Pillsbury said.