Meet our faculty: Saloni Dev

Meet Saloni Dev, MA, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine.
Headshot image of Saloni Dev

Our Public Health program pushes students to make a difference in the world, and our faculty is there to serve as examples and supporting pillars. Through inspiration, support, and rigor, our faculty members create a special learning environment. Meet Saloni Dev, MA, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine.

What courses do you teach?

"I teach or will teach the Qualitative Tools for Research and Education (PH225; Fall 2021 and Spring 2022), Evaluation of Health Programs (PH285-02, Spring 2022), and Global Health (Fall 2022—this course is currently under construction)."

Why did you chose to pursue and complete a PhD in Population Health?

"I initially aspired to become a psychologist. While completing my undergraduate studies in India, I was interning at an urban psychiatric outpatient clinic in my hometown that was predominantly accessed by a rural population, and seeing these many people struggling with mental illness, I got really engrossed with thinking about one question, which is, “How could I contribute to making mental health care more available and accessible to those who faced social exclusion due to stigma, and to those who could not afford to travel to the city to seek help?” And this question has really driven my mission.

While completing my master’s in Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, in an effort to make mental health care more available and accessible, I closely studied the intersection of public health and clinical psychology. The idea of task-sharing or involving non-specialist health workers in delivering mental health interventions showed particular potential. I subsequently carried out some fieldwork in a rural part of India with Sangath (an NGO there spearheading global mental health efforts), which helped me understand the processes and challenges to making mental health services available and accessible in low resource settings.

Subsequently, I was convinced that it is indeed from a public health perspective that I wanted to address the burden of mental illness that exists internationally, and so I decided to pursue a PhD in Population Health."

How are your areas of research interrelated (global mental health, implementation science, and social/psychiatric epidemiology)? And what are some specific projects you have completed?

"Overall, the goal of my research is to make mental health accessible and available to all by simultaneously addressing mental health stigma, the drivers of mental illnesses, and bringing evidence based mental health interventions closer to those who would benefit the most from it. This is where my primary research areas (global mental health, implementation science, and social/psychiatric epidemiology) intersect. My global mental health work has spanned across many countries, especially India, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and the United States (and I would categorize that as global health since I am a staunch believer of “global health is local health”). And my work has largely focused on the lived experiences of marginalized populations around mental illness and understanding mental health stigma in cross-cultural contexts. Within the stream of implementation science, my research work has focused on studying interventions aimed at increasing availability and access to mental health care in India and Latin America, especially integration of mental health care into primary care, community-based mental health interventions, and training non-specialist health workers for delivering mental health care interventions. Finally, I have actively utilized social epidemiology and causal inference to further understand mental health and implementation science. I did secondary analyses of nationally-representative datasets from the United States to investigate the social determinants of depression and suicide. In addition, I used the methods of causal inference in the field of implementation science to examine the mechanism of change underlying implementation of mental health task-sharing in India."

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

"The one thing I would always be proud of is that I have always followed my passion and calling. The decision to switch fields from clinical psychology to public health was a challenging one, but I believed in what appealed more to me and was able to carve out my own niche during my doctoral studies. Many more accomplishments followed such as getting intramural funding for my dissertation research, collaborating with leading global mental health researchers, and ending up at my dream job here at Tufts!"

Why did you choose to teach at Tufts?

"I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to get to know the department closely before I even started applying for jobs! I have been working with Dr. Ramnath Subbaraman (Tufts) and Dr. Liza Weinstein (Northeastern) on a community-based participatory research among residents of an urban slum in India for a couple of years now. In initially coordinating the project as a project manager, I learned about the collaborative and supportive nature of the department and knew that this could potentially be an environment where I see myself thrive. I value the fabulous infrastructure Tufts has in place for supporting junior faculty/early career researchers while also providing gateway to access other academic resources in the greater Boston area. I am excited to be expanding Tufts’ research portfolio to include mental health research in low-resource settings across the globe!"

How will you continue to pursue your research interests? And can students get involved?

"I am currently envisioning to expand my research work to study mental health of marginalized populations such as residents of urban slums in low- and middle-income countries and study the implementation of evidence-based interventions in these communities. I also plan to further understand non-specialist health worker-level factors to enhance implementation of mental health task-sharing globally.

Students can absolutely get involved as I am applying for grants and writing manuscripts. I draw a lot of energy from students and mentees and would love to find opportunities for involving passionate individuals in my research!"