The most important aspects of life

Rafael Mendoza discusses his career in healthcare policy

I knew that by implementing good health policies I could improve lives not just on an individual level, but across entire countries.

Rafael Mendoza

Rafael Mendoza (right) stands beside President Nayib Bukele of El Salvadore
Rafael  Mendoza (left) stands with President Nayib Bukele (right) of El Salvador

Rafael Mendoza (MSc Health Policy 2020) has worked in the healthcare industry since 2001, starting out as a business analyst for Pfizer. Twenty years later, he found himself in the eye of the storm managing vaccine deployment for AstraZeneca. Rafael talks about his career and managing challenges during times of pressure.

What inspired you to work in health policy?

I was inspired to work in health policy because of its capacity to positively impact the most vulnerable people in one of the most important aspects of life – health and quality of life. The healthcare professions are some of the most admired in the world, and I cannot express my respect and gratitude enough to all the people on the frontline who devote their lives to helping others. I didn't have the vocation to be a healthcare professional as I am an economist by training, but I knew that by implementing good health policies I could improve lives not just on an individual level, but also across entire countries.

What role did you play at AstraZeneca during the pandemic? 

I was only one week into my appointment as a Country President for Central America and the Caribbean with AstraZeneca when the pandemic hit. It was just a few weeks later that the company announced their vaccine candidate, which meant that I was going to be part of the deployment task force in Latin America. I knew this would be challenging as some countries in this region are wealthy, but others, such as Haiti and Nicaragua, are extremely poor.

Rafael Mendoza walks along a corridor with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado
Rafael Mendoza (left) with former Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada (right)

What challenges did you need to overcome when deploying the vaccine? 

There were many challenges I had to overcome in this project. From managing government pressure, to accelerating development and delivery, to the media’s constant desire to know more. At the same time, we had to deal with disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories about vaccines, COVID and the pharmaceutical industry. 

What is your favourite thing about working in health policy? 

My favourite thing about working in health policy is challenging yourself to make decisions that positively impact the majority of people while managing complex practicalities.  

What advice do you have for current LSE students interested in working in this area? 

LSE was THE most important tool I had in my kit when the tsunami of the pandemic changed my career. Please make the most of it and stay involved. There are many ways to be part of the ecosystem - there is no need to wait for the next pandemic or have a governmental role. What I did learn is that healthcare systems, regardless of the country, need people like you, who have been equipped by LSE in critical thinking and problem solving.

July 2023