Last week, we touched briefly on the vast world of Public Health, the next two posts will try to highlight that by featuring two public health professionals and their experience.
Health OU: What is your current job title?
- My current job title is Project Data Manager.
HealthOU: What does your job entail?
- I currently work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA within the Center for Global Health as an independent contractor; and my work is based in the Domestic Unit of the Malaria Branch (Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria). As a Project Data Manager, I am primarily responsible for maintaining an accurate database and analyzing data for all patients treated with Artemether lumefnatrine (Coartem) in the United States. My involvement with surveillance reports for this particular drug has an ultimate goal of evaluating the safety and effectiveness of Coartem in pediatric and adult patients (U.S. and foreign residents) diagnosed with malaria. In addition to my main responsibilities, I have the opportunity to respond to public inquiries about malaria; participate in data management for other drugs used to treat malaria; and present findings at major scientific conferences in collaboration with Novartis.
HealthOU: How has your background as a Biology major been beneficial to you in your current position?
- My background as a Biology major prepared me for several of my graduate school courses such as infectious disease epidemiology, environmental health, tropical infectious diseases, and cancer epidemiology. These classes, in turn, gave me the theoretical knowledge I needed to be efficient in the practice of public health. I strongly believe that my strong science background acquired at Oakwood helped me to better comprehend the lectures presented in graduate school, prepare scientifically sound research papers, and produce quality results in the field.
HealthOU: A large part of the reason students pursue healthcare is because they have a desire to help people. How do you feel that your current position allows you the opportunity to fulfill this desire or have a positive impact on the lives of others?
- I feel that my role at the CDC positively impacts the lives of others because I am contributing to a continual effort to keep the general population of our country healthy. Malaria was eradicated from the United States in the early 1950s, but it is still considered endemic in many of the world’s poorest nations. My work in the domestic unit of the Malaria branch (CDC) helps to keep the United States free from malaria transmission, and to identify areas of the world that need aggressive action toward eradication.
HealthOU: What were your academic goals and aspirations upon starting college?
- When I started college, my goal was to become a pediatric cardiologist or a dermatologist. I had my plan all mapped out to attend medical school, complete my residency, and delve into the specialty of my choice. However, God had other plans for my life.
HealthOU: Did those goals change at all? How so? What were some of the factors that led to those changes?
- My goals didn’t truly change until after graduation. During my junior and senior, I entertained the thought of pursuing a career in public health but I didn’t know what steps to take and I felt pressured to continue on the path to a career in medicine. After completing my first year of graduate school, I knew that public health was my calling.
HealthOU: Did you pursue any additional degrees or training after Oakwood / prior to obtaining your current position?
- Yes. I attended the Ryals School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and obtained a Master of Public Health degree. My concentrations during my graduate studies were International Health and Epidemiology.
HealthOU: Were there any resources or websites that you found helpful as you explored different options for your career?
- Yes. I often visited the following websites while I was in graduate school to keep me informed and to explore different career options.
HealthOU: Were there any mentors or advisors who were helpful as you explored different career options?
- Yes. While I attended Oakwood, Dr. Gullo was very supportive of my potential for a career in research. I took his research and independent study course, and he provided guidance on how to effectively collect data and analyze it. In addition, Dr. Schmidt’s meticulous way of checking the weekly article reviews prepared me, and gave me the keen eye I needed for submitting my work for publication. In graduate school, my advisor, Dr. Pauline Jolly, was very instrumental in my development. Her guidance in field epidemiology, data collection and analysis, and report writing, undoubtedly refined my skills in public health practice.
HealthOU: How did you specifically end up in your current position?
- I originally worked as an Oak Ridge Institution for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow with the Division of STD Prevention, CDC for 9 months. Before my fellowship ended, I began looking for jobs and was selected to work for the Malaria Branch as an independent contractor. Before I landed the first fellowship, I diligently searched for positions for a period of 11 months. Persistence is certainly key when searching for positions after graduation.
HealthOU: Would you recommend your current profession? Why?
- Absolutely. Public health is a career path that has so much to offer because there are a myriad of opportunities within the profession. You can work as an epidemiologist, college/graduate professor, medical doctor in the U.S public health service, health educator, environmental health scientist, or a health behavior specialist, just to name a few.
HealthOU: What are some of the most fulfilling / rewarding aspects of your job?
- Now that I am married with a daughter, I am most appreciative of the flexibility of my work schedule. I have the option of working from home periodically and my colleagues are family friendly. In addition, having the chance to impact the health of large groups of people by the results that I produce through active surveillance is deeply rewarding.
HealthOU: What are you future professional aspirations / goals?
- I plan to complete my academic studies by pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology and then continue to work for the CDC, possibly in infectious disease or cancer prevention. I am also exploring the idea of serving as an adjunct professor later in my career at the CDC.
HealthOU: What advice would you offer to a current undergraduate student who is questioning his or her interest in medicine and is unsure what direction to choose?
- My advice would be to explore all of your options. There is nothing wrong with choosing a different branch of healthcare. Becoming a physician or a dentist is fantastic, but becoming a scientist or public health professional who conducts the research that medical practice is based on is just as fantastic. You can achieve whatever you desire!
HealthOU: What specific advice can you offer to someone who may be interested in pursuing a career in epidemiology?
- First, majoring in any of the sciences or math will provide a strong foundation for graduate studies in Epidemiology. Secondly, choosing a graduate program that has a strong mentoring and research program will be essential in preparation for the field, lab, or office positions. Lastly, acquire as much experience as you can while in school. I suggest working part time for a state health department, volunteering with non-profit organizations, or assisting graduate professors with major research assignments.
Alyson Gray is a 2005 graduate of Oakwood University. She is a native New Yorker, who currently resides in Georgia with her family. Her favorite texts are: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13; “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1. In her spare time she enjoys singing (praise team/choir), teaching piano, sports (basketball, swimming, working out), Pathfinder and youth ministry.