New Lab Matters: Time to welcome the next generation of public health laboratory scientists

New Lab Matters: Time to welcome the next generation of public health laboratory scientists | www.APHLblog.org

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 12,000 new laboratory professionals are needed each year to meet consumer demand. At the same time, while automation has eliminated some less-skilled laboratory jobs, the growing sophistication of public health laboratory analyses has generated demand for scientists with highly specialized training. As our feature article shows, laboratories are recruiting new talent for the “hidden profession” by taking a hard look into what they really want, and how they want to work.

Here are just a few of this issue’s highlights:

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Lab Culture Ep. 12: Bitten by the public health bug — How I found my lab niche

Lab Culture Ep. 12: Bitten by the public health bug -- How I found my lab niche | www.APHLblog.org

The people who work in public health laboratories make a difference in your community daily. In this third episode, members of the Emerging Leader Program cohort 10 sit down with their peers to hear how their public health laboratory careers have made an impact.

You can listen to our show via the player embedded below or on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Please be sure to subscribe to Lab Culture so you never miss an episode.

ELP cohort 10 members featured in this episode:

Interviewees:

  • Degina Booker has been working in the public health lab for 40 years and is now the administrative services director for the Mississippi Public Health Lab.
  • Dr. Burton Wilcke, Jr., now retired, has worked in public health laboratories for over 35 years in Vermont, Michigan and California. Dr. Wilcke remains active in the public health laboratory community as a member of both the APHL Workforce Development Committee  and the Global Health Committee.
  • Dr. Musau WaKabongo, now retired, was the Public Health Laboratory Director at the Placer County Public Health Laboratory  and has worked in several public health laboratories in California for 13 years.
  • Dr. Maria Ishida has been working in public health for 11 years and is now the director of the New York State Food Laboratory.

Are you thinking about a career in a public health laboratory?

The post Lab Culture Ep. 12: Bitten by the public health bug — How I found my lab niche appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Moving from academia to public health: Did I make the right choice?

By Lixia Liu, PhD, MP (ASCP), D(ABMM), deputy director, Indiana Department of Health Laboratories

Lixia Liu is a member of APHL’s Emerging Leaders Program (Cohort 6). The group developed an educational website called That’s Sick! to introduce students and young scientists to the exciting world of public health laboratory careers.
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In 1996 I completed my PhD in molecular biology and bacterial genetics, and later received postdoctoral training on bacterial pathogenesis. Among my peers, becoming a professor in an academic institution was the ultimate career goal; non-academic professions were considered to be less competitive. While I knew that this was the perception, I never gave it much thought as I later transitioned from academia to public health… That is, until I ran into an old acquaintance at the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) annual meeting.

She was a fellow student who worked at the same lab where I did my postdoctoral training. By that time, I had been away from academia and working in a public health laboratory for three years. We met up later that day to update each other on our recent endeavors. During our conversation, she paused for a moment and then asked with a sympathetic look on her face, “You are now working in a public health laboratory, not staying in academia?”

In the following days, I couldn’t erase that look from my mind. I began to question my decision and wondered if I made the wrong move in choosing public health laboratory science as my career. I began to think back about how I first stepped onto this career path.

After my postdoctoral training, I continued basic research in a new academic lab conducting a study on virulence-related genetic markers. I was also involved in method development for molecular diagnosis and a molecular epidemiological study of infections of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. During this study, we found bacterial strains from two CF patients – one from the East coast and another from the West coast – with the same genetic fingerprints, which linked these two CF centers together. The transmission from one patient to the other occurred when one patient visited a camp attended by the other. Seeing how this bacterial strain moved and infected these patients caught my attention. This discovery was my first true exposure to the field of public health. I was intrigued.

Three years later, my husband was relocated for work so we moved from Michigan to Indiana. With my newfound interest in mind, I extended my job search to include public health. I came across a listing for a job that included molecular method development and molecular finger printing; it was a contractor position at the Indiana State Department of Health Laboratories. I pursued the opportunity and started my trial-run at the public health laboratory.

Although the method development and molecular epidemiological study of CF patients in the previous lab bridged the gap between academia and public health for me, the culture shock was still intense.

While academic research dives down deep to understand the fundamentals of a basic scientific mechanism (a vertical look at science), public health spans across disciplines to look for wide-reaching answers to real-life questions (a horizontal look at science).

In the public health lab, we seek answers to questions like: How severe is the flu season? Is a particular food product the cause of an outbreak or is it still safe for consumers? Is the drinking water safe to drink? To me, the most striking aspect of a public health laboratory is the impact generated by the test results. In clinical care, an individual patient’s sample may reveal the cause of their illness, their infection status or the reason that treatment has failed. In public health, aggregated results from multiple patients can reveal a trend, the health status of an entire community, a common link among infections or even the cause of an outbreak.

This trial-run introduced me to the field of public health laboratory science where I have stayed for 11 years because it is so fulfilling. I am now the deputy director of the Indiana State Department of Health Laboratories. One of my proudest moments was being a part of the team that detected MERS-CoV in Indiana, the first case in the US. While every situation isn’t as newsworthy, everything we do promotes public health and that is why I am glad to be here.

So while that question, “You are now working in a public health laboratory, not staying in academia?,” has come up again with friends, particularly among my former PhD classmates and postdocs, it doesn’t bother me anymore. If asked to choose again, I would still pursue this career path. I am proud of my choice and would encourage other scientists to consider this rewarding field.

APHL Staffer Shares her Career Path with the Next Generation of Public Health Students

By: Bertina Su, MPH, senior specialist, Laboratory Systems and Standards, APHL

Last fall I was invited back to my alma mater to talk about life after University of Maryland’s (UMD) Master of Public Health (MPH) program. A former classmate was coordinating an informational session for undergraduate students to help them get a sense of where the MPH grads went in their careers; she asked me to participate and I happily accepted both because she is a friend but also because I could have used an event like this when I was finishing my undergrad degree.

APHL Staffer Shares her Career Path with the Next Generation of Public Health Students | www.aphlblog.org

My journey into public health was not something that I planned. I earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee in chemistry, but as graduation loomed, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after receiving my diploma. Reality was sinking in. My fellow chemistry classmates went into research or continued to medical school, and while those options seemed to be the logical next steps, they were not the right fit for me.

I took a year off after graduation to volunteer at Bread for the City, a non-profit in Washington, DC, that provides food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services residents in need; it was there that I became exposed to the world of public health. I worked in the medical clinic doing mostly administrative work helping with health insurance enrollment and coordinating health education programs. I began to understand what public health was, and that I could use my science education in this field to help people. I spoke with many of the staff about how they found their way into public health, and they all had MPH degrees. It became clear that if I wanted to move my career in this direction, I needed to find an MPH program that worked for me. Before I knew it, I was back in school learning about biostatistics, program evaluation and epidemiology. After completing UMD’s two-year MPH program, I interviewed for a program manager position at APHL, and I have been here ever since.

Fast forward a few years… There I am setting up my information table at UMD’s School of Public Health featuring APHL’s Annual Report, Lab Matters and my own business cards. I even wore my APHL STAPH staff t-shirt. I had the opportunity to speak with several students who asked questions mostly about my MPH experience and responsibilities at APHL. Some were not familiar with either public health laboratories or association work, so it was rewarding to expand their knowledge. I talked about my quality improvement and survey work, but their ears really perked up when I told them that I get to travel and work with people all over the country.

I’d love to see undergraduate public health programs hold more events like this one to give the next round of graduates the opportunity to hear from alumni about their journey into the public health workforce and about other career paths they had not considered. While my path into public health may have been unconventional, I am thankful that I took it. The work has been rewarding, and I hope that my participation will encourage another public health student to pursue an equally fulfilling position.

I encourage you to contact your alma mater to share your knowledge, experience and lessons-learned with public health students. You just might inspire someone to pursue a career in a public health lab.

Ready CDC

Ready CDC logo

By Victoria Harp

CDC leads the nation in responding to public health emergencies, such as outbreaks and natural disasters. While the agency encourages the public to be aware of personal and family preparedness, not all CDC staff  follow those guidelines. In an effort to increase personal preparedness as part of workforce culture, CDC created the Ready CDC initiative. Targeting the CDC workforce living in metropolitan Atlanta, this program recently completed a pilot within the organization and is currently being evaluated for measurable improvements in recommended personal preparedness actions. Ready CDC is co-branded with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Ready.gov program, which is designed for local entities to take and make personal preparedness more meaningful to local communities. Ready CDC has done just that; the program uses a Whole Community approach to put personal preparedness into practice.

IMG_1043_smFEMA’s Whole Community approach relies on community action and behavior change at the local community level to instill a culture of preparedness. To achieve this with Ready CDC, the CDC workforce receives the following:

  • The support needed to participate from their employer
  • Consistent messaging from a trusted, valued source
  • Localized and meaningful personal preparedness tools and resources
  • Expertise and guidance from local community preparedness leaders
  • Personal preparedness education that goes beyond the basic awareness level to practicing actionable behaviors such as making an emergency kit and a family disaster plan

Are you Ready CDC?

When the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Learning Office conducted an environmental scan and literature review, as well as an inward look at the readiness and resiliency of the CDC workforce, the need for a program like Ready CDC emerged. Although CDC has highlighted personal preparedness nationally in its innovative preparedness campaigns, there have been no formal efforts to determine if or ensure that the larger CDC workforce is prepared for an emergency. After all, thousands of people make up CDC’s workforce in Metro Atlanta, throughout the United States, and beyond.

The public relies upon those thousands of people to keep the life-saving, preventative work of CDC going 24/7. When the CDC workforce has their personal preparedness plans in place, they should be more willing and better able to work on behalf of CDC during a local emergency. Research has shown that individuals are more likely to respond to an event if they perceive that their family is prepared to function in their absence during an emergency*. Also, the National Health Security Strategy describes personal preparedness in its first strategic objective as a means to build community resilience.

Local Partnerships for the CDC

Ready CDC intends to move the dial by using its own workforce to understand behaviors associated with preparedness, including barriers to change. This is the most intriguing aspect of Ready CDC for the local community preparedness leaders involved. Most community-level preparedness education is currently conducted at the awareness level. Classes are taught and headcounts are taken, but beyond that, there is no feedback or follow-up to determine if their efforts are leading to desired behavior changes. Ready CDC is currently measuring and studying the Ready CDC intervention and that has local community preparedness leaders around metro Atlanta very interested in its outcomes.

IMG_1072_smWhile CDC has subject matter experts on many health-related topics, CDC looked to preparedness experts in and around the Metro Atlanta community to help make Ready CDC a locally-sustainable intervention. After all, the best interventions are active collaborations with community partners**. Key community partners from the American Red Cross; Atlanta-Fulton County, DeKalb County, and Gwinnett County Emergency Management Agencies; and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency played ongoing and significant roles in developing the program content, structure, and sustainability needed for CDC’s Metro Atlanta workforce. CDC gets the benefit of their time and expertise while partners have the satisfaction of knowing their efforts are making a difference in and contributing to the resilience of their communities. Also, because of these great partnerships, one lucky class participant wins a family disaster kit courtesy of The Home Depot and Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Ready CDC is currently available to the CDC workforce in and around Metro Atlanta; however, efforts are underway to ensure that the broader CDC workforce is reached in 2015. For more information about Ready CDC, please email ready@cdc.gov.

References:

*Barnett et al. 2009; Barnett et al., 2012; Parker et al., 2005 Barnett, D. J., Balicer, R. D., Thompson, C. B., Storey, J. D., Omer, S. B., Semon, N. L., . . . Links, J. M. (2009). Assessment of local public health workers’ willingness to respond to pandemic influenza through application of the extended parallel process model. PLoS One, 4(7), e6365. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006365

*Barnett, D. J., Thompson, C. B., Errett, N. A., Semon, N. L., Anderson, M. K., Ferrell, J. L., . . . Links, J. M. (2012). Determinants of emergency response willingness in the local public health workforce by jurisdictional and scenario patterns: a cross-sectional survey. BMC Public Health, 12, 164. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-164

*Parker, C. L., Barnett, D. J., Fews, A. L., Blodgett, D., & Links, J. M. (2005). The Road Map to Preparedness: a competency-based approach to all-hazards emergency readiness training for the public health workforce. Public Health Rep, 120(5), 504-514.

**Neuhauser, L., Kreps, G.L., & Syme, S. L. (2013). Community participatory design of health communication interventions. In D.K. Kim, A. Singhal, and G.L. Kreps, (Eds.), Health communication: Strategies for developing global health programs (pp. 227-243). New York:  Peter Lang Publishers.

Where are they Now? APHL/CDC Emerging Infectious Disease Fellow Looks Back

By Laura Siegel, Specialist, NCPHLL

It’s fellowship season at APHL! Last month we received over 315 applications for the 2014-2015 class of EID fellows. As the review committee evaluates this year’s applicants, let’s take a look back and see what members of last year’s class are up to.
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“It boggled my mind that there are invisible little creatures that can infect you. The fact that you can’t even see them with the naked eye – and they’re crawling all over you, is fascinating,” said Kayleigh Jennings, PulseNet Specialist and Biological Scientist III, at the Florida Department of Health- Bureau of Public Health Laboratories in Tampa, Florida.

By the time Kayleigh hit middle school, she knew she was interested with science, and ever since that first microbiology lesson, her interest never faltered.

Where are they Now? Looking Back at Class of the 18 EID Fellowship: Kayleigh Jennings | www.aphlblog.org

Kayleigh attended the Ohio State University where she majored in Microbiology and minored in Public Health. In her third year at school, she worked at a research facility alongside Michelle Landes, a student who had just received her acceptance into Class 17 of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program. Michelle discussed the program with Kayleigh and encouraged her to apply for Class 18. Kayleigh was so excited about the opportunity she completed the application nearly a year before it was due.

Ten months later, she packed up her life into her small sedan and made the trek from Ohio to sunny Florida to start her dream job as an EID fellow.  Florida was high on Kayleigh’s list not just for its sunny weather, but because her host laboratory, the Florida Department of Health, allowed her to rotate through all the various departments within the lab. This flexibility led her to discover what she enjoyed doing most – working with Salmonella outbreak surveillance using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and PulseNet – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national network connecting cases of foodborne illness to detect outbreaks.

“Analyzing Salmonella – I felt like I was doing something important,” said Kayleigh. “It’s gratifying — I’ve seen a series of DNA patterns that are exactly the same, which means they could be a cluster contributing to an outbreak.  I’ve had times where I’ve had to make a phone call to the epidemiologist, and say ‘You should take a look at this…”

One day Kayleigh was glad she didn’t have to make that call; the day she came across one of the most virulent Salmonella strains she had ever seen.

“An 18 year old boy originally from Nigeria came to a local ER soon after he presented with symptoms, and passed away a few hours later. The medical examiner routinely sends cultures to the Clinical Microbiology Department at the Department of Health for analysis, and it was determined to be an atypical septicemic Salmonella infection.  Since the Salmonella was isolated, the sample was then sent to our PFGE laboratory, and thus landed in my hands.” said Kayleigh.

After running PFGE, uploading the pattern to the appropriate databases, and sending the sample to the CDC for further verification, it was quickly determined that it was a rare strain, not typically endemic to the U.S. Thankfully, this particular strain posed little risk to the rest of the population.

While death from Salmonella is rare, foodborne illnesses are quite common and can make individuals very ill without proper treatment. With more than 48 million people in the US acquiring foodborne illnesses each year, food surveillance systems and the laboratory professionals that support them are critical.

“Foodborne illnesses are not going away anytime soon. If someone is sick, you want to know if that strain is contributing to an outbreak. If there was no PFGE or food safety… an outbreak could be spreading rampant and no one would know.”

Other highlights from Kayleigh’s fellowship include working in a BSL-3 laboratory for the first time, touring the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, GA, and training at the local county health department.

“I never would have had any of these life-changing experiences if not for this fellowship,” she said.

When asked about her future plans, she said, “Will I stay in public health? Definitely — I don’t even know what else I would do,” she joked.  “I enjoy helping, and I like the feeling that what I do matters.

Stay tuned for more posts on past EID fellows!