Archive for the 'Workforce & Professional Development' category

APHL Coaching Initiative Spans Continents

Feb 24 2015 :: Published in Workforce & Professional Development

By Michelle M. Forman, senior specialist, media, APHL

Andy Cannons was a member of APHL’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) Cohort III in 2011, an intensive year-long leadership development program for promising public health laboratory scientists. “It was a great program that gave me the tools I needed to become a better leader,” Andy shared. Once the program ended, he and his colleagues moved from the ELP program to the Network of Laboratory Leadership Alumni (NOLLA) where they could continue networking and seeking professional development opportunities.

APHL Coaching Initiative Spans Continents | www.aphlblog.org

In 2014, the ELP program went global with its first cohort in Lesotho. As part of this new endeavor, NOLLA members in the US were invited to serve as coaches for program participants in Lesotho. Andy was one of those coaches. “I was hesitant at first – unsure of what I had to offer – but I agreed,” said Andy. “The general idea was that I would be paired with someone and would support them in working through day-to-day challenges faced in their laboratory.”

Andy was paired with Mokenyakenya Matoko, a national laboratory information systems officer in the Lesotho Ministry of Health. Despite some problems with video connection during their first Skype meeting, they were able to get to know each other a bit. “We discussed our backgrounds; how we got to where we are in our careers; our personality traits and leadership skills; and most importantly what Mokenyakenya was expecting from me as a coach,” explained Andy. “Thirty minutes into the meeting I concluded that Mokenyakenya and I were going to have a really good coaching experience.”

The two men met monthly via Skype, exchanging support and guidance. Mokenyakenya has worked on his communication skills, something he felt needed improvement. “Other important attribute that I have improved on is be myself. Though I am an introvert, I was advised try to take some leadership in most activities,” said Mokenyakenya. “I have learned that being an introvert it does not necessarily mean being shy and waiting for other people to comment. Rather I should try to participate in the process, give ideas.”

In December 2014 something unexpected happened. Andy and Mokenyakenya both travelled to South Africa for the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) conference, however neither knew the other would be there. As Andy presented on laboratory tools to stop Ebola, Mokenyakenya sat in the audience and recognized his coach. “It was an incredible surprise to be able to meet Mokenyakenya in person and spend time talking while we were in South Africa,” said Andy.

After the conference, their regular meetings continued. “Dr. Andrew had played a major role in terms of discovering new habits and potential in me, most importantly self-confidence,” said Mokenyakenya of his experience.

Andy has also thoroughly enjoyed the experience as a coach. “I have learned more about myself; I’ve become more confident and understanding; and I’ve learned to think and adapt quickly. I am also hopefully making a positive and constructive difference in someone else’s life. The icing on the cake is that coaching Mokenyakenya has led to a friendship that I hope will last for years. That’s priceless!”

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From The Lorax to the Laboratory

by Vanessa Burrowes, APHL-CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory Fellow, North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health

When I was a kid, I was pretty curious about everything around me. If I wasn’t asking a million questions to increasingly exasperated adults or devouring an adventure book series like The Boxcar Children, you could usually find me outside playing in the dirt getting scraped up and loving every minute of it. While those explorations certainly led me to science in an indirect way, it was Dr. Seuss who led me straight there.

From The Lorax to the Laboratory | www.aphlblog.org

On a dreary rainy day when I was four years old, my preschool teacher sat several of us down to watch a movie in the hopes of abating our restlessness. I sat there with my peers for my first viewing of the original version of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. I returned home that evening filled with a horrific fear of the future. I dreaded that, like the world of the Lorax, my world too would someday become grey, poisoned and hopeless, full of Humming Fish walking out of lakes and brown Bar-ba-loots gloomily dragging their feet away to escape such a heavily polluted place. The Once-ler’s profound advice that, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” triggered a driving sense of responsibility within me at a very young age. From that day forward, I decided to dedicate my life to protecting the environment and the health of those living in it with the hope of preventing such a dreadful event from happening. Even at four years old, The Lorax definitely gave me perspective on the role I could play during my time on earth.

Many years later as I started thinking about possible careers, my parents tried to push me, their oldest child, into pursuing medical school. They were both immigrants from families with no prior science background and worked hard throughout their lives to become chemists. My mother wanted both of her daughters to pursue science careers and take advantage of the growing field of opportunities the U.S. had to offer female scientists, especially if there was the chance for us to become financially independent which seemed most tangible in medicine. I respected my mom’s feminist ideology and followed through by shadowing in the oncology unit at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio for about three months during high school. Try as I might, I didn’t enjoy working under flickering fluorescent lights, racing back and forth between nurses to help aid dying patients, or viewing various body fluids being projected everywhere. Maybe I picked the wrong unit to begin exploring medical careers, but I knew from that experience that while I was still very interested in science, I ultimately wanted to find a much more controlled environment where I could do my best to help prevent people from getting to that terminal stage of disease in the first place.

As college approached, I was feeling a bit lost. While I definitely still felt a love of science, I also toyed with the idea of being a lawyer or a judge and even started looking into political science degree programs. This all stemmed from my short-lived, very “successful” role as a sharp-witted, intelligent prosecuting attorney (complete with a sweet drawn-on mustache) in a 5th grade play. I loved the thrill of the investigative work, probing through clues until arriving at some semblance of an answer. But was it a good career choice for me?

It wasn’t until later that I realized that I could have it all.

During the summer of 2007 I was selected as one of 30 students from around Ohio to attend the REAL (Regents Environmental Academy for Learning) Summer Science Program at Bowling Green State University. I gained an overview of basic concepts of biology, chemistry, pollution and toxicology, but my favorite workshop was on epidemiology, my first exposure to public health. We were given a fictional case study where 15 out of 20 kindergarten students had contracted an unknown bacterial illness after visiting a local zoo. To uncover the cause for the outbreak, we reviewed hospital files, patient records and poured through interview transcripts. By investigating all of these factors, we were able to pinpoint the strain and source of the ingested bacteria. The thrill of the detective work involved in solving this case, as well as insight into the interconnected dynamics of disease transmission, ignited my interest in pursuing public health as a career. It seemed to feed all of my interests: science, detective work and a strong desire to help improve our world.

I’m currently an APHL/CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Laboratory fellow working at the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health (NCSLPH). This fellowship has given me several opportunities to communicate my findings from various projects and ideas with public health leaders and stakeholders from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the coolest moments of my fellowship so far may have been when I was unexpectedly put in charge of leading a research and development (R&D) meeting with NCSLPH’s research collaborative company, bioMérieux, during a site visit to their headquarters in Durham, NC. As I was en route to their building, I learned that my boss couldn’t make it with me. After talking myself through an initial bout of nervousness, I realized that I was confident that I knew what parts of our procedures needed to be improved and was able to advise them on troubleshooting issues that had arisen during our experiments. Not only did the staff astutely listen and actively ask for my input, but they also took all of my advice into consideration. When I received the final version of the protocol, I noticed that many of my suggestions were incorporated. For the first time in my life, I felt that people were finally asking me for constructive input and respecting my contributions to a given project.

But, I have to be very honest. Without question, the ultimate moment of my EID fellowship so far was when I finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of wearing the full personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to work in a BSL-3 suite. I donned the PAPR, Tyvek suit, booties… the works! All the movies, TV shows and news clips showing people wearing these suits make them look like the ultimate scientist superheroes (and smartest villains for the shameless Breaking Bad fan in me). Now I pretty much work full-time in this superhero scientist suit. As part of the project I mentioned before, I’m working with Brucella spp (highly pathogenic, #1 cause for laboratory acquired infections) to submit protein spectral data to bioMérieux to build their MALDI-TOF Vitek MS database for BSL3 pathogens. While the PPE does allow me to feel like a scuba diver exploring the unknown depths of the microbiological ocean, it still takes me a long time to physically get into the thing so the magic has worn off a bit. I look more like the Michelin tire mascot on most days, but I still feel like a scientific superhero inside! I hope I can make this my uniform to wear while riding into a future public health battle!

I like to think that the work I’m doing as an EID fellow has a significant impact on protecting the public (even though it doesn’t include that awesome mustache from my time as a prosecutor). I still have my whole career ahead of me and who knows what’s in store. I’m not worried about that right now; I’m too busy having the time of my life.

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

Jan 21 2015 :: Published in Workforce & Professional Development

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.

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APHL Introduces Local Students to Lab Careers During STEM Event

By Laura Siegel, Specialist, National Center for Public Health Laboratory Leadership, APHL

“Wanna see something fun and twisted? This is my DNA,” says a nine-year-old boy with brown hair and glasses as he greets his mom, proudly holding up his self-made DNA necklace.

APHL Introduces Local Students to Lab Careers During STEM Event | www.aphlblog.org

He was just one of approximately 30 local students who attended an event called Science League: The Heroes of Public Health on Saturday, May 31, 2014, at the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences (UAMS). The event invited local students in grades 6-10 to participate in hands-on science activities and learn about careers in public health.

“If we make a difference in the career aspirations of just one student, then the event will be a success,” said Pandora Ray, Director of the National Center for Public Health Laboratory Leadership at APHL.

Students were able to extract their own DNA, make a homemade lava lamp, and create their very own oobleck, a gooey substance that has properties of both a liquid and a solid.

APHL Introduces Local Students to Lab Careers During STEM Event | www.aphlblog.org“I always thought I wanted to be a doctor when I grow up, but this event opened my eyes to other options,” said Ana De Lira, currently in ninth grade at eStem Public Charter High School.

While the students were conducting experiments, their parents toured the Arkansas Public Health Laboratory, located just a few blocks from UAMS. On the tour parents watched a live demonstration of a dry-ice bubble, examined agar plates, saw equipment used for HIV and Hepatitis testing and learned about newborn screening.

“I had no idea the lab does so much testing that effects the general public. I can’t believe they do so much,” said Tracy Hobbs, who attended the parent portion of the day.

This event was sponsored by APHL, The UAMS College of Public Health and the Arkansas Department of Health, with special thanks to Bio-Rad and Fisher for donating supplies. APHL plans to host a similar event prior to the 2015 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.

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Discovering the Link Between Environmental Health and Public Health

April 20-26 is Laboratory Professionals Week! This year APHL is focusing on environmental health and the laboratorians who work to detect the presence of contaminants in both people and in the environment.  This post is part of a series.

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By Kathryn Wangsness, Chief, Office of Laboratory Services, Arizona State Public Health Laboratory

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to do something in the field of science that would help others.  Originally I thought of becoming a doctor or a nurse, but determined early on that was not for me.  I was then interested in perhaps teaching science at the high school level.  However, in high school I determined that I would much rather be doing testing that would assist others on a population scale.

Discovering the Link Between Environmental Health and Public Health | www.aphlblog.org

While working on my degree in Chemistry, I got a job with an insect ecologist and, later, a plant ecologist. I learned how we interact with our environment and how impacts on the environment affected the public.  It wasn’t until I graduated and was fortunate enough to land a job with the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory Chemistry section that I started seeing the connection to public health.

Early on in my career I started noticing that when there was an event that would have a potential environmental health impact, we would receive samples to provide needed information.  Performing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methods on a routine basis and in emergency situations taught me the importance of the work we do.  As I progressed through my career at the public health laboratory, I became an EPA Certification Officer for the state of Arizona and with the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory, which allowed me to expand my horizons and see how the environmental laboratory community was contributing to the safety and health of Arizonans.  I learned that the treatment of drinking water was one of the greatest revolutions in public health and that ensuring we continue to have a functioning system was critical to preventing reoccurrence of diseases like cholera.  During this time, I realized that I wanted to stay in public health and went on to earn a Master of Health Administration in 2007.

I also began to explore biomonitoring and the lab’s past, present and future involvement.  Biomonitoring allows us to explore the connections between the environment and the population to help promote and protect the public.  In my current role as Office Chief of Laboratory Services and Quality Assurance Manager, as well as in my previous role, I have the opportunity to provide training to our partners on the importance of testing and to provide presentations to educate the community on the work that we do.

I take pride in the work that I do to promote and educate individuals on what it means to be involved in public health laboratory work and that environmental health is a critical component of that work.  I enjoy coming to work at such a rewarding place every day.

 

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Scientist? Actress? Or President?

April 20-26 is Laboratory Professionals Week! This year APHL is focusing on environmental health and the laboratorians who work to detect the presence of contaminants in both people and in the environment.  This post is part of a series.

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By Laurie Peterson-Wright, Chemistry Program Manager, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Who would have known that the 1973 fifth grade class of Beadle Elementary in Yankton, South Dakota could predict the future?  As a classroom exercise, we all had to vote on what we would each be when we grew up.  I received 10 votes to become an actress, 10 votes to become a scientist and even one vote to be the first woman president!

Scientist? Actress? Or President? | www.aphlblog.org

My parents were adamant that I finish every project, class, book, craft or book I started.  This instilled within me a commitment to never quit and a sense of wonderment at where the next bit of knowledge and hard work would take me. My passion for any type of science began at a young age.  I would stay glued to my microscope or my telescope at night.  I wanted to learn everything about how humans and the universe operated.  I had so many educational ambitions – teaching, mathematician, certified public accountant, physicist, medical doctor, astronaut (and let us not forget Hollywood Star) – but after many years in school, I reeled my focus in to chemistry, mathematics and business administration.

My first position was in cancer research, but I was shortly introduced to environmental chemistry and project management.   I was intrigued by how chemical and radiological pollutants interacted with the environment and what we could do to mitigate exposure, especially for sensitive populations.  I spent 15 years in the environmental remediation/waste management field and then accepted a position with the State of Colorado Chemistry Program in 2001.  Immediately I embraced public health and how these same contaminants in the environment could be so easily transported.  I was fascinated by how they interacted with the human body including sensitive human and animal endocrine systems.

This world is an amazing place! By continuing to focus on my passion in public health, I will only increase my knowledge of how all sensitive systems are interconnected.  Live gently, and also boldly, my fellow scientists.

Oh, and by the way….I still act…and PS don’t tell my parents I never finished Moby Dick.

 

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

Apr 10 2014 :: Published in Workforce & Professional Development

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!

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HIV Testing Where Ice Melts Fast: EID Fellow Reports from Botswana

Mar 26 2014 :: Published in Workforce & Professional Development

By R. Suzanne Beard, PhD, Emerging Infectious Disease Research Fellow

Dried blood spots (DBS), drops of blood collected to screen newborns for congenital disorders, are the wave of the future for HIV testing of all sorts; at least that is what I am trying to prove during my Emerging Infectious Disease Research Fellowship. How am I doing this, you ask? Great question! I am helping design studies to evaluate filter papers from different manufacturers for viral load testing and drug resistance genotyping in resource-limited settings.

As antiretroviral treatment expands in resource-limited areas, so does the need to complete testing quickly. The problem is that plasma – to date the gold standard in HIV testing — requires separation from whole blood, and then it needs to be frozen and kept that way until testing. This leads to the need for cold chain transport in places that may not have stable electricity or the infrastructure to maintain freezers. And all this in a place that makes summer in the south look refreshing. Trust me, if you order an ice water in Botswana in November, the ice doesn’t last very long, and the same thing goes for ice in a cooler with specimens.

HIV Testing Where Ice Melts Fast: EID Fellow Reports from Botswana | www.aphlblog.org

In the year since I started working with HIV, I have discovered that much of the research with DBS does not consider conditions in resource-limited settings, as a result, when protocols are implemented in these areas, the impact on patient care may not be as profound as it could or should be. My team is working to produce quality research that takes this into account and actually conducts the work in areas where cold chain transport isn’t an easy, inexpensive option.

I spent a month in Botswana initiating a protocol to investigate the usefulness of three DBS filter paper cards to evaluate viral loads, and in those failing treatment, the prevalence of HIV drug resistance in pediatric patients on anti-retroviral therapies (ART). As with every protocol, what you dream up sitting in your cubicle, doesn’t always account for the issues you find on the ground during implementation. It took almost two weeks before specimen collection could begin. In the meantime, we amended the protocol to speed up specimen collection and added a collaborator (Baylor Pediatric Clinic). The key to a successful trip to a new country is to be flexible and focus on the unique assets in front of you!

I also assisted in troubleshooting several assays in use at the Ministry of Health and CDC-Botswana labs. The opportunity to do technology transfer and troubleshooting is one of the things I like best about traveling to labs in other countries. Each new lab represents a completely different set of obstacles and challenges, even if those labs are right across the street from each other. On this trip, I was working to transfer a new, more cost-effective in-house HIV drug resistance genotyping test.  I had a great time working together with all of the technicians. We modified the protocols to fit what they had available to them and worked on sequencing analysis. After a couple of days, they felt more confident in their own abilities.

My final job was to visit clinics around Gaborone (the capital) and Francistown (the second largest city) to collect information on ART enrollment for an upcoming protocol with the Ministry of Health. After database issues delayed efforts to collect numbers needed to determine how many clinics should be established in the region, we decided to tackle the problem in a low tech fashion.  With the approval of the Ministry of Health, we spent several days visiting clinics. This gave me a chance to get to know the country a bit better and to interact with nurses, doctors and other community health support staff who work on the front lines of the HIV pandemic.

If we are to have a chance at achieving an AIDS free generation, we must collaborate to build capacity in labs and clinics through training and access to inexpensive specimen collection and testing. This capacity isn’t just useful in far-off, exotic places; everything we do is applicable here at home. During emergencies when power is down for long periods of time — think Katrina or Super Storm Sandy — DBS technology can keep key public health initiatives on track.

I look forward to returning to Botswana to continue working with my colleagues to transfer technology and expand use of DBS.

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Life After the Military: Consider a Career in Public Health

Jan 28 2014 :: Published in Workforce & Professional Development

By A. Christian Whelen, PhD, D(ABMM), State Laboratories Director, Hawaii Department of Health

Life After the Military: Consider a Career in Public Health | www.aphlblog.org

Aloha from the fiftieth state. Almost eight years ago, I hung up my uniform and joined the Hawaii Health Department as their State Lab Director, and the job fit like a glove. Like other military laboratorians, I was accustomed to working on the front line of patient care, research, biodefense, and battlefield support, so joining states’ efforts to protect the nation’s health was a natural transition.

What’s a Public Health Laboratory?

Public health laboratories, governmental institutions at the federal, state or local level, perform detection and surveillance to protect public health and safety. They conduct a spectrum of tests that varies by institution. Tests may include molecular testing for respiratory or enteric disease, drug resistance testing of TB, direct support to sexually transmitted disease control programs, DNA fingerprinting and sequence analysis, newborn screening for metabolic and genetic disorders, and examining an environmental sample for anthrax.  Public health laboratories also perform regulatory functions, such as licensing clinical laboratory personnel and certifying laboratories to perform drinking water or substance abuse testing.

State environmental laboratories, which may operate as a section within a public health laboratory or as a separate entity, offer another employment target for those seeking to make a transition from military life. These laboratories monitor compliance with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and test recreational waters and food products for chemical or microbial contamination.

Public Health Laboratory Jobs and How to Find Them

Public health laboratories employ clinical laboratory scientists, microbiologists, chemists, molecular biologists, researchers, lab assistants, medical laboratory technicians and other laboratorians with levels of education from associate degrees to doctorates. Go to Lab Science Careers for an interactive tool. that shows job titles with corresponding salaries and read this brochure published by APHL’s National Center for Public Health Laboratory Leadership. Because government positions are not always easy to find on state and local government websites, it may be helpful to contact local public health laboratory directors or section supervisors directly.

The Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) is a vibrant organization that supports and advocates for the role of governmental health laboratories in advancing global health. For those active in SAFMLS (I’m a past president), there are ample opportunities to participate as a member of APHL (I am currently a member of the Board of Directors, Preparedness and Response Committee, and Nominating Committee). Of note, APHL also sponsors a Job Center with services for job seekers and employers both. Job seekers can review position listings, post their resume anonymously and receive alerts about job announcements.

For more information about the Hawaii State Labs, read the state laboratory profile in Lab Matters, APHL’s quarterly magazine. or visit our website:  http://health.hawaii.gov/statelab/.  Peruse back issues of Lab Matters for information about public health laboratories in the area where you plan to live after completing your service to this great country. A hui hou (until we meet again).

This article was originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of the Scope. This blog post was re-published with their permission.

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Public Health Laboratory Internship: Keeping an Eye Out for Drug-Resistant Influenza

Jan 14 2014 :: Published in Workforce & Professional Development

By Nikeshan Jeyakumar, PHASE Intern, Laboratories Division of Virology and Immunology, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Public Health Laboratory Internship: Keeping an Eye Out for Drug-Resistant Influenza | www.aphlblog.org

Public health as a discipline derives its importance from its direct positive impact on society. Unlike some fields of study that can remain relevant while being entirely theoretical, public health is entirely dependent on the application of its fundamental principles to real-world situations. Given this reality, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) has been taking a forward approach in offering its students a unique opportunity to utilize their education. Now in its tenth year, Public Health Applications for Student Experience (PHASE) internships at JHSPH have enabled students to supplement their education with practical experience. Students can choose from a wide range of internships that span the breadth of public health work and help them develop connections within the greater Baltimore community as well as network with public health professionals. The PHASE internships allow students to enhance their education by taking them out of the classroom and into the field, or in my case, into the Maryland State Public Health Laboratory.

I was a PHASE intern at the Laboratories Division of Virology and Immunology at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore from January to June 2013. One of our primary roles as a public health laboratory is to receive samples containing suspected microbial pathogens and conduct diagnostic and surveillance testing in order to characterize such samples. We would then report our results to the submitters, the local government, and to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As an intern, I was able to participate in a study that evaluated assays for detecting influenza susceptibility to a class of antiviral drugs termed neuraminidase inhibitors. This was part of a larger effort by our laboratory to conduct a surveillance campaign of drug resistance levels in circulating influenza strains during the 2012-2013 flu season. We used an inhibition assay that detects the activity of neuraminidase (NA), a surface protein that facilitates the release of influenza viruses from host cells so that they can travel to other cells and establish new infections. The assay contains a substrate which interacts with influenza NA and quantifies its activity by emitting light in proportion to the amount of activity detected. The quantity of drug required to knock down NA activity to 50% of baseline levels (known as the inhibitory concentration or IC50 value) was then obtained using a CDC-developed computer program that converts the light output data to IC50 values. From this information, we were able to determine the susceptibility of viruses to the three NA inhibitor drugs used in hospitals and clinics worldwide. High levels of NA activity (as measured against standard control levels established by the CDC) in the presence of inhibitor drugs is a strong indicator of resistance.

Seasonal influenza strains are resistant to the entire class of drugs termed adamantanes, which were the first drugs developed against influenza. As a result, doctors really only have three options to cure influenza infections: the inhalable drugs oseltamivir (TamifluTM) and zanamivir (RelenzaTM), and the last-resort intravenous drug peramivir, which is still in investigational stages. The development of widespread resistance to any of these drugs would cripple our ability to treat influenza in clinical settings, so it is essential for us to keep an eye on these viruses and their susceptibility to our pharmaceutical arsenal. One only needs to look at the rise in MRSA and CRE-related fatalities to realize how vulnerable we are as a population to drug-resistant pathogens. Happily, with the flu season coming to a close in May our lab did not detect any phenotypically resistant strains despite only a moderately-effective vaccine and a high number of infections due to a dominant circulating H3N2 strain, which in the past has been responsible for more severe disease outbreaks.

This project has been a wonderful application of my graduate education in microbiology at JHSPH to a real-life public health issue of great importance. It really illustrates the significance of why we have to understand infectious diseases in such detail in order to curb their effects on society. In addition to exposing me to the laboratory aspect of public health, the PHASE internship has also allowed me to network with professionals in the laboratory field and develop a set of connections that will be a tremendous asset in the future. The staff at the Maryland state laboratory is composed of a highly professional group of individuals that work very effectively together in order to carry out their numerous shared responsibilities. The laboratory personnel are particularly well-experienced in clinical virology and are extremely capable and proficient workers when their services are in high demand. This was most evident during the peak of the influenza season in January 2013 when we were inundated with an enormous amount of hospital samples that all had to be confirmed or disconfirmed for influenza infection. Every sample was processed efficiently and in a reasonable timeframe due to the professionalism and hard work of the staff. Dr. Maria Paz Carlos, the chief of the Division of Virology and Immunology, is also very involved in the work of all of the laboratories she manages and is always in constant communication with the rest of the staff and us, the interns. As a result, she has established a collaborative environment in that is extremely conducive to a team-based approach to problem-solving.

I highly encourage anybody attending JHSPH to take full advantage of this unique opportunity offered by the PHASE program. Public health laboratory internships can be a greatly enriching educational experience for students who spend so much time learning concepts and skills in the classroom to actually apply them in a hands-on setting. I would also advocate that other schools of public health collaborate with local and state public health laboratory departments to develop similar programs throughout the country. Engaging public health students and professionals in real-world settings is essential to the proper design and implementation of public health practices and policies from the local to the global scale.

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