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Life After the Military: Consider a Career in Public Health

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

Life After the Military: Consider a Career in Public Health |

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:  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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