All you gain as experience, there’s no harm in saying yes, as long as it’s safe and you know, you think it’s something you’re interested, you obviously thought of it for a reason or it came to you for a reason. So whether it’s a great opportunity or not, it’s something that your journey is that you need to experience.
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.
Hey, Kate, and good morning, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. So great to have you here to tell your story for our listeners. So welcome. And thank you.
Thank you for having me here today. It’s a pleasure. I’m very excited to share my journey through the public health, mindset and insight of where I’ve started and how I’ve come to be where I am today.
Awesome. I often like to start by hearing how my guests discovered the field of public health and very few people that I’ve interviewed have an undergraduate degree in public health. So I’m assuming that discovery of this field was kind of much earlier for you, perhaps even prior to us starting your undergraduate degree. So maybe you can tell us how you even knew that such a field existed and, and kind of where that interest for you came from?
Sure, that’s a great question. Because prior to attending Southern Connecticut State University, I really didn’t know that public health was even an avenue to get a degree in. In ever since I was little I grew up around people who were in the health care field, whether it be a doctor, nurse or social worker. And so I was always in the mindset of helping others and whoever, I wasn’t liking the whole blood and treatment and ER, type of health care. And I started off always been that friend that would like look into information to prevent people on different types of diseases or illnesses or health related issues. And I started off at a different college actually at Seton Hall, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist. And I ended up returning home and I took an introduction class to wellness at Southern Connecticut State University, which is a requirement for freshmen at that time, or just to graduate. And I had this wonderful professor and I just was like, Wow, this like really hits home with me, I really, I really understand this something I wanted to kind of move forward. And I was super surprised, because never in my life did they even think that was going to happen. So I changed over my focus in my Bachelor’s to public health community health promotion at the time, that’s what the program had in Southern. And I continued my adventure there. And at that time, it was the early 2000s, in southern Connecticut State University was one of the only university is known to have this program. And now there are many that do so I’m very thankful I had the opportunity. So I stayed and I finished and I was able, you know, as college requires, you have to do an internship and I did two, my first one was working for a visiting Nursing Association, and I promoted all their influenza clinics, and ammonia clinics. So I got to learn a little bit about that process. And then I went on to working for a health care organization that focused on substance abuse prevention among teens and youth. And I really enjoy doing promotion and prevention, especially towards parents about how to reduce drinking alcohol, and marijuana use and other drugs. And then from there, I was actually still in college finishing up when I got my first job working for an alcohol industry. And I did all their responsibility drinking campaign. So you focus a lot on publicity, and social media. So that gave me a background in promoting and kind of selling the fact that, you know, this is how you prevent underage drinking use. And this is how you promote it responsibly. And I was lucky enough through this job that I was able to work with state officials like the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor and commissioners to see how the whole state of Connecticut works together and actually really cares about their residents. So that was a super great experience.
That’s incredible experience, I think right from the beginning for you and your undergrad, you know, including the two internships plus this job that you got right out of your undergraduate degree. And, you know, we’ll talk about this a bit later, but you now also teach, you know, at the University that you completed your degree. So that’s kind of a neat full circle. I’m curious, you know, you- you landed all these great internships and then a great job right out of your undergraduate degree. And one of the questions we often get from, you know, our community members is, do I absolutely need a master’s degree to land a job in public health? And how can I make myself you know, more competitive with an undergraduate degree? Because I want to get that experience before I guess, invest more time, money energy into a graduate degree. So, you know, based on your experience, would you happen to have you know, any tips or advice, I’m sure your students probably also asked you this. So maybe you can offer that advice to our listeners as well.
Absolutely. So I also got my certification as a health education specialist, when I was an undergrad school, just to have an extra certification by my name to make me a little bit more ahead of the game. So I still belong to that, I also joined as many groups as possible. So at Southern there was a Public Health Society group, which I was on and involved in. So you know, making sure that you have a vast knowledge of like, what it is you like. So I really like community health promotion. And some people like research and some people like different other avenues, you know, the epidemiology part of it. So you have to be open to, you know, be willing to put yourself out there and kind of work for free and try to get a little bit of a difference. And develop like relationships with your professors so that you can hear their stories, because everyone has connections. So figuring out like, what your niche is that you want to learn more about, and keep at it. I mean, I took a break from public health for a year. And I went back into it just because I thought, I wanted to do something different. And I realized through taking a year off that, you know, this is where I was supposed to be. And that’s how I got another job. And the more experienced, the more different types of experiences and skill sets that you can develop along the way, will definitely help you understand if you want a master’s in public health, I think that the best thing you can do for yourself is invest in education. And so having a master’s in public health, if you like, and you truly, that’s what you want to do. That’s definitely going to help you in the master’s in public health is can open up many other doors for you, as well. And you don’t need to do you know, health education for that to have a Master’s of Public Health. There’s many different avenues that can help you set you aside from other candidates and jobs just by having a master’s.
It’s interesting. You mentioned the break. Was that prior to you going back to school to you know, obtain a graduate degree and a master’s in public health degree or was this later on in your career that you took this break?
No, it was very early on, I thought I wanted to become a teacher. So funny, because they’re kind of interesting so I took some undergraduate requirements, and I took the first practice and stuff. And then I realized, like, no, like, this isn’t what I’m supposed to do. Like, you know, I miss my community that I built, I miss, you know, helping others and improving outcomes and environmental strategies to change environments. So I’m glad that I realized that.
Because it helps me really know what I want to do and what I’m meant to do, and that it’s to help people live longer and healthier lives. So I kind of got into working with federal grants, and implementing and mobilizing communities to prevent substance abuse in their communities. It’s called the drug free communities grant by SAMSA. So they offer a five years of funding to develop coalitions to do these strategies. And you learn all about the different ways to change your community. So I did that for quite a while, I have a lot of experience in substance abuse, prevention, reduction of harm and mental health awareness, because they’re all kind of related and building communities and really learning how you can get people in the communities such as hospitals, law enforcement from an organization’s to help you accomplish that. So that was very rewarding experience before I came to the Health Department. And that provided me with a lot of training and using those models like the Strategic Prevention Framework model that you learned about in school and actually putting it to use and actually seeing how it actually works in a community.
I noticed that a theme you know as you’re telling me how you’re discovering things that you enjoy doing is like a kind of get the analogy of you dip your toes in the water. You know how you went and took that wellness course right after you realize psychology wasn’t for you, and then you talk about going to take a couple courses. If teaching is for you, yeah, no, I think that’s such a such a great way to kind of test the waters before you completely jump into it and like switch your degree or switch your job completely. I don’t know, if you have more to add in terms of just the way the process you’ve used throughout your, your career in terms of just testing out the waters in different areas.
Yeah, so it mean, anything is possible. And the only way you’re gonna know if it’s for you or not, is to actually go and attempt it, right? Instead of thinking about it and letting all these years go by and being like, Oh, should I have done that? Just do it. It’s not a failure. If it’s not for you, you know, now, you know, you have that knowledge, okay? Psychology wasn’t for me, and mathematics wasn’t my thing. But this is and I think the more that you understand what you want, the more you can go for it, and what you need to do. So it’s just, you know, kind of building your skill sets, like, have respect for that and yourself and be proud that you tried it and you learn that and you probably met a lot of people that you may need later in life. And it’s just opening so many more doors when you’re open to learning and trying, because you don’t know what you don’t know, unless you do it. I’m like a very appreciative of the fact that I did that. I never kind of reflected back on that. But, you know, I remember sitting in one of my classes in my health administration class and reading goals, and what I wanted to accomplish, and when I look back, I’m like, wow, I may not have accomplished it at the timeframe I’ve given myself.
But that is okay. Because I still accomplishment and time is just time. You know, sometimes you have to re categorize where you are in life and how long it’s going to take that next step.
Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So I guess moving on this like journey of things that you’ve accomplished. So you worked for two years, right after undergrad? And then you decided to go back to school for an MPH? Why did you make that decision? Like, what was the motivator there?
Just I really wanted to open up more opportunities for me and having a master’s in public health was something I wanted, I love public health. And I wanted to continue down that journey. And having that master’s would open up so many more doors, and I can learn, you know, different types of things I could do, and people I can meet, and I did it part time while working full time, which definitely wasn’t easy at time. But it was definitely worth it. And through that, I had made so many close friends. And I still in touch with that, like, I bounce ideas off of that, you know, some I even work with now. But it’s good to know. And it’s like through this experience, I was like, well, I never want to leave this community. So when an opportunity came up to be an adjunct professor there, I was very honored to take that and still do it today. And my mission, my focus, and my master’s program, really I did a lot with maternal health, and women’s health. And I took an opportunity to go abroad for 14 days to Guatemala and do a field study out there. And that was such a wonderful experience.
Was there a reason for you to go back to Southern Connecticut State University to you know, you had your undergrad from there, and also your masters? Were there other schools you are considering? Or was that kind of like an intentional decision to say let me continue my education at the University that built my foundation in public health?
I knew the program and I knew it was very great. I also got into other schools. I didn’t just apply to that one. But I chose Southern because it was closer to my house. It was just all the logistics made more sense. And the program that I was really interested in, they were very well known for. So that’s why I chose Southern.
Okay, so I think you mentioned that you were working full time and going to school part time. And just kind of looking at your LinkedIn profile. It sounds like you were already working at the- is it a health district prior to starting your master’s program? Was that kind of like a new job that you took on after working with the alcohol industry and doing kind of like education there and you kind of want to step into the health district?
I actually worked at a Youth and Family Services before getting to the health district so probably took me about 10 years or so to get into the health district. And I was working as a prevention coordinator for a federal grant for a good five or six, seven years and then moved on to a different town because the Grant had ended. So during my time at the Youth and Family Services, I was able to complete my- my master’s and I also had to do an internship so I worked for the Connecticut associations of directors of health So we learned a lot about public health bills and health priority. It’s working to educate legislative officials highlighting Public Health Week, understanding more of how health districts worked. So it was through there that I got the real feel for what health departments do, focusing on the 10 essential services of health. And that was a great internship, I had moved on and an opportunity came up at a health district in Connecticut that I chose Chesbrough health district, as a full time job as a prevention specialist. So I have been here since 2017. And working through a pandemic 24/7 and working before a pandemic existed, but with provide different insights. And there’s so much more you could do do, it’s not strictly health education. I do a little bit of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance, as well as learning about how health departments work on the environmental side, such as, you know, lead abatement and hoarding issues that might come up, or different types of things that happen when you lose power and going into food establishments to make sure that they’re at the proper temperature, working a lot with our community partners in town center schools and our town officials, to make sure that we are operating the best way we can and preparing the community for a disaster.
You mentioned working through the pandemic, how did things change for you, as soon as you know, the pandemic happened in terms of just the way you had to educate the public?
It became a 24/7 job and the fact that, you know, really our first case came the end of March. But earlier before that, we were watching travelers that had traveled from China or back home. And we would start gathering actually, in my office and we were on the CDC calls with the state. And it just kind of that slowly became my full time job, we had to stop other programming or things that we were doing for a little bit. And we were monitoring the whole community, especially our long term care facilities or schools, we were developing contact tracing forms before a unified one came out through the state of Connecticut, using our disease surveillance system to find the newest cases and providing them with education. And as the Public Information Officer making sure that the community knew that we were doing the best that we were doing to remind them to stay safe and not to be fearful. And that went on for a long time. And people would, you know call and with concerns. Everyone had my cell phone number. And so people in isolation, they were really alone. And you know, sometimes they just needed to come to talk to or have someone talk to their family because their family was fearful of getting sick. And then came our clinics and mass clinics, vaccinating over 500 people, and how we did that. And we’re really proud of our achievements. So it’s definitely been a world one of experiences in public health. You know, I don’t regret it at all. I’m so glad that I’m in this field. And you can really see how you help people.
Did you have a moment, you know, as you were working in the in the vaccination clinic, thinking back to your undergraduate internship where you were running one of the flu clinics?
I did and I remember, in one of my classes, you know, we had to write disaster plans for I think I was I picked a mudslides and I was like, wow, that’s just like, you know, I would never have thought that we would be making a plan for this world wide virus.
But at the health department, we have an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. So we’ve been practicing how to set up mass vaccs. And so we really had to put our plans into action and, and we get training a lot here on that. And sometimes we get training through FEMA. So we’re ready and we just, you know, did the best that we caught and we had the whole state of Connecticut all the health departments working together to support each other, along with the state to make sure that you know, we were doing the best for our community. But it’s hard when you know, we have to turn people away that are of a sector or you know, if you don’t have enough vaccines that day because the supply and demand so that was really hard on the heart, but also being there as part of their journey and into through their vaccination was wonderful.
Have things transition back to somewhat what you used to do in your role. Are you managing both COVID response as well as you know, some of the other education that you are doing for the public.
It’s a hard balance. So obviously monkeypox is a concern. We are are watching and surveilling numbers for our community, as well as COVID. And right now currently, with school back in session, we’re working with all of our schools to monitor their cases, preparing for our influenza clinics, which is normal, and observing different clusters in the community of what illnesses are going on. But, you know, we have a prevent Type Two Diabetes group certified program through the CDC, where we’re seeing a lot of people losing weight and increasing their activity for health quality. And we still run our community coalition, which is based off of the needs assessment in the community and Health Improvement Plan, you know, we’re going back to the things that we used to do, but we’re still focused, and we’re in full blown out influenza COVID, and the new booster clinics. So there is a lot going on still. So it’s almost more because you have like your normal job. And then you have your other clinical flu COVID Monkey pox, pandemic job.
Right. Right. We kind of heard about the different, I guess, portfolios that you work under, maybe if you could give our listeners a sense of, you know, a day in the life or a week in your role? And how much of it is, you know, in meetings? Or how much of it is in community? Or, you know, are you sitting at your desk and doing a lot of thinking or is it a lot of meetings and just kind of getting a sense of how you do the work that you just described.
So Mondays, we have a lot of our internal meetings with our division heads, and planning out the week, our clinics. So some of that is a lot of internal meetings, where you’re at your office, but sitting there is at least 20 to 30% at your desk writing reports, answering emails, doing data analysis, if not more, and then the other half, you are in meetings via virtual or in zoom. So it varies every day, which I think is great about the job, it’s not a 24 hour like or in our position in an office, you have your meeting scheduled and your conferences scheduled. But then you have your time in my position where you’re doing community relations, community programming, so that is a good at least 30% of the job. Because if people don’t see you out in the community, they’re not going to know who you are.
Yeah. And then to add to this, you’re also an adjunct professor at the University. So is that something you’ve just balance in addition to your job?
Yeah, so I’m lucky enough to have a course that is after hours. So it’s a five to 7:30 course, on once a week. So it’s two and a half hours. And I think I’m in my eighth year, and it seemed class, it’s called human sexuality. So it’s before development in through the years of development through death, of all the of human sexuality, and all the different biological, psychological, and social dimensions that occur throughout a lifetime. And it’s really interesting, I love teaching that class, the past few years, we’ve had zoom. But you know, it’s great, because there’s so much evolving in human sexuality, and especially in the vulnerable populations, that information needs to get out to the students and to the public. And hopefully, each of my students, you know, leave with a better understanding of different types of sexual orientation and behaviors, as well as you know, the understanding of preventing or reducing the risk of sexual transmitted illnesses.
And I think to add to that, you talk a lot about positive mind and positive life as well. And I kind of heard that sprinkled in throughout our conversation today, just, you know, when you were at decision points in your career, I heard from you like a lot of ways that you were approaching those decision points with a lot of positivity and, and I’m sure you encourage that amongst your students as well. And I know you also do a bit of life coaching around that. So for, you know, some of our early career professionals who may be struggling with just figuring out that path that they want to take in their public health career. We get a lot of questions around like, I just need guidance in terms of like how to choose or where to go next, especially upon graduation time. Yeah, based on your experience and the bit of coaching that you do, I don’t know if you can offer a bit of guidance to them.
Sure. And I’m also part of a mentoring program for public health. So please feel free to get my information out and people can contact me on LinkedIn, but it’s not easy. You’re kind of like what to do next, and you know, you could stay there, or you can make a decision. And if the decision doesn’t work out, that’s okay, you know, that doesn’t work out. Now it’s time to look at something else. And I think that we often feel like, we don’t make the right decision, we’re going to fail, or we messed up. And we have to not think about that. It’s just something that we tried. And it’s hard when you’re, especially when you’re in the beginning of your career, you kind of feel like lost and, and you don’t know what to do next. And that’s why it’s good to develop these relationships with your professors or friends or, you know, get someone through as a mentor, because they can kind of walk you through what you’re figuring what are your challenges, what are you afraid that’s making this decision, and I think that the more time you wasted worrying about what’s going to happen, you’re wasting your time on an opportunity. You know, obviously do the pros and cons but all you gain is experience. So whether you think you may or may not like that job, or it’s right for you, or you should still apply, you’re gonna learn interview skills, and you may, you know, learn something else that you might like, or the job may be completely different than what it was. So, it’s hard. I used to think that, you know, there’s no harm in saying yes, as long as it’s safe. And you know, you think it’s something you’re interested, yeah, obviously thought of it for a reason, or it came to you for a reason. So whether it’s a great opportunity or not, it’s something that your journey is saying you need to experience.
It’s almost like we get stuck in the analysis, paralysis, period, and not even take a step to even see if it’s something that we like or don’t like. And I think that kind of also adds to the pressure of the whole decision process. Right?
Absolutely. Because you know, what we don’t know, sometimes we fear and so then we just avoid it, because it’s easier to not go out of your comfort zone. But the more that you go out of their comfort zone, you know, the more becomes comfortable, that’s not easy to hear. And that’s not easy to do. And, you know, I recognize that. So it’s just this little small step and keeping yourself accountable. You know, we call like, you know, calendar integrity. So if you say, you’re going to apply for a few jobs, or reach out for a few jobs, and you’ve said times on your calendar to do so, actually do it, you know, don’t push it off, they always say like, try to get the hardest thing done first, and then you don’t have to worry about it. But it’s hard to stick to. So it’s definitely something develop, you know, that you learn, as you you know, go through your career, especially after completing maybe your undergraduate.
I think another piece of advice I’ve heard is that, you know, many things are reversible. So if you’re afraid that you’re going to make the wrong decision, it’s okay, you can always kind of reverse that decision. And I think like sometimes thought work can help with that, too. If you say, Okay, if I do take this step in maybe like, accepted job that I’m not sure what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the best that could happen? And everything else in between is already planned for in your head. So that also offers sometimes a bit of a push to take that next step.
Exactly. And just because you interview for a position doesn’t mean you have to take it. And I think it’s also important to realize you’re also interviewing them to see if it’s the right fit for you. So if you go into that mindset of but you know, I’m interviewing them to see if I like it or not, if it’s for me, if I want to spend my life here, you know, your seven hours a day here. And that can kind of give you a little competence boosts when you’re a little bit nervous going into it.
Like you hold some of the power.
Yeah. You know, we heard about, you know, a couple of points in your journey where you were at a crossroads, and you had to make a decision. No one was, when you were deciding between that whether it was psychology that you want to do, or maybe the health field, and then also teaching. Apart from those two instances, were there other like big challenges that you’ve faced in your professional journey so far? And then kind of how did you use the like, the concept of positive mind to kind of overcome those?
Yes, I mean, I think a lot of times, we let money drive the decisions that we make. So there are times where you might have to take a pay cut to get where you want to go. So you know the the theory of one step forward two steps back, actually, you know, I chose to do to hit a position that I wanted. In the long run, it works out but you have to be willing and able to see past that moment that there’s time growing so sometimes we get stuck, just focusing on the present but not realizing how it can unfold in the future. And then realizing health benefits and, and pensions do matter at an early age. It’s also important, but I think that you have to really understand that if- if you’re not happy so somewhere or you can’t stop thinking about something, then you should do something about it, whether it’s taking that job applying for that job or leaving that job, because there’s a reason why you keep thinking about it, and it doesn’t hurt to redo your resume or send it out or, you know, apply to other jobs in different industries, just to see where you stand. I think that’s important, too. And it’s okay to have two part time jobs.
That’s interesting point. Do you have I guess, a personal story on that? Or is that just advice that you’ve offered to others?
I mean, I think that sometimes to get your foot in the field, you have to take a lower paying job or a part time job, because that’s all that’s available. And there’s other ways to make money. So you know, I kept my part time waitressing job, I also, you know, would be a consultant and help people with their grants and help break grants just to stay afloat. I think that’s important. And that’s how you get experience as well, or donating your time. You know, I also donate my time as a board manager on YMCA in town. So, you know, you gain experience, and you meet people through there. So sometimes you have to give a little, you know, to get some things back and return. But everyone is very different and has different circumstances.
Yeah. When you kind of look back at the journey you’ve taken, since I guess it’s a start, right from the beginning where you thought, Okay, I’ll go into psychology first, to where you are today? Do you feel like you would have done something differently? If you were to do it again? Or is the path that you’ve taken something that you feel, you know, it was the right path for me?
I mean, I could totally think of things like, Why did I do that, but then I wouldn’t be where I am today. So whether it’s a little woohoo, but you know, everything comes your life for a reason. And it taught me something. And there are still things that pop up, you know, that I’m still working through and getting better at but you know, those things that you could look back and being older now, I wouldn’t have worried about that. I wouldn’t have worried what, you know, that criticism was it was to help improve or No, I wouldn’t have made that mistake such a big deal, because it really wasn’t. So you know, if it’s not going to matter in a year, why focus time about it?
Yeah, it’s always kind of the ways we reacted to certain situations that we think back on and think, you know, I shouldn’t have spent too much energy or time on that.
Yeah, I think once you reflect that, and you’re willing to then realize, okay, how am I gonna use this in the current moment to do better? That’s important, too, because if you don’t apply what you’ve learned, then you could possibly be making the same mistake.
Yeah, absolutely. When you think ahead to the future of your public health career, is there something that you’re looking forward to excited about? Or what’s kind of next for you?
That’s a great question. I mean, that’s something that I’m currently thinking about right now. Right? Where am I going to go? What are my next accomplishments, and one of them is just getting some more experience in environmental health. That is a piece of my public health, that I don’t have a lot of experience. And I’m lucky enough that I can go out with my environmental team here. And we work very closely by you know, taking those extra courses, like I’ll be going for in January at Southern for Environmental Health to kind of understand a little bit better, some of the stuff that happens on the other side of the office at the Health distract. And one of my goals has always been the life coaching. So, you know, working on that, and getting a little bit more involved in epidemiology or something I definitely want to do. So I want to make sure that the work that I’m doing actually mean something and I’m not just collecting things and skills to put on a resume. So I think I really want to do something that’s worldly, that is important to the community and that I am proud of, you know, something I can recall when I’m, you know, at sitting on the beach, hopefully, you know, in a nice chair, looking out, I’m like, you know, that was really good.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
You know, and I would love to write a book some time, about, you know, my experience in public health or, you know, being a female in this world and how it works for me.
Amazing. So we’re going to have to get you back on the podcast when that book goes out, Kate.
Oh, you wow. Yeah.
Thanks so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your story and kind of leaving us with your goals. And I’m sure we’re gonna have you on when that book comes out to talk about, you know, what you’ve done up to that point. So, thanks again.
Thank you, and have a great day.
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pHspot.org/. Podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more or want to join the club, you can visit our page at pHspot.org/club. And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career Club.