Join the NYSPHC Fellowship Program and get hands-on public health experience!

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In this episode, we’re talking about the New York State Public Health Corps (NYSPHC) Fellowship program – an opportunity for you to get hands-on public health experience. Whether you are a public health student, a new grad, or transitioning into the field, and are looking to gain hands-on public health experience, this fellowship program is something worth looking into.

In this episode, Sujani sits down with 2 fellows currently in the program to give you a glimpse of what you can expect in this paid fellowship program and to hear about their journey.

After hearing from the two fellows, Sujani and the Assistant Director of the program discuss the fellowship in more detail and cover frequently asked questions.

We hope this episode inspires you to explore the NYSPH Fellowship Program further and take action – whether that’s reaching out for more information or submitting an application.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • About Rachel Jagger and Shani Fields’ public health journey.
    • Why they chose to apply to the fellowship, how they discovered the program, and their application process.
    • A day in the life of both Rachel and Shani – what they do on a day-to-day basis in their role.
  • What is a fellowship? What is the New York State Public Health Corps Fellowship Program?
    • Erin tells us that the NYSPHC Fellowship program is a paid training program.
  • How someone would get involved with the program if they’re interested, and the application process
  • The types of opportunities available for interested candidates; where fellows are placed.
  • Who can participate, and what are the qualifications to become a Fellow?
  • The type of training Fellows are required to complete.
  • Some of the projects Fellows can get involved in.
  • Who are mentors and how do they get involved?

Today’s Guests:

Rachael Jagger, Fellow

Rachael Jagger was born and raised along the shores of Lake Ontario and married with four beautiful children. She made a career change at the start of the pandemic realizing it was time to follow her heart of working more upstream in the community. Once an Early Childhood Special Education teacher, she is now transitioning into Public Health while working as a Fellow in the NYS Public Health Corps Fellowship Program. She was accepted into the program in March of 2022 with Ontario County Public Health. Working in Community Health Improvement and as well as Maternal Child Health, she has a passion for ensuring children have the best start to life possible. (This starts with Maternal Child Health education coming from the Local Health Departments and our community partners.) Rachel is on a mission to help Ontario County become one of the healthiest counties in the state. She feels that it is an honor to be working for both Ontario County Public Health and the NYS Public Health Corps Fellowship program.

Shani Fields, Fellow

With a background in foster care and women’s reproductive healthcare, Shani Fields served the communities of NYC for over 15 years. Shani has facilitated countless trainings promoting reproductive and racial justice. She is a passionate health justice warrior and advocates for communities of color. She is currently working as a Public Health Specialist III in the Bureau of Cancer Prevention and Control through the New York State Public Health Corps Fellowship Program.

Erin Knoerl, Assistant Director

Erin Knoerl has been with the New York State Department of Health since 2010. She is the Assistant Director of the New York State Public Health Corps Fellowship Program in the Office of Public Health Practice and previously served as the Oral Health Unit Manager in the Bureau of Child Health. Her work includes development, management, and oversight of programs/projects and administrative operations, contract management, partnership development and stakeholder engagement, performance management and quality improvement, and grant writing. Ms. Knoerl has a master’s degree in public health.

Episode Transcript

Sujani 0:02
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 there, and welcome to another episode of the PH SPOTlight podcast. This is Sujani here, your host and the founder of PH SPOT. And I’m excited to share this new kind of episode with you a very unique one. I haven’t done something like this in the past. If you look at the past 100 episodes, we’ve always typically had one or two guests that we interviewed about their career journey. But for today’s episode, I actually interviewed three guests, three different interviews. We chatted a bit about each of their careers and journeys. But it was all around a single topic. And this topic is going to be super beneficial if you’re someone who’s looking for public health experience, right? So what we did on this episode is we talked about the New York State Public Health Corps fellowship program. And in this episode, we spoke to two fellows to hear about their experience, as well as one of the directors of the program so that you can learn more about, you know how you can get involved in this program if you are looking for experience in public health. So you’ll hear three separate conversations I had, one with Rachel, who’s a fellow, one with Shani, who’s also a fellow and then my final discussion is with Erin, where we get into more of the kind of logistics of the program and how you can apply and what opportunities exist. So I hope it’s a super informative, and inspiring episode for you. And like always, we are going to have all the details, any of the links that we talked about all on the show notes page. And that will be available at As always, if you have any questions, if you want to ask us any information about this fellowship, you can always reach out to us at So without further ado, here is my first conversation. And it’s with Rachel about her journey into public health and how she discovered the fellowship program and how she kind of applied and got in. And to tell you a little bit about Rachel, she was born and raised along the shores of Lake Ontario. She’s married with four beautiful children. And she actually made a career change at the start of the pandemic, realizing that it was time to follow her heart of working more upstream in the community. And so once an early childhood special education teacher and now transitioning into public health while working as a fellow in the New York State Public Health Corps fellowship program, and she was accepted into the program, as you’ll hear in March of 2022, with Ontario County Public Health, and she’s working in community health improvement as well as maternal child health. And she has a passion for ensuring that children had the best start to life possible. And she believes that this starts with maternal child health education, coming from the local health departments and community partners, and she’s on a mission to help Ontario County become one of the healthiest counties in the state. And so you’ll hear this incredible journey that Rachel had all the inspiring moments that led her to where she is today.

Rachel 4:02
Great, thank you so much for having me, I really am excited to just share all about this wonderful program and opportunities that I’ve been offered.

Sujani 4:10
Awesome. So I know like the pandemic has been, you know, such a, such a huge impact on everyone’s lives. And as I do a lot of these interviews, I’m also hearing, it’s been kind of opened people’s eyes up a little bit about, you know, their their career trajectories. And I learned that you also had some sort of, I guess, a point in time during the pandemic when you had a career change. And the question that I often start with with my guests is how did you discover public health and I think for you, there may be a special story there. So maybe you can start us off with that story how you discovered public health and that story will probably take us back a little bit before the time that you actually stepped introthis career, right?

Rachel 5:01
Yeah, definitely, I would love to share that story. My, my introductory, I guess to public health really kind of started back in honestly, in high school, which is many moons ago for me now. I always wanted to be a nurse and I went to a smaller High School. I actually I grew up in a very small town, and I wanted to be a nurse. Unfortunately, my school, the stars didn’t really, schooling didn’t really like align very well. And I went, the district that I went to had the ideals of books are that your way of Passing the Regents is Your way to Success. College Prep really wasn’t there. But we had a vocational school that offered a two year health program, I really wanted to get into it. But unfortunately, like I said, this, the stars at that time just didn’t align in my educational advocacy at this high school that I went to, and I ended up going into education at that time at the vocational school. I always had a passion from the time I was young, I remember, we’d love to play with the dolls and babysit and just loved children and mothers and babies. And just the idea of starting life out fresh, and the new, the newness and all the education that happens when you start a new family. And when you become this new person as a parent. It just always fascinated me. And so going into early childhood education, you know, fed that passion, definitely, I enjoyed the two year program, my junior and senior year, which then led me into going into my bachelor’s degree for early childhood special education. And that’s where I got my bachelor’s degree. And it was early childhood special education at Roberts Wesleyan College. And it’s funny, I met- this is where I met my husband, who lived in the next town over our paths crossed so many times. But we had no idea and we you know, go all the way to college and meet there. But he was actually ironically, becoming a nurse, he was there to become a nurse. And I loved how Roberts integrated all of their degrees into each degree. So whether you were there for education, or you were there for nursing or social work, or seminary school or business, they integrated a piece of each of those degrees into each and each and every one of them. So they did in early childhood in all the education they did a piece on community health, and other public health related social determinants of health and how that impacted a child’s learning. And when I had that class, I was hooked on social determinants of health. I was hooked and what impacted children’s learning outside of the walls of the school, you know, what was happening at home, what was happening in their community, what was happening to their parents, their parents jobs, just all the outside external factors was impacting their learning. And I was fascinated as an educator to want to work more upstream and how can I fix that? How can I be the impacted change that so they’re better at, you know, better students? So, you know, as I kind of went through, finishing my degree, it has been and I obviously, we eventually got married, and I always lived vicariously through his nursing. I remember still to this day, you know, many years into our marriage, I still say how, you know, how was your day? What did you put, what did you get to do as a nurse. But we, you know, he always encouraged me, he knew my passion, he knew that I was sad, a sad remorse or kind of a little bit of mourning of not becoming a nurse or not working in healthcare. And, you know, he always says to me, you know, Rachel, you make a really great nurse, you’d make a really great person in healthcare, you have that knack to just see outside the box. So you know, fast forward, I taught for several years, I worked primarily with children with autism. And that really I where I was able to work a lot in early intervention, which dealt with a lot of social determinants of health. I was working in the inner city, I was working in rural communities. I was working in all different types of households. And I just again, I just was like this is I love education. I love education so much. I love children. I love families and parents and moms. And I just don’t feel like I’m doing enough. I don’t feel. I always say that, you know, at the end, I guess at the end of your life, or at the end of your retirement, do you feel like you gave it your all I didn’t feel that I was able to give it my all. So, you know, my husband and I started a family. And at that time, our first son, around nine, nine months, between nine and 18 months, I realized he was showing signs of autism. And I knew at that time why those stars didn’t align in high school, I was able to detect that in him. So early and I was eight, I was able to be that mom to give that little guy, the best start to life. And I focused and ended up staying home with him for in my three children after that for about eight years. And during that time, I focused on him, I focused on volunteering, working a lot in my community, doing volunteering for parents who didn’t know the path of IEPs didn’t know the path of education, special education, just really needed somebody to be on their cheering team, to be their champion to be their child’s champion. And just really gave them the resources within the community that they needed to give their child the best start to their educational career. And I just I loved every minute of it. Around the time of the pandemic, actually, right before the pandemic started my youngest turned one and I said to my husband, Alright, I’m ready to go. I’m done being a stay at home mom, I needed to do something more. And so I gave it some thought. But you know, the pandemic was kind of getting started and everyone was staying home and the opportunity of being at contact tracer came up. And my husband said, you know, Rach, now is the time, now’s the time into public health, you know, this is good. This is contact tracing, you know, mitigating the spread of communicable disease. This is yeah, this is part of public health because I know you’d like the prevention. I know you’d like the more of the education piece of it, because but this is your segue just know it is said, alright, I’ll do it. I go. So I got hired in the continental state patent pick tracing. And I again, yep, he was right, I was hooked. I knew it I just helping people, connecting them to, you know, the resources for in terms of COVID, helping them through scary times, helping them to, you know, just really understand what was going on. And, you know, in terms of quarantine, isolation, and all of that. I just was like, Okay, this is where I meant to be public health. Yes. So I did more research on public health, I did a lot of, you know, free learning, as the New York State offered a lot of different educational opportunities that we as contract tracers, we could, you know, utilize. But where I got into public health and how I am there now, actually was when I became a school specialist for Ontario County. So the school specialists, we were the ones that help get the kids back into school, we’ve helped the county public health departments to help the schools develop plans and back to school, how do we get those kids back in the classroom in a safe way? How can we keep them safe? How do we mitigate COVID 19? How do we follow the you know, the rules that, you know, New York State is saying that they need to follow? And how can we help these, you know, parents and families so I was liaison between the school district and the Public Health Department in Ontario County. And I did that for oh, a ye- Maybe I think it was about a year. My time, you know, the timeline of the pandemics when we get a little data jumbled. But I think I did that for about a year, a little over a year, maybe. And Kate, my director at Ontario said, hey, you know, did you hear about this fellowship program they’re going to be doing and I was like, oh, no, but she was looking at it, take a look at it. And I said, okay, yeah, right now. Yeah, I’ll take a look at it. And so I read about it. And I just talked to my husband. I said, Charles, this is a fellowship program. And, you know, basically, I’ll be working for the public health, you know, within, you know, Ontario County, if I can get hired, you know, they would host me and I can learn and you know, this is great, you know, we can you know, I still had that our career and I just start building really building my career and he’s like, go for it. Go for it, of course. And yeah, I applied for the program, Kate, and the director, Mary, she- They fought and they said, you know, this is who we want to hire for community health improvement. And I was hired into the public health fellowship program last March. And since then I’ve just been learning everything I can learn. And living a dream that I never thought was possible. Some days, I do find myself like, Is this really happening? Or is this just kind of like, going to end like rapidly or something. But the skills and the knowledge that I have learned thus far, and what I have to learn still, is there’s- there’s no dream in that this is reality. And it’s where I’m meant to be. So it’s, it’s wonderful. That’s yeah, that’s how I kind of came into public health. And each day, I feel like I’m learning something different to build myself and build my career.

Sujani 15:53
That’s an incredible story, Rachel. And I think the two things that kept coming up for me, as you’re telling this story is how perfectly the stars are aligning for you to get to where you are, I think it’s funny, because in the moment, it just never make sense. But when you look back, you’re like, wow, that- that was perfect. And this path was meant to be and all of the different pieces, including meeting your husband and him being a nurse and having him as a huge cheerleader, just to push you along and make sure you’re not forgetting about your own dreams is just incredible.

Rachel 16:29
Yeah, and, you know, even when we say something about the kids, or I say something, you know, sometimes they’ll be like, Oh, I had a patient, I can’t really figure this out, or now say something. And it makes his a light bulb go off in his head. And he goes, Why aren’t you a nurse? And I’m always like, well, I’m trying to get there. I’m getting there. Don’t you worry. Somehow I’m gonna be in healthcare with you.

Sujani 16:49
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think the other piece that’s also really important to mention is kind of the the supervisors that you had, I think you mentioned, Kate, was her name. Just sharing kind of your goals with people around you, because they’re going to help you find these opportunities, right, especially this fellowship, for example, had they not known about your goals and where you want to go, like they wouldn’t have thought about you or thought to tell you about this new opportunity that they came across. So I think that’s also very important as you’re going along in your public health careers, just sharing your goals with people around you, because they’re the ones who are actually going to also help you achieve these goals.

Rachel 17:30
Most definitely. Kate and Mary and I mean, everyone at Ontario County, I have always said they have said the key. And I’ve worked in several different, you know, educational settings, schools, daycares, you know, I’ve worked within the Health Department and in terms of early intervention, you know, just different community organizations. But I have never worked in a department or even at a county, I mean, Ontario County as a whole. It’s not just public health, but public health, the department as its its own entity. And Ontario is we’re all like family, we care about one another’s goals, we care about seeing one another succeed. It’s you, you go to work each day, and you don’t feel like it’s work, because you’re all just there working towards one goal. And it- it’s amazing how we all just mesh together and work together. I’ve never been I’ve never had a career opportunity like that before. And I think that speaks volumes to the leadership that we that I have been introduced to an Ontario County and everyone that is in Ontario County. I think it also speaks volumes to what public health is, I think the leaders within public health have a passion to see their community grow. And they know that, you know, as public health specialists, or public health nurses or whatever your role might be, you knew even our support staffs, our secretaries, they know that their this is their community, and they want to see them grow. So they- they channel their career goals, and they channel their leadership goals and they channel what they want to see for their community, all together to make one big, happy working environment, but that allows interns allows us to help grow our community into a healthy community.

Sujani 19:34
Absolutely. And you know, I think your mission is to help Ontario County become one of the healthiest counties in the state. And when you think about kind of this opportunity that you were presented with the New York State Public Health Corp fellowship program, what was it about the program that you thought, you know, this could really help me with this life mission that I’m on?

Rachel 20:01
So when Kate first posed it to me, she said, so there’s, there’s these two positions. One is just data. But I don’t really see you sitting behind a computer entering anything. And I’m like, yeah, no, that’s not my cup of tea. I mean, probably can already pick up that I’m a talker. I mean, I think it’s a knack for anybody that’s in education, you love to talk and you love to educate people, and you just love to be engaging. Which is kind of funny, because I was very, very, very shy child. So I think when anybody signs out what I became, they’re kind of like, oh, okay, you changed a lot. Because I would not like that. So, but Kate said to me, I don’t see you in data. I see you, you know, I want you to be kind, I want you to work within community improvement, and there’s this event Prevention Agenda, I want you to look it up. I said, Okay, so I went home, and I and I looked it all up about the Prevention Agenda. And I was like, Yes, this is me. I mean, secretly, I only wanted to work on maternal child health prevention agenda. But that’s beside the point. We know that, you know, as a whole public health is a lot more than that, you know, it’s everything. But I was like, yes, prevention. This is, this is me. I can, I can totally promote this. I can, you know, I can work with community partners, I can work with, you know, the hospitals within our county. I can work regionally with regional work work groups. Yes, I, yes, I have, they have to do this, I have to somehow, you know, figure out how I make myself look great in this fellowship program. So they want to hire me. And I said, I know, I know, Kate does, but I still have to prove it to other people. So I did a lot I, you know, before I had started actually starting to apply for the community health improvement coordinator, I did a lot of research on the Prevention Agenda within New York State and other states, too. So, you know, the Prevention Agenda within New York State is our own entity, but other states have what they call a Prevention Agenda. So I learned a lot about what other states have for their Prevention Agenda, what are their goals and objectives are, obviously, you know, for the earlier states, you know, they want to be the healthiest state in the nation, my goal is to make Ontario County, the healthiest county in the state. And so, you know, I come to work each day, looking for more partners to help build our, you know, health bills, the mental health area of the Prevention Agenda, looking for partners, and within maternal child health, looking for partners within environmental health, looking for, you know, obesity, diabetes, cardiac, you know, so we’re, there’s, you know, plenty other things, I’m probably forgetting on the Prevention Agenda, but those ones are kind of like, you know, are in the forefront of what we look at and are what our community partners are looking at. So over time, you know, when I started to get into this position after I was hired, I realized that community health prevention and education, you know, definitely was my jam. And how can I just build, I’m making this county, the healthiest county in New York State. And, you know, a key and other people have said, well, you don’t live in Ontario County. And I see that as Okay, well, I don’t, but Wayne County is part of our regional, you know, they’re part of our regional workgroup. And I think that that helps me in terms of, you know, being out of Ontario County, it helps me to see a broader view, and what I can bring, and what possibly I can then bring regionally. You know, the fellowship program is amazing. And I hope one day to work for Ontario County, but I am also a very realistic person, I may not end up that might not be my stars align, that might not be my, yeah, that happens. And I’m okay with that. Because my opportunities in my journey here in Ontario County is what’s going to make me the best public health specialists that I can be, and I will forever be grateful for that. So when I look at it regionally, I just think maybe I can bring that to another county within my region.

Sujani 24:36

Rachel 24:36
If that makes sense.

Sujani 24:37
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And so this Prevention Agenda, it sounds absolutely huge, but for, for anybody who’s, you know, could be interested in in a similar role to yours and community health improvement. Could you maybe tell us a little bit about what a day or a week would look like in your role I know every day and every week is probably different. And there are going to be changes throughout somebody’s term in that role. But generally, what could someone expect when they’re in a similar role to yours?

Rachel 25:12
Yeah, so it is definitely varies from county to county, as I’ve learned from other fellows who are in this same position. So I’ll speak obviously, specifically what I do. But certainly it can vary. There are people who actually are community health improvement who work more on the data piece. But again, as Kate is awesome at recognizing our strengths, I am a talker. So I have a great, we have another fellow that does the data piece. And he’s my right hand, man, he helps me a lot of gathering the data, which is really important for community health improvement. So primarily, what I’ll do is I look at data a lot and try to find the story behind it. Stories really important than the story by that. I mean, why does the data look like that? And that’s really always a really important question to ask yourself. Why, constantly asking yourself why, why why? Why is the data looking like this? Why is our obesity rate high? For example, that’s one of our goals and objectives that we’re working on childhood obesity. So we, you know, look at the data. Why is it okay, our Community Health Partners, we work with our community health partners through a health collaborative group, it’s called an Ontario County Health Collaborative. And that meets once a month. And we meet with all records, like I said, community health partners, our hospital, hospitals, we have three hospitals within our county. And then we meet with some other stakeholders that might be regional. And they’re in meaning they work outside the county, but also they work with multiple counties. And we collaborate together to find the story behind the data in terms of why is, the numbers look the way they do. That might be because mom and dad don’t have enough money to purchase healthy food. That might not that might be because of the lack of access to healthy food, maybe they only have the ability to shop at convenience stores because they don’t have a car, and taps or Wegmans or Walmart or anywhere that offers healthy produce options is too far away. So maybe they’re only shopping at Dollar General that convenience stores or Family Dollar. The other one could be mental health going on could be a social media, the other factor could be it’s just their family, that’s their family way of life. It could be mom works all the time. And the kids only are able to have microwavable meat meals that are high in sodium, high in fat content, things like that. So that’s maybe that’s why we’re seeing the higher numbers of childhood obesity. So that’s one thing that I do a lot of, is looking at the data and the story behind it and hearing what my community partners are seeing. Those are what you know, that community, my community partners are the ones with the boots on the ground, they’re hearing it from their, their clients, they’re hearing it from the people they serve, what their needs are. And then we work together and collaborate to address those needs to address the gaps. And when we’re trying to address the gaps and trying to build programming and bring you know, bring it rain in those gaps to make that, you know, obviously have smaller, we want to make sure we build off of what’s already happening. We don’t want you know, I even in education, it’s similar, you know, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel I never wanted if someone else down the cloud, you know, down the hall and another classroom had the same lesson, similar lesson, I’m gonna go take their lesson plan kind of thing, you know, I’m not gonna sit there and reinvent the wheel. The similar with this, if we have somebody who is doing something that’s working, let’s build on that, you know, thinking about the feasibility thinking about how can we replicate this into what works for our community. So that’s one portion of my job. And then obviously building, you know, we had to rewrite the Community Health Assessment, which is again, looking at the data, writing the story behind the data. And then we built our Community Health Improvement Plan, which is it’s about a three year plan. So it’s kind of jumbled, because again, the pandemic, but we have their first year we build our goals and objectives and what our community partners are going to be doing and reporting on within the community. And then the next- the last year we put those in action. So for example, we are looking at a policy of having a universal curriculum for healthy eating for all of our daycares. So and we have some few new hospitals that go into our schools and our daycares that do some healthy reading curriculum, so we want to replicate that. So that’s kind of, like I say, what I do when I’m not shelf. While that so we’ve submitted the chip to New York state, we’re, you know, forging ahead working with all of our partners and building these programs. Another area we’re working on is mental health and substance abuse. So we’re looking a lot at Youth Mental Health, it’s, you know, that really came out of the pandemic. That was, again, listening to our community partners, they kept saying, you know, we need to build big, bad mental health capacity within our schools, we there’s just a strong need, we don’t have the capacity for staffing to address the mental health needs within our schools. Um, so we’re really working with our schools, we’re partnering with all of our science districts within Ontario County, and helping them to build the mental health capacity. So yeah, that’s- that’s how I kind of started my job. But over the last probably four months now, it’s actually changed. And I think it’s really important to speak on this too, because again, it speaks to the awesome. My favorite word is awesomeness. My kids think I’m corny when I say that. But it’s my word. It’s, I’m a 90s kid. So to speak to the awesomeness of the fellowship program, and having an amazing leadership. And having an amazing mentor, which Kate is also my mentor. She listened to me and like I said, she’s built on my strength. I came into this knowing that I was a mom of four, knowing I had a strong passion for maternal child health, knowing that I’ve worked in, you know, the role of maternal child health, you know, in an essence of the early intervention. I said I want you to I want to become a lactation consultant. She says, okay, Pivotal has this great grant, you know, we can use certified as a CLC, which is certified lactation consultant. That’s have that been one of your goals. Okay. Well, that was a long term goal. I met that goal and I’m, you know, because of Kate and I’m now a certified lactation consultant. So that’s again, building capacity within our Maternal Child Health Program. But she, she’s I have also brought to her this idea of community health doulas, I read a lot about how doulas and community health doulas help the reduce the maternal mortality rates. And recently, there was some new data that came out that was very alarming. And I actually remember crying a little because I, you know, I’m so fortunate to have four wonderful births. But I know that that’s not everybody’s outcome. And I’m like this zip. I got IVF I’m on my- I’m on my passion train again, guys. I’m gonna bring this to Kate. And I’m going to tell her I want I want to bring community health doulas, and we got to look at doulas, and how can this better our Maternal Child Health Program, and, you know, we always say in public health, you know, Strike the iron while it’s hot? Well, you know, we noticed over the pandemic that you know, in Ontario County, our Maternal Child Health Program needed to be revamped, why weren’t we getting referrals? You know, there’s our lack of education, we know there’s a huge gap arm mortality rates are not, you know, are definitely not great. Again, looking at the data, looking at the story behind the data. So there’s a kind of the four of us, there’s two public health educators and then the Maternal Child Health Program Coordinator in Ontario County, we all came together, had a nice long talk. And Kate says, you know, Rachel’s got this idea of a doula. Let’s look at it, you know, keep looking at it. And we did she, she, I don’t want to I think it sounds cliche to say she entertained my idea. But she did. You know, she said, you know, bring me up a proposal, bring me some data, bring me all the stuff that you know, help support what you want. So I did that I did a lot of research and no, she didn’t look at me like I had nine has I mean, she could have Kate probably does look at me, I have a nine has because I like I am a very passionate person. And that’s okay. Because I think that you got to look at somebody, like they hit nine ads, when they’re passionate about community health, it’s okay. You know, and but she allow, she brought it to professionals who have been within, you know, within public health for many years. She didn’t belittle or minimize my ideas. And I think that that is what this whole program is about, is leaderships hearing the new voices coming into public health, hearing the new way of life, again, another kind of cliche, but what’s our new normal, but in reality COVID changed us all, COVID changed our whole society, COVID changed everybody’s way of living. And I think now is the time that we really need to look at that. And again, like kind of, you know, I’m kind of jumping around a little bit it but, you know, that’s what we did we- we brought our community health partners together. So currently, I actually my day is spent working a lot in maternal child health law and a little bit of the community health improvement. So we brought all of our Maternal Child Health Program out while not on our program, but our community partners together and we did a SWOT analysis. So what a SWOT analysis is, is looking at the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats, and, you know, identifying where, where’s the gaps within the community and that we for maternal child health, and within Ontario County, we identify there was a lack of lactation education, birth education, and then obviously, the doulas. So we are going to be partnering with some community health doulas. I’m actually recently trained as a doula for birth education. And then I will also be a kappa, which is another organization for birth education soon, and also a postpartum doula and the two public health educators and the Maternal Child Health Program Coordinator, we’re all going to be developing a new curriculum for both birth and lactation education for our community and bringing that into Ontario County for our moms and, you know, partners and working towards that prevention goal of reducing our maternity child health or even on reducing our maternity and maternal mortality rates, increasing our Maternal Child Health referrals, and also, you know, in turn, you know, increasing our lactation education trickles all the way up to reducing our childhood obesity rates. So it kind of all encompasses what I do is Community Health and Prevention Agenda, and prevention of chronic diseases.

Sujani 37:04
Yeah, I think, you know, the, the beauty of public health, I found is you can have very similar role titles, but that the, I guess the responsibilities and what you make of that role is very dependent on the individual and what their passion train is looking like, and what they want to kind of contribute in that role. And I think what’s encouraging for me to hear from years perspective is that this program, and the fellowship really allows for that, and the leaders and the mentors that kind of uplift this program are positioned in a way to make sure you know, the individual and the role, and then the mandate of the organization kind of all fits well, with that ultimate goal of making sure there’s incredible impact in the community that they’re serving.

Rachel 37:51
Yeah, it really does in I know, I know, I speak a lot about Kate. But looking outside of my county, specifically looking at our all of the fellows who have this wonderful opportunity, you know, bringing it up to the state level, I mean, regionally, I have an amazing regional coordinator. And we have a you know, a local coordinator who she finds education, she works with a regional coordinator, she advocates for us, do you have that piece, you have a local piece, who have an advocate for you and within your counties, and then you have a regional coordinator who advocates for you up at the state. And then you have the state who brings in all of these wonderful educational opportunities, speakers, you know, we have educational series that we do once a month, there’s just all these different opportunities that I feel so fortunate, you know, to have for me, I was a little hesitant, I’m probably, again, a little bit of a realist in me, that was a little hesitant in the beginning as to whether I was going to really be able to gain anything or was I going to kind of just be stuck in my silo of just my county. But now I’m learning so much from all of the counties from the fellows. So you have that connection, that network. And, I mean, it’s invaluable sometimes. Again, I’ll say to myself, Is this really happening?

Sujani 39:21
So, you know, just to kind of wrap things up, if someone’s considering the program, but they’re a little hesitant like maybe you- You probably had questions about the program and you’re thinking like this is a good fit for me am I gonna get chosen just words of wisdom, encouragement that you may have for anyone even you know, slightly considering the program and really like getting them to take that next step and browsing around the opportunities that are available.

Rachel 39:47
Ah, so I my words of wisdom, my advice to anyone wanting to get into this program wanting to get into public health, and or there could be a career change, never give up. Just keep going. You know, within the- within public health, you have to win over the hearts and minds of your community in order to see change. That takes passion determination, not a degree. So just because you don’t have an MPH PhD, or master’s in public health or anything related to that, that doesn’t mean anything. Those are personal attributes. If you are a go getter, and you just you want to see community change, you’re a fit. I think that, like I say, it’s, it’s, it’s a personal attribute, not a degree, your- your relationship with the community means a lot. And you know, we’re all working towards the same goal with health, which you know, is protecting and promoting the health and well being of our county residents, or even regionally. We’re all working towards one goal. So don’t let I think I kind of in the beginning, said, Oh, I don’t have a master’s in public health, people aren’t really taking me seriously. Or maybe my- my ideas and my words, don’t weigh enough because I don’t have that educational piece. And I don’t have that mph after my name. So they don’t really want to see it. They you know, they don’t believe in me, I had to overcome that. And I think that that’s really important too, is be confident in yourself. Because you do mean something your voice does mean something, regardless of your education. You know, I had, when I first started in Ontario County, there was a gentleman who worked in emergency preparedness, and I got to know him very well. And he became still to this day, I bounce ideas off of him. He’s retired now. He said, one thing to me is never change, and never give up on what you want to do. Because what who you are professionally and even personally is an amazing person. And that’s what will take you far in life and changing this community. And so just keep your passion and never give up and keep going is the best thing you can do. Because personal is what makes your career.

Sujani 42:21
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Rachel, this has been such a treat for me just to hear your passion. And I can feel the energy that you have wanting to, you know, really, really, you know, make Ontario County the healthiest county. And so I wish you luck with all of your future goals and endeavors.

Rachel 42:41
Thank you like Kate always says I’m like a dog with a bone, I have the goal of making it the healthiest county and I will some way somehow. And I just thank you for this opportunity to get the word out about the fellowship program was really an honor to sit down and talk with everybody and just let everybody know how awesome this program is.

Sujani 43:00
So I hope you felt that incredible energy and enthusiasm that Rachel brings to the field of public health and the mission she’s on to really make Ontario County one of the most healthiest counties in the state. Next, we’re gonna go over to Shani’s story. And so Shani comes with a background in foster care and women’s reproductive health care. And she served the communities of New York City for over 15 years. And she’s facilitated countless trainings, promoting reproductive and racial justice. And so, you know, evidently, she has a passion for Health Justice, and is an advocate for communities of color. And currently, she is working as a public health specialist in the Bureau of cancer prevention and control through the New York State Public Health Corps fellowship program. And similar to Rachel, you will hear Shani’s inspiration for joining the fellowship program, as well as her enthusiasm for the field of public health, the incredible journey that she’s been on and a little bit of, you know, motivation for you to also consider this fellowship program.

Shani 43:49
Sujani Thank you so much. It’s so great to be here. It was an honor to be asked. I always love representing the fellowship program, the fellowship program has brought so much for me in my life is we’re going to talk about and I’m just happy to be able to represent them.

Sujani 44:40
Yeah. As I’m learning about this fellowship program, I’m hearing very similar sentiments about how incredible it is. So it’s just very nice for me to hear kind of firsthand from the individuals who have been impacted by this program. So the first question that I love hearing you know, answers to whether you’re a fellow of this program or just any public health professional is how you discovered this field. I know for myself, it was quite accidental. It was a course that kind of introduced me to public health. So what has been your story, Shani?

Shani 45:15
Oh my goodness. Right? So completely by accident.

Sujani 45:19

Shani 45:20
A finding? Yes. For me, my background is in foster care. And I did foster care for about eight years. And then I was in women’s reproductive health care. So I moved, I actually I moved, I was in the city. So I’m born and raised in New York City. And me and my family had the opportunity to move upstate New York about 20 minutes south of about 30 minutes south of Albany, in 2019, which became fortuitous, as far as you know, the pandemic that happened the following year. So it was like, wow, being able to move out of the city, but that left my career in stagnant, you know, for a while and making those transitions. So I was not working for about two years. And in early last year, and looking for a new opportunity, I wanted to stay in training, because that’s something I had already had built up, my skills in. And this happy in that job had the aspect of training in it, as well as health disparities due to COVID, which was a passion and becoming a passion and under not really understanding but wanting to do that. And I got the opportunity to join the Bureau of cancer prevention and control. I had no idea that what the fellowship, what that meant, and how its connection with it. I was, I’d be to be totally honest, I was not intentional about what I was, you know, going into a field. So finding this was, I think it was an advantage, to be perfectly honest, because I came with this experience, but it was all new, and how to incorporate that into public health. So it’s kind of like a raw slate, you know, and I think that was beneficial for the people I’m working with, as well as myself.

Sujani 47:15
So you just discovered this position, I guess, like you would any other role or job? Is that- Is that what happened?

Shani 47:23
Yeah, I wasn’t in any other role of job, I was looking for a job that had a training aspect that had kind of disparities, Incorporated, addressing disparities incorporated into that, because that was something that was being, you know, spotlighted a lot in COVID, those health disparities in black and brown communities. So, you know, I to find that I was like, okay, so this incorporates all of that. And then being able to find out there’s a whole fellowship program that’s going to help transition me into the field. It was like it.

Sujani 47:57
Yeah. And I think I was reading on the fellowship kind of program page that there are kind of these educational components embedded into the fellowship. And one of them was this public health essential certificate program. What other components I guess, were fascinating to you, or intriguing enough for you to say like, Hey, yeah, I really want to do this.

Shani 48:21
Well, all of it, I mean, the, the part of it, that certificate program, and reading about it, and what it entailed. And in that being completely free, yeah, attached to the fellowship. Amazing. So that definitely was intriguing. Being able to get back into a school program, setting something that I had been hesitant on for so long, it was a great opportunity, and then participating in that program, which really, which I, again, had didn’t came into it what without any kind of public health knowledge. So that was amazing. That program, it gave you all the basics of what you did terminology, this different terminology, what the meanings have been looking at data, analyzing data, the importance of data in citing your findings, evidence based processes, it was- it was, it was a lot it was a lot for like the three minds, but it was absolutely essential to doing this work. And for someone like me, who didn’t have a background in public health, it would have taken a lot longer to get me acclimated into this field. So I am, it was a blessing to have that that certificate program.

Sujani 49:41
And you mentioned you know, for various reasons, and for you being the move your career was stagnant for a little bit. And I know, you know, other people for various reasons can be in a situation where they may have to take a bit of a career break and it’s often hard to kind of get yourself back into it and for you exploring a field like public health where you felt like you didn’t have the, I guess the training or the education that sometimes you feel like is needed, at least on paper? How, like, how would you convince somebody that’s kind of looking at this program, and they’re thinking, I don’t have a public health background, I don’t have the necessary education or so. But just to give them a little bit of confidence that they too can do a role like this.

Shani 50:30
Absolutely. You know, I have tried to, I’ve had friends, people that I’ve known, apply to positions or just to the fellowship themselves, itself, because of what you said, because of the opportunities that it has that it affords. And not just the what else did I like about this program, is everything that it incorporates incorporates not just the certificate program, but also the mentoring program that takes place after you finish that part. It’s, I didn’t know what that was going to look like. And it has turned out to be one of the best aspects of the program that people who are involved with it are have a passion, they’re in the field, they have a passion. My mentor is like one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. She’s just dynamic, and encouraging and supportive. And I think that that’s indicative of the program. It really shows this program is supportive. The the fellowship program really supports you that the summit that they put together last year to network and meet other people within the New York State Department of Health and the lectures in the small groups, and everyone has been so inviting, and and friendly and open, not just in my bureau, which is an amazing community of people. But within public health itself. I think this is a time when they have recognized their shortcomings as an organization during the COVID lost so many people. So it is a time it’s a great opportunity. This is what I share with people who asked me about it, it’s it’s a great time to get involved.

Sujani 52:17

Shani 52:18
In public health, you know, it really is in this is a great way to transition into that and incorporate the skills that you the roles, real world experiences into these these public health jobs situations.

Sujani 52:30
Yeah, that’s amazing. And so you are currently a public health representative or specialist in the Bureau of cancer prevention and control. And so what does your like role entail? And what would a week or a day in the life of Shani look like?

Shani 52:47
Yes. So yes, as you mentioned, I’m in the Bureau of prevention of cancer control and the Communications and Education Unit, which is all a mouthful. And I find that that’s one of my challenges with public health is the acronyms all over the place. So many acronyms to learn. But yes, I in working with them, what I’m doing, is looking for, my job is identifying obstacles to assessing cancer screenings primarily in black communities in upstate New York. And kind of what COVID-19 highlighting the health disparities across our state, the high mortality rates of black people versus white people. When it comes to cancers and other chronic diseases. What I do is collaborate with our Cancer Services Program contractors who go into communities to try to get uninsured and underinsured individuals, cancer screenings, and the black community is a community historically disconnected, apprehensive, distrustful for many reasons. And so I’m trying to help these contractors make those connections within those in the community to be able to reach more people and find the people that are eligible for the permit. So my typical day is talking to contractors about what they’re doing, and in their development of those partnerships, and how we can strengthen those partnerships, trying to go out with them for partners that are contractors that are closer or can be reached, you know, a couple of hours drive, I’m starting to do site visits so I can meet with them and go out and do community outreach and, and pick up and learn from them in order to help other contractors as well as maybe make suggestions and better ways of making those connections. So that- that’s my day, a lot of data analysis of what’s working in the communities and reviews and talking and talking to the contractors and stakeholders.

Would you say like, part of your, like your time in the office and in the community is split 50/50?

Well, as you know, most of my time right now has been working remotely. And as far as not being able to going out into the community that- that- I have been able to do that in the capital region, and in some of the closer counties, which has been great. But yeah, now that the weather is getting warmer, my intention, and my- my team’s intention is to kind of get me out there more to do more observations and be able to get in into the community and see what’s happening in various regions across.

Sujani 55:48
So I’m someone who believes that all experiences are valuable and credible, and it kind of like builds on one another. And knowing that, you know, you were in foster care before and women’s reproductive health care. And you had this other, if you will, job and career prior to discovering public health, how are you finding that you’re able to apply all those skills and experiences in the role that you’re currently doing?

Shani 56:18
I- Great question, right. And I think that all of that is the transition, being able to transition those skills. I think that’s the point of the fellowship, and so many fellowships, I, I like to credit them with the insight of using people, especially when it comes to areas of public service, whether that be teaching or social work, or public health, using people with different experiences, to come into a field, and bring those other experiences with them into this new field. It’s amazing. And what I’ve learned is how transferable those skills are, because they’re all service, you know, skills, and you’re servicing people so that it’s very transferable, and what I have gotten support in, in from the fellowship, as well as where I’m working, the people that I work with, and looking at what I’ve done, and using that to help inform the work that I’m doing now to support the work that I’m doing now, I said to someone, when I first started, you know, I really haven’t done too much community service and organizing, because a lot of it was- was the care case management and trainings. And it was- it was the supervisor, another supervisor there who was helping me understand like, all of that is relatable to what you’re going to be doing in this job like, yes, and so not seeing it yourself and having people around you to help you see it, it just gives you so much more confidence and empowers you. So yeah, I think working with people individually in foster care, and then being able to build into more of a macro level now of not just my everyday interactions with people, but it may take longer. Patience is key and, and working in state departments. They may take longer, but the outcome has the ability, ability to affect massive amounts of people. So that’s my focus with it. Frustrating times.

Sujani 58:38
I had a colleague remind me very recently, when I- when I was kind of a sharing the same sentiments that just impact feels like it takes so much longer in public health. And she had to remind me, we chose public health for that very reason that we wanted to have impact at such a large scale, knowing that it’s going to take a lot more kind of like pushing than it would at an individual level. So sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves why we chose this field, right?

Shani 59:07
Yes, absolutely.

Sujani 59:09
Yeah. I wanted to, I guess just going back to individuals who are perhaps hesitating to apply to the fellowship, any words of encouragement or advice you would give just in terms of the application and how you felt that went for you?

Shani 59:29
Yeah, I applied for the job. And I know that for the fellowship, you can apply directly, which I have encouraged people to do, but and looking for a specific position. That’s how I kind of came into it. I would say, networking, that’s one of the biggest, I think benefits that I have gotten from working in public health is networking, being able to reach out as I remember before there’s this the public health held their first in Summit last November. And in that summit, there were so many people throughout the state that came in to speak, who were you know, in public health, I got to meet Joanne Moore Deputy Commissioner, sit and talk with her, hear her speak in a large group, hear her talk to me directly in a small group and exchange ideas. And she was so open and so welcoming, seeing her Marcy McCall out of New York City, I was able to sit down and talk to her about her own journey, and what does that look like and ideas that I had in public health and where I wanted to go, and you know, this is just a couple of women, I talked about my mentor, and you know, all of these women, these are black women, and me being a black woman, seeing these women succeed, and have their position and still be the same women that I, you know, would have had communications with, in my everyday life or in foster care, or, in working with Planned Parenthood, it’s has all been so informative. And I think that’s where you need to plug into is those networks, those networks of people that are offered to you, the webinars that are offered, I said, I said to someone recently, you know, in looking, I was so happy that the fellowship extended their program for a two year period, instead of a one. And while I can apply for other permanent positions, I want to be able the fellowship has afforded me the time to be intentional. And that’s something that I’ve never had in my life, really, to be intentional in my career, you know, it’s been kind of, I need this job. And yes, and I succeed, and it gets better. And that’s great. But all kinds of accidental getting into it. But getting into public health accidentally has taught me to be intentional moving forward. And I can do that here. Because there’s so much opportunity. So I’m thinking, that’s what I- I expressed to people who are looking into this career that it is endless opportunities for you to get into in public health, there’s so many different departments, I thought public health was about auditing restaurants, and I thought that that’s what the main part of it was. And it’s so much more. And I would really encourage people to explore and see what their what, what it can bring you also, that I love talking about. So I’m sorry, if you need to interrupt me. But another great aspect that I’ve been able to take advantage of is all of the other organizations within Public Health, the National Association, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors is huge within public health, and it brings people together from across the country, and I was able to get into one of their quarterly groups and engage with public health professionals. At South Carolina, Washington state, it was amazing to share ideas with these people and find out that a lot of us are having the same frustrations, you know, and for the same reasons. So it’s just an exchange of, of everything that you know, everything, not having to reinvent the wheel, just building off of what has already been done, and people wanting to help you do that. So I think that that’s my advice is take advantage of all the opportunities that public health and this fellowship has to offer because they’re endless, they really are endless.

Sujani 1:04:07
And what I’m kind of gathering as I learned about this program more and more is that you know, of course there’s the the posted role or position there and the mandate of the organization. But then you as the individual and kind of what your passions are your skills and experiences are can really you know that the position can actually be molded to the individual right?

Shani 1:04:30
Yes, absolutely. I think that that is that’s where I’m you know what I feel here I think foster care taught me so much kindness and compassion and working with people and reproductive health care women’s reproductive health care but on the inside into the inner workings of a bought me a- First it bought me passion into causes because yeah, you have to be passionate about reproductive health care. For when and, and then there’s so much wrapped up in other causes that have to do with equity within that. So that really got me into racial justice causes. And it also gave me insight into the behind the scenes of what that looks like, which comes with bureaucracy, and politics and a lot of other things, which all prepared me for coming into public health now. And what that has brought me is first patience, a lot, a lot more patience with the system, and timing. But what it also has taught me a lot of was teamwork. You know, this is this is a collaboration, and everybody wants to be a part of its- of getting this right, they really do. And I’m really impressed by that. I have been impressed by that.

Sujani 1:05:56
You talked quite a bit, you know, in each of the discussions that we’ve had so far, a lot about, you know, relate maintaining really good relationships and building that community around you and want to kind of wrap up our conversation today by asking you how community and relationships have played a role in your career success and brought to to where you are today.

Shani 1:06:22
Well, you know that and that, for me, begins with a personal it’s I- a personal story. I grew up in Harlem, in the 80s and 90s. And what a community you know, I’m, I’m a Harlem girl for life, and what it has my parents, I have to give them the credit for what they bought into just that Harlem community. They were born and raised in Harlem. And my mother was very much into the church. She was a teacher in preschool that I attended a subsidized preschool that I attended. So everybody kind of came through that. And so she had very deep roots in the community. Both my parents were very social. So they were very involved in their work community and church, community, family community. And so there was all these many communities inside of these, inside of this one large, rich black community. And it didn’t, it wasn’t until I became an adult, I understand how much that impacted me in this in this way of service. And I never realized, like, how I was so drawn into service, but my family was always in the community serving the community in different ways, and being a part of their community. And I saw the isolation of our community and how we cared for each other. Because people didn’t come into our community to help us care for each other. So that’s part of my passion now, with being in public health is taking all of those, those passions and things that have been building up in me all of these years, and being able to focus it into work into a work, a job where that’s necessary, and it’s needed, and it’s wanted, and it’s valued. So yeah, I would say that community and the value of community as highly influenced what I’m doing right now. And I want to continue in this in this field, and continue doing work around health inequities within communities that haven’t had that ability to get those services and resources.

Sujani 1:08:51
Amazing. Thank you for sharing that with us, Shani. And with that, I want to say thank you once again, for sharing your story, talking about the fellowship program and sharing your experiences so far, and I then want to wish you best of luck with everything that you’re about to achieve.

Shani 1:09:06
Oh, thank you, Sujani. I really appreciate again, being invited on to the program and talking about my experience and, you know, everyone who was involved in getting in making this happen. This is so important, and I wish they would, you know, emphasize public health, the public health field, the way they do everything else, whether it’s medicine, or law or teaching. This is a field that benefits greatly from having people within the community, work within the field reflecting the work and everything that we want done within our communities. I’m a huge advocate for community health workers and I’m just happy to be here to express that.

Sujani 1:09:57
You know, I couldn’t agree more with what Shani was just describing towards the end of her interview where we need people with their lived experience embedded in the communities to do incredible public health work. So I really hope both Rachel and Shani’s stories and experience kind of joining the fellowship and the work that they’ve been doing, has made you a little bit curious, and maybe hopefully excited to explore this fellowship program. And so, you know, that’s a great segue to our next discussion with Erin, who has been with the New York State Department of Health since 2010. She is the Assistant Director of the fellowship program, which is situated in the Office of Public Health Practice. So without further ado, here is my conversation with Erin. And as I mentioned in the intro, a lot of the resources that we talked about, all the links will be shared on our show notes page, so don’t worry about needing to jot everything down.

Erin 1:11:09
Super excited to talk about the New York State Public Health Corps with you.

Sujani 1:11:13
Yeah. So you know, I was on the website, doing a bit of research, and I pulled out some like incredibly neat stuff. And before that, I do have to say you have one of the most coolest jobs because, for me, anything related to training kind of the next generation or the existing public health workforce is an amazing opportunity. So I have to say that I’m a little jealous about your job. Other than that, like this program, you know, one of the goals that I read on the website is that it’s looking to train up to a thousand fellows to participate in the fellowship program. And I heard from one of the fellows that there’s a huge component of education integrated into this fellowship program. So, you know, for me, I’m super curious to hear about why and how this program started. And who better to ask than the director or the assistant director of the program?

Erin 1:12:05
Yeah, thank you Sujani. No, it is an extremely exciting program. And I’m so excited to talk about it. So the New York City Public Health Corps was really built out of the COVID 19 pandemic. In the 2021, state of the state or New York state of the state, there was a real focus on the public health workforce in the infrastructure. And New York State decided that a focus really to bolster not only the public health infrastructure at the local health department, but also at the state health department, and to really increase capacity of our local and state health department to address and support COVID 19 response and recovery. And this idea of also creating and bolstering the workforce to increase preparedness. So should another public health emergency happen. We’ve got a trained workforce that has the knowledge and the skill set to be able to kind of deploy and do what’s needed to be done. So the number 1000 fellows kind of came out of this idea. We have 57 different local health departments where the state health department and we wanted to make sure that all local health departments and the Department of Health Programs have the opportunity to bolster their workforce. And we’re proud to say we have over 400 fellows right now, we anticipate hiring additional fellows in the coming months. And each project is just so unique and interesting. It gets me excited every day to kind of work and see what our fellows are doing.

Sujani 1:13:41
Yeah. And I think one of the themes I kind of picked up just talking to the Fellows is that, you know, there’s the mandate of the individual organizations, and then there’s the job and that posting and the responsibilities under that. But it also like the role gets molded to that individual that comes into that. That position. Right. And I think that’s kind of the beauty of public health is that you could have two of the same roles in two different counties, but they would both be executing in a very different way.

Erin 1:14:12
Absolutely. I think one of the very first things we realized is that we couldn’t be a cookie cutter program, that the needs of one local health farm or one county or community doesn’t necessarily resemble the needs of, you know, their adjacent counties or even counties across the state. And so we created the flexibility of the program for our local health departments to decide what are- what are their current workforce needs, and how can we help fill them and also this idea of that public health is out in the community as well. So we have several local health departments who have elected to put fellows in community based organization. So you know, there are some working on you know, food justice. others that are at the Office of Mental Health in their county or Department of Social Services. So it really fits the unique needs. And same with the state health department. We have, you know, almost 50 fellows working in a state health department, you know, and we have some in laboratories, others that are out in the field doing sanitation work, where there are others, you know, building coalitions and programs. So the diversity is, it’s really exciting. And again, like you said, kind of fitting the needs of what those communities need. But also what are the skills that the fellows are bringing to the table and utilizing that in several instances, you know, where a fellow was hired, a county realized, like, Oh, you have GIS training, we could use that. Let us kind of craft it. So that’s been very unique to also see the scope of these projects evolving, once the fellows get in and show their their skill set and their knowledge.

Sujani 1:16:01
Yeah. And I think it’s also probably important to mention, in addition to a diverse set of skill sets, you’re- you’re also looking at a diverse, like educational background right now, the individual doesn’t necessarily need to have had formal public health training to be part of the fellowship.

Erin 1:16:20
Yeah, absolutely. So we have quite a variety of backgrounds, you know, you know, many of them have master’s degrees in public health or bachelors, but we have, you know, lawyers, doctors, we have several people who had their high school diploma, and, you know, has now you know, entered the workforce and are doing public health work, whether it be administration or looking at data. So, you know, we don’t require a certain degree, or years of experience, again, it’s kind of what do the counties need that that skill set? So yeah, I think that makes it pretty unique.

Sujani 1:17:00
So you know, anyone who’s listening, and they’re like, Well, okay, I really want to explore this program further, maybe? Can we start with, like, what is this? What is a fellowship? And then from there? How would someone get involved if they’re, if they’re interested or curious to hear more about it?

Erin 1:17:19
Sure. So we’re defining our fellowship, really, as it’s, you know, full time the employment so you have a job that you are going into whether it be at a local health department, a community based organization, or the state health department with defined roles and responsibilities. You know, you have a supervisor, you know, there are deliverables that you’re actively working on, you’re contributing to a team. But our fellowship, also has this educational and professional development component, which I think is very neat. So all of our fellows, when they joined within one to two months of starting, they’re enrolled in a certificate program from Cornell University that was 15 weeks, over 80 hours, and you get put together with about 20 to 30 fellows and you do this shared learning, there’s videos that you can watch, and there’s there’s assignments and you’re collaborating like you post, you know, what your experience is, and then you get to kind of follow up with that. We also have every fellow we’re aiming to have a mentor as well. So you have your supervisor, you know, who you can go to, to get feedback on your work, but someone who’s outside of that, that you can go to for professional guidance and to ask those questions, and to really kind of think about your long term public health career. And in some instances, it’s one on one. And in other, cohort kind of mentoring, where there’s four to eight fellows, with a mentor. We’ve our we do an annual summit every year, we’re fellows, you know, can come together, you know, develop posters and show that talk about their work to to meet one another. The collaboration is really neat. So our fellowship is kind of equal parts, you know, real on the ground public health work and professional development.

Sujani 1:19:20
And how long would somebody kind of spend in that program?

Erin 1:19:26
So we initially started, you know, an aim of a one year fellowship, based on need for, you know, that we’ve heard from different local health departments in the state, your fellowship could be as short as six months. And it could be could go as long as you know, two years, it’s really based on the needs of the hiring organization. And also, you know, the goals of the fellow as well so roughly around one year, but it could be a little bit shorter or longer based on the fellowship project.

Sujani 1:19:59
Okay, and I’m assuming that’s like a negotiation process, right? You know, we’re trying to find the best fit for both the site and the individual applying what works the best for them?

Erin 1:20:11
Yes, yep, absolutely. And I would say, you know, for our Department of Health Fellows, you know that that was part of kind of the interview process, they were told how long and we got, we’re funded through two grants, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And so we got an extension of our grant funding, so our Department of Health Fellows have the opportunity to stay on until June of 2020 for as they want. And same with local health department’s most feedback we’ve gotten from local health departments who say they want someone to spend a bit of time with them. So they’re open to having, you know, a one to two year project, but it’s definitely a conversation between the fellow and the hiring organization.

Sujani 1:20:59
I mean, yeah, if you’re, if you’re placed at the at the local level, you definitely want to build that relationship with the community that you’re serving, and you can do some pretty impactful work, once you’re in there immersed into the community immersed into the team that you’re working with, to be able to then, you know, then the next leg of your, your placement there, you’re able to really push some of the agendas that you’ve been working on.

Erin 1:21:24
Absolutely. And we’ve even actually had several fellows, you know, in different communities, be able to end their fellowship early, because they got full time employment from the local health department. So it’s kind of they started, you know, as a fellow, and then were able to demonstrate their knowledge and skill set. And the local health department was like, I want you to come and be a permanent, you know, employees, we have several success stories. And that was really, I think part of the intention of building this program is to create a pipeline, you know, you know, to start off as a fellow and potentially move into full time employment with the local or state health department.

Sujani 1:22:04
Oh, that’s incredible. So you said kind of the way the fellowship program is designed is that the individual gets full time employment. So I’m assuming the way that the individual would apply to be a fellow is very similar to a job application, right? Is there anything unique are different that they’d have to do as they go through this process?

Erin 1:22:29
So yeah, so I would say that if someone’s interested in applying to our fellowship program, we have an application on our website, we’re gonna make a plug for it. It’s And if you go on it right on the homepage, there’s an Apply button. And it’s needed. If you press it, it’ll take you to a section that’ll outline what counties in New York State are hiring. And then there’s also a section about the what openings are at the New York State Department of Health. So for counties, if you’re interested in working in a local health department, you would complete our application, which really asked for the top five counties that you are interested in working at. You know, you upload a resume, we kind of asked for, like a cover letter, or why you’re interested in being a Fellow and ask also for some references. And then for those counties that you selected, your application goes to that county, and then they’ll review it. And if they’re interested, kind of extend an invite to you, for the state health department. On our website, it outlines that you apply for very specific positions. And so it’ll take you to another website. And there, that’s where you’ll select, you know, which positions and all fellow positions will say like in parentheses, New York State, Public Health Corps, and for that you upload your resume and your cover letter, and then you’ve applied for the position.

Sujani 1:24:03
Very cool. I was following along as you were talking about the three buttons in the Apply section. And it’s- it’s pretty neat, I think the county’s hiring line is it opens up a great PDF that you can actually click around on the map and see the different opportunities that are available there. And I think I counted roughly like 35-40 rolls just listed on that PDF, and then obviously, the other buttons, can I take you to different destinations. And I do have to say that for anyone listening who is interested or even curious about the program, the website has tons and tons of information, including an FAQ section and just lots of great details about the program.

Erin 1:24:44
Yes, and I will say that guys hiring file gets updated continuously. So always check back because there are new fellow physicians coming on board.

Sujani 1:24:57
Okay, that’s good to know. That’s incredible. So you- I think you mentioned this a little bit where individuals could either be placed kind of at the State Department level or the the counties, and you highlighted some different roles that people may take on. I’m curious if you could tell us a bit more about the different roles that exist. And maybe there are a couple that really stuck to you, because you’ve, you’ve heard more stories from those fellows directly, but they can just be nice for individuals listening to get a sense of the breadth of the various experiences that they could expect.

Erin 1:25:34
Absolutely. So yeah, if you can think of public health, like a focus area, I’m sure we’ve got a fellow on them. They’re really doing innovative work. So some of them kind of pop to mind as we’ve got fellows working at both the local and the state level and wastewater surveillance. So kind of being able to track infectious diseases through the wastewater, which has been very innovative work, you know, in downstate New York, there was, you know, a polio outbreak, and they were able to kind of track that via the water. So our fellows were kind of on the frontline of that. We’ve got fellows who are really, you know, working on developing coalitions, or taskforce around an issue. So a few fellows have, you know, started a coalition around suicide prevention in central New York, there are fellows who are doing trainings on Narcan, you know, for different county agencies or going into school. One of we had a few fellows here in the capitol district, actually, in two different counties that were doing some work on health education or on sexual health. And they were distributing condoms and realized that there were no collection mechanisms or where someone could go to get feminine hygiene products. And so they started what they called period pantries. And now you know, an individual can go, it’s kind of like a book library. But instead of books, there are feminine hygiene products that people in the community can go and access that when they need that. We’ve got fellows who are really focused on data and epidemiology, looking at you know, COVID vaccination rates or other health indicators and tracking how different health outcomes were impacted by the pandemic, we have a fellow up in Essex County, that county is in Northern New York. And they realized that they needed someone with a communications background, almost like a public information officer. Because that was something that was they didn’t have that skill set. And so that person came on and revamped kind of their social media really looked at their website, developed marketing material. So there are really a variety of different types of projects. And I could go on and on, but some of those just kind of popped to mind.

Sujani 1:28:04
Yeah, that’s incredible. And when you talk about this, identifying that gap of not having feminine hygiene products available to the community, and this fellow kind of identifying that gap, and pursuing a project in that area kind of reminds me of this story we just had with one of the fellows Rachel, where she expressed the interest that she had kind of in, in having doulas available in the community. And that was something that was personal to her and just having her- her mentor and her supervisors kind of encouraged her to really like put a proposal together for this idea that she has, and I’m seeing that theme quite a bit as I learned about the project is that yes, there are these posted positions on the website, but then also your passion and your- your, I guess interests in the field of public health, also kind of determines the direction that your experience is going to go.

Erin 1:28:58

Sujani 1:29:00
That’s awesome. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna maybe turn it to you, Erin, and kind of ask you, what’s been the best part for you as director of this program? I’m sure there’s a lot of great things as like you sit in this role and experience the different aspects of this program. But I’m curious on a personal level, at least for me, what’s been the best for you?

Erin 1:29:24
For me, I think you know, not often do you get to kind of create a prog- program from the- from the ground up. So kind of seeing the evolution there. There were only a handful of us back in July of 2021. You know, where we launched it. We’re like, Oh, my goodness, are people going to apply? And they definitely have and now we’re at over 400 fellows, I think what gets me excited kind of each day to go to the office is to hear more about what the fellows are doing and how invested they are. You had our annual summit back in November of 2022, and fellows, you know, we had presentations, you know, from state and national experts, and at the end of each one a line of fellows who were getting up and asking questions and really diving deep figuring out where you know, where they fit in and going up to the presenters afterwards, and really having engaged discussion that kind of rejuvenated, you know, the the work that I do, and to see people as excited to be in public health and many of switch, you know, their careers. So my favorite part is actually hearing from the fellows in the great work that they’re doing and the program, I think we’re going to try to highlight more about the fellowship program, you know, to say, like here is the actual work being done, and hearing from the fellows instead of kind of some of our current messaging.

Sujani 1:30:57
Yeah, I’ve heard quite a bit about the annual summit. I think Shani, who we spoke to another fellow, she was saying how that summit was incredible as well. Could you tell us a little bit about what- what that summit is and what happens there?

Erin 1:31:11
Sure, we- last year was our first year we held it with a two day event, all fellows, their supervisors, you know, public health directors and staff in addition to public, our partners from the community were invited to attend. We hosted it in Albany, New York. And it featured a variety of speakers. So we had, you know, we kicked off with individual talking about public health workforce, like what does that mean, spoke about the trends kind of gave resources on you know, how to kind of plan out your public health career and where public health is going. We had the executive director of the Beaumont Foundation came and spoke. And then we had, you know, presentations about, you know, how the health community engagement and working with the community and how that works in public health having speakers you know, from our ACE Institute, in addition to some of their partners talk. So we had a variety of different speakers. And then I think one of my favorite parts is we had fellows were able to submit abstracts for posters. So we had several hours set aside where fellows, you know, stood by their posters, and people walked around and kind of got to ask, and, you know, they got to talk about their, their projects. We also accepted video abstracts. And so people got to create a video, you know, a few minutes, where they outlined what they were doing. And I think that really got the audience excited. And then on day two, we had breakout sessions. So fellows or other key partners, were able to submit abstracts, and we did breakout sessions, so people could go and hear from their, their peers on that. So one of our fellow from Fingerlakes, you know, did a presentation about Narcan and what they had done, you know, buprenorphine training and how he had kind of looked at the data and helped create a program about that. So in the fellowship is really, I guess, kind of about fellowship coming together and meeting one another. And we’re planning our next one for later this year.

Sujani 1:33:34
Yeah, what an immersive program, just kind of all aspects of it. And, you know, one of the topics I wanted to end off at end off with which is very, very kind of close to my heart. And something that I always talk about is mentorship. And I know there’s a huge component of mentorship in this program. And so for anybody listening, who’s like, oh, I don’t think the fellowship is for me, but I’d love to get involved in this program in some way or another. Maybe you can talk about the mentorship component of the fellowship program, and if anybody’s interested in getting involved how they can do that.

Erin 1:34:13
Absolutely. So yes, if I if there are individuals who are interested in being a mentor, definitely let us know. Again, if you go to our website, and, and you click about the program, there’s a paragraph or two about mentorship and it ends with a mentor nomination form so you can nominate yourself or nominate someone you know who would make for a great mentor. But when we were building the program, we thought that was a crucial element. I know for me, I you know, I started out the health department and my bureau director ended up being my mentor for a while and I would go to him with questions and you know, he gave me the opportunity to kind of turn my ideas into, you know, real programming. And I know other people who were kind of help building the program saw great value in being able to have someone who’s been in the fields of public health, you know, kind of be impartial ears to listen and to ask those questions that maybe you don’t feel comfortable asking your supervisor directly or, or, you know, helping think longer term about public health or hearing others backgrounds, you know, sometimes gives us a moment to really think about what we wanted to do. So that is a core component of that. And most of our current fellows have a mentor, we’ve been very good about kind of partnering them up, but we are still in need of mentors. So I absolutely, if anyone’s interested, reach out, fill out that mentor nomination form. And we’d love to have you as part of our program.

Sujani 1:36:06
Awesome. And maybe, you know, something people may be thinking is, do they have to live in the in the state of New York to be a mentor? Or could they be from anywhere?

Erin 1:36:17
They could be from anywhere. Yeah, so we do have mentors that are like in, you know, the county or region that they live. But that was one of the questions we asked fellows and also local health departments. And you know, virtual mentoring is definitely a thing. We have some senior fellows that work with our program staff, and they’re located all across the state. And they all well, not all of them, but those not in Albany ended up having a mentor that here in Albany or in the different regional office. So they’re doing zoom, you know, mentoring sessions. And the great thing about right, the internet is he’s got email. And so even if you’re not physically there, you can always send you know, an email or set up a phone call, and our mentors definitely have proven kind of put themselves out there to be, you know, a confidant and definitely have made themselves available to, to our fellows.

Sujani 1:37:19
That’s incredible. I just want to give you kind of the floor Erin, for the next little while to, like really encourage our listeners, anyone who may be a really good fit for this program, to encourage them to look into it more to apply to become a mentor. So anything we may have missed with our conversation today, I think this might be a great place for you and I to kind of talk about it.

Erin 1:37:45
Okay, great. Yeah, no, I think, you know, definitely encourage people to check out our website, you know, this program was built in mind, to really, you know, anyone who’s interested in public health, we want to kind of have you on our team, you know, every skill set public health is really an all that we do. So whether, you know, your background is in early childhood education, or communications or engineering, you know, public health needs you and we’re definitely open to having you apply or to reach out to learn more. Again, you know, we’ve got fellowship projects that span, you know, from being, you know, very data focused to in the field, to being in a laboratory. So, yeah, absolutely, you know, if they found, you know, even just a little bit interesting to you, check us out, encourage you to go to our website, and we are still very actively recruiting fellows that you mentioned, you know, 1000 at the beginning, or a little over 400. But we, you know, have additional counties that are going to be coming on board in the next few months. So I would encourage individuals to continue to apply and check us out. And if you’re interested, you know, let us know.

Sujani 1:39:11
Yeah. And I always like to say no, never take yourself out of like, don’t vote yourself out before somebody else says, maybe this is not a good fit for you. And what I mean by that is if, like you said, If there’s even an ounce of interest in public health, this sounds like an incredible program to really get that foot in the door and explore the different opportunities that exist. And I personally have come across engineers, lawyers, like you mentioned, Erin, who have shifted kind of their career path and said, Okay, I want to explore public health. Let me see what it’s about and all the experiences and the skills that they’ve built in that other career path ends up being transferable into public health. And I know kind of for us at PH SPOT we often struggle with defining who our community and our platform is. And we finally said, we’re not going to define what and who public health is for, we’re going to let the individual decide that for themselves. And so if you feel connected to public health at all, I’d say, you know, open up the website, at the very least, right, and just read and hear about what opportunities exist and see if you connect with any of them.

Erin 1:39:12
Absolutely. And I’ll say, too, I know, when I had graduated with my master’s in public health, I was limited in what I could do, because I had the degree, but they didn’t have the experience. And so I do think the fellowship program, you know, if you’re newer in your career, want to take education and put it into practice, this is a great way to do it, as well. So we you know, you don’t need to just be a fresh graduate. You know, we accept people in all stages of life and career, we even have, you know, people who had retired from the career and kind of wanted to do this. But especially for those who that are early on, this is a great kind of stepping stone to figuring out and learning a little bit about governmental public health and how it works and seeing if it’s the right fit for you.

Sujani 1:41:12
Yeah, you know, that actually reminds me of an important question that came to mind is do fellows who apply have to be from the state of New York? And then also do they need to be, I guess, like a resident of the US?

Erin 1:41:27
You do not need to be from New York, all of our positions are in New York State excluding New York City. So New York City has their own Public Health Corps. But we’ve had, I think we recently had a fellow come from Vermont. So you know, if you’re willing to relocate to New York, we’ve got beautiful, you know, obviously, it’s beautiful. I mean, every place is beautiful in New York, but definitely, you know, if you want to check us out, you can, you do not need to be from New York, in terms of residency, it actually depends on the hiring entity. So we have had a few people who have, you know, some counties that have sponsored people, especially if they were coming from school, that they have gone through the process to sponsor them to kind of continue to stay in the US through their fellowship. So it will depend from county to county or, or with the state health department.

Sujani 1:42:27
That’s amazing to hear. Thank you so much, Erin. And I know we’ll include all of the links that we talked about today, just so that it’s easy for everyone to get to. And of course, anything else that you want to share with our listeners, we’ll be sure to include that in the show notes page. And with that, I just want to say thank you so much. And I really hope this episode encourages more people to explore this program.

Erin 1:42:53
Thank you so much, Sujani, for featuring not only the Public Health Corps, but our fellows, really excited to be partnering with you on this.

Sujani 1:43:03
So not only was this a very unique podcast episode, but probably one of our longest one. So I want to say thank you to you for sticking through and listening to an almost two hour podcast episode. And, you know, I really hope that this episode is going to open a lot of opportunities for many of you. Like I said, a lot of the information that Erin and I talked about are available on the website. But if there are any questions that you felt were left unanswered during that interview with Erin, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Just put in the subject line that you are inquiring about the fellowship program within the New York State Department of Public Health. And we’ll be sure to connect you with the right individuals and the right resources to get you on your way to you know exploring more about this program.

And before you go I want to tell you about the public health career club. It is our membership community where we work closely with you if you are looking for a space community, friends, people who are going to push you to do incredible things in your public health career. If you are in the first 10 years of your career and are looking for a community to help you with your career. This is probably it. So check us out at We have weekly live sessions that we conduct everywhere from coaching sessions to career stories to resume reviews. We have social work we have power hours. Lots of fun stuff happens in the public health career club. So, for more information you can visit And if you have any questions about it, feel free to reach out to us via email at And if you are listening to this episode when it comes out in early May, I want to let you know that we are opening up enrollments for the public health career club on May 11. So feel free to check out the page and enroll or reach out to us for more information and I can’t wait to meet you inside the public health career Club.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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