The landscape of public health education and employment, with Senior Director of Data Analytics at Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Christine Plepys

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Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Christine Plepys to talk about the variety of career paths that she’s had and how this has informed her work as senior director of data analytics. In a follow up from episode 34 with Heather Krasna, Christine describes the changing landscape of public health and the research that she’s conducted on the diversity of this workforce. 


You’ll Learn

  • About Christine’s different employment opportunities that lead her to public Health
  • The statistics on different job fields that public health graduates are employed in
  • The opportunities available for joint and dual degrees
  • The data on the diversity of public health and what makes it such a diverse field
  • Institutional resource planning to accommodate larger number of public health applicants
  • What makes public health graduates so employable in the academic and corporate world

Today’s Guest

Christine Plepys

Christine Plepys is the Senior Director of Data Analytics at the Association of Schools and Programs of Public health. She oversees the association’s data collection, analysis, and dissemination efforts, along with conducting public health education research. She joined ASPPH in 2001 and previously worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. She earned her MS degree in statistics from Texas A&M University.


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Episode Transcript

Christine 0:00
But I’ve always loved working in public health. And I think there’s just even in my other positions throughout that public health perspective was there- still there for me. But ever since I’ve been back in public health, it’s like I just reflect on it now and it is- it is such a field good field, I find.

Sujani 0:23
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, everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Today’s episode is one that follows from Episode 34 with Heather Krasna, where we discuss the public health workforce. In today’s episode, I have Christine Plepys from the Association of Schools and Programs of public health to continue this discussion, we chat about how Christine got into the line of work researching the public health workforce. How the landscape of public health has changed since she first started exploring it, trends she’s noticed in public health applicants and graduates, and much more including some great advice for public health graduates that I myself felt super relevant even having worked for a number of years. And so without further ado, here’s our conversation with Christine.

Hi, Christine, welcome to the PH SPOTlight podcasts. I’m so excited to speak to you today about a very important topic. And I hope you’re excited as well.

Christine 1:58
I am definitely. Thank you for having me here today and look forward to talking about my work and myself, when an opportunity.

Sujani 2:05
Great and, you know, similar to the type of work that you focus on and the area, that PH SPOT is focused on around just supporting public health practitioners around the world. I’m just thrilled to see where this conversation goes and how we can guide our community in terms of the conversation that we have on this episode. And so I thought, just for our listeners to get to know you a little bit, we could start with, you know, who is Christine and I know that you’re involved with the Association of Schools and Programs of public health, and you’ve been with that organization for 12 years. And so maybe we can hear from you how you got into this type of work and just the research that you do amongst the public health workforce.

Christine 2:58
Sure thing, I will start with my first job. So I went to university in Texas and got a degree in applied math as my Bachelor’s, which I think in today’s world might be called data science. From there, I immediately jumped to getting a degree in statistics, found my love for numbers really meshed well there. And my first job was at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here in the US. And while voila, I was working in public health, and I had no idea, back then it- public health wasn’t as well known. So my- my job at that time was working on what was then Healthy People 2000. So you can definitely date myself there as they plan for elderly people 20-30. And I was doing numbers, doing public health, working with data trying to make our- the United States healthier, and what a feel good place to be in terms of my first step in my career. And so I was there for a number of years doing data. And at one point, I did look at the numbers, though, and I was like, wow, all these death statistics. There are people behind them and I realized at that moment what there was a lot of sadness behind each of those numbers. And it was- it was- it was pretty impactful to realize that the data we’re putting together was to help United States be healthier. And at the same time, the amount of emotion that was behind each of those numbers. And it was pretty impactful point in my career early on to discover that. So however, I went into- left public health when I learned that you could get paid to plan parties and have fun as well. So I went in and did a career switch, I did a couple of them during my time, and went into work for a catering company and planning parties and had a great time doing that for a number of years in Washington, DC, and that was just a whole different experience lots of skills learned there, in terms of customer service, in terms of project management, all kinds of different things. But after a number of years of working on every weekend, I decided I needed a switch and an opportunity came up in 2001 to work what was then the Association of Schools of public health, schools of public health only. So I did start back then with what was ASPPH at 2001, stayed there till about 2008. And then switched again to wanting to follow a passion of my love of the outdoors. So I went to work at a nature center for a couple of years and at that time, was doing membership type stuff, and press- press relations and had a great two years experience there and then decided it wasn’t for me, as well. So I lucked out in the ASPPH, still had a position open and so I was able to go back, which was a really- and I would never leave again, what I’ve learned. So again, I came back in 2009, and stayed, of course, and still working there. But during my time at ASPPH, my career has switched there too, I used to work in grants, and getting grants, and giving grants, and a lot of the finances of grants, and all the regulations of grants. And in 2012, our president then asked if I were to take on data for ASPPH. And I said, okay, at that point two of us, there was one person working a little bit in data, and then there were two of us working in data and doing it part time, and now 10 years later, almost 10 years later, we have four full time staff working in data at ASPPH. And by data I mean, the field of institutional research. So this is looking at universities and doing data analysis on applications, on admissions, on students, on faculty, on alumni, of course, and where they go to work, very important topic. And we have over 130, about 130 member universities around the world, mostly in the US and we collect data from them, and we analyze that data and we return that data to them, so that they can do their institutional research. So I think you will know, Sujani, how data is so important these days. And the communication on data is so important these days. And- and it’s just such data informed decision making is what we want our members to be able to do, we want the field of public health to be able to do so- And I started in data and back in the 90s working in Healthy People 2000. And now I’m still in data and realized what a love I have for numbers, and spreadsheets, and analysis, and all of that. And while during my career, I went in and out of data analysis, it was always a part of each thing. But I’m really happy that most of my career has been with data and public health.

Sujani 8:35
Yeah, isn’t it funny how, you know, somehow you just bring yourself back to what you initially started, which is just like the data piece, I find that there’s probably a reason that you were brought back to ASPPH and to follow this passion of yours of data analysis. But can- Can I ask what kept pulling you back to public health? Just given that you were in such different fields when you were stepping out of public health momentarily, what kept bringing you back?

Christine 9:04
Right? It’s a good question. I think part of it was just luck. Leading it, you know, at CDC first, and having that background was a sure reason why I was selected to be interviewed at then ASPH I’m sure with that public health background. But I’ve always loved working in public health. And I think there’s just even in my other positions throughout that public health perspective was they’ll still there for me, like, for example, at the nature center, I worked it was- I was responsible for putting together a membership campaign to bring people into the nature center, of course, and espousing well, what the benefits of being out in nature, the benefits of hiking, you know, all that public health type stuff to bringing it to members to visitors and helping them, it was a nice opportunity there as well. So, and of course, in catering and party planning, well, there’s always mental health part of that, right? Everybody, we need to celebrate things, we need to have fun, we need to eat, you need to eat healthy, sometimes even indulge right? For example, but ever since I’ve been back in public health, it’s, I just reflect on it now. And it is- it is such a feel good field, I find, it’s a challenging field and watching the evolution, the fact that in the 90s, I didn’t even know I was in public health to today’s world, of course, with pandemic, everybody knows public health. But even before the pandemic, there has been such an upswing in at the college level and studying public health at both the undergraduate level, which has been a massive change for public health, but also at the graduate level. So it’s a- if we’re trying to figure out, I wouldn’t have- I don’t know if anybody’s done a study on exactly why the increase is happening. You know, we have some reasons we think that it’s happening, but we’ve not- I don’t think anybody’s ever really studied real why. Yeah, it is interesting, it’d be a great study for students.

Sujani 11:15
Yeah. I guess with COVID, we know why. But you’re you’re suggesting that even before the pandemic, there’s been an increase in interesting.

Christine 11:23
Definitely, definitely. And looking back at the history of public health in the beginning. You know, in the mid 1900s, it was doctors and nurses going back for an MPH, right? And now there’s so many students such a, such an increase, especially at the undergraduate level, that it’s been quite a switch. And I don’t think very many other fields have done that. Usually they start at the undergraduate, and then they get the masters and doctoral, but we’ve kind of done it in reverse.

Sujani 11:56
Yeah, I know, at least, you know, from a Canadian perspective, when I was doing my MPH program, I must have- I forget, I guess 2011 is when I entered, and we just had a handful of programs and just between me finishing my MPH, and just the first few years of me working, there’s been a surge and just additional programs coming out even at the undergraduate level. So it’s interesting for me to hear that you’re also seeing that in the US and possibly around the world as well. Knowing that I think the US is a lot more mature in that field of public health and training public health professionals and Canada’s just catching up. I mean, we just, we just got our first doctor of public health program here. I don’t know if you’re aware, but that just came out in the first cohort is expected to start this September. So yeah. So you mentioned the Association of Schools and Programs of public health. And I’m sure many people know about the association. But could you tell us a little bit about you, you highlight on some of the work that the association does. But maybe yeah, just in addition to the research that you’re doing within your team? What sort of mandate does the Association have?

Christine 13:13
Yes, we support our members. So our members are accredited by the Council on Education for public health. That is a US based Council. However, the accreditation members are include US schools and programs of public health, as well as around the world global so our membership right now is 130. Schools and Programs of public health most in the US, but some spread around the world. So just mentioning quickly that as Canada is increasing as well, but so are other regions of the world, also increasing their public health programs. And we do, at HSPH, have a global health initiative as well to bring that network together more important now than ever, of course before and very important previously, but now it’s coming together even stronger. So we support our schools and programs in terms of education, in terms of advocacy, we do a lot of advocate advocacy, mostly in the US for for schools and programs and for public health in general. And we support- we’re, we’re- part of our thing is to bring people together. That’s what an association does. So we’re bringing people together from all different types of public health academia. So whether you’re Dean or program director, you want to network with those folks and learn from each other. There are pure networking, whether you are in admissions and want to network with those, those folks there. There’s just a lot of opportunities. So we also run a couple of different programs for our members. For example, we have the SOFUS, which is our centralized application service, which allows a student to apply to multiple programs at once and we run a business public health campaign to educate people and public health, which I hopefully your listeners know about as well. And, yes, and we just support in terms of education. So we do a lot of work to help our faculty become better teachers develop competencies and number of things like It’s like that. So it’s a- it’s an exciting place to work, we get to work with people all over the US and around the world as well.

Sujani 15:26
Yeah. Well, that sounds wonderful. Just having support for everyone across the board, not just the students, you know, you mentioned the administrators and the faculty. That’s great. So I know you mentioned that when you started off doing this line of research, just research, researching, or institutional research, it was a very small team, which has now expanded to a larger team. Curious to know what that trigger was, to start those types of, or just to, you know, delve into those types of research question, was there something pivotal that happened, when you got asked to lead this work?

Christine 16:08
I think there were a couple of things happening. So we have data on ASPH members all the way back to 1974. And sitting down looking at this data, I realized a part of our- we collect the data, and we return it to our members every year. But we just saw an opportunity here to provide more, more of that data to our members. And at that time, I’m sure you probably know Tableau. Yeah, so we were able to start using Tableau. And we have an excellent team, Information Technology team at ASPPH. And they so what we built was our data center portal. And with that, was also our members reporting data. So you know that in the old days, it was we would mail out a paper, it would come back and in 2010-2012, we were mailing out Excel sheets, having members fill them in and send them back in. And we had 50 members at that time, and it was increasing. And membership was increasing. We’re like, we can’t handle this anymore. So we built an Online Reporting System. So I think the- there was just perfect storm of, of things like turning over to reporting that was electronic, being able to deliver the data back to our members in electronic form, as I like to call our Tableau crosstabs, just an Excel spreadsheet on steroids, right, like, so many filtering options, like they only used to have a PDF report, right? So- so that perfect storm, and then just the interest in public health was increasing, you know, right when you were getting your MPH. And so that perfect storm just brought about that just so many opportunities for our members to access the data. And then internally at ASPPH, we sat down, we’re like, we have a- we have a wealth of data here, we have the goldmine, probably in terms of academic public health data, we need to do this, we need to analyze this for more than just our members, we need to provide answers to the field. And at that time, one of the major questions I kept hearing was, where do the graduates go to work, and I did some research and I realized the best data we had was from like, 1990, it was embarrassing. And this be the case, we’ve been collecting data for all this time. But we have been collecting outcomes data, because graduate outcomes data is very difficult, very difficult to collect, and as I’ve realized over since the last decade, but we did it and I am extremely proud of that we now have an answer to that question about where our graduates go to work. Now, of course, we have more questions, which we want to answer as well. But with that, so it’s really that trigger point in 2012 of The Perfect Storm and then just sitting down and being like we have a wealth of data, let we need to do more with it for our members, for the field of public health. And so we started with a couple of what we like to call pipeline to the workforce research papers. So one of them was looking at undergraduate public health because everybody was seeing the growth, but we needed to quantify it. And so we did using, in the US the National Center for Education Statistics Data, challenges, they’re defining public health using their coding, but but we did something and I think it was definitely show the increase over especially the last 20-30 years and undergraduate public health. And then similarly, we did a paper on graduate level of public health and for that we used you know, we recognize we have a wealth of data, but it’s not the only data. There are a number of schools and programs that are not our members. And so we wanted to cast the net wide and we use the National Center for Education Statistics Data and our data. And it did a combined- combined number research method there, and was also able to show that the mph or graduate level public health is also increasing. And so with that, then, at the same time, we’ve been working on this question about how do we collect this outcomes data? How do we collect employment data? And I can tell you that story if you’re- if you think we have time if people are interested.

Sujani 20:32
Yeah, for sure. I think that was going to be my next segue is that 2015 to 2018 data that you collected, and I think it was around the first destination outcomes for these graduates that included over 50,000 grads, which is amazing. So if we’re talking about the same study, then we can jump right into it.

Christine 20:52
You bet. That is definitely the one so. So back in 2014, we did a pilot for this study. And the way we work with our members is they collect the data, and then they report the data to ASPPH. And so each of our individual schools and programs of public health would ask their graduates, you know, where they were going to, going to work, or what was- what were they doing after they graduated their first destination outcome. And we aligned, of course, with the Council on Education for public health accreditation, and they have one of their criteria is to track this data as well. Again, it’s a challenging thing, because a lot of graduates graduate, and then poof, they’re gone, right? Keeping those relationships. So. So we just said, hey, ASPPH, members, send us what data you have. And if you haven’t done a survey, here’s one we developed. And so we got back, just, we just wanted to see what our members are doing. So in 2014, we got back at quite a bit of information. And it was everybody was doing it their own way, I love to say we have 130 members, and 130 different ways of collecting data. It’s part of the challenge. So had a great intern, Wien Summer, who was able to take all of that kind of true massive data reporting, and we were able to, to use that in informing our project. So we did the pilot project. And I like to say we shot for the moon and I shot myself in the foot because it was a challenge. It was a true challenge. But it did inform the process. And at ASPPH, we have a Data Advisory Committee, who is about I don’t know, anywhere from 15 to 20 of our members who are really focused on data. And that committee was able to guide this work. And we use that pilot data to develop a- our annual reporting on the graduate outcomes versus destination outcomes. And so that first year 2015, of our data collection, we had like 50 members report data. That’s- that’s all we had back then. But now we have one year, we had all of them report, they at least report the first destination, did where’s the graduate employed, were they going on to continuing education, those types of outcomes. But slowly over the years, we’ve been doing five years of data- data collection now, we collect every fall, and those numbers increase. And each of those areas below increases. So they provide us the first destination and they provide us employment, they’re now providing us what sector there and maybe they’re also collecting salary and debt data, which is also two of the other areas that we collect. And over the years, each of those has increased in terms of reporting. So it’s been quite a- quite a positive experience for our members to say, for our- for our association to see like we can start, we can help our members know how to collect this data, set up their systems to collect that data. And then ultimately, it gets reported back to us. And it is beneficial for the Association for all of our members and of course for the field of public health.

Sujani 24:09
Absolutely. And I guess kind of, you know, thinking from the perspective of either new applicants or new graduates, what sort of key messages have come from these various studies and exploration of the data? Like I use, you’re obviously seeing more individuals entering the field, but are you also seeing proportionately a lot more applicants who maybe aren’t getting in because the class sizes haven’t expanded to the level of interest there is- or are there any of those trends that you’re recognizing?

Christine 24:43
Yes, it’s a very good question given the last year because after March, middle of March last year, our applications and applicant shot up. So increased significantly by the end of our cycle of applying for- To enter in 2021, I need to enter school, especially in fall of 20, I’m sorry, fall of 2020, we had a 23% increase in applicants. And I can tell you that two years ago, we were- we were plateauing. We can see that- that things were like the increase, we had to stop at some point, right? Like, we can’t keep increasing, we didn’t think, right? At some point, what goes up must come down, or at least plateau. And so a couple of years ago, we were kind of sounding the alarm bells to our members, like the increases are slowing in terms of applicants. So, you know, for them to be able to set their resources up, set their planning, do their decision making, planning for the future strategic planning, and we were- we were sounding that alarm. And then the pandemic happened. And it’s not only the increase, of course, and interest in public health, that is definitely part- a part of it. But it’s also, we saw this in the previous recession as well. So when people are unemployed, they go back to school. So- so, members haven’t seen- we haven’t- we haven’t- I think most people have been wanting to get in get in. You know, if if they’re- if they qualify, of course.

Sujani 26:15

Christine 26:15
Yeah. Yeah. And then I think our employment or first destination outcomes data has been really beneficial to for, for those students applying for their families, for them to figure out going into their career, where do they want to head with public health, and there are so many options, but we definitely found from our study that 73% of those graduates, and we’re talking graduate level master’s, and doctoral, or I’m sorry, actually, all of them. Yeah, undergrad, Master’s index- at 73%. were employed and 15% were further epic education and 5% had a fellowship or internship type position. And we did have 6% that were not employed.

Sujani 27:02
That’s interesting that you say that the- that- I was aware that with the past recession, you know, individuals often go back to school, has that increase in- I don’t know, if you’ve looked into this, but has that increase being the same in the field of public health? Or are we seeing a greater increase? Because of the reason that we are going through this current environment? You know, being a pandemic, the- there’s so much media around public health and more interest? What are you seeing that that increases a little bit more than maybe the past recession? Or has that been fairly similar?

Christine 27:36
Yeah, I think it’s a complicated answer, because there’s so much interest now in public health, but I can tell you that I know, other fields are experiencing increases as well. Doctors, nurses, we have a lot of health education, associations, a partnership, and they’re also seeing increases as well. So I haven’t quite looked into the comparative part of that. But, so I do think, and I also know, like law, for example, is experienced increases, I think business schools, but I do think some, some of it also, and I have, you know, an end of one, which is my friend who said, “Oh, I’m gonna go back to business schools, since I’m home so much, I might as well go back to school.” A lot without the travel without life as we knew it before with very busy activities. And we’re home. And some people might be also thinking about that we did see, we did look into our applicant, profile, pre and post pandemic of March of last year. So after we definitely saw an increase in diversity in our applicants with the increase in Black and African-American and the increase in our Hispanic-Latino applicants. And and then also, we saw a little bit of uptick in the kind of the applicants in their 40s and 50s. So there was you know, there was definitely some, some interest and in the data there pre and post pandemic as well. And online programs versus in part time, a little bit of an uptick in part time programs as well.

Sujani 29:17
Yeah. You touched on this a tiny bit, just kind of the resource planning that you remember, universities take on when they’re seeing this, you know, increase or decrease or plateauing, wondering if, I know it’s probably too early now, but any rumblings of perhaps, you know, increasing progress, or maybe the number of applicants that they’re taking in, I guess, where my thinking is going is individuals who are applying or are thinking of applying, I’m wondering what sort of emotions and sentiments they’re facing? Are they thinking, you know, the, there’s going to be more competition in the field of public health when I’m applying for graduate programs or a doctoral level? Or are you thinking, you know, the demand? And yeah, the demand is going to catch up and the resources will be there and people will be accommodated?

Christine 30:15
Yeah, there is so much changing in higher education. And I think that pandemic has showed there even more ways that we can set up and establish how we’re providing that education. And with that, I think become- becomes just more opportunities. So instead of the supply of meeting the demands, so that’s why of the schools and programs meeting the demand, they, they- we’ve- we- we’ve been seeing that an undergraduate level, especially, it’s quite an increase, I don’t think it’s going to be as- as dramatic in terms for the graduate level, as it has been for schools and programs who start at an undergraduate level, whereas the first year, they have 20 students next year, they have 200. That has been the case and they were able to accommodate that might not have been easy. I think they were. But there’s also I don’t know about in Canada, but in the US there is a call it a demographic cliff, coming in terms of high school graduates in the year 2025, there’s going to become fewer. And that is a result of, you know, 17-18 years ago with the other with the other recession.

Sujani 31:34

Christine 31:35
Fewer students. So- So there’s just a lot of things at play here. And you know, public health is in the limelight now. We may not always be, hopefully we are, everybody just knows about it. Right? So, but I do think for now, and and however you want to get your degree, if you want it online, if you want to do it part time, if you want to full time, there are just so many opportunities, as well to- with better that are coming about because of the pandemic and the way we’re delivering education these days.

Sujani 32:11
Absolutely. Yeah, I guess, you know, after getting to school, the next question is, am I going to get employed. So your study showing that 73% were employed is very, very good number. And I spoke about this with Heather a little bit. And, you know, just seeing the different places that people are going to seek their first employment, it’s- just looking at the numbers here in that paper that I mentioned, the first destination outcomes for 2015 to 2018, that you referred to, there’s a pretty good, I guess, relative proportion of individuals going into healthcare and corporations, academia and government. Are you predicting perhaps those numbers will shift as we come out of the pandemic, maybe? Or do you have any predictions there?

Christine 33:05
So some of the things I’ve heard, I do think I mean, so much has changed, when I did look back at the study that we did, you know, previous century back in 1980s, that we had there. And you know, the government was huge, or public health, it was very different, it was much smaller number, and it’s just changed so much. So I do think, you know, especially when we look at it by degree level, it’s very different. You know, corporations are for profit is bachelor’s degree, that’s the highest one. And I imagine that might be a lot of people that are getting a first job. And it just that one just seems like a great opportunity to continue. So where we see something’s changing in academia with public health is there are more joint degrees coming. So people from engineering are coming over now and wanting to get in public health degree as well. So I want to get my- my- my master’s in engineering or my MBA and mph, right, and bringing this public health perspective into these other fields now, where those other fields may land, whether it’s in health care, corporations, academia, etc. Or there’s a lot of opportunity. So if you have somebody coming in from, let’s say, a master’s in public policy or something and they want to get an MPH well, they’re going to bring this over possibly into another government position, but maybe not a traditional public health role in governmental public health. And- and with corporations, definitely see a lot of opportunity. I noticed you were- looks like you were wearing Tyka like a little Fitbit device. I have a little watch on my hand that tracks all that. Those type of companies I’m sure maybe Heather talked about that as well. But we’ve heard, I’ve heard too, that some of these corporations are wanting to, or getting like an intern in public health is an example out of the University of Louisville, their corporation had a few interns from public health. And they were like, wow, those- those interns were great, send us more. Right? And they’re, and the thinking is that there’s, you know, especially at the undergrad, you’re coming out with a little bit of data knowledge, a lot of- a lot of data knowledge, right, you’re coming out with this critical thinking, you’re coming out with a systems thinking, and that could, you know, depending on how you what trajectory you want to take your career, I think there’s a lot of opportunity to be creative in how we talk about public health skills, whether for traditional public health, or for how to bring it into that type of thinking into the corporation, corporate world as well.

Sujani 35:50
Yeah, absolutely. I, when we bring or when individuals discover PH SPOT, and you know, sign up for our newsletter, we often send them a welcome email and encourage them to write back and share what part of their life they’re in, or their journey into public health. And I have noticed individuals coming in from engineering, as you mentioned, and having this interest in public health, I think the most recent individual said, he was an engineer at Space Agency. And this just, you know, with personal life encounters has discovered this appreciation for public health and wants to take his career into a different path. And they just find that it’s an- and we talked about this right in the beginning, where public health is so applicable to so many different fields, that you just somehow can find a connection to it and find that, perhaps, yeah, you do have a lot to offer with your other skills and other training into the field of public health, which is one of the reasons that I love it because of that diversity.

Christine 36:57
Right? I mean, I just love it because it affects everything, right? And then I can tell you from the data world, it gets so complicated, because everything. I always get the question about, well, what changes have you seen in the public health workforce? I’m like, tell me what your definition is of the public health?

Sujani 37:15
That’s right.

Christine 37:16
If you can tell me that I might be able to answer your question. But it is a challenge. I think it’s one of the challenging questions to answer if you are thinking beyond the traditional governmental public health.

Sujani 37:28

Christine 37:28
And so that is, that is definitely something we need to think about as a- as a- as a field as well. And in defining that, and so we can, we can talk about it further. What does it mean, if you’re in the public health workforce? And of course, now what we’re talking about here is just going to make it more complicated, right?

Sujani 37:47
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m still struggling with that, you know, just thinking about who are we serving with PH SPOT, we see public health professionals, but I’m still having a hard time defining who that looks like. Like, who is that ideal individual? So-

Christine 38:02

Sujani 38:03
Yeah, I think it’s easy to say, “Okay, anyone who wants to pursue an MPH, for example, that’s the easy first step.”. But for sure, I think there’s a lot of thinking in terms of who is it that we’re serving. And I think that became a bit more evident to me when we released our podcast last year. And my husband had shared it on his LinkedIn, and he’s in the tech space. And he had a couple of his colleagues actually say that he- they listen to the episodes. And he was wondering, why would you do that you’re not in public health, like the traditional public health role.

Christine 38:36

Sujani 38:37
And yeah, they were just saying they’re interested in the topic. And they see that there’s a connection to public health, even though they’re in tech, for example.

Christine 38:46
I think, yeah, there’s such great opportunity. I know, there has been a number of committees coming together to answer this question. And they’re, they’re happening now. I know, my colleagues are on them. And they- they tend to start with the governmental public health.

Sujani 39:03

Christine 39:03
And the easier one to define, but I- it is, it is just such- such a challenge and such a good thing.

Sujani 39:14
I did want to touch quickly on the dual degrees topic. And one of those papers that I believe you are part of was fascinating to me. I mean, it was the one with the MD-MPH dual degree. I knew that that was a common dual degree that individuals went on to take but I think the number was the rate of growth. I thought that was super interesting to know that the dual degrees rate of growth was much higher than individuals pursuing just an MPH, for example. Do you do you have more thoughts on that and perhaps why that’s the case and whether it’s just the popularity of MPH programs, spilling over into the MD field or there’s other reasons.

Christine 40:06
Right? It’s such an interesting thing to think about, like talking about what we spoke about earlier, which is public health. Traditionally-

Sujani 40:14

Christine 40:15
Back in the day was MDS and nurses going back to get an MPH and then I think it’s some separation must have happened in the middle there. We do have a at our association with other associations that add an interprofessional education collaborative, which is doctors, nurses, pharmacy, physical therapy, all coming together to cross cross collaborative education for all of us. And a lot of it is really inspiring, I think more interest in public health as well. And so maybe that might be that might be part of it. But some of the some of that there, you’re there. What are dual degrees don’t get it is the MDs that go back for an MPH. So these are folks that are very interested in getting dual degrees at the same time. So that that question about how many, how many doctors have an MPH is a whole other question to answer as well. But we have seen and I think, I think just some of these examples, and there’s opportunities, and I think some of our schools and programs now are reaching out across to different- different areas in their universities, and they’re having students come over, as we said, the engineering coming over wanting to learn more about public health as well. And if those folks then go on into their careers with that background in public health, how fantastic would that be for all of us?

Sujani 41:45
Yeah, no for sure. Another dual degree, maybe it’s not taken at the same time that I’m noticing is law in MPH or, or?

Christine 41:55
Yeah, yeah. And what you were talking about, I think, before we even started the podcast, like communication and public health, yeah, you are getting a communication degree, and you get some public health background as well as there’s just, it’s just, it’s just thinking beyond the individual right to the whole, how impactful- more impactful you can be in terms of your work. If you’re thinking that way.

Sujani 42:17
Yeah. So I guess what we’re seeing is that public health should be introduced right from kindergarten into elementary, and that is,

Christine 42:24
That is our goal. Yes. We would love that to be the case. And we’re definitely I think we have two programs working on that focus on that. I think our colleagues that are focusing on that as well. So and I know with this at the undergraduate level, you know, kind of outside of the undergraduate public health degree but billing courses for core- core undergrads to have like, the could be like a deep disease detective course, you know, of and, and getting them to getting some of that public health knowledge into the undergraduate. But yes, even earlier, looking at how can- how can we have public health? Yes, in- in K3-12 would be amazing. And I think they’re getting it right now, aren’t they?

Sujani 43:09
Yeah, exactly.

Christine 43:11
Yeah, no matter what age you are, you’re getting some public health education. Right?

Sujani 43:15
For sure. Yeah, just the- their vocabulary has increased, right? I know, my niece knows more words, just because of the pandemic around public health. Yeah, no, I would be full support of introducing that from K to 12.

Christine 43:31

Sujani 43:33
I thought for the last little while, we could shift gears a tiny bit, just in terms of maybe advice and tips that you could offer from, you know, the work that you’ve done, and where you’re sitting and just having this engagement with all of the member institutions for just our community members in public health, whether they’re, you know, starting off with just applying any tips you may have there to getting hired in the field, and perhaps just, you know, how do you build your career in public health? And there’s multiple topics there that I’m asking you to speak about, but just looking for pieces of career advice that you would offer to either new grads or those looking into starting off their public health career?

Christine 44:20
Definitely, definitely. Well, like we said, public health can be everywhere and anywhere. We definitely, it’s an exciting time. And here are I think some of the traditional routes of public health, as we’ve seen going into healthcare and government as well. But there are a lot of new exciting public health opportunities out there that I think it’s possible to define for yourself which way you want to go. In terms of career advice, like I’ve had a very career, I’ve popped in and out of public health though I always like to think I was always somehow connected to it. But explore, explore your options, and figure out what you want in your life. And sometimes that does take career changes and time to figure out. For example, it just going to work at the nature center and following my passion for the outdoors, I realized didn’t allow me my time to go into the outdoors. So hence why maybe I went back into public health so that I had more into the role I have so that I could- could take those trips out into the back country and hiking and all that type of stuff. So it’s just depends it oh, if you want to work in a nonprofit, if you want to work in a corporation, how, how much do you want to work in life? I tend to think, for me, that was a big question the work life balance. You know, not- not to pick on just as an example, do you want to be a lawyer, whether you want to work 60 hours a week? I don’t know, these types of things, I think are some things that it’s not really just career advice. It’s more just how do you want to live? How do you want your life to be advice. Now, with public health, though, I think there’s just, you know, you can’t not talk about doing listening to these type of podcasts learning and exploring as much as you can and figuring out what, what jives with you internally, what makes your soul sing as my interior decorator tells me, I look at a picture but I- You can’t not ignore that all of it to have a well rounded life and work life balance and how much- How much money do you want to make? What do you want your lifestyle to be like? Those type of things, you have to look at all of it together. But I think there right now, it’s just such an exciting time in public health, there are so many opportunities, be creative, meet people and do good for the world. Okay, there’s just a lot, a lot of opportunity.

Sujani 46:51
Oh, that was such a beautiful response, Christine. I hear I was expecting like, you know, get some data skills, get some networking skills. But no, that’s important. And I think it doesn’t get enough air time. So I’m glad that you mentioned that it’s really about the lifestyle that you want to build and meaningful work that you want to be engaged in for, you know, almost eight to nine hours a day, right? So-

Christine 47:18
Right? Years and decades of your life. And hopefully, more like I think like some of our- there’s an initiative to bring backs, or to get folks that are retired, but they called their third career or something, you know, to bring them back into public health. And there’s opportunities there too. That’s where I sit now. That’s what I’m thinking about. I mean, I used to work Healthy People 3000 so you can imagine there’s a- Looking back now and just changing my careers over the time and just figuring it out. And some people are lucky they find where they want to be in the beginning. And that suits them for sure. Just explore and talk to people and look, because who knew that you, for example, you could get paid to plan parties. I had no idea. So I went and did it for a while. Right.

Yeah, exactly. Thank you so much, Christine, for just sharing your journey and your experience and just the wealth of knowledge around the public health workforce with the pH five community. So grateful to have you join us on this podcast.

Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun, and I feel very honored to be here.

Sujani 48:33
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Christine. As usual, we will make sure to link any resources we mentioned on today’s episode on our show notes page, which can be found at And if you’re interested in studying public health, we’ve got a number of great free resources to help you get started and this can be found at Or we’ll be sure to include direct links in our show notes page as well. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


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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