In this episode, Sujani sits down with Nakia Bolden, a full time MPH student, certified health education specialist, and entrepreneur. They talk about what the CHES is and how to obtain it, working in public health with an undergraduate degree, and Nakia’s experiences starting her own health education business.
What You’ll Learn from this Episode:
- How Nakia became interested in public health and what motivated her to pursue a MPH
- How to start working in public health without a having a MPH
- What benefits can come out of being engaged in your profession’s community and how you can connect with these communities and networks
- Tips on how to balance your school, work, and personal life
- What a day in the life of a vaccine demand strategist looks like
- How social media and infographic design skills can be fundamental to health communication
- What a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) is
- The process to becoming certified and maintaining certification
- What opportunities being certified can open for you
- How Nakia experiences and handles imposter syndrome
- Nakia’s experiences with starting her own business and her goals for I Am Health Education
- What kinds of resources are available through I Am Health Education
I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, CHES®. I have a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and I am currently pursuing my Master of Public Health from Indiana State University. I have 3 years of experience in managing infectious disease programs to improve health outcomes and health equity. I am also a consultant at I Am Health Education, our vision is to “Promote and advocate for health equity and the Certified Health Education Specialist, CHES®, Certification”
Featured on the Show:
- Visit Nakia’s website, I Am Health Education
- Learn more about The Black Ladies in Public Health Organization
- Learn more about The Certified Health Education Specialist Certification and the Companion Guide for Health Education Specialists
- Buy the book 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think
Someone told me if you enjoy something and you look up and hours have flown by, maybe that is your passion to read just looking at that and explore different avenues. Like I said, there’s so many different areas of public health that you can explore. And you really might find what really works for you.
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. Hi, Nakia. And welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. Thank you so much for doing this with us.
Wonderful, you know, the first question that I love to hear the answer to from a lot of our guests is like, how did you discover the field of public health?
I remember going to nursing school. And I don’t know, I just love that they were public health and like, I’m like, Oh, my gosh, I think that’s maybe what I want to do.
I didn’t know exactly what that was. After I completed my undergrad degree in Health Sciences with a concentration in health promotion, the pandemic had just started in the United States. So I was on the COVID-19 response as a contract traitor. And that’s when I first got my like, first real dose of like, what public health really is and what it means.
That first job, I suppose. Is that something that you kind of just like came across as you were casually job searching? Or were you intentionally looking for public health roles, because you had heard about it like during your undergrad?
I was job searching. And I saw this ad and actually got it was a scam. And then you know, I completed it anyway. And they emailed me and I’m like, This can’t be real.
And so yeah, you applied and you kind of I said, I guess like started learning a lot more about the field of public health on the job. It sounds like, Right?
Yes. Throughout my, my really my career with the COVID-19 response. And then when I started my master’s degree public, I’m in public health, I really got to relate it to what I was actually doing was like, Okay, this, this is public health. And this is essential services.
I also saw that you have a Master of Public Affairs degree, right. So like, well, how did that happen from your undergrad than the Master of Public Affairs degree.
So I did not finish I just did one year with the Masters of Public Affairs. And at that time, I wanted to stick to my alumni school, Indiana University. They didn’t have public health, but they have public affairs with a concentration and I think it was health administration.
Once I started doing that, because it was online, I wanted to go to school online and work full time, once we started that, and it was not the same as really public health. I didn’t really like it, it was more government focused, and actually, like, prevention and program management focus on public health. So the next one, I switched to the online program at Indiana State University.
Okay, something else I would just like reviewing your LinkedIn profile, I saw that you worked as a health promotion specialist, as an intern, I suppose for a few months prior to even working on the COVID 19 pandemic. Was that role, kind of something that you wanted to explore as a result of your undergraduate degree in health promotion? Can you tell us a bit about that?
So actually, that specific opportunity, had to get an internship. And I didn’t even know exactly what the health promotion specialists really like. So yeah, I interned at the health department. And it was mostly really just like health education type of work, just educating high school students about reproductive practices. Tools to give out to the social services and a county and community. I know when I did my internship, I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted to see if I could do actually more. And that’s what I did. Indiana University did, I went to was in a small town, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunities. So there was not a lot of conversation about the opportunities that exist in the public health field.
It’s almost like the pandemic kind of happened at the right time, because you got to explore that field. A lot more.
Yes, I think I wouldn’t even probably went to get my master’s degree if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic response.
So yeah, and was it 2021? That you decide to go on and get that MPH degree?
Tell us about that. What pushed you to go get that degree? And then it sounds like you also like continued to work. So balancing work in school, that must have been quite an adventure during the pandemic.
What really would have made me asked me to get a master’s degree private sounds crazy, but it was competitive. I was working in a government with health departments, state health departments and like everybody had their master’s degree but me. And so, I was getting jobs and most times were getting the same amount of pay. I really wanted to be more competitive. So then when I enrolled, it was perfect, because like everything that have worked and worked for my master’s degree program is applied to that. Like, for instance, I’m also a certified health education specialist.
My bachelor’s degree program always reflect on that and be like, you know, once you become certified, you know, this is not, these are eight responsibilities. It’s like, I already have that certification. So like, when I’m learning I can apply to what I’m actually doing in the field.
Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true. You know, another question that we often get from folks is like, can I land a job without a master’s degree and with just an undergraduate degree, I want to say just an undergraduate but a undergraduate degree. And it sounds like you were successful in landing jobs with your undergraduate degree. And I don’t know, if you have any kind of like advice or tips for individuals in that position who aren’t yet ready to go and get a master’s degree and want to work in public health with an undergraduate degree?
Yes, I think it is really depends on what jobs you’re applying for, like if you’re applying for entry level jobs. And also what goes on who, you know, like, I’ve joined a whole bunch of like public health groups, Women in Public Health, black ladies and public health, a lot of jobs aren’t posted. And then like group members will post jobs like, you know, like this job opening here is remote or it’s not remote. And really just like conversating, with those members to see like, they can get tips, you know, they can tell you about jobs that are hiring, they can tell you about the interview process. And that’s actually how I got my first well, I did a contract tracing position. That’s actually how I started with the CDC Foundation. I’ve never heard about the CDC Foundation until I joined. I think it was Women in Public Health or black ladies in public health. And then I saw the position I applied for it. And I got it. So.
Nice, yeah, the power of like, your community or your public health support group or your network. Yeah, it’s so important for building your career. And I think landing jobs is obviously one of the best things from it. But I think there are so many other great things that you can get from these individuals, right, like you mentioned, they often like provide advice or kind of help you navigate your career as well. Are there any other like examples you can think of just from like the communities that you’ve been part of?
Do webinars, do trainings explore, like, I am a life long learner, like I love to attend webinars, even if it has nothing to do with what I’m currently doing. Like I like attending webinars, that’s actually another way to network to with the webinars, meet people from everywhere, like.
Yeah, yeah, it’s funny, because I often find that too, because like, especially large webinars, the chat window is like always on fire. And sometimes you just like, connect with people who are chatting away during the webinar, and then you eventually like, message them privately and connect that way. And I know, I’ve done that quite a few times. And I never really thought about webinars as a form of networking. But now that you mentioned it, I’m reflecting back on the individuals I’ve connected on LinkedIn, specifically from like a training or a webinar that I’ve done online. Okay, so your decision to pursue MPA that took place in 2021? And then was that a two year program for you?
Yes, that’s a two year program.
Okay. And then so you are currently in your Master’s of Public Health Program at Indiana State University. And you’re still working for the CDC Foundation, as well as being a consultant. So, you know, what does your day kind of look like balancing school work, and also kind of being an entrepreneur? I’m assuming this is the consulting organization that you founded, right?
Yes, I’m also a mom.
So let’s hear it all, then.
Oh, my gosh. So after work, like actually, I have put that the I Am Health Education consultant stuff on hold a little bit. Since last year, I put it on hold before I started my master’s of public health program. So normally, we first started the consultation business again, I will work eight hours, cook and then dedicate two hours after that to homework. And then it’s like, every single day I do that. And then now I started the business again, we don’t want to share this bootcamp. And then I don’t know how I’m gonna like school starts next month. I don’t know how I’m gonna juggle. But I’m probably gonna get less sleep. I’m just probably gonna sacrifice some sleep for everything.
Yeah. And your work, I suppose, and school as well as all virtual now, right?
Yes, that’s what I liked about the public health program and why I went to that specific school like I knew I wanted to work full time and go to school. I didn’t want to sacrifice one or the other.
And so when you go back to school in September, are classes during work hours or are they kind of like in the evenings?
Asynchronous training, but like so yeah, I can just go in there and do discussion boards and take quizzes. So that’s nothing what I liked about that, like, there is no time, exactly a time says I have to be on a computer database every time I get on there before a quarter deadline and make it work. But that’s one thing too, that I did that last semester, and actually got a 4.0 GPA.
And I had a baby and I was working full time.
Oh, that’s amazing. Yeah. Can you tell us a bit more about your vaccine demand strategist at the CDC Foundation? And what is that?
As a vaccine demand strategies, I support and research evidence based strategies to increase vaccine rates, confidence in literacy and demand in Michigan. I’ve been in that role since November of 2021.
The cool part about that is I think I saw you lifted a number of skills under that role and social media marketing and Canva kind of popped up for me. Yeah, do you do a lot of social media marketing? And how have you found yourself building those skills just for that job?
So before I didn’t even know what social media marketing was, but really, with the social media marketing tools, we really look at the misinformation that is trending in that specific community and see what information gaps exists. And how can we address that using other evidence based tools and strategies to decrease misinformation. And even with Canva. Like, I never really used Canva, before I had this role, and now we use Canva, to create like different graphics and social media messaging and health communications to increase vaccine vaccine rates and vaccine literacy and just like, making sure people know like, what information is true, we got into COVID-19 vaccine. Really, like if there’s, like, for instance, an outbreak of the monkey pox, we actually is working on that as well. We’re like making sure our community are aware of the potential outbreaks in the community and what ways to get protect themselves from the monkey pox.
I guess that’s where your CHES certification comes in. Right? That’s the certified health education specialist skills play a huge component in this role.
Yes, yes, definitely.
For our listeners who may not know about CHES too much, and you also mentioned that you have a bootcamp coming up. Could you maybe explain what CHES is?
So CHES, is a, is a certified health education specialists certification, you need a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a PhD. And you need a certain amount of credits and health promotion or health education field to become eligible to take the certification. And I think is really beneficial, because it opens doors to opportunities. For instance, for my specific role at the CDC Foundation, you need a master’s degree, and I don’t have one, but I started I had just was in my first semester of my MPH program, and I got hired on because I have that CHES certification. So it was really, really beneficial. You gain skills, and you are nationally certified. And he’s now these eight areas of responsibilities. And you when you get that certification, you can really see how the skills that you have tested out on and what you actually do like program development, evaluation, research, management leadership, like you really get to reflect.
Yeah, no, that’s very helpful. And how does that like certification work? Is there like typical to how you would go through a course University, like go through a series of lessons and then you write an exam? Or is it much more condensed than that?
It’s much more condensed than,
Once you submit your transcripts and your fee, I think it’s like 275, maybe the exam is offered in October in April.
Once you submit your eligibility forms, and they say you’re eligible, you signed up to take your exam, I took my US remote, and you can take it in person or remote. They test you on eight years responsibility. There’s 165 questions. So like, I did the CHES, but then you have the NHS to you got to have a master’s degree for that, or have been in the field for five years. And unless you become certified, you have to take certified continuing credit hours every five years to maintain your certification.
Yeah, I realize I’ve been pronouncing it incorrectly it’s CHES, right. Okay. No, that’s, that’s super cool. And did you notice that that specific certification was listed on job postings as like a requirement or an asset? And I think you mentioned that it kind of increased your chances of getting jobs as well.
I think that’s because I became certified in October 2020. And I graduated with my undergrad degree in May 2020. So actually ended about the CHES through undergrad school, we were doing a program development course. And even throughout those courses, like my professor really promoted the CHES certification, like, you know, once you become CHES or, this won’t be become CHES. And I think that’s what helped me become eligible to take that exam. In Indiana, actually, there’s not a lot of people that don’t even really heard of the show certification. When we looked on LinkedIn, or indeed, you will see a lot of jobs requiring like the CHES certification or CHES preferred certification. And for instance, I had an interview with this company, and they were aware, they was like, Oh, you’re CHES certified. Like, we know that you can actually like do this specific task and these roles because of that certification.
Very cool. Thanks for that. That’s super helpful for anyone looking into this certification, like just the the studying process, how much I guess, hours are timed at that peak for you, prior to getting certified.
I actually studied the whole summer from like May into October, and also helped bound a study group on Facebook. So we have that huge study group. And we will review the questions. There’s a book you can get from the NCHEC website is called the companion guide for health education specialists. And they have like, 165 practice question. In the back of the book, I did that I read that book front to back, I can’t even tell you, I’m gonna actually, it took me four hours, but like, I passed it, my exam, and I just really dedicated myself because I wasn’t taking classes either over the summer to really focus on that certification.
So pretty intense. Not a one day study and go write the exam.
No. And then the the five years of just like having credits to maintain the certification, what sort of, I guess, training can you do to maintain that certification?
The website actually has like, you can look for like continuing credits webinars on air. So there’s like webinars, there’s there might be like courses, like you watch a video, you do a pretest, and a post test and evaluation. Sometimes you can do stuff on your own like that you attend the webinar, you get that certificate of participation, you just submit that and you might even get credit for that.
Okay, so there’s there’s lots of options there as well.
Very cool. Okay, so looking at the journey that you’ve taken with your undergrad, and then I suppose the pandemic kind of happening at a point in your life, which kind of was nice for you to transition into public health a lot more easily. Do you reflect back on the journey and think whether, you know, maybe I could have done something a little differently here or there?
Honestly, no, like, even when I was undecided about public health, and I was trying to do nursing, I think it helped me because I don’t think I really was ready. And things happen for a reason. And then with the COVID-19 response, I’m happy to be part of that and so many different roles. I was a contact tracer, I was a communicable disease investigator, I was a public health investigator, and then I was a vaccine demand strategist. So I saw that the COVID-19 response 360, like in so many different angles, and so many different roles, people still find it hard to get public health jobs. And I’m happy to have the opportunity to have experienced now because I don’t think I would really have gained experience as quickly and as in depth that I did if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic in a COVID-19 response.
Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this question. But you seem to have gotten a lot of experience in such a short time. Why do you feel like others are still struggling to get jobs in public health?
I don’t know. I think it depends on location. And then really what jobs you’re applying for, like public health is so broad, like there’s some jobs, that’s in public health that doesn’t have public health in it at all.
You know, and, and I remember I had talked to this one girl, she had troubles finding a job. And then I was leaving the Indiana Department of Health at the time. And my position was open. And I told her to, like, you know, give my give her resume to my supervisor, and I gave her my supervisor email. She sent her email, and she got the job. It really I think it depends on really, who you know, you have to reach out.
Sometimes you be scared, but you really have to reach out to LinkedIn. And that’s how I met her. She reached out to LinkedIn. And she was like, you know, I’m looking for a mentor. And I don’t know. But yeah, it really worked out for her to gain that trance.
Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. I think we keep going back to this topic of like, you need that support group. You need people you need to reach out you need to put yourself out there. And yeah, like I’d been out of school for a while now, but I don’t know if those are like some things that are talked about not not even like formally in lectures during classes, but are those conversations that students have amongst themselves? As you know, we need to find a community of supporters or we need to find a mentor? Or do you not see that conversation happening enough?
I don’t think I see happening enough. Like I remember watching a Career Center at my school, there was no conversation about like, tailored resume tailored profiles. For me, it was the general, your resume supposed to look like this. And your LinkedIn posts probably look like this. And then that’s really it. And I honestly think, as college students, we have this idealistic expectation of just graduating and we’re going to instantly get a job.
So easy. When that was not the case at all.
Yeah, I know, I kind of was ignorant in that sense to you know, you graduate, and the job is going to be there waiting for you. And then 100 applications later, you realize, okay, you need to put a little bit more effort and get creative, connect with people talk to people put yourself out there. It’s a job of its own, right.
Yes, it is. Yeah.
And I think just for like, the emotional support, it’s so nice to have somebody to speak with not just one person, but like many other people, especially when you’re like, day in and day out, applying to jobs and not hearing back. It’s nice to hear other people’s stories and kind of help each other and just be in like a supportive group, I suppose.
Yeah. So you know, just just thinking about what you’ve done so far. And you know, you even said that you are a mentor for an individual. What are some top advices that come to mind apart from like, connecting and putting yourself out there, which we know is like, number one, are there any other kind of like, challenges that you came across throughout your journey so far, and maybe like reflections and lessons that you may have gathered from that for others to kind of learn from that?
They really impostor syndrome, not really not thinking like, you’re not good enough, or you don’t deserve it? Like, if they’re willing to interview you, you know, you’re doing something right. And you don’t know what will happen when you don’t apply for that job. But yeah, why you just might get it applying for these jobs, like look at that opportunity. And you may not need all of the qualifications, but they still might hire you. Like I remember even when I got the job, because I worked with the CDC Foundation on two different occasions. And this is a second occasion, when I first got my communicable disease investigators at what the CDC Foundation, they want it like five years of experience, and I had just graduated from college, I had a I was a contract tracer over the summer, like I didn’t know how that experience, but I still got hired. So really just trying looking for those opportunities and just apply yourself.
How does imposter syndrome, I guess show up for you. What goes on, I guess in your mind, when you’re, I guess doubting yourself or kind of like going through that impostor syndrome.
I think with me personally is like, I’d be thinking, you know, oh, you know, yeah, I got the intervieweryeah, they want to hire me, but I don’t deserve it. I’m not that great. As I as you know, other people think I am and I got lucky. And like those things, like really going in my head, and maybe in other people had to and they’re just like, No, get out of your head and just play yourself and try.
I think that that takes a bit of time, right? Like, it sounds like you’re someone who could like talk to yourself and get out of that. I’m sure that that took a while, I guess to train your mind.
It really did.
I have a saying that like, even on my calendar. Now my avid calendar on my wall. It sounds like you deserve this and more just to remind myself like-
Yeah, absolutely. I know, I know, for me, like I need to either, like listen to podcasts, or read a book or like you said, you know, attend training sessions, not just like for, like the hard tangible skills of data analysis or how to use Canva. But like, the mindset coaching stuff, like I need more of that than the rest of the stuff.
Yes, like, I actually I bought this book because of the imposter syndrome. It’s like 101 essays that will change the way you think.. And this is amazingly I look at sometimes I read that book, and I’m like, okay.
Okay, those are like, titles of books that I definitely need all the time.
Yes. It’s very, very amazing.
Okay, so, you know, I’m just curious because at PH SPOT, we have our mission set as we’re here to help you build your dream public health career. And so I’m curious to hear from you when you hear that phrase, your dream public health career, like what comes to mind for you?
Probably will be like program director, because I want to work in like every aspect I want to recommend reproductive field maternal and child health care. Pandemic response I’d even just COVID-19 Anyways part. And then at one point, I wanted to be an epidemiologist. I don’t know, I just want to be really like, I think my dream role will be like maybe a program director really dedicated to like health equity and decreasing health disparities.
Do you see like, other I guess, elements as part of your career, in addition to being a program director?
Health education, oh, my gosh, like, I don’t know, I feel like you know, during undergrad, it was like, okay, you know, I’m gonna take the shots exam, because I think a lot of us did at that specific school.
And once I become CHES like, myself, I told myself for years, you’re not working as a health educator, you’re not working in your field. But health education is broad like that certification. Development is not just health education, you could play that sit anything, any program or strategies or initiatives that you’re trying to promote for the community, you can apply that to. So for you if I told myself that, but like, really health education, and the certification is my passion, like my website, and my business is really dedicated to that certification.
Okay, I guess I will probably see you as like a program director, working in like Maternal Health Plus entrepreneur running your business, right?
Yeah. Yeah. Can you tell us a bit more about your consulting called I Am health education. Tell us about the birth of that, and what your vision is, for that.
I started I am health education was I became a certified health education specialist. So I got my results of my certification exam in October. And I started that business in November, really, because I told myself, like, I wasn’t using my certification, and I was still on a COVID-19 response first started out because, you know, I created the study group for the CHES certification on Facebook. So I had like, share study guides on there, how to become a certified health education specialist on there. And then I had like a video going through at that time, it was seven areas of responsibilities. And you know, someone will email me like, you know, can I get the study guide, I will just, you know, email them the study guide. And then I have like, other resources, like videos about the social determinants of health, about what health promotion is, and like things like that. We’re doing the CHES bootcamp, and the CHES exam, updated their responsibilities to 8 now. So I’m working on that study guides for that. And like 8 videos, I think our mission really is to like to promote and advocate and provide health promotion resources and programs, and a professional, academic and community setting. I’m working on my consultation services at this moment. I think I have what telecommunication services on here and think about it right now.
Oh, that’s so cool. I didn’t realize when you said you were part of a study group, when you were studying for your CHES exam that you had created it. And that’s wonderful. So as we wrap this up, Nakia. What is like your final words of wisdom for whether it’s like public health students or early career professionals as they are trying to navigate this field and figure out like, where it is that their passion lies, and encourage them to take that first step towards their dream public health career?
Well, sometimes, you know, sometimes, you know, you might want to do something, but your passion is somewhere else. Someone told me, if you enjoy something, and you look up and hours have flown by, maybe that is your passion. So really just looking at that and explore different avenues. Like I said, there’s so many different areas of public health that you can explore. And you really might find what really works for you. And then far as your skills, use your skills for your advantage, like if you’re good with data analysts and data management, and maybe look into Population Health analysts, is a subdivision of public health, you’re doing public health, it’s just a different way of doing public health is more specific. If you have skills, maybe we should look at health communications, and like really, things like that.
I forget who I was speaking with about this, but there are so many different, I want to say things that you do in your lifetime when and you know, whether it was for school, or whether it was for just a passion project. And sometimes we discredit those skills when it comes to job applications. And I think this kind of like goes back to Canva and social media marketing, for example, and how both of those things are such a huge component of like health promotion, right. And, you know, maybe you just started an Instagram page and you were communicating about the COVID vaccine during the pandemic. Those are some excellent skills that you should highlight on your job application and it shouldn’t be discredited just because it wasn’t under this like official job title. well under an incorporated organization or something, right. So, you know, to your point about, explore these different interests that you have, whether it is under an official role, or it’s kind of a passion project that you want to just, you know, work away at and merge those two together. And, again, don’t discredit those skills, because those are true skills.
Yes, for sure.
Wonderful. Thanks so much Nikia, for taking the time to share with us about your journey, and especially about the CHES certification and all that you’re doing with that and will be shared to link up the resources that you’ve mentioned, and the bootcamp that you also talked about. But any final words before we, we sign off?
No, but thank you so much for having me.
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pHspot.org/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more or want to join the club, you can visit our page at pHspot.org/club. And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career club.