Alumni Highlight: Ketki Patel (MPH in EAOH ’12, and PhD in EPI ’16)
Hometown: Anand, Gujarat, India
Current career position: I recently joined the Texas Department of State Health Services (TX DSHS) as a level-III Epidemiologist in the Environmental and Injury Epidemiology and Toxicology (EIET) unit. The best aspects of my job are the diversity of projects and the ability to hone my applied public health skills. One day I am analyzing data, then the next day I am preparing standard operating procedures on information security, or designing a student internship project. The EIET unit houses several program areas: 1) child and adult lead poisoning surveillance and prevention, program 2) injury epidemiology surveillance program, 3) health assessment and toxicology program, 4) occupational health surveillance program, and 5) water fluoridation program. In my role, I get to work with teams from all these programs.
I apply the epidemiology and statistical skills that I acquired in the Ph.D. program to plan, design and conduct epidemiologic investigations of environmental and occupation-related health conditions. I utilize the health promotion and environmental health knowledge I gained during the MPH program to develop health and safety education materials and conduct outreach activities through partnerships with health and safety advocacy groups.
Previously I served as an Epidemiology Surveillance Coordinator with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) mainly supporting the Nebraska’s Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance program. Working at NDHHS gave me a first-hand exposure and on the job learning experience at a state-based public health agency, which was more than just collecting and analyzing data and writing reports, and which prepared me for my current position. The most memorable part of my time at NDHHS were intellectual and fun discussions with colleagues at work, and through those interactions, I made friends for a lifetime. I enjoy my career and consider it an opportunity to support the local and state public health agencies in disease prevention and control and promotion of health, making our communities healthier and safer.
The most valued thing about COPH program: I value the graduate assistantship I had through the College of Public Health, and the opportunity to go beyond academics to develop organizational and leadership skills by participating in different on-campus student organizations and professional committees involving faculty and students. I also value the platform and support given to me, to present my research at several local, regional and national scientific meetings and conferences. Attending these events helped me build professional connections with public health experts from all over the country and outside of the U.S., some of these connections are now collaborators on my projects or colleagues at work.
Advice for current students: A common question asked by undergraduates and prospective public health students that I have mentored is, how do you decide which discipline or topic area has better career choices? My response to this question is that there is not one area that is best. There are many public health issues from the local to the global level, which can only be tackled by cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary teams. In public health, working in silos can be detrimental to one’s own as well as the society’s progress. Keep an open mind for novel and unconventional ideas and brainstorming discussions; the best time to start is right when you are a student. Have a project idea in mind, talk to fellow students, faculty and staff at COPH as well as with students and faculty from other colleges’ on-campus. You will be amazed how many different approaches you might find to address a problem or plan and design your projects. Using this method will help you adapt and succeed in the job market that demands versatility and a team-player attitude.
Another key message is, “it’s never too early to start planning and preparing for your next career move.” Start thinking about the next step well in advance of your career from day one of your MPH/Ph.D. program; it could be a job or a fellowship or another training program. Take advantages of the resources available to you, participate in classroom discussions, join professional societies, and look out for volunteering opportunities on- & off-campus. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK! While networking, there is an exchange of thoughts, discussion on shared interests, and you never know—you might be interacting with your future employer or a colleague. And remember, we do not all have mind reading ability like fictional superheroes, so communicating our interests and expectations through the right channels is vital to your career advancement. Lastly, make sure to exercise, eat healthy food and have fun!!!