University of Minnesota
School of Public Health
http://www.umn.edu/sph
612-624-6868
MCOHS - Home

Occupational Health Services Research and Policy

Alumni Profiles

 

Anna BriggsAnna Briggs, PhD, MPH

What was your educational and work experience before enrolling in the doctoral program?

I came in with a Masters in Public Health in Occupational and Environmental Health from the University of Iowa, as well as 3 years of work experience as a research study coordinator at the University of Minnesota.

What made you interested in the field of occupational health services research and policy?

Mainly because it is a "hybrid" type of program focusing on both occupational health and safety, as well as health services research and policy. I was unable to decide between the two, and with this program I didn't have to!

What made you choose the University of Minnesota for your doctoral training?

I chose a job as a research coordinator over a public health department job because the University of Minnesota offered education benefits to full time staff. After working for a few years as a research coordinator at the University of Minnesota, I explored doctoral programs, and the MCOHS program in OHSRP was a perfect fit based on my education and career goals.

What jobs or internships were you able to work while working on your degree?

I continued to work the full time research coordinator position concurrently at the University of Minnesota for the first 2 years of my program, and then as I progressed, reduced my hours to 50% for the remainder of the program. During the second 2 years of my program, my advisor facilitated the opportunity to for me to collaborate with the Mountains and Plains ERC to work on the Occupational Health Indicators surveillance project to gain experience in secondary data analysis and occupational health surveillance. My advisor also leveraged her network to collaborate with a researcher at HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research where I was able to obtain a secondary data set for my dissertation research.

After I finished coursework, and was finalizing my dissertation research, I obtained a paid internship at a consulting firm working on the America's Health Rankings® project.

What type of job would you like to find when you finish your degree (or describe your current position)?

Since I finished my degree in January 2014, I obtained a part-time research assistant position at Allina Health within the Division of Applied Research. Since then, the position has evolved into a full-time position where I provide consultative services to various Clinical Service Lines within Allina on research-to-practice methodologies and improving quality and efficiencies related to high quality care delivery. As my role evolves, it will include consultation within sub-divisions of Allina Performance Resources, including Occupational Health and Safety.

As an aside, the Director of Applied Research changed the design of her workstation as a direct result of a presentation I gave on my dissertation research and I'm in communication with the a manager in supply chain management who is pilot testing sit-to-stand workstations in an effort to increase movement among sedentary employees.

Furthermore, I will co- teach a short course on employee health promotion with the goal of diffusing Total Worker Health (TWH) concepts for the University of Minnesota's Public Health Institute.

What would you say to a student considering the program?

If you come into the program with a broad focus, make sure to narrow it down as much as possible to an answerable research question, with smaller key questions. Although you will likely save the world someday, you will not (likely) be able to do it with your dissertation alone - so just contribute as much as you can within a reasonable timeframe so you can set the pathway for future brilliance. Furthermore, you are not supposed to know how everything "works" within a PhD program - everyone's program is different and sometimes you will feel like you're going in circles, but trust that your advisor and committee will get you through to the end. Also, take advantage of opportunities as they come about - embrace discomfort in topics you don't think you're interested in - you will likely learn something new can be applied to your current field of interest, making it all the more interesting and meaningful.

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Adrienne LandsteinerAdrienne Landsteiner, PhD, MPH

What is your current job title?

I am an epidemiologist and program director for the occupational health state based surveillance program for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Describe your job-what do you do, what is a typical day like?

I am responsible for the day to day operation of the occupational health surveillance program, including: data procurement, cleaning, analysis, interpretation, write up, and dissemination.

The work that I have accomplished and maintain is showcased at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpcd/cdee/occhealth/surveillance.html

What do you think is the most important part of your job?

Providing reliable, timely, and accurate information to interested populations, including: health and safety professionals, researchers, employers, employees, and the general public is the most important part of my job.

What do you like about your job? What do you like least about your job?

I enjoy that my job is different every day, with a new set challenges and questions to address, the variety in work keeps my job interesting and engaging.

The greatest frustration is finding data sources that accurately and completely capture occupational injury and illness cases.

What got you interested in this field?

I've always been interested in how our genes and surrounding environment interact to affect our health. Considering the number of hours one spends working the work environment can, and does in some instances, have the greatest impact on health. Once I began taking classes in environmental and occupational epidemiology for my MPH at the University of Michigan, my interest was deepened further and I chose to pursue a career in occupational health.

Where do you see yourself going in the future (in this job, in this field)?

I enjoy my work in the public sector a great deal and hope to grow and expand the program of occupational health state based surveillance at the Minnesota Department of Health.

What did you gain from your University of Minnesota educational experience?

The experience at the University of Minnesota provided me with a new set of tools and perspective when identifying and appraising datasets for use in occupational health research, as well as the ability to critique health services research in the same way that I had learned to critique epidemiological research.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in this field?

Talk to as many people working in the field as possible, as there are a lot of different ways to work in this field and it may surprise you how some people have chosen to apply their skills and education.

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Helen ParsonsHelen Parsons, PhD, MPH

What is your current job title?

Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, TX

Describe your job-what do you do, what is a typical day like?

As an Assistant Professor, I can say that no day is exactly the same. While the majority of the work I do fits into one of the three areas of research, teaching or service to the profession/community, you really can focus your time on what you are most passionate about. Right now I spend the majority of my time working on cancer health services research. Specifically, I'm interested in studying how health policy and quality guidelines affect appropriate treatment and outcomes for cancer. One of my more recent projects has examined how health policies can help young adult cancer survivors transition back into the workplace after diagnosis as well as identify continued issues with this process. As part of this work, my day might be centered around conducting focus groups to understand the biggest issues in the young adult population after cancer diagnosis, grant writing, analyzing data from my research, reviewing manuscripts or grants for funding, traveling to conferences or committees to ensure the work is getting disseminated, or teaching a class on health services research methods.

What do you think is the most important part of your job?

The two most important parts of my job are: 1) Helping to understand the underlying causes of health disparities and outcomes in cancer survivors through independent research, ensuring that the most important issues to survivors are identified and 2) Creating a training and teaching environment for the next generation of researchers and public health professionals to conduct and disseminate high-quality research in this area.

What do you like about your job? What do you like least about your job?

As I mentioned before, no day is exactly the same in this job, which is exciting and always keeps me interested. I would say the best part of this job is to be able to work on public health issues from so many different angles: conducting the research, teaching students good habits/methods for conducting future research and making sure the results and take-away messages get out to the community. Also, feeling like you are making a difference in people's lives, even in a small way, is very rewarding. After a community talk I gave last year, I had a survivor and her mother come up to me and thank me for bringing light to the issues survivors have when returning to work, such as fatigue, troubles concentrating or sitting for long periods. Knowing that this has made a difference in their lives keeps me motivated to continue with this work.

However, it can be challenging to balance many of the expectations of being faculty with maintaining a life outside of work. The high expectations to receive grant funding, publish papers and maintain a national presence with your work are real. There is no hard or fast rule on how to achieve this balance, but setting boundaries for when work ends helps me to bring my best to my work.

What got you interested in this field?

I can't say that any one thing moved me towards this particular area of research. It was more a series of unexpected mentors and chance meetings. For me, it was a mentor who was willing to take a chance on a new graduate student, giving me opportunities to strengthen my research skills and learn the ins and outs of the research machine. At the same time, I started collaborating with a group of young cancer survivors and researchers and saw the enormous challenges that survivors face after their treatment. Their cancer may be cured, but life still goes on. Many of the effects of cancer treatment may not be seen for years after treatment has ended. Finding ways to bring awareness to this issue and identify continued challenges after diagnosis has kept me motivated to work in this area.

Where do you see yourself going in the future (in this job, in this field)?

My long-term goal is to continue working on health policy to help cancer survivors thrive after their diagnosis, identifying the best supportive care, work accommodations and information individuals need.

What did you gain from your University of Minnesota educational experience?

I wouldn't be in the position I am today without the mentoring, training and support I received from the University of Minnesota. I think one of the most important things I learned during my time in Minnesota is how to think about an issue from many different perspectives. I really brings another dimension to the work you do. Additionally, seeing your mentors so passionate about their own work really motivates you in your own research. Having so many different experts all in one place gives trainees such a unique experience and Minnesota does a wonderful job of integrating these multi-disciplinary experts into the teaching and research experience.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in this field?

Think about where you would like your career to be in 3, 5, or 10 years and identify a mentor or colleague who has the role or skill set you want to have at that time. Ask them how they got to that point and ways that they think different experiences helped or hindered it. Don't limit yourself. I have mentors that I go to for different questions- some related to research, others career development, and even more to help manage the work-life balance. Having a network of champions really goes a long way to helping you achieve your goals and even identify some opportunities that you had never considered before.

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Tammy SchultTammy Schult, PhD, MPH

What is your current job title?

My job title is Data Analyst (Operations and Research Support). I work for the Office of Public Health within the Central Office of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). This office is located in Washington D.C., but I am field-based in Minneapolis. As you can imagine, since I work for the federal government, there are many layers to VHA, so while I do work for the Office of Public Health - more specifically I work for the Occupational Health Strategic Healthcare Group (OHSHG) and within the OHSHG, I work for the Employee Health Promotion Disease and Impairment Prevention (EHPDIP) program. Whew - that is a mouthful!

Here is some background on VHA, too, for those of you less familiar with this giant enterprise. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) operates the largest integrated health care delivery system in the United States. VHA has over 1,700 sites of care, including 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics, 300 Vet Centers, 135 community living centers, 104 domiciliary rehabilitation treatment programs, and 70 mobile Vet Centers. VHA conducts approximately 236,000 health care appointments every day and approximately 85 million appointments each year. Over 300,000 VHA employees provide care to nearly 6.5 million Veterans and other beneficiaries annually.

Describe your job-what do you do, what is a typical day like?

I primarily conduct program evaluation and data analysis for the EHPDIP program, a program initially tasked in 2009 with conducting a large pilot intervention project implementing comprehensive employee wellness programming. On any given day I could be doing any of the following: 1) Developing measures and evaluation strategies to test intervention effectiveness; 2) Conducting data analyses of national VHA employee surveys (i.e., on behavioral risk factors and chronic health conditions); 3) Developing content for reports and writing manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals; 4) Providing consultation and advice to VHA facilities on local employee health promotion evaluation efforts; or 5) Working with larger OHSHG to develop tools and reports.

Future directions of the EHPDIP program include the development and provision of integrated approaches to employee wellness/health promotion and occupational safety and health. These approaches are defined by the NIOSH Total Worker Health™ initiative as strategies combining occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being. At present, I am integrally involved in the process of developing pilot intervention projects that integrate health protection and health promotion.

What do you think is the most important part of your job?

Being the primary go-to person within my office for evaluation and data-related needs and questions is the most important part of my job. VHA is an extremely data-driven organization and in order to support our efforts, we must be able to show what we do is making a difference with data.

What do you like about your job? What do you like least about your job?

My research interests include primary prevention and population health as it relates to the VHA workforce, and my work for OHSHG and the EHPDIP program with their focus on occupational health and health promotion in a very large working population allow me to work on lots of projects that are directly related to my interests.

As I've said, VHA is a huge organization, so while there are unique opportunities for advancing occupational and population health in such a system, there are also a number of challenges associated with working in a system this large including obtaining leadership and management support, working effectively with labor partners, etc.

What got you interested in this field?

My initial public health training in epidemiology sparked my interest in chronic disease and primary prevention. When the opportunity arose to continue my education in Occupational Health Services Research and Policy, interests in population and workforce health were added. I took my current position with VHA while I was working on my PhD, and it has been a natural fit with all of my coursework and research interests.

Where do you see yourself going in the future (in this job, in this field)?

I hope to continue my work with VHA - we are very excited about the new pilot projects we are developing that integrate health protection and health promotion. We've shown in previous work that VHA employees have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors and chronic health conditions than U.S. adults, and as part of the health care sector, are a high-risk population for occupational illness and injury as well. Successful interventions that address all of these risks are needed in VHA.

What did you gain from your University of Minnesota educational experience?

I had the opportunity to work with three divisions within the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health during the course of my graduate training. I had wonderful instructors, learned a ton, and received great support from all of them. I am so fortunate for my University of Minnesota educational experience - it gave me all of the knowledge, skills, and confidence to have a successful career in public health.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in this field?

Try not to take forever to complete your degree - but if you do, that is okay, too! You will likely gain a family along the way and get the work experience you will need to be successful once you do!!

 

The Midwest Center for Occupational Health and SafetyContact MCOHS