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Public Health Epidemiology Conversations Podcast

Episode #45 Interview with Dr. Oscar Alleyne: Powerful Impact of Working in Public Health at the Loc

This episode is brought to you by the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Epidemiology Section, where I serve as a part of the leadership team. Learn more about the APHA Epidemiology Section.

Dr. Oscar Alleyne is the Senior Advisor of Public Health Programming at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), which provides leadership and support for 3,000 county and city health departments across the country. He specifically focuses on infectious disease, informatics, public health preparedness, and pandemic and catastrophic response.

Dr. Alleyne describes his personal and academic pathway to a public health career.

  • He always had a love for science and knew he would be a doctor.

  • As he got older, his uncle (who was a medical school resident) advised him to go into Epidemiology since he had such great people skills.

  • When his grandmother was diagnosed with multiple-myeloma, he wanted to know why? She didn’t drink or smoke and so he wondered what environmental factors there were in her disease.

  • Went to the University of Buffalo School and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. Over a summer he completed an accelerated program in medicine and then decided to explore other health options.

  • Received a Master’s of Public Health at Albany School of Public Health.

  • He started working on a PhD in environmental occupational health looking and focused on water borne illnesses. While working on this degree, he began field work in the West Nile Virus outbreak and helped start a local initiative in Rockland County (NY). He then transferred into the DrPH program in health policy and management, and graduated from New York Medical College, with a DrPH in health policy and management.

  • Eventually became the Director of Epidemiology for the Rockland County Public Health Department in New York, where he worked for 16 years.

A large portion of Dr. Alleyne’s career was involved a West Nile Program in Rockland Country in New York, with a population of about 312,000. In 2000, Rockland County had the second largest outbreak after New York City.

  • Dr. Alleyne hid his epidemiology knowledge at first because he was afraid to get stuck crunching numbers behind a computer when he wanted to be out in the field.

  • Realized at the local level, an epidemiologist can provide support for disease surveillance, worked the public, helped collect mosquito specimens, and supported the environmental health departments and community groups.

Dr. Alleyne explains the impact of working in public health at a local level.

  • Local epidemiologists get to see the impact of their work on their community.

  • Gain experience in all the facets of the field, from collecting specimens, to analyzing numbers, to interacting with media and community. All these skills are assets in positions at larger organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

  • You can apply your knowledge to on-the-ground work.

He gives tips on how to prepare to find a career in public health.

  • Marketability improves when you have experience--whether it is an internship or volunteering in your interest area. There are 3,000 public health departments in the country--get out there.

  • The CDC has a Public Health Associates Program specific for undergraduates to gain experience for 2 years in the field.

  • Get involved with nonprofit and community service organizations in public health

  • Identify a niche area with the greater umbrella of public health.

  • Don’t wait to start gaining experience, even if you are a student.

  • Join professional associations at the national and local level. These provide networking, mentorship and shadowing opportunities to help you break out of the pack.

  • Identify a long-range goals and find a mentor to help you make a blueprint to get where you want to go.

  • Become a great communicator to bring data to life. Make the data personal to the public and the people it affects.

  • Public Health is changing with technology. Learn skills in data visualization or Geographic Information Systems to be to utilize technology in a public health position.

  • Gain project management training, which is not taught at public health institutions. Skills in managing other people, grant writing, and bringing data to life are important for long-term success.

Dr. Alleyne explains what prepared him most for his career in public health.

  • He showed a confidence in his work and a willingness to learn more.

  • Embraced others because public health is a team sport.

  • Used his personal experiences and emotions to interpret data and translate it to the people it affects.

  • Made connections between data, policy, and people.

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