I finished my practicum last week with the Tuberculosis (TB) Control Program at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) and wanted to share a few final reflections.
- Practica will inevitably change and evolve throughout the summer – but that’s not a bad thing! I originally thought I would be using surveillance data to estimate the prevalence of latent TB infections in the state. However, I was able to come up with a better strategy after consulting with the TB epidemiologist at DHHS. She illuminated some of the issues with the data reporting system we currently have and encouraged me to consult other estimates from the literature. This new direction allowed me to redirect my efforts to interpreting and assessing the quality of available estimates, which is ultimately an important skill for me as a budding “applied” epidemiologist.
- Practica can be a great opportunity to network and meet people outside of your normal circles. I got the chance to meet with some health departments from other states that had already done a similar educational outreach project around latent TB infections. It gave me the chance to see how other health departments structure their programs and often collaborate across states. I also got to peak into some of the case-level work that TB nurses do in North Carolina and how that feeds into the larger population-level work at the health department.
- Getting creative and taking initiative can help you get what you want out of your practicum. Part of my project involved compiling a list of doctors (called civil surgeons) that are active in providing medical exams for people seeking immigration status adjustment. I wanted to get some practice creating maps and my preceptor was on board, so I took some time to train on Tableau and then create a map of all active practices. This map was useful in presentations I gave to show where these doctors were concentrated, potentially helping to prioritize hotspots for the educational intervention. This map also illuminated that there were “deserts” in the state, where people might have trouble finding a nearby doctor and potentially get discouraged in the status adjustment process.
Overall, the practicum gave me an interesting look into the work that goes into planning an intervention at the state health department and learning how to use my knowledge and interests to potentially add value in unique ways. I am grateful for the opportunity to get some exposure to the government sector and practice some of the skills I’ve learned in the first year of the MPH.