“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” – Dr. Mae Jemison
Who inspires you?
Many people inspire me, but overall there are three people who have really made an impact on me personally and professionally: my mom and my former research laboratory supervisors- Eun Yong Shim (UTHSC) and Katrina Rothblum (OUHSC). They are intelligent, determined, and have great passion and commitment to their work and families.
What is the most rewarding experience you have had in public health?
In July, we successfully completed the implementation of whole genome sequencing (WGS) at the PHL. CDC PulseNet began a multi-phase, multi-year project in 2016 to build whole genome sequencing capacity in public health laboratories across the nation. Whole genome sequencing provides public health scientists with more detailed and precise data for the surveillance and detection of foodborne outbreaks, and improves our epidemiologists’ ability to link cases of illness to potential outbreaks and to identify common sources of infection.
How did you start working in public health?
I started my laboratory career in 2003 studying the molecular genetics of DNA double-strand breaks and later the role of polymerase associated initiation factor, Rrn3 in rDNA transcription. In 2014, I took the position in the Public Health Laboratory (PHL) as a laboratory scientist in the molecular section.
Can you share a few highlights of your experience in public health in Oklahoma?
As a laboratory scientist in the molecular section, part of the position includes being trained and integrated into the PHL’s on-call testing team for biological threats and other high-priority public health emergencies. My first on-call testing experience was an after-hours call that kept us working late into the evening. Through teamwork and rapid response, we were able to report negative results. Being part of this team and knowing we are the only lab in our state with the capabilities to do this type of testing, drives home the importance of what we do.
In your role, how do you educate people about public health?
As the molecular supervisor, I have had the opportunity to host three summer students from the Molecular Genetic Technology program at the University of Texas-MD Anderson. During the internships, they learned about the public health system and participated in clinical rotations in various sections of the PHL. I have also had the opportunity to talk to students, professors, and physicians about whole genome sequencing and how the CDC and PHL are using it for the surveillance and detection of foodborne illnesses.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
I think the most difficult part of my job is that we are often labeled as “behind the scenes” work, and no one knows who we are or what we do. When a fellow laboratorian told me about applying for this position, the first thing I said was “There’s a laboratory across the street? What do they do there?” This statement often comes up in many discussions I have with people about where I work and what I do. As my career has progressed at the PHL, my mission has been to educate the public and other laboratorians about the importance of the public health laboratory and the key role it plays in the public health system.
If someone was interested in a public health career, what advice or encouragement would you give them?
I would tell them that public health makes a direct impact on the lives of all people and encourage them to educate themselves on the diverse career opportunities that public health has to offer.