Work experience with certain community response teams may boost students’ job options, study finds


A study by Gillings School of Global Public Health researchers finds that experience in applied public health may influence job choices for public health graduates.

Jennifer Horney

Jennifer Horney

Findings of the study, led by Jennifer Horney, PhD, research assistant professor of epidemiology and manager of the research and evaluation unit at the Gillings School’s N.C. Institute for Public Health, were published online Aug. 16 in the Journal of Community Health. Specifically, Horney and colleagues assessed whether graduate students’ participation in the Gillings School’s Team Epi-Aid program had an impact on their post-graduation employment, particularly whether the experience influenced students to work in government public health agencies after graduating.

Team Epi-Aid was established in 2003 by the School’s UNC Center for Public Health Preparedness to match graduate student volunteers with state and local health departments to assist with disease outbreaks and other applied public health projects.

In September 2010, the researchers surveyed 83 program alumni and conducted follow-up interviews with 8. Forty-nine percent of the respondents reported participation in at least one Team Epi-Aid activity, and 29 percent reported that their participation influenced their post-graduation job choice.

Prior to enrolling at UNC, 36 percent of surveyed students were employed in public health, with more than half of those (53 percent) in government positions. Six months after graduation, the numbers increased – 41 percent were employed in public health, 80 percent of whom were in government jobs.

Five of the eight interviewed by telephone reported that Team Epi-Aid had influenced their post-graduation career.

“We know that public health workforce shortages exist, and that they will deepen with the retirement of the current workforce and the budgetary constraints facing state and local public health,” Horney said. “If experience with Team Epi-Aid can give our students the experience and networks to help them meet these workforce needs, the public health system of the future will be stronger for it.”

Co-authors of the work are Meredith Davis, MPH, research associate epidemiologist at the Gillings School’s N.C. Institute for Public Health; and Kristen Ricchetti-Masterson, doctoral student, and Pia MacDonald, PhD, research associate professor, both in the School’s epidemiology department. “Fueling the Public Health Workforce Pipeline Through Student Surge Capacity Response Teams,” is available online.