Practicum/Student Spotlight – Cyril Patra

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Hi! My name is Cyril Patra. This year I was selected as 1 of the 5 Public Health Community Scholar Awardees. This fellowship was awarded with an encouragement to contribute valuable research in hope for the improvement of the health status of our community. With this opportunity, I chose to work at the Shelby County Health Department in Vector Control for my practicum this summer. Going into the practicum, I was incredibly nervous. I’ve never worked hands-on with insects before! I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very excited to see what would transpire over the course of the summer.

JPEG image-17C3BACAF901-1I learned that the Vector Control department does many amazing things for the community. Specifically in mosquito vector control, the team works on West Nile surveillance in Shelby County. Everyday field workers go out into the county to collect nuisance mosquitoes from Jersey Light Traps and set up and collect Gravid traps for identification of vector borne mosquitoes to be sent to the State Health Department. Additionally, field workers spray insecticide to prevent mosquito population growth and collect mosquito larvae for identification which is then used to document and categorize the locations of where various mosquito species grow. It is a busy day at Vector Control, but there is great team work that keeps the work continuous and strong. What a great team! 

I originally planned to work at the Tuberculosis clinic at the Shelby County Health Department, but then a friend of mine, who currently works at Vector Control, informed me of what kind of work goes on there, and I was intrigued. I am interested in working in Global Health with a vector borne infectious disease focus, and here was an opportunity to learn about mosquitoes and other insects that have the potential to carry disease. So, I took it! I was also looking for a practicum that was data driven to be able to do my research for my thesis for the MPH program. I am so pleased with my decision to work at Vector Control. I have learned so much about mosquitoes from their anatomy and physiology to the insecticide mode of action. My mentor, Ture Carlson, has been a huge help as well. He supports my curiosity and patiently takes the time to answer any questions that I may have.  I really appreciate having a great mentor who takes the time to answer my questions and help me out when I need help, especially because this is my first time learning about entomology.

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Currently, I am working on a mosquito resistance study in Shelby County. Resistance to insecticide is a public health problem. The specific mosquito species I am working with is the Culex species. This species is known to be a vector for West Nile virus. Studying resistance in mosquitoes is important in our county because if there is a high level of resistance to the insecticide, there could be a risk of spread of West Nile Virus if it is present in the county. This will affect the health of our community. In my study, I collect, take care of, and run insecticide resistance tests on mosquitoes every day. A typical day includes spending 3 hours in the morning riding with field workers to aspirate mosquitoes around Shelby County and store them in my small trap. I then transport them to a larger trap with a small pool of water for the gravid mosquitoes to lay eggs, and I feed the mosquitoes with cotton swabs soaked in 10% sucrose water. I work specifically with female mosquitoes as they are the gender that bite for blood meals and have the potential to spread disease. I let the mosquitoes rest overnight, and then the next day I test them for insecticide resistance in the lab. 

In my research, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about entomology while working at this practicum location. By asking questions and encouraging discussions, I’ve learned about how mosquitoes transmit disease. Additionally, I’ve learned how to run lab tests on mosquitoes to test resistance. I’ve had the opportunity to apply what I learned my chemistry degree while working with insecticide chemicals and preparing my solutions to run tests. With the help of my colleagues and mentor, I’ve also had the opportunity to build a mosquito trap from scratch. That was great fun!

JPEG image-7DC6B9571D9B-1I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working alongside great colleagues and learning from them. I also enjoy having an interactive project that keeps me engaged with my practicum. It provides an excellent teaching and learning platform.  

My interest in public health is in infectious disease, specifically in vector borne illnesses. Here at my practicum, I’ve had an interactive opportunity to learn about a key vector in spreading illness: the mosquito. I’ve had the privilege to ask our department entomologists questions and encourage discussions about malaria, dengue, and chikungunya. This opportunity to learn will benefit my future in vector borne infectious disease research and intervention.

Why should future students work at this practicum location?

If you are a hands-on kind of student, I highly recommend considering looking into the practicum at the Vector Control department of the Shelby County Health Department. It’s an opportunity to experience and participate in real world surveillance work and learn about public health impact in the community.  

What advice would you give to future students about finding a great practicum experience?

downloadDo your research. From the beginning of you graduate school career, begin networking and thinking about what you hope to gain out of the program and practicum. I encourage you to pay attention to things in class that catch your attention. Write it down, and then google it further- whether it be a compelling quote or astonishing statistic that moves you to take action. Find mentors by researching people who are working in the field and see how you can parallel their endeavors, but remember to always add you own creative contribution. Remember, public health is utilizing innovative research, data, interventions, and policy to serve and improve the health of the community; it takes teamwork to make a difference. Find your niche and then develop and integrate your talent and skills into it. Furthermore, I encourage you to keep your mind open to learning new things or learning new ways to do things. Step out of you comfort zone, and I guarantee you will gain a great experience. Be curious, ask questions, and stay connected. Good luck!

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Faculty Spotlight – Debra Bartelli, DrPH

bartelli31.       Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in a small university town in southeast Kansas but I’ve lived in a lot of places since college including St. Louis, Phoenix, New York City, South Korea, and Israel. I was living in Hoboken, NJ before I moved to Memphis. I think the fact that my maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to the US as children (from Italy) and both of my grandfathers were illiterate and had limited English skills had a big impact on me as a child and on my views toward the value of education. It also influenced an interest I have in health literacy.

2.       What previous degrees and educational experiences have you earned?

I have an undergraduate and a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology from the University of Kansas and I have an MPH and DrPH from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. But my education continues — I just completed a fantastic 2-week course on health disparities at NIH/NIMHD.

3.       What brought you to University of Memphis?

Good fortune! I had been engaged with SPH faculty and students for several years through my work as Director of Healthy Shelby – a community coalition focused on improving population health in Shelby County. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time when a faculty position opened up.

4.       What got you interested in the field of public health? Was there a defining moment that made you decide to go into public health?

Without going into a lot of detail, I was young and idealistic and thought that governments had an understood obligation to protect the most vulnerable of their citizens. But during a three-year overseas experience, I found that, at least in the area of health care, this was not always the case. I learned that, in fact, many people worldwide lack access to even the most basic health care. When my eyes were opened to that reality, I wanted to know why that was so and what could be done about it. That’s when I decided to put aside my career as a speech pathologist — a career I loved — and study public health. I never looked back.

5.       What are you the most proud of in your career?

While I am very proud of the work I did during my years with Healthy Shelby, I think the work I did earlier in my career stands out for me. Previously, I worked in the area of HIV/AIDS at a time when the epidemic was fairly new and both the public health and medical fields were just beginning to learn how to improve patient engagement in care and to value the patient perspective. Toward that end, the work I did within several hospitals to incorporate people living with HIV/AIDS into the healthcare delivery system as patient advocates was at times very difficult but also very rewarding. And it was effective.

6.       Do you have any interesting, funny, or unusual stories from your journey in public health?

This may not be unusual or even funny but because of my public health background, friends and family are always asking me about medical conditions, saying something like, “You’re a health person, you must know something about X disease.”

7.       What one public health change would you like to see in the Memphis area?

I’d like to see more focus on the social determinants of health and more serious efforts to address poverty and racism in our community.

8.       What is the most important piece of advice you’d like to give to current MPH students?

Public Health is a very broad field with many different paths. Add to that, the fact that people are beginning to see that public health problems cut across many sectors — and their solutions must be multidisciplinary to be effective. So, my advice is to look for ways to learn from and collaborate with other disciplines to solve public health problems — the Case Competition is an excellent way to gain this type of multidisciplinary experience. Take advantage of the opportunity to experience the future of public health.

9.       What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies/interests?

I would say I’m most passionate about the work I do in Haiti. I’ve been involved with a rural community there for the past 11 years where I’m part of a group that works to address public health issues such as clean water, hygiene and sanitation. I was thrilled to be able to share this work with five of our MPH students who joined me there for two weeks in June.

As for other interests, I love to travel and explore other cultures.

10.     Did you ever encounter a situation that demanded a skill you had not expected or developed?

I think I’m still learning to mediate the political influences that impact public health. I was taught repeatedly that health is political but not how to effectively work to change the political structure.

Faculty Spotlight – Soumitra Bhuyan, PhD, MPH

Soumitra Bhuyan, PhbhuyanD, MPH is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Health Systems Management and Policy at the School of Public Health, The University of Memphis. Dr. Bhuyan received his PhD in health services research, administration and policy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2014. His primary research interests include Health Information Systems Management, Health Disparity, and Health Care Workforce. Some of Dr. Bhuyan’s papers have appeared in journals such as Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Journal of Medical Systems, International Journal of Medical Informatics, Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research, Obesity Research and Clinical Practice etc. Prior to joining the University of Memphis, Dr. Bhuyan worked as a research assistant for the Center for Health Policy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center where he published several policy briefings related to primary care workforce. These policy briefings were cited in local and national media outlets including the Associated Press. Dr. Bhuyan was the recipient of the “Rising Star” award from the American Public Health Association’s Health Administration Section in 2013. The award recognizes outstanding potential in the field of health administration and public health practice. Dr. Bhuyan is currently serving as a Section Councilor for the APHA Health Administration Section (2014-2017) and sits on the AcademyHealth’s Health Workforce Interest Group advisory committee.

Interview Questions:

​1. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

I am originally from India. I grew up in a culturally rich town called Tezpur in the state of Assam.

2. What previous degrees and educational experiences have you earned?

I graduated with a Ph.D. in Health Services Research and Administration from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. I have a MPH in Health Education and a Bachelor Degree in Clinical Medicine.

3. What brought you to University of Memphis?

When the University of Memphis was opened in 1912, it was reasoned, “every great city deserves a great university”. After a century, I may not be wrong if I rephrased it to: “every great city deserves a great school of public health”. Memphis is one of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas with huge unmet public health needs. As a researcher, Memphis provides endless opportunities to learn, grow, and serve. Second, I was very impressed with my department colleagues, especially Dr. Dan Gentry. At present, Dan is one of the most recognized experts in healthcare management, nationally and internationally. I hope to learn the intricacies of healthcare management education under his guidance. Our successful CEPH accreditation also underscores the presence of a fantastic leadership team at the school level that includes the dean, associate deans, and the division directors.

4. What got you interested in the field of public health? Was there a defining moment that made you decide to go into public health?

From an early age, I saw medicine as a crucial tool for social development. While such sentiments initially led me towards a career as a clinician, I soon realized that despite of the miraculous advancement of medicine, the health of millions of people around the world is still marginal. The public health issues are often unable to find a place in the national priority lists, even in developed countries like the United States. After a few years, I began seeking a wider perspective and developed an interest in impacting individuals’ health on a structural level through research, education, and the implementation of theoretically backed programming.

5. What are you the most proud of in your career?

When I was a few months old baby, my father passed way in an accident. The day was 20th January 1985. He was a college professor at that time. It was 20th January 2015, I walked into a classroom to teach my first class as a university professor. Nothing can beat that moment of joy.

6. Do you have any interesting, funny, or unusual stories from your journey in public health?

While I was at the College of Public Health in Nebraska, I had a few colleagues working right across from my cubicle. They were very passionate and dedicated in their work. Early in my career, I naively asked this question to myself: “how these people are making differences in the society?” Last year when Ebola terrified our world, some of my old colleagues stood up to the challenge and became the part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Ebola response team. The hospital successfully treated a few Ebola patients and got worldwide recognitions for their work in infection control. It taught me an important lesson. As public health professionals, we may not see immediate results of our actions or policies. At times, we face with severe criticism. But we must continue our mission with a hope that our actions will make this world a better and a healthier place to live in.

7. What one public health change would you like to see in the Memphis area?

As I said earlier, Memphis is a very interesting place to learn and practice public health. We have some of the finest medical institutions of the mid-south. However, the current health indicators of the city’s residents do not support this advancement in medical facilities. Two years back, one survey showed that Memphis is the fattest city in the country. Last year, one scientific study that generated a lot of media attention nationwide found that Memphis is the deadliest major American city for African-American women with breast cancer. Black women diagnosed with breast cancer in Memphis are more than twice as likely to die of it than white women. Another Urban Institute study ranked Memphis in the 5th spot among 100 U.S. metropolitan areas with high-risk profiles for preventable chronic disease. More recently, in 2015, Memphis was named as the “Asthma Capital” in the U.S. due to poor air quality, inadequate public smoking bans, high reliance on asthma medications and many emergency room visits for asthma. These numbers are sad but provide tremendous opportunities for our students to learn and practice public health. Both the faculties and students at the School of Public Health are committed to address some of these pressing public health issues through research and practice. Our school is continuously striving to make Memphis as one of the healthiest city in the Mid-South and nationally. We hope that our hard work will reflect on Memphis’s health indicators in next few years.

8. What is the most important piece of advice you’d like to give to current MPH students?

Learn at least one “hard and marketable skill” while you are at the program. The School of Public Health has some exceptional faculty members covering a very wide array of “specialized” expertise from geographical information system, healthcare finance, statistics to health informatics. Having a specialized skill will make your degree more brandable.This can be guided by a very important question before you even start the program or at least during the first two semesters: “what you would like to see yourself in next 5 years and what do you want to do with your master degree?”. This question is very important, as a clear answer will let you master the skills that you would need once you make transition to the real world. Although it is not an easy task, the real key is to match your learning to your aspiration in life.

Finally, in the face of the vast public health problems the world is facing, your individual contribution might seem small, but as Mother Teresa once said, “A drop in an ocean might seem too little, but every drop you give will one day make a big difference.” Just do not give up.

9. What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies/interests?

One common thing among all the public health professionals is their passion to make the world a better and safer place to live. I am passionate about making differences in someone’s life, no matter how small it may be. I also try to do it through my research, mainly at the systems and policy level. During my free time, I like to play Tennis. I also enjoy listening to senior adults about interesting stories from their lives.

10. Did you ever encounter a situation that demanded a skill you had not expected or developed?

Life, in itself, is a learning experience. I have come across such situations a few times, both in my personal and professional life. We cannot avoid but can only minimize such situations. For example, students planning to pursue a career as an epidemiologist after their MPH degree, should have some kind of understanding about the job expectations of an epidemiologist. They can learn about these expectations by meeting an epidemiologist during their practicum training or internship. The students can use rest of their time in the program to hone the required skills. A lot of times, new skills can be learned during first one or two years of employment. This is usually a period of steep learning curve and you will come across many challenging situations. Another good way to learn the job expectations before joining a job is to read the job vacancy announcements related to your field and match each of the listed requirements against your existing expertise or those need to develop. Last but not the least, the school will probably be the last place where you will be working independently. Learn to collaborate with your colleagues and build some solid communication skills. Again, thank you for choosing the University of Memphis, School of Public Health. I wish you good luck with your studies.

independently. Learn to collaborate with your colleagues and build some solid communication skills. Again, thank you for choosing the University of Memphis, School of Public Health. I wish you good luck with your studies.