Milken Institute School of Public Health
Gillings School of Global Public Health
Jennifer Moore, a health communication specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, joins us today to discuss her work.
For background on the Tracking Program, we’ve included the first two questions and answers from Dr. Ekta Choudhary’s interview.
Could you tell us about the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (Tracking Program) is a nationwide effort to collect, interpret, and report data. The Tracking Program brings together data for environmental hazards and exposures, related health effects, and population demographics and behaviors. By covering these three types of data, this program uniquely fills the information gap between public health and environmental health issues.
The Tracking Program hosts the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network (Tracking Network). The Tracking Network is a surveillance system with information and data from a variety of national, state, and city sources. You can find information on health effects such as asthma, cancer, and reproductive health issues as well as environmental exposures such as climate change, outdoor air, and community water. For information about these topics and more, visit the Tracking Network.
How could the Tracking Network be a useful resource to MPH students?
The Tracking Network collects, interprets, and reports different types of data which can be used to learn how the environment affects people’s health. It provides information about
- Environmental hazards and exposure which are data about chemicals or other substances such as carbon monoxide and air pollution in the environment.
- Health effects which are data about health conditions and diseases, such as asthma and birth defects.
- Population descriptors which are data that help us learn about relationships between exposures and health effects. For example, information about age, sex, race, and behavior or lifestyle choices that may help us understand why a person has a particular health problem.
MPH students can use these data to learn about the environmental health of their community and for school projects. If you are studying health behavior, for instance, you might find our population characteristics page relevant to your coursework. If you study epidemiology, you might prefer to look at our data on cancer, asthma, community water, or air quality.
What do you do with the Tracking Program?
I am a health communication specialist with the Tracking Program. My job is to translate the scientific data and information on the Tracking Network into a language that individual audiences can understand. These audiences include groups like parents, students, and public health decision makers.
My activities include creating fact sheets, social media posts, and other products designed to get our audiences involved with and aware of our program and important environmental health concerns. I am also responsible for sharing those products with health marketing strategies. Translating and health marketing are intertwined. For example, a social media post might be geared towards students and people in academia. Parents and other citizens concerned with asthma and community design in their area might find one of our infographics useful. Each message should be tailored to the audience to be most effective and be shared through communication channels they are already using.
I’m interested in pursuing a career in environmental public health tracking! What types of courses would you recommend?
All kinds of public health specialties can be valuable assets to the Tracking Program. If you’re interested in health communication, there are certain classes you could take that would give you a flavor for the discipline. I’d encourage a mixture of health behavior, health communication, and health education courses. Health behavior classes are good for learning about patterns of human behavior, what drives personal health decision-making, and how to make behavioral changes. I also recommend health policy classes and a basic epidemiology class. No matter what area you end up working in in public health, these classes will be very helpful.
What got you interested in public health?
I had an interesting internship opportunity the summer before my last year in undergrad. I was planning to apply to medical schools, but I did an internship in a small public health firm in Massachusetts where I was able to see the whole gamut of public health. We did everything from family planning to legislation and lobbying for environmental health topics. It really opened my eyes, and I fell in love with it. The thought of getting an MPH and exploring a career in public health was appealing to me.
How did your education and work background prepare you for your job with the Tracking Program?
Writing for different audiences requires a special skill set. You need a solid understanding of science—basic sciences like biology and chemistry, plus social sciences like psychology—and excellent writing skills. In my undergraduate schooling, I studied biology. That gave me a scientific background and an understanding of complex health language and issues.
I chose to concentrate on health policy and management for my MPH. That gave me the program leadership experience necessary for effective health promotion. While I was working on my MPH at Emory University, I was able to do a couple of internships at CDC. That introduced me to the world of CDC. From there, I came straight to the Tracking Program after I finished my MPH in 2007. I’ve been here for 6 years now.
You’ve been with CDC 6 years. What do you love about public health?
I’ve always been interested in how the environment affects us, and how we, in turn, affect the environment. I grew up with asthma, and I was lucky enough to have it treated and explained to me in a clear way. It’s important to me to figure out how to share educational information with the public as effectively as possible. Changing things like our behavior or changing your community environment can really impact your health.
What’s kept me here is the diversity of health communication activities I work on. We are lucky enough to have a cutting-edge management team that lets us do new, innovative communications work. We have a variety of products like videos, social media, and infographics. My favorite part of my job is getting the opportunity to write. It keeps my creative juices flowing. While it can be challenging at times, it’s a balancing act that I relish.
Are there any other experiences that would prepare an MPH student for working in environmental public health or at CDC?
For undergraduates interested in public health, my suggestion is to be as well-rounded as possible. Every graduate program wants well-rounded candidates. I encourage someone in a scientific major to take some classes that get them out of their comfort zone. Maybe take some English or public speaking courses. Also, get out there and do some extracurriculars that aren’t just in the classroom. Build your portfolio because you’ll be presenting yourself to your new schools. Good luck!