USC MPH Webinar: Working in Public Health During COVID-19

View all blog posts under Videos

Hear from a current student of the University of Southern California MPH program as they share their experience working in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transcript

Hello, everyone. We will be starting in about five minutes, just allowing everyone else to just log on and join us but we will start very shortly. Thank you. Hello, and welcome to the online Master of Public Health Program’s Student Spotlight: Working During COVID-19 Part Two, presented by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. My name is Phil Soloria. I am a graduate admissions advisor for the Master of Public Health Program.

And I will be your host for today’s webinar. To begin, I’d like to review what you can expect during this presentation. In order to cut down on background noise, everyone is on Listen Only mode. And if you’re experiencing any technical difficulties, please be sure to refresh your browser. And if you have any questions for any of our speakers, please type them in the Q&A box in the lower right-hand corner of your screen and hit send.

Feel free to enter any questions as you think of them. And we’ll be sure to answer as many questions as time allows at the end of the presentation. Also, a copy of the presentation and recording will be available soon. I’m going to pass this over to Dr. Shubha Kumar, PhD, MPH, to touch on her experience and work within the program. Thanks, Shubha.

Thank you, Phil. Hi, everyone. Thanks for being here today. As Phil mentioned, I am the Director of the Online MPH program and I’m also an associate professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine. I earned my bachelor’s in Biology, my MPH and my PhD in Health Services Management with a focus on Global Health. And I have worked on the design and oversight of several programs in healthcare, education, disaster relief, international humanitarian work.

And I also helped launch an international humanitarian NGO back in the day and continue to work with NGOs for my research. I’m very thrilled to be part of this program. We have amazing students, like the ones you’re going to hear from today who do fantastic work both during the program and when they graduate. And this series was actually really inspired by our students who are doing such amazing work that we thought we’ve got to give them a spotlight to share what they’re doing.

So, very excited to be able to do that today. Before we do that, I’ll just give you a little bit of background about the program and about our school. So, the MPH program is based in the Keck School of Medicine. And we were established in 1885. We’re the oldest medical school in Southern California. We are affiliated with several hospitals and institutes. We are a very strong research school, university overall and also on the cutting edge of patient care.

The Department of Preventive Medicine within the School of Medicine has about 100 faculty. And we are known as leader in public health and population health. We have faculty organized into six different divisions. They focus on global health, bioinformatics, biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health behavior, and it’s a very rich faculties who participate both in academia but also in really agenda setting in the national and global space.

The program itself, we offer a very rigorous curriculum. And our faculty teach both on campus and online program. We have six concentrations that we offer online, including biostatistics and epidemiology, community health promotion, geo health, which is a specialization of spatial sciences and public health, global health, health services and policy, and a generalist concentration for folks who’ve got an advanced degree who want to pick and choose what they would like to study in public health.

But all of these concentrations give students an extra specialty within public health and lead to jobs within those specific fields. As you probably know, this program also includes a practicum component. So, after your coursework is completed online, you would do a practicum, which is essentially like an internship at an agency of your choice, whether it’s where you may be working already, or it’s somewhere in another city, another state, another country, where you’ve wanted to work or a different type of field of public health.

And essentially, it’s a really a hands-on experience where you get to apply what you’ve learned in your classes in an actual setting. And we have partnerships with over 400 sites across the world, and different kinds of sites, whether it’s the WHO, it’s LA County Health Department, it’s an NGO. We’ve got plenty of organizations that we’re partnered with and constantly looking to partner based on our students’ interests for where they would like to get some experience.

And students often use a practicum as really a step to get their foot in the door at the agency where they would like to work upon graduation. So now, I would like to introduce our speakers for today. We are going to hear from Anjelica Velasco, who is a current online MPH student. And her concentration is Community Health Promotion. Anjelica earned her BS in Health Science with an emphasis in Public Health from San Diego State. And she is currently supporting the County of San Diego COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center.

We also have Jonathan Robinson, who is a graduate of our program. And he’s also working on the frontlines of COVID. And today actually had an emergency that he got pulled into with work. So unfortunately, he will not be able to present with us today. So, we hope to have him back in the future. He’s one of our fantastic students doing amazing work while he was in the program. He was specializing in global health and continuing to do amazing work today. So, without further ado, I’m going to turn it over to Anjelica. Thanks, all.

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Dr. Kumar. Good evening, everyone. Thank you all for joining. My name is Angelica. And I am a current student in the MPH program. I am an online student, and my concentration is Community Health Promotion. Today, I want to give you a brief look at my current role in the County of San Diego’s COVID-19 Emergency Response. As well as a quick perspective of what it’s like to be a current student in the midst of all of this, on the online MPH program.

I do want to give a quick disclaimer that all thoughts and opinions during this are my own and not representative of the County of San Diego or University of Southern California. And I also want to apologize in advance for the use of any excess of acronyms. I do work for a government entity and we love our acronyms. So, apologies in advance for that. All right. So, to introduce myself a little bit, let me give you guys all a little bit of my background, I am originally from Oxnard, California.

That is in Ventura County, which is halfway in between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. So, I am a California native. And I moved to San Diego in 2011 to attend San Diego State University. I actually started at SDSU with a major in pre-nursing. And I took Public Health 101. And right after that, I headed over to my counselor’s office and decided that it was time for me to switch. And it was honestly a great decision. It was actually really scary for me because it meant I had to add another year on to my SDSU studies.

But clearly, it was the right decision because here I am coming back for more public health. To give you a little bit of information about my history with the County of San Diego, I actually started as an intern in the Community Health Promotion division, I guess you can say. So really, I’ll get a little bit more into it. But the County of San Diego divides itself into six regions.

So, I was supporting one of those regions to provide health promotion within the community at a variety of different events, and to a large demographics within the county as well. From then, I went on to a full-time job at emergency medical services, where I worked with pre-hospital personnel, most commonly was EMTs and paramedics. And from then, I promoted to an Administrative Secretary where I supported more of the administrative side of that pre-hospital response.

So, looking at the local and state regulations for EMTs and paramedics, as well as hospitals and emergency rooms and ambulances and stuff like that. But currently, I am supporting the COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center. So, that’s really what I’m here to give you all an update about. So, a little bit of background on the County of San Diego’s response to COVID.

It started in February of 2020 when the repatriation flights were coming in from Wuhan and they landed at MCAS Miramar and that’s where the individuals on the flights were housed under quarantine or isolation. And that really would not have been possible without the partnership of local agencies. And in response to this, the County of San Diego officially declared a local emergency on February 14 in a late afternoon press conference.

And that’s what that first photo is. It’s of our supervisor, Nathan Fletcher, giving an update at that presser. And then, the local emergency was ratified by our Board of Supervisors on February 19. And that is the second photo of the Board of Supervisors meeting. And this is early February. So, this was before the face masks and the social distancing was in effect, as you can see, none of those are present in these photos.

So, for the current situation in San Diego, just to bring you up to speed. This graph shows some of our percentage of positivity, along with our testing efforts. So, really what this is showing in the orange is, they’re very hard to see, but that’s the new cases coming up from day-to-day. And this really gives us a look from September 14 through October 13. So, it’s a very recent snapshot. The teal bars are actually reported tests on daily.

So, you can see that we’ve been putting in for our testing to get our community tested. The blue line that’s across represents a rolling percentage of positive tests. So, that’s our number of positive cases, and along with our number of testing efforts, reported tests throughout the county. And that includes the county lab, as well as some commercial labs and hospitals as well, to give a really bird’s eye view of the snapshot that’s happening.

So, to give you a little bit more background on the geographical areas within San Diego County, San Diego County is made up of 18 different cities. And all of those cities for the most part are fairly coastal when you look at the large overview of the map. So, we have a large amount of geographical area that is considered unincorporated, which would be the county jurisdiction. So, the colorful photo that you see of the county map. It has a couple different colors in there.

And that represents really the regions that County of San Diego breaks down. So, the orange would be our North communities. And the green, both the dark green and the light green represent our North Central regions and our Eastern regions. And that’s where I did my internship. So, it was providing health promotion to those two regions. And as you can see, that’s a lot of area. And there’s a lot of different demographics within those areas.

So for me, it was a real learning experience to learn how to really tailor health promotion efforts to different communities and what their needs are and language barriers, stuff like that, different religions and how to tailor that to populations. And then, the blue regions represent Central San Diego, which would be the Downtown area and Southern San Diego. So, I also included a couple pictures of the different regions, the different areas within San Diego County.

Some of the unincorporated areas, the more rural areas included Valley Center, Julian, Ramona, Alpine, and then the Anza-Borrego desert, which is where the flowers are. And that’s where the super bloom happens, where everyone comes and takes pictures. And then, the bottom photos include more than urban areas. So, Downtown San Diego, North Park, Hillcrest, Little Italy, Pacific Beach, and of course Coronado Island. And that’s the photo of the bridge.

All right. So, to go back to the COVID response, this is an overview of the FEMA Incident Command System. And this is a system that the County of San Diego is utilizing to respond to COVID. So, we are very well-versed in knowing how to respond to a natural emergency, and that’s what the FEMA incident command system was designed for. So, earthquakes, floods, any really natural disasters, fires, hurricanes, things like that.

So, in the FEMA ICS system, there are four different branches. So, you have operations, planning, logistics and finance. And then, there are various support roles within each of those four divisions. But for the most part, it’s those four divisions. And all divisions report up to the incident commander. And the incident commander is really that decision maker. Depending on the emergency, there could be more than one incident commander.

But they would work together as a team. And then, those would be the folks that everyone would report up to, and they would have the most up to date information. So, this graph over here, this org chart, I should say over here is really the county’s Incident Command System. And this really gives an overview of how we modified that system based on the FEMA ICS. And because this is a health emergency, we really needed to add some components in there that aren’t in there for traditional FEMA ICS system.

So, one of those components that we added is not only do we have an Emergency Operation Center, but we also have a Medical Operation Center, which we refer to as the MOC. So, the MOC is included at the bottom of this org chart just to show the flow of information. The MOC director would report directly to the incident commander. And so, they’re a key part. They function with us.

And the other unique part about this response is that there are some folks who are serving a role in the emergency operations and in the medical operation. So, they wear two hats some days. And that’s because they’re experts in responding to emergencies. So, we need their expertise in many different areas. Again, at the top, you can see the incident commander.

And we also have modified our chart to include a policy group, which includes about six or seven different individuals who helped influence those decisions both for looking at administrative perspective, that political perspective, as well as that medical perspective, and what is best for the public health and the medical needs of the community. So, that’s a unique change that we did make to our response.

I originally reported to the planning team, which is one of the teams in blue. And I reported directly to, still report, directly to the planning chief. And my role was to help support the planning team, but primarily to develop the daily situation report. And I’ll get into that in just a minute. But that was where I really started in the emergency response. So again, I reported to the emergency operations at our planning team. I began my assignments on March 12.

And these two photos here are a sample of what our situation report looks like. So really what it is is it’s a snapshot that shows the last updates within the past 24 hours, what we call reporting periods. And it is a daily product. We still produce it seven days a week. And includes updates from our epidemiology team. So, the increase in cases includes links to our website, where the public and non-county folks can go to obtain information every day.

And where they can pass it along to refer to their colleagues, like this is where you can locate it on the website. We also include links to CDPH and the Johns Hopkins Dashboard. So, anything that’s helpful for reference for COVID. On the some of the later pages, we include updates from our sectors. And this is something that we formed really early on. We have quite a few sectors that we do weekly or biweekly telebriefings with just to keep everyone informed.

So, we have a business sector, we have a binational sector, we have a government sector, as well as faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, education at various levels, military and veterans, and older adults, among a few others. Really so that we can keep everyone informed of the various needs and the unique challenges that COVID provides to really help our community respond as best we can.

At the beginning of this, there was also a lot of coordination with numerous agencies. And that was very tricky at first. We had some half who really understood public health and the need there, and the other half who were used to responding to different sorts of emergencies. And as the social distancing came into play and the facial coverings, that dynamic change with our outside partner agencies as well, which is very unique.

So, we did have other local agencies, city government for example, state agencies, Cal OES. And then, we did have a lot of communication at the federal level, mostly with our fiscal stuff. So, actually, one thing that was really helpful that we already had in place, we call WebEOC. So, it’s an online platform where all of our different emergency partners so from the cities, from Office of Education can input their responses or their updates, any documents that they need to share with the entire group.

And this was in place long before COVID. Actually, I had a training on it years ago, and I never thought I would actually be using it. So, it was actually very helpful once we needed to social distance and go a little bit more virtual to already have that communication in place. And then of course, supporting the planning team would be any other duties as needed. My current role changed about July of this year.

I still do the situation report but I’m now the lead of the situation report team. So, I have a few others who helped me. Because it gets a little exhausting to produce reports some days a week by yourself. But I also provide administrative support for the incident command team. And that means that I coordinate all the other admin leads for the various other teams. We have five other teams and they have a number of other admin leads.

So, coordinating all that to make sure we’re all on the same page. As well as coordinating with my SITREP team to make sure that we have coverage every day, and folks get days off when needed. And then, I also provide some updates at the Board of Supervisors meeting. I prepared the PowerPoint for our public health officials and executive leadership to update the board with. And the picture on the slide is an example of our first slide for the board.

And this was what we had given two weeks ago or a week ago. So, we have another board meeting coming up next week. That has been very interesting as well in maintaining knowledge of what each team is doing. Just in case I need to update my leadership, and reminding them of, “Oh, remember this update happened. We announced this at a press conference,” those little details. And of course, any other duties as needed.

So here, I wanted to share some photos for you all. That top photo is actually one that we took probably early July. And this is of the team that reported to either the EOC or the MOC every day. And you can see it’s actually quite small because this is about one third of our team, two third were actually teleworking to support us so that we were able to maintain social distancing. So, this was a photo that one of our staff member’s family had a drone and took drone photos.

So, that’s what we did here. Because it would be really hard to get a picture of us all six feet apart with just an iPhone camera or something like that. So, we took a couple of drone photos and we really wanted to get most of the team in a photo. And then, the bottom two photos are of what the actual Emergency Operations Center looks like. So, you can see there’s a lot of screens all over the place.

And they display a lot of different information for all of the teams. There’s a few screens in here that have our green boxes in them. And that’s what our WebEOC looks like. So, the green boxes are for updates that have a low priority. Any updates that are yellow are a medium priority and that a red update would be a high priority. So, it’s a stoplight, a system to get your attention. All right. So, responding to COVID while being an MPH student.

So really, I wanted to update you all on why I wanted to pursue an MPH degree. And I knew that MPH was the right fit after I did my Community Health Promotion internship. And even now that I’m working really in public health every day and next to public health professionals every day, I know that it was the right decision. And I’m so glad I followed my instincts to go ahead and go back to go back to school to get an MPH. Why attend class online?

This was actually a huge decision for me when I was applying to grad school. Really going to class online helps me maintain my work life-school balance. And it also helps me be home a little bit more because part of what I do when I’m home is I help to foster rescue dogs. And that’s some of the photos that are on this slide. So, the German Shepherd on the top is actually the foster dog I have right now.

He’s downstairs waiting for me to wrap this up so I can go hang out with him. And the little black dog with the pink collar is actually the one who we first thought is fostered. So, she started this whole mission. And it’s actually one of the ways that I helped maintain my work life school balance, because they force me to take time away from my computer, and they force me to take a break in the best way possible.

The black and white spotted dog, his name is Bruce and he is actually available for production. So, I did want to spotlight one who was available if anyone’s interested. And so really, I love the ability that I can go to school and learn things from anywhere pre-COVID, it can be at Starbucks, it can be right here at home, it can be at work if I need to stay at work a little bit later. Those options are great for me.

And that’s really what I was looking for and this program allowed me to do that. My favorite projects, actually, so far during my MPH degree, I actually had one where I was able to interview and learn about a local federally qualified health center. And that was great for me because it was an organization that I had driven past and seen billboards for but to actually get to know about them in my community was a wonderful experience.

I also had another recent project where I got to evaluate a leader, and do a quick little spotlight. And then, so I chose the County of San Diego’s public health officer. And I knew she was a great leader before but getting to see her in action to do what she does has actually just been amazing. So, to get a chance to brag about her was great. And actually, one of the most interesting ones was an assignment to make a professional Twitter account.

And that was something that I didn’t know how to do and I probably would never have done without the guidance of my professor. So, it’s really been great to look at social media in a more professional lens, not in a personal updates on the weekends lens. So, that’s really been great. And it’s been helpful for me to stay up to date on things and to be informed. And COVID-19 response and being a current student intertwine actually perfectly.

I get to work next to public health professionals every day. I get to hear their tips and tricks for how they got to a level that they are. And I also get to apply the stuff that I’m learning at work. So, I really get to practice it, and not just learn it but really get that hands-on experience, virtual hands-on experience, which is great. One of the things that has been most beneficial is I actually work really close to the epidemiology team.

So, to see what they do gives me a true respect for what epi does, and how they use data to really benefit the community, and to make healthy communities. And the biggest takeaways that I’ve had from working during an emergency response is really to understand that not everyone comes from a public health background, and to really try to meet them where they are. To not preach so much but to really take a step back and understand that public health is my passion, but it’s not everybody’s passion.

So, how do I communicate with folks to really get them to understand the social determinants of health, to get them to understand the differences in socioeconomic status and what that means long term? So, that’s been a real eye opener for me. And I’m grateful for that before I really start on my public health career, to know how to change the things that I say to folks to really get them interested in public health.

And really, it’s learning how to move public health topics to the top of really an agenda for elected officials. So, anything in public health that we’re really fighting for, if it’s environmental health or reduction of smoking, anything like that, it’s helpful to have some legislation on our side. So, really learning how to communicate that has been a great takeaway from this response. So, a little bit about what I see as my next steps. I see as an option to move up in county leadership.

But also open to opportunities in nonprofit leadership. Really looking at pre-COVID what I thought was my plan versus post-COVID what I think is now my plan. Interaction with different county leadership and folks from different departments that I wouldn’t have had before has really been an eye opener. But also with our local public health leaders, our external partners, our Live Well partners, who partner with us at the county level has been great to see their unique experiences.

Their expertise on their different areas in the community has been great. So, that’s really opened my eyes to a different side that I don’t see in my normal day-to-day. And finally, some advice for both future and current students. My biggest hesitation before applying to the program was I was really nervous about whether or not this was the right decision for me. I was really worried about the time it would take and the cost as well.

And actually, now, my biggest regret is waiting so long because of that fear. It’s actually a great decision, I wish I would have made it a year ago. But I’m here now. So, I’m grateful for that. And that was really my biggest hesitation before applying. For any of you future students out there, if your gut’s telling you that it’s the right decision, it’s probably the right decision. My biggest concerns during the program, actually to be quite honest with you, it was really that student-work life balance.

And that’s where I’ve been really grateful because a lot of my managers or supervisors pre-COVID or post-COVID were either graduate students while they were going to work full-time. So, very supportive. And right now, a lot of my leadership, our current graduate professors, or previously, were professors, so they understand that student life, and they’re very supportive. So, I’m grateful for that. It was a huge concern for me, and it ended up not being anything that I needed to worry about.

My best experiences during the program actually are the connections that I made with my classmates and with my professors. We do have live sessions over Zoom, but that doesn’t make me feel like I’m far away from them at all. In some ways, I feel more connected to them than the classmates that I had at SDSU when I was in-person going to class. So, that’s been actually the biggest surprise for me. I thought I’d be doing this on my own, and I’m 100% not.

And then, lessons learned, I really learned about the importance of networking, and I encourage all future and current students to take that as a tip to just always network. You never know who the person you meet knows and how they can connect you on to a great project, or with a great mentor. So, you never really know. And that’s a huge lesson that I learned so far. And also, public health has so many different fields to work in that it is impossible to get bored. And I’m a person who likes a lot of options. And public health definitely has that.

In the MPH program, the professors here know so much about the different avenues that you can go in in a topic that seems so straightforward. And that’s been one of the great things that I’ve learned so far during this experience. So, here’s my contact info and my email address in case any of you want to reach out to me outside of the Q&A session for more specific questions and discussions. And thank you all so much for

Thank you, Anjelica, for sharing your experience and everything you do. Next, I really want to just take some time to go over any questions that anyone might have. We did receive a few already. So, if you have any questions, please be sure to share them in your Q&A box so I can make sure that we are able to address those, and we’ll get to as many as we can. So, there’s one here for Anjelica. As you rose through the ranks in the county, how did you find your jobs? Search the job database, or recommended by coworkers?

Sorry, had to find the unmute button. So, that’s a great question. Government jobs are hard because the application process is not as straightforward as it is some other employers. So, all of the county jobs are through governmentjobs.com. And you can search. It’s not just specific to county, they also have city jobs as well. And I’m sure they would have state level jobs. I’m not quite sure about that one. But that’s how I found it and you apply through them.

Some of the jobs where they get a lot of applicants. So, for the office assistant for example, that was my first full-time job at the county. They opened that job posting at 8:00 a.m. And they closed it when the first 1,500 applicants applied. So, you sign up for a notification email, and it notifies you, let’s say, two weeks in advance that the job will open at Monday at 8:00 a.m. And here are the questions that you need to be prepared to answer.

So, I would have the answers already ready in a Word document. And then, I have an alarm set for 7:50. And I’d have everything ready. And as soon as it opened, I would just submit everything. And that’s how it went. But it was that due diligence on my part to know when it’s opening, what the questions are, answered them ahead of time. Because there is that possibility that it could close. Most of that, I knew because of my internship supervisors.

So, it was very hard for me to navigate and take the time to do it on my own. Well, really, it’s only been the offices and admin secretary. There’s only two full-time positions that I’ve held. All of the other ranks that I’ve climbed have been a little unofficial because of COVID and more as a temporary assignment. But the administrative secretary was actually recommended to me by one of the leaders within my EMS, Emergency Medical Services Division.

But it is going through that website, really checking out what do I qualify for? What am I interested in? And signing up for those job notification options. And then, they email you and then you can get ready and get prepared.

Perfect. Thank you, Angelica. I’m going to give you a break for a little bit since you just spoke. This one, it looks like for Dr. Kumar. And the question is, what do you recommend in terms of internships that we can do since we cannot do the in-person internships for epi? And maybe Dr. Kumar, maybe you could speak to that even with the practicum as well, right, the same thing.

Sure, yeah. So, a lot of our students are in that boat right now. And basically, folks are doing virtual practicum in the same way that we’re all working from home. Due to the pandemic, they are working from home for their practicum. So, again, it’s not the typical experience one would have, but given the circumstances, we have figured out ways for students to be able to do their practicum spiritually. I hope that answers the question.

Yeah, and I think there was a follow-up to that too, Dr. Kumar. It says Dr. Kumar indicated that an individual can select the organization that want to conduct their practicum. Are there networking opportunities to make connections?

Yes, absolutely. Great question. So, there’s lots of networking opportunities throughout the program. First of all, your cohort. Other students in the program are often working in different organizations. So, you have access to wonderful students, also alumni who are working in all kinds of places that you may be interested in. Our faculty are very well-connected. We do offer an annual job fair that students are invited to so they can meet directly with employers.

We are also constantly at the department and affiliated institutes and you will see overall for that matter, inviting amazing speakers from different organizations to give talks. And students are of course welcome and encouraged to attend those talks. And if it’s an agency where you want to work, you’re welcome to follow up with that individual. So, there are plenty of networking opportunities to really find that organization that you want to work with.

Perfect, thank you, Dr. Kumar. This is a common question. And for you, Anjelica, and I hear this a lot. But what has been one of the biggest challenges of online classes and your work life balance. So, we get this question, just how do you handle that? How many hours per day, if you can maybe speak to that a little bit?

Yeah. So, it definitely changes by day and actually really changes by week recently. So, actually, when I’m preparing to do the Board of Supervisors presentations, those weeks are a little bit more work heavy Friday through Monday, the board meetings on Tuesday. So Tuesday, everything has to be ready. But that work lets me take a step away on that following Wednesday, which is really great.

And so, I’ve learned really to ask for that help to step away instead of trying to do everything all the time, and then not being able to do anything very well. So, that was really a learning lesson for me that I probably should have mentioned earlier was learning to I have to take a step back, and I have to not be at work for 80 hours a week in order to be successful on this program. Because my future depends on it. And that’s really important. It’s also been a lot of communication with my counselors here at USC.

I actually had a counselor discussion today where it’s checking in and really making sure that what I have coming up next on my plate will balance out with what I need to do next in my program. And along with that is also communication with my professors. So, COVID has put extra hours on my to-do list for work. But it’s also such a great opportunity to really learn stuff in school.

Especially, I’m going to use an example, learn concepts for epidemiology, and then take it with me to work and be able to ask my epi team, “Hey, I’m really struggling in this, can you show me an example referring to COVID?” And they guide me in, “Here’s a dataset, now manipulate the data based on what your professor already told you.” So, it’s leaning on the resources that I have available to me.

Including my USC support, my counselors, my professors, my TAs, my classmates, but also leaning on the support that I have at work. Nobody at work wants me to fail. So, it’s really communicating to them what it is that I need. And then like I said, those pups really help me take some time to close computer, to put my cell phone away, and just take a moment to live in the moment because that’s what they do.

So, that’s how I balance it all out. Some days are better than others. But that’s been the nicest thing about the stay-at-home order is that I don’t have to say no to my friends when they asked me to go out for dinner or something because I have to study. So, that helps in that aspect as unfortunate as it is that we can’t go out and do fun things.

Thank you. And you know what, I want to just touch on a little bit more about that. You just spoke to you speaking to your counselor, your communications with professors, another question came in, does Anjelica have a mentor and how does she connect with this person? And I think it’s a question for both of you. And it’s a common question I get. I mean, but do online students have the same access or the same access to campus resources as an on-campus student does?

I personally feel absolutely yes, 100%. And I’m not sure how much of that yes comes from being an online student before everyone had to be an online student. So, when I started this program, there was an orientation. You learned who is who, who do I go to if I need help? And that was really nice because there is constant communication, checking up on us. How are you doing? Right now, we’re in the middle of the semester.

So, there’s check-ins in every class to know what’s going on. How are you doing? What can we do to help you more? So yes, I absolutely feel connected to my USC community, even though I don’t physically attend class on campus.

Perfect, thank you. And then, another question came in, I think just more about your background, Anjelica. It says, how are different populations within the county considered in day-to-day public health work, same units focus on all four or different units for different populations?

Typically, it is the same units focus on the same populations. But the difference there is really when it comes to the regional teams. So, like I said, there are six regions within the County of San Diego. Six regions that we use. The cities will use something different. But each of them are really divided into three super regions. So, you have a North County team. My team was Eastern or Central, so it’s in the middle. And then, you have Central San Diego and Southern San Diego. So, those teams are really supposed to be experts on their regions.

But each of those regions have a variety of demographics. So, that’s where our partners really come in. So, we do partner with, for example, Indian Health Services, and they’re really our liaison for communicating with that population. We have partners who help us with military and veterans, so that we can communicate best with those populations. So, it’s really leaning on our partners, and really accepting the fact that we cannot be experts all the time.

So, who is an expert? And what can we use from their experience to really reach this population that needs help. But there is one Department for Aging and Independent Services. So, that’s one of our departments. And they do partner with regional teams, as well as outside organizations, local organizations, to best serve that population. And it is that understanding that the needs of the population also change over time. So, it’s really listening and being willing to new suggestions and open to new ideas.

Perfect, thank you. There’s just a lot of questions for you, Anjelica. So, another one it has, San Diego had another public health issues of the scale, it seems a lot of infrastructure was in place.

We’ve had a few. So, we did have measles. We had Hepatitis A. We had H1N1, where we had various experiences. And those were, of course, different populations. The only thing we haven’t had before is something that was statewide, nationwide, global. So, that is something that is new for us. And also, what was really new for us was that stay-at-home essential workforce only. And the teleworking obviously is something very new for us. I think we’ve been able to adapt quite well. It’s been very interesting.

It was amazing at the beginning to see how many laptops needed to be ordered, and how many webcams needed to be ordered, and some of them are still on backorder. So, that was something that we weren’t necessarily prepared for in that sense. But yes. And we do have a team actually who we call Public Health Preparedness and Response. So, they are prepared for emergencies like this. But previously, their focus was on bioterrorism. But the infrastructure, you’re right, was already there. We just had to adapt it and morph it to fit COVID in a sense.

Thank you. Another question for you. Do you feel you get to know your classmates through live sessions and group work?

Yes. Live session, there are a number of classes who actually they’ll break out the Zoom live session, not every live session, but there are some that breakout into these group rooms. So, it’ll be maybe five or six of us. And we might have a task that we’re trying to complete, or we need to strategically figure out how to answer these four questions, stuff like that, where we get to know each other, we get to know a little bit about each of these backgrounds. And that’s great.

There’s usually at least, after the first or second live session, somebody starts some Google Hangout, or they start a study group. So, you guys are getting together to study but yes, your personal life and what’s happening intertwines in that. So, absolutely, I definitely feel connected with them. I feel it’s actually really exciting to learn about what they’re doing in their work, what brought them back to their MPH program, what they want to do in the future.

So yeah, and that’s networking in itself to know, hey, I have my classmate in Chicago, and they’re doing this awesome thing. And maybe I want to do that after I finish. So, that’s one of my favorite parts.

Perfect. Dr. Kumar, maybe you could answer this question that just came in. How many years of professional experience do students typically come in with? And are you required to have professional experience related to health care?

Sure. Typically, students will come in with about five to seven years of professional experience. Although, we have students from across the spectrum, including those who are coming straight after undergrad, maybe they want to go for further schooling. Or they knew they wanted to do an MPH right away all the way to students who’ve got 30, 40 years of experience. So, we got a whole spectrum of students.

And there’s not a requirement to have worked in healthcare by any means. It could be helpful because it may point you into directions that help you figure out what you want to study, what track you want to do. But it’s not a requirement at all.

Perfect, thank you, Dr. Kumar. I saw a few questions on just the tracks or concentrations. What if we wanted two areas, like do a combo, what would you recommend?

Yeah. It is possible to do two concentrations if a student wants to. I mean, that may just mean you’re taking more classes and staying in school a little bit longer. Sometimes, we’re able to make core substitutions if there’s a particular course you really want to take that’s not in your track, but it’s in another track. So, we want this program to work for you. And we will be flexible and trying to accommodate your needs.

Actually, while it’s on my mind, I just want to touch on one of the other questions that had come up previously in terms of a mentor. One thing students should know or prospective students should know is that all of our students who come into the program are assigned a faculty mentor when they join the program. And that faculty mentor is with them throughout their duration in the program. So, that’s another source of mentoring that’s constant. Back to you, Phil.

Okay. Let’s see another. Well, since we’re on tracks, this one was for Anjelica. How did you choose your track?

Great question. That was one of actually my hesitations that I forgot to mention when I was deciding to apply back for my MPH. I was undecided in between Community Health Promotion and the Epidemiology track. So, what I did was I asked quite a few questions using the resources that I had at my fingertips and I job shadowed. We have a community health statistics unit. And they provide their team of epidemiologists and they provide data to anywhere within the county jurisdiction.

So, I job shadowed them for about a month. And I saw what it was that they did. They were in the same building as me at work. So, it was very easy. There was limited travel involved. But again, it took me asking those questions to be able to do it. What they do is fascinating, but I knew after about two weeks that that’s not where my brain wants to be. And I really missed that community health promotion side.

And interacting with either the public directly or with partners, who were figuring out how to provide that health promotion once the epi team was able to show us the data and show us the gaps and show us where the needs were. So, that was half of where I decided. I also had a lot of discussions with my advisor when I was applying, to say, if I apply Community Health Promotion, how hard is it to switch over to epidemiology and vice versa? So, it was really asking those questions and trusting my gut.

Perfect. Thank you, Anjelica. And this could be a question maybe for the both of you. It just came in, I am most interested in bioethics, clinical research and getting more communities of colors engaged in different trials. Can you tell me what program closely aligns with this endeavor?

Sure, I’ll take a stab at it first. I would probably think that Health Promotion track is maybe the most aligned with your goals here if it’s really about getting folks into clinical research. If the idea is to focus on aspects of clinical research and how to do it, then it would be biased as an epidemiologist.

I’m going to second Dr. Kumar’s answer for that one.

Perfect. And then, another question. And we only have a few minutes left. But we’ll try to get to just a couple more. I think this is a good one, too. What type of resources are available by the department to assist its students with transitioning from classroom to the workforce?

So, we have a practicum coordinator who can support you and try to find your practicum as well as a practicum director. Because that’s one step towards the workforce. Then, we also have a career counselor who’s dedicated to the MPH program. Well, like I mentioned, we have an annual job fair. We are constantly putting out opportunities to advertise jobs and internships. So, there’s plenty of avenues for support in that way.

Absolutely. As a current student, I would definitely second that because there are frequent email notifications that can add about job opportunities and practicum opportunities. And they’re not specific to any geographical location, which makes it very nice for students who don’t live necessarily in the Los Angeles or California area. There’s a number of opportunities that go out at the beginning of the semester, at the end of this semester, all the time.

I know we have quite a few more questions. So folks, I’m going to run through them really fast, because we just have about a few minutes left. So, real quick. Is there support for learning to use all the electronic media? Yes. At the beginning of the program, we provide you with training and tools of how to use the core software. And then, throughout the courses, there’s always instructions on how to use things. Let’s see. In terms of requirements, does USC require GRE and other TOEFL scores to enter the program?

As of now, we no longer require the GRE. We used to but we do not anymore. TOEFL scores may be required. You should check with your admissions advisor, and they can assist you with that. Let’s see. Do you know how many of the MPH students are pursuing a second graduate degree? I would say good chunk, at least 30 to 50% of our students do another advanced degree. But that’s typically before they come to the MPH.

So, a lot of times, this is their second graduate degree rather than their first. With the exception of several students will often do an MPH, let’s say, before going for medical school. Any other questions that stand out, Phil, that I can try to answer right now?

I mean, the only one I see here, it just came in. Is there an opportunity to apply US International Medical graduates who want to develop more skills in public health and data analysis? That just came in.

If understanding this correction, excuse me, if I’m understanding your question correctly, we have several international medical graduates in the program. And a lot of them choose to do the Bio Stat Epidemiology track to make the brand of medicine as well as clinical research. I know we’re going through some of these questions quickly. So, I would invite you guys to email your admissions advisors.

If you have further questions, or ones that we didn’t get to, feel free to email the admissions advisors and they can get in contact with us to answer any the follow-up ones that we didn’t get. So, I’m going to turn it back to you. I see that it’s 7:00.

Okay, perfect. I mean, it looks like we’re almost out of time. So, if we didn’t get to your specific question, we’ll be sure to reach out to you on a one-on-one situation. We’ll be sure to answer any questions that you might have. But at this time, I’d really just like to thank Dr. Kumar. I’d like to thank you, Angelica, for sharing your experience. It really does mean a lot to us. Lastly, I’d just like to thank you again for taking the time out of your day to hear more about today’s topic.

As a reminder, for the next steps, here is my contact information with my email address included. If you have any other further questions, or if there were any that we did not get to today, we’ll be sure to send you a quick follow-up email to get these answered. Thank you all so much again. And just a reminder, a copy of this recording, and slide presentation will be available in the next following days. Thank you for joining us. We hope everyone has a good evening and a great rest of the week.