Public Health Career Opportunities

Public Health Career Opportunities
 by Sophia Ma

Are you interested in the field of public health but don’t know what to do next? Read on! There are many paths to explore in the field of public health since it is so multifaceted and consists of various aspects of study  such as community health, environmental health epidemiology, biostatistics,policy and management, maternal and childcare, and global health. Public health is such a broad field, which makes it essential to open up a plethora of opportunities.  A degree in public health can open doors to a variety of careers ranging from governmental occupations to epidemiology.

UC Berkeley’s undergraduate public health major is a great way to build a foundation for a Masters in Public Health. Even without a public health major, a lot of fields such as biology,  applied math, public policy, and anthropology can be applied to public health. A lot of MPH students come from a variety of backgrounds. Furthermore, a background in public health can be applicable for medical school, or any health-related graduate program or professional school,  since knowledge about the healthcare system and how it works is crucial for professionals such as doctors, PA’s, dentists, optometrists, and more. Public health also helps provide a more holistic view on disease diagnoses and treatment, providing solutions to health problems by improving the patient’s way of life and environment along with providing quality treatments, instead of just prescribing medications to merely treat symptoms. This has led to a growing focus on preventative care and integrative medicine. For example, the Tang center has focused on a lot of preventative care and public health with their Health Worker program as well as their wide range of workshops and resources on safe sex, heart disease prevention, and nutrition. The on-call nurses or nurse practitioners is yet another key resource in improving the health of the Berkeley student  community. Most nurses and nurse practitioners at the Tang Center have either taken public health courses or have pursued an MPH.

The MPH program at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health exposes its students to  careers in fields of different concentrations such as: epidemiology, maternal and child health, infectious diseases, public health policy, and more. The SPH actually has a public health internship program, where graduate students get to be matched with a governmental agency such as public health departments or research institutes during the summer to gain firsthand experience.

In an interview with Catherine Nguyen, a current epidemiology and biostatistics graduate student at the UC Berkeley SPH, she shares her personal experience working in the CDPH and Berkeley Department of Public Health as well as her decision to pursue a public health career.

At first, she was planning to become a physical therapist. She majored in Human Biology and Society at UCLA, which was an interdisciplinary major that integrated biology, anthropology, and even public health. It was through one of her epidemiology courses that she took an interest in public health.

She currently works at the Berkeley Department of Public Health as well as the California Department of Public Health through her summer internship. When asked about getting a job during the grad school years she answered,“Some people get it through meeting professors and becoming a research assistant. Grad students have this website with some job postings [I don’t know if undergrads have this too]. A lot of people get a job through the summer internship. And the summer internship is matched through Berkeley.”

Her experience with the Berkeley Department of Public Health and the California Department of public health are vastly contrasting. At Berkeley, her goal is to create a Community Health Assessment, which describes different health indicators in Berkeley such as birth weights ,major causes of death, and major diseases. While at the CDPH,she focuses on tuberculosis, and she uses more statistical methods to evaluate causes, describing her experience there as more “overarching.”

After graduation, she’s planning to work in LA at Analysis Group, a health outcomes and economics consulting group. “I’ve always been interested in applied epidemiology and government, but I’m really curious about how the private sector does their work, so I’m going to do it for them and how they do it differently from the government.”She heard about the job from a friend when the company came to visit the campus, and she applied online. As a word of advice, she said that undergraduates should start with a lot of networking and exploring, since public health is so broad, and doing work. “I totally recommend volunteering or maybe working after your graduate instead of going straight [to grad school.” Just talking to professors and professionals is a great start for a successful career path for any field.

Of course,  to governmental agencies. As heard through the interview, health consulting in private sectors also look for public health professionals.  There are also opportunities in educational institutions, such as being a public health professor or as a community health worker. Pharmaceutical research, the biotech industry, and consulting agencies often recruit people who have public health backgrounds, such as biostatistics. Hospital administration and management is also suitable for those with public health degrees.Many nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood and The American Cancer Society provide significant contributions to Public Health through education and advocacy.

Even with the plethora of opportunities now, the field of public health is continuing to grow. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a projected 15.6 million new careers  the field of public health by 2022. The best idea for now is to keep exploring and learning about the public health, and be on the lookout for newer in-demand job in the future.

Good luck with all your future prospects!




Current Use and Dangers

by Christine Lum

E-cigarettes.  Do you use them?  If you are a teenager, you are more likely to use e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes.  If you are a boy, you are twice as likely to use an e-cigarette than a girl is.  If you are a teen e-cigarette user, you are more likely to start smoking or continue smoking later in life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a shocking statistic on April 16, 2015, stating that e-cigarette use amongst middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. This contrasts with the trend of declining use among youth of traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars.

Is this a bad thing?  Popular opinion states that e-cigarettes are a healthier option compared to regular cigarettes.  So is this true?  Well, yes and no.  E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that allow the user to inhale nicotine through vaporized “e-liquids”.  The difference between e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes is that regular cigarettes contain tobacco, which naturally contains nicotine, unlike e-cigarettes. However, while tobacco certainly is a large contributor to the carcinogenic quality of regular cigarettes, its absence does not render e-cigarettes completely safe.

In a newly published study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, researchers tested the chemicals released by e-cigarettes.  In addition to previously discovered aldehydes and volatile organic compounds, the study found propylene oxide and glycidol in the e-liquid and vapors.  Aldehydes and volatile organic compounds can cause irritation, allergic reaction, emesis, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.  Propylene oxide and glycidol are both potential or probable carcinogens.  Even though e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they do contain other very harmful substances.

thumbnail There also have been more serious consequences to using e-cigarettes.  The batteries are often not well made, which means that they can easily short circuit.  This causes batteries to explode or catch on fire.  In fact, there have been at least 93 documented explosions of e-cigarettes, sometimes occurring while in a person’s mouth.  Manny Almodovar experienced this and lost four teeth in addition to charring his hand.  Exposure to e-cigarettes in children also has very terrible consequences.  This is because concentrated nicotine in the liquids used by e-cigarettes is poisonous.

Nicotine can cause nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  In high enough doses, nicotine paralyzes the respiratory system or causes respiratory failure, leading to tremors, cyanosis, dypnoea, convulsion, collapse or coma.  Unfortunately, according to a study conducted by Pediatrics, e-cigarette exposure to nicotine increased by 1429.9% from January 2012 to April 2015.  Children who were exposed to e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes had 5.2 times higher odds of being admitted to a healthcare facility and 2.6 times higher odds of having a severe health outcome.  In 2014, a toddler from upstate New York died from ingesting e-liquid.

So even though e-cigarettes may not contain as many carcinogens as tobacco-containing cigarettes, they can still cause damage to your health.  In fact in some ways they can be more dangerous, due to poorly constructed batteries and concentrated nicotine in the e-liquid.  What then should a person do?  Reduction in use is the most effective way to reduce ill health effects.

But if stopping use altogether is too difficult, Berkeley lab researchers have provided some methods to make smoking a bit healthier.  First, thermal decomposition increases harmful chemical emissions, so decreasing the temperature of e-cigarettes can probably limit some of their carcinogenic effects.  Second, cleaning and replacing the parts of a regularly used e-cigarette can reduce harmful chemical emissions.  Careful containment of the nicotine-containing liquid should reduce exposure in children.

Additionally, although there is not definitive proof, the Berkeley researchers say that there could be negative effects to those around e-cigarette smokers – second hand vaping.  This, combined with the dangers of nicotine poisoning to children around adults who vape and increased risk of taking up tobacco smoking, show that e-cigarettes affect more than just the people who vape.  Therefore controlling the amount of vaping is not an individual issue, it is also a public health issue.

The city of Berkeley and the UC Berkeley campus sure seem to think so.  UC Berkeley bans all e-cigarette use on campus, and the city of Berkeley recently voted to raise the minimum age to buy e-cigarettes to age 21 on June 9, 2016.  In 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also finalized a rule extending their regulation over vaporizers, vape pens, electronic cigarettes, and e-pipes.  The public will have to wait and see if the new regulations imposed will have an affect on vaping amongst youth.

The recent, rapid rise in use of e-cigarettes demands that we support more research, like the study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to elucidate just how harmful vaping can be.  We also need to pay careful attention to how e-cigarettes are being used, what the effects are, and how we can address this pressing public health issue.


Spotting Fake Health Statistics

Spotting Fake Health Statistics
by Elise Rio

In our current day and age, it has become almost a norm for people to rely on social media as a source for news, for cooking videos, for shopping and more recently, even for health advice. This widespread circulation of potentially fake articles about health statistics can be misleading at best and extremely dangerous at worst. Not only are fake health articles appearing on social media, they are being shared more readily than reputable articles. Social media makes it extremely easy to share articles quickly and often the articles shared on these platforms are more simple and easy to read than lengthy health journal publications. According to a report from the PEW Research Center, almost three quarters of internet users are on Facebook, of which 66% of users get their news from Facebook. The fake news phenomenon can become very dangerous when it comes to health issues and people relying on online sources to treat their potential health conditions.

How do these health statistics affect the Berkeley community? According to a survey I conducted with people of the Berkeley Community, 83.3% of Berkeley students said they saw articles relating to health statistics on their social media feeds and 73% of people who responded said that they read the articles if they had a catchy title. Although 83% of people who answered the survey said they erred on the side of caution with these articles – answering less than six on a scale with one being very critical and ten being very trusting – 41.7 % of people still said that they found themselves applying some of the activities they read about into their daily lives.

Many of these health statistic articles have catchy titles that stick in people’s heads. For example, these articles can have titles such as LiveScience’s article Gum chewing improves test performance, study suggests or this VeryWell article The top five things you need to know about chocolate and longevity. Many of these articles appeal to what people want to hear and give justifications for activities we participate in in our daily lives. Often these articles are formulated similarly with a mix of medical terms and easy to read sentences, catchy titles, very large and convincing statistical numbers and bright colors with a lot of images. Although some of these articles may come from credible sources it is important to analyze these articles critically before replacing studying with a piece of chewing gum. Many of these articles have ulterior motives and can be written by people who work for the companies selling the goods. These articles do not have to be peer reviewed or checked by credible sources before being released on social media to act like super advertisements loaded with believable statistics.

Analyzing health articles can be very difficult especially for those who have never taken a statistics class. There are a couple easy steps that can be followed to stay analytical of these statistical articles.  Firstly, it is important to look at who sponsored the article. If an article refers to a survey that supports its product but was sponsored by product manufacturers, then the article should probably not be trusted because of a potential conflict of interests. Another important factor is whether the surveys come from voluntary response statistics. If the survey is through voluntary responses it will often include response bias because people who reply to these surveys are more likely to have very strong opinions. It is also important to look for faulty conclusions that claim associations between two variables are causal and to stay aware of journal biases that will only publish the positive results. Finally, always watch out for small sample sizes as well as very precise percentages and numbers. Even without any statistical knowledge, with these ideas in mind you can stay critical of health surveys and statistics and avoid falling for misleading traps.

When confronted with health articles and statistics on social media it is important to remember that many of these articles have ulterior motives and feed readers information that they want to hear. Although these articles can sound catchy, interesting, fun, and easy to read, it is essential to stay analytical and to avoid applying advice from these articles without verifying sources. Instead of relying on health articles from your newsfeed, try looking for articles on Psychology Today, Scientific America, or Discover.


Mental Health and Culture: A Public Health Perspective

Mental Health and Culture: A Public Health Perspective
by Sofia Andrade

People often think of mental health as a very personal matter that has to do only with the individual. However, mental illnesses and mental health in general are affected by the combination of biological and genetic factors, psychology, and society. This intersectionality is important, but the heavy influence of societal factors often goes ignored. An interesting aspect of society is its diversity in cultures and backgrounds that affect an individual’s mental health related experiences.

According to “Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity: A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, there are many ways in which culture showed its influence on a diversity of experiences. For instance, culture affects the way in which people describe their symptoms, such as  whether they choose to describe emotional or physical symptoms. Essentially, it dictates whether people selectively present symptoms in a “culturally appropriate” way that won’t reflect badly on them. For instance, studies have shown that Asian patients tend to report somatic symptoms first and then later describe emotional afflictions when further questioned or asked more specifically. Furthermore, cultures differ in the meaning and level of significance and concern they give to mental illness. Every culture has its own way of making sense of the highly subjective experience that is an understanding of one’s mental health. Each has its opinion on whether mental illness is real or imagined, an illness of the mind or the body or both, who is at risk for it, what might cause it, and perhaps most importantly, the level of stigma surrounding it. Mental illness can be more prevalent in certain cultures and communities, but this is also largely determined by whether that particular disorder is rooted more in genetic or social factors. For example, the prevalence of schizophrenia is pretty consistent throughout the world, but depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and suicide rates have been shown to be more attributed to cultural and social factors.

Based on these cultural influences and ideals, people decide how they are going to cope with mental illness and seek treatment (whether that be by seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, primary care practitioner, clergy member, or traditional healer, etc). For instance, some Asian groups have been shown to prefer avoidance of upsetting thoughts with regards to personal problems rather than outwardly expressing that distress. African American groups have been shown to be more likely than whites to handle personal problems and distress on their own, or to turn to rely on their spirituality for support. Cultural factors often determine how much support people have from their families and communities in seeking help. This is particularly important because mental illnesses cannot simply be ignored and left untreated — doing so significantly impacts a person’s quality of life and can cause severe distress and secondary health effects.

Furthermore, research has shown that the mental health experience of minorities has been greatly affected by culture and how society at large views that culture. Racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. are less likely than white people to seek mental health treatment, or to delay treatment until symptoms are severe. This finding has been largely attributed to mistrust due to the history of discrimination and racism and a fear of being mistreated due to assumptions about their background. This goes hand in hand with the issue of clinical stereotyping – that is, the biases that practitioners or mental health professionals have about certain cultures may influence a diagnosis. The Commonwealth Fund Minority Health Survey found that 43% of African Americans and 28% of Latinos, versus 5% of whites, expressed feeling that they were treated badly in the clinical setting because of their background. Another issue is that poor physical health affects mental health, and minorities tend to have higher rates of chronic physical illness, which is often a risk factor for disorders such as depression and anxiety. Yet another arising issue is that of language barriers. This is an issue because aside from pharmacological treatments, a primary component of other mental health services is face-to-face communication. Educational materials may not be accessible in other languages, so for communities that are ethnically diverse, this can make it difficult for non-English speakers to access the full breadth of services. Furthermore, affordability and insurance coverage of mental health services is also an area of concern.

Here at UC Berkeley, Student to Student Peer Counseling (SSPC), a student-run organization on campus that offers confidential peer counseling and puts together mental health-related events, hosted a safe space to talk about this relationship between mental health and culture. “Stigma & Culture: A Mental Health Discussion” took place this past fall semester, in 2016. Ali Manrique, a third year psychology major and SSPC coordinator, was very excited about the event and explained, “There were about 10 of us in the room. We didn’t have much time to advertise it, so there could have been more publicity, but overall it was great! We came prepared with questions such as ‘How do you think your culture affects your point of view in mental health?’ and other questions that we put in a little basket and then we had people answer them. It was a really safe environment and we also had community agreements. We really bonded over how most of our cultures have a lot of stigma towards mental health and we even talked about the difficulty of accessing mental health resources being a minority.” The group concluded that although it might be the case that certain cultures may have more stigma regarding mental health than others do, every culture had a unique perspective on mental health. There will hopefully be another event this semester. To stay up to date with more information about when it will take place, be sure to check out the SSPC Facebook Page. Starting the dialogue about mental health and the many factors that can affect it is the first step in the right direction toward a more stigma-free world in which resources are made available to anyone who needs them.

When Global Philanthropy Fails

When Global Philanthropy Fails
by Emily Huang

In 2016, the American Red Cross made headlines across the nation after an investigation by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley revealed that $125 million of the donations made after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 went to fund internal expenses. According to NPR, “the venerated charity raised nearly $500 million after the disaster, more than any other nonprofit, but an ambitious plan to build housing resulted in just six permanent homes.” While shocking to the public, this scandal is just one of the many incidents over the years of philanthropic organizations misusing funds. How much of this money truly goes towards enacting positive change overseas? Are Americans working to tackle the roots of international affairs, or are they simply fostering a dependency from other countries on the United States as another avenue for cash flow?

In 2015, Giving USA, a publication reporting on the sources and uses of charitable giving in the United States, reported that Americans donated a total of $15.75 billion towards support for the resolution of international issues. This figure marked a 17.5 percent increase in charitable contributions towards global affairs and had many institutes boasting about citizens’ generosity and sensitivity towards foreign countries. While monetary donations may seem like extremely beneficial actions in principle, allocating resources and executing projects using those resources are pivotal to the effectiveness of addressing key global issues. The problem is two-fold. Without having a clear understanding of an organization’s goals and action plan, citizens cannot achieve the greatest impact with their resources on underprivileged countries. As the Red Cross scandal demonstrates, donors should be aware of how their money is being used. Further, philanthropic organizations that simply provide money to underprivileged countries without understanding where their issues originate may ultimately do more harm than good. Many times, inducing change in economic, political, or social arenas requires a significant number of stakeholders and government initiatives. Using money to address problems overseas may help mitigate their effects, but it may ultimately distract from efforts to eliminate the heart of the issues.

As a supporter, there are several ways to combat these issues. Firstly, it is important to be conscious of where the money is being allocated towards. If possible, donators should research an organization’s conduct and records before deciding on whether or not to support their efforts. Secondly, should beneficiaries have specific problems or countries that they would like to address, they should put effort into understanding how they originated and who is involved. For example, if a potential donor were interested in tackling pollution, it may be more impactful to participate in lobbying or campaigning rather than providing monetary support. Finally, patrons should collectively seek to keep organizations accountable for their mission statements. This can be accomplished by following up with campaign leaders and discussing their progress in addressing issues overseas. By being more proactive and informed, citizens will have a better chance of donating their resources to efficient and effective projects.

Overall, the use of monetary philanthropy to solve global issues is a complex action that requires a significant amount of scrutiny. By having a clear understanding of the underlying causes of these issues and becoming familiar with the missions of charitable organizations, citizens can have a more direct and impactful effect on resolving these problems.

Crime Alerts and Safety: What Should We Really Be Warned About?

Crime Alerts and Safety:  What Should We Really Be Warned About?
by Cassidy Farrow

UC Berkeley’s Clery Timely Warnings warn Berkeley community members through email about crime alerts in the area. The name comes from the Jeanne Clery Act, initially signed in 1990, which mandates that the university collect and maintain reports of criminal activity.

The consistent email warnings started in February 2016 when the campus switched to a Nixle communication platform. Nixle does not require special software and can be sent from any location with a computer to make it easier to put out an alert during non-business hours. Nixle is set up so everyone with an email address receives the Timely warnings with the option for other community members to sign up for free.

Each year the campus publishes the Campus Annual Security Report to inform students and community members about safety on campus. While crime reports have always been made available to the public, the email alerts have been a recent addition in the past two years. The goal of these email alerts is to promote safety within the Berkeley community by increasing awareness. This goal claims that awareness of current criminal activities will reduce incidences of crime and is the most effective strategy to keep the Berkeley community safe.

What this system has not accounted for is the high stress it brings to Berkeley students and the misconceptions it causes. There are some weeks where alerts are sent out every day, making Berkeley students feel that the community is unsafe and that there is a high prevalence of crime. These email warnings have led people to believe there is more crime in the area than there actually is. In reality, there has been a decrease of criminal activity in Berkeley over the past two years, but the email warnings have still led people to feel on edge every time they walk alone.

I asked some UC Berkeley students about their thoughts on the email warnings:

“The emails terrify me. When it is past 7pm, I cannot walk alone. I have to call an Uber because I am too scared to walk home.”

“I am more scared when the warning is about a crime that happened around where I live.”

Other students replied:

“I get too many a day and do not open them anymore. Often times the warnings come in hours or days after the crime has been committed.”

“I don’t think that the emails are executed in a way that makes them helpful”

When asked if there has been one race reported more than others in the crime reports, all the interviewees replied, “Yes. Black.”

Although the purpose of these emailed warnings is to inform students of crime in the area, they often bring about feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Many emails have minimal and vague descriptions of the suspects such as their race and gender, the most commonly noted description being “African American male”. Are these warnings increasing safety or promoting racial profiling?

When asked if there have been any complains about the email warnings, Sabrina Reich, the Public Information Officer of the UCPD answered,

“Some people do not want to receive them, and we inform them they can opt out.  Other complaints have come from the way some of the warnings were worded.  We try to listen to complaints or suggestions from the community to improve our warnings.”

Do Clery warnings include all crimes reported?

Reich: “There are very specific Clery crimes which we are required to alert the community to via Timely Warnings.  We put out warnings when we feel there is an ongoing threat to the community.  Some of the Clery reportable crimes include homicide, rape, sexual battery, robbery and aggravated assault.”

What success/downfalls have you found from the Clery warnings?

Reich: “A community is much safer when they are aware of crimes that occur in their community.  One of the essential parts of the Timely Warnings is the crime prevention tips included in the warnings. These tips are crime specific and enable our community members to take an active role in their personal safety.”

Studying Public Health

Studying Public Health

Applying to the Major

by Nikita Bhasin

So you want to study public health?

As a capped major at UC Berkeley, the public health major requires one extra step before declaring: completing the undergraduate major application. The online application is the gateway into a full course-load of public health upper division classes – a two-year immersion that will broaden your perspective on health systems, challenge you to think critically, and give you the opportunity to engage with new material in the realm of public health. The application includes a series of demographic questions, two essays, and a resume. You can find the direct application here.

Most importantly, the application is your chance to portray yourself in a genuine manner, reaffirm your passion for public health, hone in on your goals, and start making tangible decisions that will directly affect your future!

Here are the three main tips that helped me through the application process:

Plant the seeds: Why public health?

Whether you’ve been drawn to studying public health since day one at Cal or your interest in the field was just sparked yesterday, brainstorming will likely aid your essay-writing process. Some questions to ask yourself before you dive into the essays include: Who inspires you? What specific topics do you find the most interesting – nutrition, infectious diseases, health policy, etc.? How do these issues relate to your story? When did you become interested in these topics and why do you think they are important? Is there a specific problem or question that you’re interested in solving that drives you to study public health? Then grab a piece of paper and casually jot down any relevant words, themes, ideas, or pictures – get creative! This may seem like a trivial exercise, but an idea you write down could end up sparking a topic.

Minimize stress

Your application process should be a combination of both effort and ease, and starting early is always a great way to combat anxieties about deadlines. Have a look at the essay prompts earlier and keep the topics in the back of your head. You want to produce an authentic response that is reflective of you, your experiences, and your view of public health based on your story. It may be hard to produce a genuine response when you’re cramming an hour before the deadline – so give yourself plenty of time to work on your essays beforehand. That way, when the application period opens, all you have to do is answer the demographic questions and copy and paste in your essays.

Reach out for clarifications

Don’t be afraid to contact public health advisors or your advisor in general with questions via email. It’s also helpful to meet with an advisor in person, especially to go over prerequisites and ensure you’re on the right track. Advisors can also provide great direction in terms of your career path in public health.

Good luck on your applications!