Over the years many UW-Madison MPH alum have worked at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). The Communicable Diseases Epidemiology Section has a particularly high number of MPH alumni, so we thought we would learn a little bit about each of their experiences

When did you graduate from UW? How long have you been at DHS? In the Communicable Diseases Epidemiology Section?

Claire Leback: I graduated the MPH program in 2018. I started in the Tuberculosis program October 2018. I also worked for a year in the enteric section before that, in 2014, as a student LTE.

Megan Lasure: I graduated from the School of Medicine and Public Health with my MPH in May 2014. I’ve been at my current role at DHS (Antimicrobial Resistance Epidemiologist with the Healthcare-associated Infections Prevention Program in the Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section) since May 2017.

Jordan Mason: Graduated in 2015. Started at DHS in the Communicable Diseases Epidemiology Section in 2012.

Sarah Koske: Graduated in 2013. Started at DHS in the Communicable Diseases Epidemiology Section in 2012.

Where did you do your practicum/fieldwork? What was your outcome/product?

Leback: I completed my fieldwork at UW Hospitals and Clinics, in the infection control department. My preceptor was also a former DPH employee. I was able to explore the wide role of infection prevention in a healthcare organization, but I focused my project on studying barriers and facilitators to injection safety for both staff and patients. We published the results of our qualitative study in the Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology journal. It was a great experience all around—both my time within the department and the time spent afterwards preparing the article for publication.

Lasure: I did my fieldwork here at DHS with the HIV/AIDS Program and analyzed hospital discharge data to give a summary of the population of people living with HIV or AIDS in Wisconsin.

Mason: The Communicable Diseases Epi Section at DHS. I expanded the surveillance system to have ticks from veterinarians and wildlife rehabs be submitted to the UW-Entomology Lab. I also summarized surveillance data of Wisconsin’s Powassan Virus cases.

Koske: Not surprisingly, in the CDES Enteric Diseases Program. I analyzed Wisconsin surveillance data and wrote a Capstone manuscript entitled “O157 and Non-O157 Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Infection in Wisconsin, 2008-2012: Epidemiology, Risk Factors, and the Importance of Shiga Toxin Screening by Clinical Laboratories”.

What class or instructor/professor left an impression on you? Why?

Leback: I completed my fieldwork at UW Hospitals and Clinics, in the infection control department. My preceptor was also a former DPH employee. I was able to explore the wide role of infection prevention in a healthcare organization, but I focused my project on studying barriers and facilitators to injection safety for both staff and patients. We published the results of our qualitative study in the Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology journal. It was a great experience all around—both my time within the department and the time spent afterwards preparing the article for publication.

Lasure: I really enjoyed Ajay Sethi’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology class, naturally.

Koske: I took a public health marketing elective over one summer which explored techniques for “selling” lifestyle and behavior changes to the public to improve public health, just like an ad executive would use to get you to buy the newest iPhone. I’ve found that strategy very valuable, and more effective than all the numbers and science talk in the world.

How would you describe the work you do in the Communicable Diseases Epidemiology Section?

Lasure: I work with both the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and DHS to investigate and respond to antimicrobial resistant microorganisms.

Mason: I supervise the epidemiologists that conduct surveillance and outbreak investigations of enteric, foodborne, and waterborne diseases. I also serve as a liaison between the program and key partners in other state agencies like the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection and the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene as well as partaking in surveillance activities and outbreak investigations.

Koske: I am a waterborne and enteric diseases epidemiologist in CDES. I serve as the state waterborne disease coordinator and conduct surveillance and outbreak investigations for diseases caused by infectious agents such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Legionella, Cyclospora, free-living amebae, and other enteric pathogens. In my waterborne disease work, I often collaborate with staff in the DHS Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, as well as staff at other state agencies that regulate recreational water venues and drinking water. We provide guidance and answer questions from local county/municipal health departments across the state about these diseases, and develop webinars, educational materials, and other resources for our public health partners and the public as well.

What is the best piece of career advice you ever received?

Leback: Be open to all opportunities. While it’s great to have areas of interest, you never really know where exactly you will end up.

Mason: Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone when the opportunity arises.

Koske: Don’t get stupid.

In your opinion, what should be Wisconsin’s top public health priority?

Leback: Access to healthcare — affordable, equitable healthcare — is huge not only for TB but for all health conditions.

Lasure: Overall public health: racial disparities within the state’s population. Within communicable diseases, Lyme disease and other vector borne diseases, which are only going to become more prevalent as climate changes to warmer and warmer years.

Mason: Addressing health disparities since they are an upstream factor in many public health issues.