Name: LT Kerton R. Victory, PhD, MSc
Occupation: Environmental Health Officer/Epidemiologist
About me: I am an Environmental Health Officer/Epidemiologist assigned to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Emergency Preparedness and Response Office (EPRO). I currently serve as a NIOSH emergency coordinator supporting the Center for Disease Control and Preventions’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). In addition, I have led several Health Hazard Evaluations (HHEs) in the U.S. impacting worker health and safety.
I am also is a graduate of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) program, a 2 year post-doctoral training program for health professionals interested in the practice of applied epidemiology sponsored by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). EIS officers serve on the front lines of public health, protecting Americans and the global community, while training under the guidance of seasoned mentors. When disease outbreaks or other public health threats emerge, EIS officers investigate, identify the cause, rapidly implement control measures, and collect evidence to recommend preventive actions.
While I was in the EIS program, I was assigned to the NIOSH HHE Program in Cincinnati, Ohio from August 2014-May 2016. I worked on several projects including evaluating crystalline silica exposures among granite countertop workers, evaluatingf Missouri’s Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance program, and providing technical assistance in epidemiology for the Ebola virus response in the Republic of Guinea and in Dallas, Texas.
I started my undergraduate career at Brooklyn College in the summer of 2003. I was accepted into the MARC program at Brooklyn College in the summer of 2005. I worked with Professor Richard Magliozzo in the Chemistry Department on several drug resistant mutants of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. After graduating from Brooklyn College, I pursued a master’s degree in nutritional sciences and a doctorate in environmental health sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. In my spare time, I enjoy travelling and experiencing different cultures from around the world.
About my work: I am a lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) assigned to the CDC in Atlanta. The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service is a team of more than 6,500 full-time, well-trained, highly qualified public health professionals dedicated to delivering the nation’s public health promotion and disease prevention programs and advancing public health science. As one of America’s seven uniformed services, the Commissioned Corps fills essential public health leadership and service roles within the federal government’s agencies and programs. Officers serve their country in communities that are most in need by providing essential health care services to underserved and vulnerable populations.
The mission of NIOSH EPRO is to protect the health and safety of emergency response providers and recovery workers, through the advancement of research and collaborations, to prevent diseases, injuries, and fatalities during responses to natural and man-made disasters and novel emergent events.
When CDC gets the call to assist in a public health emergency, the EOC is ready to respond. During CDC emergency responses, I assist with NIOSH personnel deployments and provides technical assistance. In addition, our staff leads the Worker Safety and Health Team within CDC EOC. Over the years, EPRO has participated in a variety of responses including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, 2011 Japan Earthquake, Deepwater Horizon, H1N1 pandemic, 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, 2015 Zika virus outbreak, and most recently Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Our office generally provides safety and health guidance and recommendations during emergencies, supports CDC emergency response efforts, and participates in response planning, training, and exercises. EPRO participates in response planning activities, training, and exercises at the local, state, national, and international levels. These activities ensure the timely identification of health hazards associated with emergency responders and the implementation of adequate protection measures to protect their health and safety. By participating in these activities, EPRO supports increased internal and stakeholder preparedness while building relationships with fellow members of the response community.
Emergency Preparedness and Response is a very challenging field because you cannot always predict when a disaster will strike. The best part about my job is that every day brings new challenges and interesting situations. Some days, I write or review manuscripts, work on guidance documents or training materials, update scientific content on several of our webpages, or consult with others in conference calls or meetings. Other days, when the EOC is activated, I work on our Worker Safety and Health Team in the EOC coordinating deployments and providing technical support. Sometimes, I can also be deployed. Most recently, I was deployed to the Incident Response Coordination Team as a Safety Officer for Hurricanes Irma and Maria. I have also been lucky enough to travel to different parts of the world to work on different outbreaks, including the Republic of Guinea to work on the global Ebola virus outbreak response.
Advice about entering the field: My training in basic sciences at Brooklyn College and graduate training in public health helped me prepare for my current job. What I really enjoy about working in public health is that it is very applied—the advice or recommendations we provide is used to protect the health and safety of emergency and response workers. Many of the basic concepts you will learn in you chemistry classes can also be applied to public health. For example, I recently collaborated with the State of Texas on a phosphine exposure among emergency responders. A general of understanding of basic chemistry and routes of exposure was essential to this investigation.
If you are interested in making a difference or having an impact on people’s lives, then the field of public health can help you achieve that. When you are looking for a job, make sure that you are flexible. Before you start the job search, take the time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. This will give you an indication of the type of jobs that will give you the greatest satisfaction. Your dream job might not always be your first job, but your first job might open doors towards you getting that dream job.
Many undergraduate degrees can translate into careers in public health. People who work in public health come from a variety of educational backgrounds. For example, if you are interested in epidemiology or biostatistics, a math or science major may provide a strong solid foundation to build on. Similarly, if you are interested in environmental health, a major in biology or chemistry can be very beneficial. Regardless of your background, a career with public health require competence in effective communication, so make sure to hone your verbal and written skills.