COPH awarded over $1 million to help grow public health laboratory workforce

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The USF College of Public Health (COPH) has been given a sub-award of $1.055 million from the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) to help grow the public health laboratory workforce. 

Photo source: Canva

The award is part of a larger grant ($282 million dispensed over five years) given to the APHL from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund the APHL’s Public Health Laboratory Workforce Pipeline Project. The aim of the project is to increase the number of qualified public health laboratory personnel by expanding training opportunities, building up the existing APHL-CDC Fellowship Program and launching a new internship program to enhance laboratory capacity now and in the future.

The COPH will use the money to cover tuition and provide a stipend to certain students enrolled in the college’s public health and clinical laboratory science and practice (LSP) DrPH program, said Dr. Jill Roberts, a COPH associate professor and LSP director.

Roberts said as many as 12 students could receive full tuition support in the first semester. To be eligible, students must:

  • Work in a public health laboratory (including city, county, state, federal and veterinary public health labs)
  • Be admitted to the public health and clinical laboratory science and practice track (track is excluded)
  • Perform a bench-level doctoral research project in a public health laboratory 
  • Commit to two years of employment in a public health laboratory post-graduation
Photo source: Canva

In the last two years, three COPH students in the public health and clinical laboratory science and practice program have passed the national board examinations that are necessary to become a public health lab director. One of the most recent to pass is Dr. Denise Lopez, the public health laboratory manager at the Tulare County Public Health Laboratory in Tulare, Calif.

“It can be difficult to recruit and retain candidates that meet the stringent federal and state requirements to direct a public health laboratory,” said Lopez, whose lab provides testing to monitor and prevent high-consequence infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, pandemic viruses and agents of bioterrorism. “The DrPH laboratory science and practice program at USF allowed me to pursue a doctoral degree without disrupting my career. It provided a collaborative and dynamic learning environment to further my knowledge in public health laboratory science and helped prepare me to sit successfully for the required national board certification examinations. Now that I have completed the degree pathway and board certification, I plan to direct one or more public health laboratories in the San Joaquin Valley of California.”

“Public health laboratories led the response to COVID-19, providing much of the laboratory confirmatory testing for suspected positive cases,” Roberts added. “The labs also developed the initial tests used to confirm COVID. The DrPH laboratory science and practice program provides a pathway for laboratory personnel to obtain the knowledge and degree needed to sit for the national board examinations for laboratory directors. This is critical, as nationwide many of the current laboratory directors are retiring. Our program ensures that the laboratory leaders of tomorrow are trained, and this sub-award provides necessary funding needed for these talented and dedicated professions to acquire that training.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health