COPHers showcase the DrPH program at APHL annual meeting

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Laboratory scientists from across the country gathered in St. Louis in June for the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) annual meeting. The four-day conference of more than 700 professionals covered public health laboratory issues, trends and technologies.

One hot topic was how to reverse the impending laboratory scientist shortage.

While need for laboratory professionals increases so, too, do vacancy rates resulting from the aging of Baby Boomers.

In 2015, the USF College of Public Health, in partnership with the APHL and Dr. Phil Amuso, a COPH alumnus and now-retired director and associate bureau chief of the Florida Department of Health Bureau Laboratories-Tampa, developed the college’s DrPH in Public Health and Clinical Laboratory Science and Practice program, the only fully online, doctoral-level laboratory science program in the country.

The program debuted in 2018.

In recognition of his tireless efforts bringing the program to life, as well his many other public health accomplishments, Amuso was given the APHL’s Presidential Award at this year’s annual meeting. According to the group’s website, the award honors “individuals who have made significant contributions to the association’s work to promote policies that strengthen public health laboratories.”

Phil Amuso, PhD, a COPH alum and former laboratory director, receives the APHL’s 2019 Presidential Award from APHL President Joanne Bartkus, PhD, D(ABMM). Amuso was recognized for his “significant contributions … to policies that strengthen public health laboratories.” (Photo courtesy of APHL)

Amuso, who is also a 2015 COPH Outstanding Alumnus and an immediate past board member of the USF Alumni Association, says he’s honored to receive the award, although “there were many others who worked very hard [on the degree program] as well.”

The program was the focus of a roundtable panel discussion titled “A Novel Approach to Mitigate Public Health Laboratory Director Shortage” moderated by Dr. Max Salfinger, a COPH professor and co-lead of the college’s laboratory science concentration. He was joined by Amuso, Dr. Michael Pentella, also a COPH alum and current director of the State Hygienic Laboratory in Iowa, and Susanne Crowe and Denise Lopez, both laboratory professionals and students in the program. The panelists discussed the history of the program and the impact it’s made on their profession and careers.

Max Salfinger, PhD, third from left, stands
with COPH faculty, students and alumni at the COPH booth at the APHL annual
meeting in St. Louis. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Salfinger)

“Our program is ideal for those already in the workforce―supervisors, managers and assistant lab directors―who do not have a doctoral degree and want to advance in their careers,” said Salfinger. “Before launching the program, these experienced laboratory scientists would have needed to resign from their current positions and enroll in an on-campus PhD course of study. All our courses are available online, providing flexibility for studying and fulfilling coursework at the student’s convenience, except for one annual on-campus institute held partly over a weekend.”

Salfinger says he’s pleased with the program’s progress thus far and for the opportunity to showcase it at the APHL meeting, where more than 60 attendees expressed interest in it.

“The new DrPH laboratory science concentration provides professional development for aspiring laboratory directors and serves as a re-fueling station for graduates on their lifelong quest to deliver enhanced health and well-being to humankind, even long after students have been awarded their doctoral degrees,” said Salfinger, who notes that administrators are discussing offering refresher courses to graduates and using a listserv to connect alumni to their peers and experts in the field.

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health