Students get to work on the frontlines of public health

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USF College of Public Health doctoral student Nate Stanley is already practicing public health, long before he’s set to graduate.

Stanley, earning a PhD from the Department of Global Health in the fall of 2019, is currently serving as a Research Coordinator I at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center on a grant to examine the relationship between caregivers and young adult cancer patients.

The project, which he joined in January, is set to continue through June under the supervision of Dr. Maija Reblin and is housed in the Moffitt Research Center’s Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior.

USF COPH doctoral student Nate Stanley in front of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center on the USF campus. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

“I had never thought I would be involved in cancer research,” Stanley said. “It just seemed like a neat project. We are collecting research that is largely absent right now from the literature.”

Stanley is conducting in-depth interviews with caregivers and young adults, ages 18 to 29, diagnosed with varying types of cancer.

He said they discuss a range of topics from disclosure with initial diagnosis, treatment and how overall general support is provided to the adolescent from the caregiver.

“The most difficult part is interviewing people who are my age who have cancer. That was something I was cognizant of during the interview, it was very clear I would be talking to people my age or a little younger, but it’s difficult to separate the humanity of the process because you’re getting people’s life stories, so it’s very easy to internalize their experience,” he said. “Trying to find a balance between treating them as people and then not getting so attached to the story that it affects you in a negative way is a difficult part of my research, especially for something that is so emotionally charged.”

Stanley heard of the position through a colleague while completing an internship at the COPH’s Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health.

His career at Moffitt is just taking off and he’s been asked to join another potential research opportunity at Moffitt utilizing focus groups to test a new app tracking needs of cancer survivors. This grant was submitted in early April.

While being a full-time graduate student and employee has kept him extremely busy, Stanley said he enjoys the balancing act.

“Sometimes it’s better to always have things consistently happening so you get into that routine,” he said.

He said that while conducting interviews with the patients has been difficult, it’s strengthening his passion for qualitative research.

“I think life history and life experience is really important, especially when you’re trying to understand complex issues like cancer and how to treat it, and how that experience differs based on family type and dynamic,” he said.

He hopes to continue working with Moffitt in the future and is keeping an open perspective on what could happen after he graduates.

“Everything that has happened in the past couple years, I never thought would be happening, it would be nice to keep working there,” he said.

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USF College of Public Health graduate student Ashlyn Wayman said she took a chance in applying for her new job at Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales, N.M.

Wayman is currently working toward her MPH in infection control in the Department of Global Health and is set to graduate in the fall of 2017.

After a recent trip to Roosevelt’s emergency room, she found herself reading the website and came across the opportunity to apply as a quality and infection control coordinator at the facility.

USF COPH graduate student Ashlyn Wayman is also currently working toward her MPH. (Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Wayman)

“I was glancing at the hospital’s website and I noticed that they had the position open and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, don’t know if I should apply because I’m not a nurse and I am not yet done with my masters,’ so I didn’t think I would be a candidate, but I went ahead and applied because the worse I would hear is no,” Wayman said.

Just two days after applying, Wayman was asked for an interview and offered the job at the small community-based hospital, which Wayman said has 24 inpatient beds, eight ER beds and a small operating room.

She said earning her undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry, as well as previously taking some premed courses and having a science-oriented background with research experience also boosted her chances for employment.

“I said that if I was going to try it and get my feet wet anywhere, a place this size and with that community-feel was going to be a good place to get started because everyone here is so willing to help you get off the ground and it’s been really good support from my administration, that’s been a huge difference,” she said.

As the quality and infection control coordinator, she assesses all aspects of the facility for adherence to accreditation standards, conducts data gathering and oversees day-to-day surveillance of standard protocol procedures to ensure infection control standards.

“We want to monitor and make sure we don’t have hospital acquired infections,” she said.

Wayman’s typical day includes surveillance across the facility from hand hygiene auditing, to documentation of catheters in patients, down to examining the chemical dilution of solutions used to clean the hospital and ensure proper disinfecting.

She said while it can be tedious, everyday surveillance of procedures ties into her biggest public health passion—protecting patients.

“My biggest passion of it is finding out if there’s something we could have done to improve this patient’s outcome or overall health,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed that investigative in.”

Balancing a full-time position, as well as 13 graduate credit hours has been difficult and not without sacrifice, however.

“It does take a lot of time management and there are a lot of things that I can’t do because I have to go home and spend four more hours on homework after I get done from work,” she said. “It seems like if I’m not at home learning, I’m constantly at work learning, so I think it’s just been very exhausting. I’m ready to push through the end of the semester; it has been very difficult, but it is doable.”

Upon graduating, Wayman said she hopes to pass the Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC®) and consider expanding her experience at larger facilities.

“Where I’m at now is prime time for someone who is very new to the field,” she said.

However, she said this position has helped to push her arsenal of infection control experience to the next level.

“You have to really be comfortable just being involved everywhere in the hospital. I think that was something I greatly underestimated at the beginning,” she said. “It’s not just some surveillance at your office, you have to be aware of how the lab works, how central sterile works, all the processes of the operating room; you have to willing to learn, and never be scared; you have to be willing to learn how a process works and be comfortable taking initiative to teach yourself and reaching out to resources as much as you can.”

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Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health

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