Student Spotlight: Christina Melvin, MPH Candidate
One of the best parts of what I do here at UNE is talking to MPH students. Every grad student at UNE that I’ve ever spoken to has been passionate. Passionate about a job well done, passionate about a new program or initiative that they’ve been able to start directly because of what they’ve learned in class, passionate about their field. Grad students seem to have a laser focus on what they want, and they are determined to get there.
At UNE, the two years it takes to get your MPH online is an intense time period and a sizable amount of sacrifice. But you finish with far more than a piece of paper. Your hard work results in a broader view of the world and a sharpened set of tools to help you achieve your goals.
I met with Christina Melvin on the phone today, and I got to get a great insight as to how, exactly, she has incorporated her MPH into her life. The field of public health is so broad, it’s always interesting to see what someone does with their Master’s degree, what motivated them to get their MPH in the first place, and to talk frankly about whether the time and dollar investment is worth it.
Can you tell me a little about yourself, and what encouraged you to get your MPH?
I’ve always been involved in public health, I just haven’t always known it. As a vet tech in 1998, I didn’t even realize that I was practicing public health by letting pet owners know how to care for their animals. That’s how wide the field of public health is.
You know how one thing leads to the next… well, I looked into public health options in order to marry my love of vet medicine and helping the public, and life just took off from there. I was in pre vet school for a number of years, and now I teach out of the veterinary clinic attached to the high school.
What did you like about UNE and your program?
I loved meeting people from around the world! I enjoyed the variety of MPH courses, and felt that I was exposed to a wide variety of topics and issues in public health. The instructors were helpful and encouraged us to get out of our comfort zones and learn about something new.
What internships, clinicals or class projects were especially important to your professional development?
I have to say my favorite class was Health Literacy with Dr. Denali. I never knew how vital Health Literacy was, and I will be writing an article about Veterinary Health Literacy this Fall/Winter. It’s a simple concept, but so powerful. We learned about how to get your point across effectively in order to communicate to your population by recognizing and allowing for literacy and cultural differences. It’s so important to keep your audience in mind while you’re developing public health programs.
My Practicum was also absolutely amazing. I learned so much, and I was very lucky to work with a great group of people!
How did you choose your Practicum topic?
(Christina’s practical experience work sounded really interesting; working with wildlife services at the USDA based in Sutton, MA on rabies vaccination programs.)
I had already known that I wanted to do something related to One Health. One of my teacher colleagues had connections with folks at the USDA, and put me in contact with someone at the USDA APHIS Wildlife services in Sutton. That’s how I learned about the Cape Cod Oral Rabies Vaccination Project.
My Practicum was an awesome experience. I was able to choose something that I was already passionate about, animals, and I was able to work with the USDA to work to eliminate rabies on Cape Cod. Originally the State of Massachusetts tried to see what they could do to eliminate rabies, but their funding ran out, so the USDA took the program over.
I worked with Wildlife Biologist Brian Bjorklund throughout the Practicum. In March and April we set bait for raccoons, skunks and possums. First, we used fishy-smelling food blocks to attract the animals. The animals would eat the food block, which was laced with an oral rabies vaccination, and they would become inoculated against rabies. To test how effective our vaccination attempts were, we did a follow up later in the year.
For the second phase, we set humane traps using marshmallows with a cherry and fish smell as bait. When animals entered the trap and were detained, we would sedate animal and collect a blood sample. We would test blood sample for a specific titer that would tell us if the animal was exposed to the bait, which told us whether or not the animals were eating the bait and whether or not the program was working. We also did species DNA testing. Then we released animals back where they found them.
We had to get permission to bait and trap wildlife on landowners properties, which people were more than willing to cooperate with. But when we explained that we had re-release the animals back onto their properties, the landowners were not very happy about it. They didn’t want the raccoons and skunks back, and asked if we could just transport them somewhere else and release them into the woods there.
Moving animals from one geographical location to the next is called translocation/relocation – and that’s actually the reason why we have rabies in the Northeast today. Raccoon hunting used to be a very popular sport, and people relocated raccoons to northeast for hunting. Those relocated raccoons brought rabies with them. So it’s in that way that translocation spreads disease, and is dangerous. Introducing new diseases into an area harms the native species, disrupts the balance of things and harms peoples’ health.
You mentioned that you teach in high school. What subject do you teach?
I am dually licensed in Animal Science and Biology, and I am also a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) in MA. I am currently the Instructor-in-Charge of our Veterinary Assisting program at Worcester Technical High School. It’s a trade school, with 23 trades available. At the beginning of their high school career, freshmen are required pick eight trades that they’re interested in, and they explore through them. There are currently 48 students in the veterinary program.
I started the program in 2007, and watched it blossom into a model program. Prior to teaching I worked as an Assistant Supervisor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (formerly just called Tufts Veterinary School). I was able to help start a partnership with Tufts, and in return they opened a low-cost veterinary clinic at our school that offers care for pets of those with limited means. They handle 400 cases a month, mostly of animals that haven’t received veterinary care.
This presented a wonderful opportunity to teach my students about the importance of keeping pets healthy so we can help people stay healthy. Clients that had not been able to afford veterinary care for their pets are now able to get them the care they need, and learn about zoonotic diseases that can be prevented (i.e. rabies).
During the summer I teach Biology/Science for an outreach program – the High School Health Careers Program (HSHCP) at UMass Medical School in Worcester, MA.
Do you feel that having the knowledge gained from your MPH studies helps on a day to day basis?
Yes! I have incorporated my knowledge into my lessons for all my students. Having the clinic really helps my students to learn about the importance of educating our clients about preventative veterinary care. I always tell my students that in veterinary medicine we are not just helping animals, but helping people as well via public health.
I decided to get my MPH because I am really interested in being well rounded. I found that the program has also opened eyes to public health policy-type issues too.
Was getting your MPH directly related to getting a pay raise?
As a teacher, we get raises as we increase our education level, so getting a pay raise is directly linked to getting a Master’s degree. It’s in our contract. I looked into getting my Master’s in Education, but when I looked at the job market, I felt that getting my Master’s in Public Health made me more marketable in the larger job market, beyond the field of education.
So, in 2012 I started my MPH, and I feel that this degree has opened many doors for me going forward.
What did you find was the most challenging aspect of the getting your MPH online?
Keeping myself focused and having self-discipline. I am a mother, a wife, and I run a very successful and challenging program! It’s so easy to just say “oh I will do that tomorrow…” I had to really train myself to stay on track. I made a schedule centered around due dates, and I stuck to it. The workload is very heavy, and I was really challenged. This program is not for procrastinators.
I have to say that online programs are HARD. Also, I am used to working face to face and in groups, and the lack of that was difficult to adjust to.
If you had a magic wand, would you do it all over again?
I would. I feel as though I had a thorough, solid education. If I had one wish, though, it would be that there were concentrations. I would have LOVED to concentrate solely in Epidemiology or Environmental Health. I also wish there was a Ph.D. program.
What was your favorite part of the online MPH program?
I liked the eight week format. I also liked that the program is designed to take one class at a time, and you do not feel pressured to take two classes simultaneously unless you are trying to finish faster. I took one class at a time, except for in the summer, and then I took two.
Thank you so much to Christina for your time and your inspiring story! -MG