INTERVIEW | PART 1 Transitioning from Public Health Nursing to Epidemiology With Melanie Rogers, MPH, RN

INTERVIEW | PART 1 Transitioning from Public Health Nursing to Epidemiology With Melanie Rogers, MPH, RN

This week, we interviewed Melanie Rogers(she/her), a public health nurse from the Denver metro area of Colorado, about her work in public health and her transition from public health nursing to epidemiology. Melanie Rogers has worked in the field of public health for almost ten years. As a generalist public health nurse, she’s worked in various roles, including sexual health, HIV prevention, contraceptive care, harm reduction services for people who inject drugs. Her work and roles focus mostly on communicable disease control, emphasizing community engagement.

How did you become interested in Public Health?

I became interested in public health nursing while going through my nursing school rotations. After spending most of my time in acute care rotations, I welcomed working on a community level. I knew I wanted to be a part of public health when I started learning more about prevention and the role public health nurses play in a community’s overall health. Having the opportunity to impact prevention with upstream solutions appealed to me. 

What influenced your decision to become a public health nurse?

During my senior year in nursing school, I worked in my county’s public health department’s sexual health section as part of my senior practicum. As a student, I enjoyed working and learning from professionals in the public health clinic. After graduation, I applied for a job position at the department, and the rest is history.

Let’s talk about your transition from Public Health Nurse to Epidemiologist.

Have you always been interested in epidemiology? 

I became interested in epidemiology while attending graduate school for my Masters in Public Health (MPH). Also, watching the way our county’s infectious diseases epidemiologist handles cases influenced my decision. She’s knowledgeable in communicable diseases and has investigated nonroutine cases, i.e., dengue fever, malaria. She’s able to answer any question our team asks, and that’s the knowledge and skill I’d like to have. As someone who has worked in various roles for my county health department, I want to experience something new.

What is your role as an epidemiologist?

I’m very new to my role. As an infectious disease epidemiologist, I focus on COVID-19 in educational settings. My job is to do outbreak investigations and advise on appropriate educational settings actions following a COVID-19 exposure.  I work specifically with the county’s public school district (70+ schools) and colleges.

Role and Responsibility

  • Interpret the state health department and CDC guidance related to the educational facility, and the scenario presented. 
  • Report and monitor  school outbreaks
  •  Act as the liaison between the educational setting and the state health department.
  • Generate and evaluate the COVID-19 data around *all the above*

How does your role as a public health nurse feature into your role as an epidemiologist? 

My experience as a generalist public health nurse has helped. I’ve helped individual schools with outbreaks (small pertussis) before, although nothing on this scale. My experience in interpreting the state health department guidance for schools with vaccine-preventable diseases helps here.  The activities involve teaching around science communication and explaining  COVID-19 testing technologies, and determining if an individual is a confirmed, probable, or suspect case. As a public health nurse, I build relationships with community organizations and stakeholders—I’ve drawn on those skills as I work with the COVID response teams for the colleges and public school districts in my county. 

How do you see the field of epidemiology evolving in the next year or five years?  

I think there may be more interest in current students in the field of epidemiology than before the pandemic, especially infectious diseases epidemiology. In an ideal world, I’d see more consistent funding for public health. It’s the trend in the United States to under-fund public health until something terrible happens. Then funding appears only to trickle away when the disaster event is over. I hope that, once the pandemic is over, the relationships that local-level public health departments have built with their communities can be a foundation to integrate public health initiatives within the communities we serve successfully. 

Do you have any advice for healthcare workers interested in transitioning to epidemiology?

Yes, get comfortable with biostatistics, data management, data analytics, and associated software programs. Seek an educational program that provides a strong foundation in these things.

Bonus Question 1

As a healthcare worker,  you’re accustomed to prioritizing patient health and safety above everything. How has this situation changed the way you prioritize taking care of your health?

It forced me to come to terms with my own risks should I get COVID-19. Prioritizing my health meant moving out of my comfort zone in a job I’d held for eight years into an unfamiliar role. For me, that meant moving from a clinical services patient-facing position during a pandemic to working remotely. 

Read the second part of the interview on transitioning during COVID, here

Melanie Rogers is also involved with the American Public Health Association Public Health Nursing Section as the Communication Chair. If you have questions about Public Health, Epidemiology, and Nursing or want to talk about all the fantastic initiatives she’s a part of, you connect with her via Twitter at  @MRogersRN.


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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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