"I grew up in the border of Texas with Mexico and you could see the immediate causes of diseas and the effect of good treatment in populations. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was seeing Public Health in action."

Role Model Photo Adriana Babiak-Vazquez

Health Field: Epidemiologist

Number of years in the profession:
18 year

Years in College: 9 years

Professional Credentials:
BS in Medical Technology (minor in Bio/Chem) MPH in Disease Control ( focusing on Epidemiology and Biostatistics) Worked on a PhD in Environmental Toxicology and Molecular Epidemiology

How did you know this career was what you wanted to do?
I was a medical technologist and worked in the area of hematology and as much as I enjoyed what I did in the lab and my contribution to the clinical picture and treatment of patients, I was always wanting to know more about the patient in terms of why one got sick and others didn't and why one responded to treatment and not another.... One day one of the pathologists that I worked with told me, " Sounds like what you might be interested in studying is Epidemiology" and from then on, I knew.

What other careers did you consider?
I was also interested in Microbiology and in Medicine. Some other things happened in my life that at least for a while closed the area of physician to me, and when I was able to consider it again, I realized my heart was in Epidemiology and not the actual treatment of patients. I also considered non "health careers" like music and like education, which with my current degree, education is still a possibility.

What experiences in your life developed your interest in your career?
I was always interested in medicine and I really enjoyed learning and reading about diseases and their history of discovery and treatment. I also liked to hear about microbiology,parasitology and other infectious diseases. I grew up in the border of Texas with Mexico and you could see the immediate causes of disease and the effect of good treatment in the populations. I didn't realize it at the time but I was seeing Public Health in action. My interest in cancer research via Epidemiology came specifically during my work in hematology and was decided upon by me when I developed Hodgkin's Disease my Senior year in college.

What early preparations did you take (in high school and college) to reach your career goal?
Certainly graduating from high school and college, but during my Junior and Senior years in college I had first a job shadowing experience (where I asked a lot of questions about disease) and then an internship that allowed me to get to meet and see how the clinical field worked. I was given opportunities to go into the hospital and interact with physicians, nurses and more importantly patients. All this prepared me for my research career in Epidemiology.

What things did you find to be difficult as you prepared for your career?
Initially it went fairly smoothly. Finances could have been an obstacle first, but I stayed in relatively local colleges/universities so I could afford to go to school and even work some. I did have some trouble with Organic Chemistry, but got barely passed it. Then that was a little bit of an obstacle in the major university I applied to for my Masters, but I was helped along by a strong recommendation. Then as I was studying for my PhD ( still working on it), and again recommendations got me in and I did have some trouble with Biochemistry and Molecular Science. They were just very much beyond the basic classes I had taken both undergrad and grad studies.

How did you overcome these challenges?
As I said earlier, I stayed studying locally to try to overcome the finances obstacle. Then, recommendations from professors or professionals in the field became KEY. Young students can't imagine how very important it is to have good recommendations, even after one has graduated and is beginning to work. In school, volunteer work or in the workforce, always, always do your very best to get to know well at least one person that is in a higher position, perhaps sharing with them your future goals... This person becomes the go-to person that can write you a good recommendation that will carry you towards the next level of your career or education.

Was your family supportive of you through your college (or other training) years?

Did you have a job and work while you were going to college or other training? Yes

Present Career as a Epidemiologist

Describe an average work day for you.
Collecting data from various sources, many times following up on data objects that are still pending from others and, or, that I have to complete. Much reading of literature and or grant proposals or protocols. Similar, writing of papers, grants or protocols or other documents. Some analysis and graphing of data as it is finally accumulated and then subsequent write-up of papers/reports. At my level I already have people that may normally track things down across the institutions... but there's always situations when you need to go out into the field you work and meet with others to collect that information. Finally, there's meetings and meetings - thus it's important to have good communication and listening skills to get your message through and understand others' and their needs.

How many hours do you work in an average week?

What kind of health care setting do you work in?
Hospital for 15 years, Public Health clinic/admin office for 2 years and currently in an office setting within NASA

What do you see as strengths needed for your career?
Adaptability, multitasking, good personal interaction skills and organizational skills, as well as writing skills. Also, the more you know about disease and disease processes, including at the molecular level, the better you'll do. Never stop learning and taking courses...

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing tasks completed that help us to determine true risk and or prevalence of diseases or states of health that we are studying.

What advice would you give to those who are interested in your career?
Keep yourself open to what you can really bring to a job and don't just look for job titles that include Epidemiology- those jobs are rare and there may even be more money, eventually, in other areas that you can do.

If you could start over, would you still make the same decision to pursue education?
Yes, but I would add Health Care Administration into the mix. Really, most of the real direction of Epidemiology projects, unless you've been a PhD in Epidemiology for some while.... comes from physicians and so the real opportunities for people like myself come in administering projects and centers ...

Do you plan to pursue opportunities for advancement in your career field?
Trying to complete the PhD or if not, I will take additional training in Health Administration.

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