Exploring a Career in Public Health Genomics

I am a recent college graduate, moving from a background in environmental policy to a future in public health. I attended the Summer Institute in Public Health at the University of Minnesota, and took a two-week series in Genomics. In my mind, Genomics is the most exciting (and intimidating!) sector of public health right now. The science behind genomics is exploding; it is moving at a pace that threatens to leave the general public's understanding of the science in
the dust. 

       But what's the big deal? Science literacy in this country is embarassingly low, anyway. We shouldn't expect the public to understand this stuff. Except that the field of genomics a) affects the public in a way to which little else compares. We all have a genome. We all stand to gain and lose dramatically as this information begins to be applied to research, medical, and public policy practice. And b) genomics is already being marketed to the public in the form of do-it-yourself tests and genomic assessments. A few other threads at Geneforum.org delve into "Putting the Public in Public Health Genomics," and I won't hammer the point here. But in the context of beginning a career in Public Health, these things are at the forefront of my mind.               Someone at the Institute unwittingly solidified my desire to go into public health. They said, "public health is a great field for people who don't want to have to decide what to do." This resonates with me, because, as a product of a liberal-arts education, I have always wanted to have my fingers in as many pies as possible. Public health has it all: There's science. There's research. There are massive thickets of public policy. There is a huge need for educational outreach, and community-based participatory research. 
       I have heard that in the 21st century, the most valuable citizens will be those who can move comfortably between different sectors of society. Those who are bilingual, bicultural, and
able to speak in economic, scientific, legal, and community terms will be needed in every occupation. Public health is no different. We need more people who are flexible, and who understand that their work does not exist in a vacuum. We need more people with multi-faceted
backgrounds and more products of interdisciplinary education. 
     These ideas have propelled me to start researching dual degree programs, and I am most focused on MPH/JD programs. I think that being able to understand the legal underpinnings of our system will be a great boon to implementing public health policy and education to benefit the
greatest numbers of people. I would love to hear other's experiences with their careers in public health: what drove you toward this career? What are your main concerns about the field(s)? What has helped you/hurt you, in terms of education, experience, etc.? 
     The complex scientific and ethical issues surrounding genomics underscore how exciting a career in public health could be these days. What do you all think? 
-Gillian
| Gillian's blog