Volume 35 Number 5 | October 2021

Exploring New Career Opportunities in Public Health

Heather Kobza, MLS(ASCP)CMMBCM

Heather KobzaAs a student I was always fascinated by infectious diseases. I would find myself reading books like Hot Zone or watching documentaries about interesting new diseases. Becoming a medical laboratory scientist has only cemented my desire to learn more about them. Even though I had primarily found myself in the chemistry department, I often ran serology testing as well. I kept seeing everyone else getting those fancy master’s degrees and decided a few years ago that I wanted to get one for myself.

I knew I wanted to expand a bit outside of the normal lab setting and use all of my knowledge about testing for these diseases to actually conduct surveillance and help to reduce the number of infections. I looked at various schools that offered online programs since I wasn’t about to give up my day job that I enjoyed. I eventually found a program that met most of my requirements—it wasn’t a complete match, but I knew it would give me a great background and steppingstone for professional growth.

Just as I joined ASCLS as a student to grow my professional network and learn more, I joined the professional society for public health professionals. Now, this might sound like I’m thinking about leaving my lab family, but that’s not the case at all. If anything, I’ve found a new extended family, a stepfamily if you will. There are quite a few laboratorians going into the public health field now, and we have a place there, too!

“I love the idea that I’m growing into a new phase of professional development and can bring this connection back to my lab at the same time.”

This was also a great space to learn from other professionals about public health and work together. Understanding the background that nurses can bring to the field of infection control was amazing. While the last year provided a lot of challenges, it still allowed for professionals to get together virtually and connect from home. I hadn’t been able to attend an in-person conference yet, and this last November I was finally given the chance to attend some educational sessions and network. All of my years of going to ASCLS conferences gave me the tools to network like a pro and help get others out of their shells. I was also able to see how other professions do their educational programs.

There are so many opportunities outside of the laboratory if you’re feeling stagnant there. Or maybe you’re actually an extrovert who wants to have patient contact and use our knowledge to educate others. I love the idea that I’m growing into a new phase of professional development and can bring this connection back to my lab at the same time. Thanks to doing a special project with my own infection control department at the hospital, I’ve met more people. Professional development doesn’t have to mean just advancing in the lab if you don’t want to.

This pandemic has provided a lot of opportunities for the laboratory as well as public health, and growing together is definitely good for all of us. I encourage anyone who wants to make a change, or just learn something new, to explore infection control. There is so much more we can do. I don’t think I can ever leave the lab, but hopefully one of these days I can find the right balance of lab work and public health.

Heather Kobza is Advanced Staff Medical Technologist at Southern Arizona VA Healthcare System in Tucson, Arizona.