Lab Matters Fall 2023 | Page 6


A Winding Road to a Newborn Screening Fellowship

By Rudolph Nowak , MPH , senior specialist , Marketing & Communications
As far as Public Health Laboratory Fellowship Program cohorts go , newborn screening is small . Eleven individuals make up the cohort . Daniel Fang , Alabama Department of Public Health Bureau of Clinical Laboratories and Cullan Kirwan , Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment , both had an early interest in the science field , although they had different paths into the public health laboratory landscape .
“ I really like the aspect of learning about characteristics and features of the natural world that we can ’ t see , and coming to understand how those operate ,” Fang said . “ I didn ’ t really consider pursuing it as a facet of my career until maybe halfway through my undergraduate degree .” Public health was not a consideration for Fang until his senior year , when Willamette University announced an Introduction to Public Health class for the first time .
Daniel Fang , Alabama Department of Public Health Bureau of Clinical Laboratories
“ My degree was already completed , but I wanted to explore other fields that I was particularly interested in ,” Fang said . “ I recalled that public health class and thought ‘ Let ’ s see if I can learn more about that ,’ and through a few Google searches I found the APHL Fellowship [ program ], and here we are .”
For Kirwan the initial public health path was less direct .
Cullan Kirwan , Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
“ I didn ’ t originally start as a [ science ] major . In high school I was pretty good at biology ,” Kirwan said . “ I went to college and started off in architectural engineering but then changed my major back to biology just because I [ had an ] interest in DNA and microbiology .”
Kirwan ended up graduating from the University of Wyoming with an associate of science as a Medical Laboratory Technician with a Phlebotomy certificate and bachelor ’ s degrees in molecular biology , microbiology and medical laboratory science . A rotation in the public health laboratory doing microbiology whole genome sequencing allowed Kirwan to see laboratory science outside of a hospital setting , which led him to his fellowship .
“ My professor sent me the [ APHL ] Fellowship link because he knew I didn ’ t really want to stay in the hospital ,” Kirwan said . “ On a whim I applied for this fellowship , and it has changed the direction of my career .”
Lasting Impacts
Fang has used his fellowship to learn more about the different aspects of public health and the public health community .
“ I think that the most impactful parts of this fellowship have been the conferences because of how many amazing people I ’ ve been able to meet and not only learn the job that they do , but also be inspired by just how knowledgeable they are and how motivated they all seem to be ,” he said . “ I think the biggest takeaway is just how expansive and robust the newborn screening program is .”
“ It really does put a face on what you ’ re doing in the laboratory ,” Kirwan agreed . “ In our laboratory , we never actually see patients . We ’ re doing all the testing , but we never put a face on what we do . The fellowship experience really gives you the opportunity to put the face to the test that you ’ re doing .” He saw that impact by getting to meet patients and parents ’ advocates at newborn screening conferences .
“ They ’ re there because the test that you do has ( had ) an impact in their lives . What I mostly got out of it is that you understand what impact a test has and what tests benefit public health .”
So where do their pathways lead from here ? Fang is currently applying to medical schools .
“ I have really come to enjoy the idea of being able to do research and clinical care and influence policy work all under one umbrella specialty ,” he said . “ I want to pursue clinical genetics , which was influenced by the fellowship .”
Kirwan has accepted a position at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment , but he is also going back to school .
“ This fellowship changed my aspirations in terms of what I want to do . I am currently in an MPH program in Epidemiology and I ’ m trying to understand more public health perspectives on additional concepts .” g
4 LAB MATTERS Fall 2023
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