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 .”
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
PublicHealthLabs @ APHL APHL . org