Lab Matters Spring 2024 | Page 5


Fellowship Project Supply Fund Aims to Eliminate Barriers

By Rudolph Nowak , MPH , senior specialist , Marketing & Communications
Money and personnel . Those are two things in short supply at many public health laboratories . The Public Health Laboratory Fellowship Program : an APHL-CDC Initiative wants public health laboratories to connect with APHL ’ s aspiring fellowship applicants , so the program actively seeks creative ways to remove obstacles preventing laboratories from taking part in the Fellowship Program . A recent enhancement to the program is the Fellowship Project Supply Fund . Mentors can apply to receive a reimbursement of up to $ 10,000 per fellow , per contract year to support individual fellowship projects .
“ The majority of public health laboratories struggle with their budgets , that ’ s a common fact . They don ’ t have extra money and they ’ re always needing to trade something in their budget because they just don ’ t have the extra money for these fellowships at all ,” said Rob Nickla , APHL ’ s Fellowship Program manager .
Providing Support
The idea behind the Project Supply Fund is to give the fellowship host laboratory funds to offset the cost of a fellow ’ s project .
“ The host laboratory doesn ’ t have to use money that they already have for their critical testing needs and laboratory operations ,” Nickla added . “ They can keep all their normal operations the same . The fellowship really shouldn ’ t impact their laboratory budget .”
Additionally , the work the fellows can do with these funds can be consequential to the communities the laboratories serve . In New Hampshire , the supplemental funding directly contributed to the Department of Health and Human Services biomonitoring initiative . Melissa Josefiak , biomonitoring administrator at the New Hampshire Public Health Laboratories , was mentor to two fellows whose projects looked at chemicals in the population by analyzing whole blood , urine and other tissue .
Environmental health fellow Farooq Salangi ( right ) and his mentor Melissa Josefiak ( left ), administrator of the biomonitoring program , discuss what he has learned about R statistical software to begin planning data analysis for part of his project at the New Hampshire Public Health Laboratories . Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Public Health Laboratories
“ We are working on increasing our state ’ s capability and capacity for testing volatile organic compounds ( VOCs ) and then looking at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( PHS ) in urine . Each fellow had one of those methods to validate ,” Josefiak said . But when Josefiak and the host laboratory proposed the fellows ’ projects , they were surprised by the cost of the proficiency testing materials . The Florida Department of Health , Bureau of Public Health Laboratories-Tampa faced similar obstacles .
“ We do get a good amount of funding for arbovirus from Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity ( ELC ) grants , but we go through it quickly ,” said Lea Haberlein , Virology administrator at the Florida laboratory .
The last couple of years Florida has been dealing with a lot of dengue outbreaks , both local cases and cases from travelers coming into the state . Since much of their funding was getting used up for everyday testing — which stays a priority — there was a question of whether they had the funding to support fellowship projects .
“ Now we know we can really get those projects done because we have financial support for it and we ’ re not trying to juggle funding ,” Heberlein said .
A Funding Lifeline
A situation like what Josefiak and Heberlein encountered is why the Project Supply Fund was started : to ensure laboratories have the resources needed for the fellows ’ projects to be successfully completed .
According to Nickla , “ They say , ‘ Hey , I want to buy these things for the fellowship project , reagents or PPE or things that are directly related to the project . And we say , ‘ Yes , you are approved to go ahead and buy those things .’”
The simplicity is intentional to encourage not only use of the funds , but to promote the fellowship experience to laboratories who might want to take part in the program but are challenged by budget . Microbiology supervisor Megan Nelson submitted the funding request for the Diagnostic & Clinical Division in the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa .
“ It was a lot easier to do than I thought it was going to be . It was really nice that it was one form to submit , and you max out at $ 10,000 ,” Nelson said . “ For us it was ,
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