“ I think people should apply for ELP especially if you want to be in a leadership role because you need that core training ,” Smith said . “ It helps you see yourself in a different way and establishes the foundation of leadership ; it ’ s not just a job title that makes you a leader .”
Expanding the APHL-CDC Fellowship Program
Another program that has helped recruit , educate and retain people in public health laboratories is the laboratory fellowship program offered in partnership by APHL and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC
). The program trains and prepare scientists for careers in public health laboratories . The fellows focus on areas that include bioinformatics , environmental health , food safety , infectious disease , newborn screening , informatics , quality management systems and biorisk management .
In 2021 , APHL received federal American Rescue Plan funding that allowed it to dramatically expand the fellowship program , benefiting the fellows , the laboratories and the public health workforce overall . Currently , there are 137 fellows in 36 states , representing approximately 45 laboratories . Before the pandemic , there were approximately 20 fellows in as many laboratories .
The New Jersey Division of Public Health and Environmental Laboratories
has been hosting one or two APHL-CDC fellows per year for about 15 years . However , in 2022 , the division is hosting 10 fellows , thanks to the new federal funding . Other new funding has allowed the division to hire more staff , which means more mentors for the fellows , explained Laboratory Director Thomas Kirn , MD , PhD . In addition , the division used COVID-19 funding to create its own postdoctoral fellowship program , which currently has two fellows .
The benefits to the laboratory are numerous , beyond growing the workforce . During their one-year fellowship — with the option to extend it to two
[ The Emerging Leader Program ] ... helps you see yourself in a different way and establishes the foundation of leadership ; it ’ s not just a job title that makes you a leader .”
Kim Smith , MS
years — the fellows undertake public health initiatives that the laboratories often don ’ t have the resources to do .
“ For laboratories that are lacking expertise in existing areas , adding a fellow onto your team can allow you to expand the reach of your services , as well as the opportunity to shape the next generation of scientists in a way that is most beneficial to your laboratory and public health in general ,” said Gretchen W . Cote , MS , bioinformatics principal scientist , Department of General Services , Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services
Kirn highlighted another benefit that might not seem as obvious to laboratories newer to the program : the effect on staff morale . Fellows bring an excitement to the laboratory , with fresh ideas and enthusiasm , he said .
“ From a job satisfaction standpoint , our current employees enjoy mentoring fellows ; that ’ s kind of a value-add to their job , even though it ’ s a little more work ,” he said . “ It gives our staff the opportunity to be mentors and teach .”
The program also promotes knowledge sharing throughout the laboratory , with fellows providing regular updates and presentations . “ It really creates a nice collaborative environment where people are learning about different areas of the laboratory ,” Kirn said .
In addition , the public health community , in partnership with APHL and CDC , is very supportive of the public health fellows , Cote said . “ Participating in the fellowship program as a host allows you to become part of that community to the ultimate benefit of not only your laboratory , but your fellow .”
It also feeds the laboratory pipeline directly . In New Jersey , several fellows have stayed on as employees . Three of the current project managers were once APHL-CDC fellows in the department . Another former New Jersey fellow is now a laboratory director in another state .
After her one-year fellowship , she was hired by the laboratory for her current role as a consultant in the molecular department . She also now mentors the new AR fellow . “ Coming from being a fellow , I can relate to what they ’ re going through , and I can build strong relationships with them ,” she said . “ I can give them a lot of feedback because I ’ ve been where they ’ ve been . … I think a lot of the fellows that are coming in are coming straight out of school like me and don ’ t really have a lot of work experience or don ’ t know that much about public health . So , me being able to help them learn and become
8 LAB MATTERS Winter 2022