For the second year in a row, Cobb & Douglas Public Health (CDPH) has been chosen to host a Public Health Associate through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) highly competitive  Public Health Associate Program (PHAP). Amid challenges like chronic heart disease, growing concerns of sexually transmitted diseases and Ebola scares, the public health industry is rapidly growing and in need of qualified and dedicated employees who strive to make the lives of others safer and healthier. After hosting the first successful candidate in 2014, CDPH was eager to continue the partnership that links sites in public health –  like Cobb & Douglas’ health district of over 850,000 residents –  with future public health leaders who bring with them a passion for solving public health concerns.

CDPH’s first PHAP, Alexis Wilson, joined the agency in October of 2014. Alexis grew up outside of Miami, Florida and received her Bachelor of Health Science and Masters of Public Health, Epidemiology, from The University of Florida in 2014. Her graduate internship was in Tuberculosis, mirroring her passion for infectious disease epidemiology. Alexis always believed that more lives could be touched by intervening at the population level, as Public Health does, rather than treating each person individually.   She was initially assigned to our Epidemiology and Health Assessment Section. “I barely had a chance to say more than ‘hello’ to Alexis in her first few days here,” said Rachel Franklin, Director of Epidemiology at Cobb & Douglas Public Health and Wilson’s PHAP mentor. “The worst Ebola outbreak ever was occurring in West Africa and it was beginning to affect us locally. We had our own scare in Cobb County right when she arrived which, thankfully, turned out to be false, but Alexis came in amid that crisis and hit the ground running.”

“The PHAP trainee helps us contribute to our number one mission: commitment to our community – and that’s a valuable asset,” said Dr. Jack Kennedy, District Health Director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health. “When the CDC matches us with the talented individuals who apply to the program, public health is given a gift that doesn’t just help us track diseases or write reports, but they have a direct impact in improving the health of our residents. They get our clients into care. They link new patients with treatments. They help us understand trends so we know what public health challenges we have solved, and which ones we are going to solve.”

That’s also what new PHAP trainee, Terry Fuller hopes to accomplish after he completes the program between 2015-2017. Hailing from Toledo, Ohio with his Masters of Public Health, Fuller grew up on a farm in a small, rural community and is familiar with the challenges of accessing health information and care. After spending time in the Army as a lab technician, managing restaurants and then finding his way into the public health sector, Fuller feels a strong connection to his roots and the people he can impact in similar communities. He chose the CDC’s PHAP because it would give him the direct experience he needs to make a difference.

“I want to help people,” said Fuller. “I had a lot of experience with disease growing up, and I hope I can learn how to best connect people with solutions that are right for their health. I think I can help educate people about healthcare best in those places that are disadvantaged and in need of that knowledge.”

In addition to helping the public health department further its mission, PHAP trainees alleviate another real-world need – funding. Cobb & Douglas Public Health relies on several funding pools to meet the needs of its residents while maintaining up-to-date facilities, attracting and keeping quality professionals, and to provide excellent services as indicative of the agency’s most recent Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) accreditation – the only public health organization in the state of Georgia to hold the distinction. Over the course of a CDC trainee’s time at Cobb & Douglas Public Health, the program saves the agency over $100,000 in staffing costs – money that is applied to the agency’s programs to directly serve clients.

But the relationship doesn’t just benefit the host department. Successful CDC Associates become more competitive potential employees in the public health field at the end of the program, and of course, trainees will have met the two year practical experience requirement most companies look for when hiring. In the end, the PHAP trainee-agency relationship is mutually beneficial to all involved parties, including public health’s primary concern: the public.