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YSPH and CT DPH create pipeline for public health professionals

June 29, 2023
by Jane E. Dee

The workforce development program is managed by the Yale School of Public Health’s Office of Public Health Practice in collaboration with the state Department of Public Health

Before graduating from Fairfield University with a degree in public health, Kelsi McCarthy took part in the state Department of Public Health’s workforce development program managed by the Yale School of Public Health. McCarthy is planning to pursue a career supporting and promoting maternal and child health in Connecticut.

Katelyn Kostakis is a master’s in public health (MPH) candidate at the Yale School of Public Health in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. She, too, is a fellow in the state DPH workforce development program, evaluating a project called, “Walk this May,” that encourages residents in central Connecticut to move more.

Makayla Dawkins is a second-year MPH student at UConn Health who is interested in LGBTQ+ rights, mental health and wellness, and HIV prevention. Dawkins began her fellowship in February on her path to a career in public health.

McCarthy, Kostakis, and Dawkins are among the first fellows to participate in the new state of Connecticut Public Health Fellowship Program. The program is managed by the Yale School of Public Health’s Office of Public Health Practice (OPHP) in collaboration with the state Department of Public Health as well as other public health agencies, and academic and community partners.

The DPH partnered with the Yale School of Public Health to create this pipeline of future public health workers to address a workforce shortage in the state. The program supports students in high-quality public health field placements throughout Connecticut and provides them with $3,500 stipends.

Reinforcing CT’s Public Health Workforce

“Many people working in public health are approaching retirement and more are considering leaving the field due to stresses heightened by COVID-19, which is presenting serious workforce challenges,” said Nikole Allen, MPH, associate director of the fellowship program at the Yale School of Public Health. “Workforce challenges in public health take time and coordination, and we need to address it as soon as possible in an intentional and collaborative way.”

Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD, has stressed the need for investments in public health workforce at the state and local levels. In July 2022, she appointed Thomas St. Louis to lead a new Office of Public Health Workforce Development.

During the pandemic, Juthani noted how preparedness plans helped to facilitate the response to COVID-19, especially in the state’s largest cities. The fellowship program is among her efforts to strengthen public health programs in Connecticut. A professor at the Yale School of Public Health (Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases) and Yale School of Medicine (Infectious Diseases), Juthani took a leave of absence in 2021 to serve as the state’s public health commissioner.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a primary focus of our department is ensuring that we develop a sufficiently sized, well-trained, and more diverse public health workforce that is ready to respond to whatever emerging infectious, environmental, or other public health threats we will face in the future,” Juthani said.

“In developing the Public Health Fellowship Program, we are supporting that mission by raising the standard for experiential learning in public health in our state and providing an opportunity for students from a variety of backgrounds and academic programs, both within and outside of public health, to explore public health careers and experience the critical work that local, state, and non-profit public health agencies do in communities across Connecticut every day.”

Supporting Rising Talent

The fellowship program supports rising talent by providing opportunities to develop public health competencies. The goal is to provide fellows with a real-world understanding of health equity and the social determinants of health while learning from public health practitioners who share their knowledge and experience with future public health professionals while cultivating a learning culture in their agency. The goal is for participants to continue into careers in public health, while also supporting careers in related fields such as health sciences, Allen said.

Currently, the program is supporting fellows from more than 20 universities in and around Connecticut including Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, Western Connecticut State University, and Southern Connecticut State University. Eleven of the fellows are affiliated with SCSU and its public health program. Some of the fellows receive academic credit for their participation in the program.

The program is open to third- or fourth-year undergraduate or graduate-level students at an accredited academic institution and in any degree program relevant to public health. Fellows are placed at DPH, local health departments, and community-based agencies around the state. Host site agencies provide students with a well-structured opportunity to experience public health practice and to learn about public health careers. In addition to a stipend, the students receive coaching and administrative support throughout the field placement. After the program concludes, the program leaders remain available to the students for career coaching.

Meet Three Fellows

McCarthy completed her fellowship in June with the maternal and child health WIC program. She supported the development and implementation of a pilot intervention, Pacify, a mobile app that gives new parents access to International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) within minutes. While interested in multiple aspects of public health, McCarthy said she is would like to continue supporting maternal and child health.

Kostakis is conducting her fellowship at the Central Connecticut Health District. “My role as an intern here this summer is to conduct an evaluation of a program known as Walk This May, a four-town wide walking competition to encourage residents to incorporate more movement in their lives. I will evaluate the program and create recommendations for the program going forward,” she said. Kostakis hopes to work in a local health district or state health department. “I am interested in continuing work in program evaluation as well as disease surveillance,” she said.

Dawkins is interested in issues of public health promotion and prevention. “My current passion is sex education and STI prevention with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS,” she said. “I have been able to educate and pass out HIV at home testing kits on my college campus (UConn) and I’ve also been exposed to new career paths by meeting my preceptor and team. In my role as an intern, I’ve collaborated with a medical and support organization that serves over 2,000 low-income people with HIV in Connecticut.

In addition to areas of health promotion, fellows are supporting a wide range of issues including environmental health, chronic and infectious disease surveillance, harm reduction, breast feeding, maternal and child health, food- and water-borne diseases training and tracking, workforce planning, policy and regulation, oral health, among many other essential public health and health equity activities, said Allen.

Support for Fellows and Agencies

The program offers consultations for both students and mentors, an orientation for fellows, and evaluation to help students and agencies connect with one another, Allen said. The program also coordinates monthly networking get-togethers for the fellows.

“During those virtual gatherings, we plan to invite guests from local health and DPH to join and connect with the fellows,” Allen said. “In addition, I’m looking into other ways to pull together in-state early career and job search resources specific to public health to help students transition from school to work within Connecticut.”

This initiative is an extension of the OPHP and YSPH’s long-standing relationship with Connecticut’s DPH on workforce development. Specifically, OPHP has served as the administrative entity for the New England Public Health Training Center (NEPHTC) in Connecticut for over 20 years and has spearheaded the Connecticut Partnership for Public Health Workforce Development, a stakeholder group, which has served both as an advisory body to NEPHTC’s activities and as a structure that facilitates statewide networking and collaboration on professional development activities.

For more information about the fellowship program, contact Nikole Allen at

Submitted by Jane E. Dee on June 28, 2023