Public Health Analyst Series: Laura’s Journey
The me of ten years ago never would have predicted the career that I have now. Ten years ago, I was majoring in mathematics and economics at the University of California San Diego, on track to become a retirement actuary. I took a class on the US healthcare system to fulfill one of my general education requirements, and the professor assigned us a paper on a local healthcare organization of our choice. I shadowed clinic workers at Family Health Centers of San Diego for the paper and fell in love with public health. While I felt like I could help people as a retirement actuary, I felt I could make a difference with public health and connect with the populations I served. I volunteered with the clinic for the remainder of my time in college.
After graduation, I didn’t know how to combine my interest in health with my analytical major until a chance conversation with another clinic volunteer introduced me to epidemiology, the study of determinants and distribution of disease. I realized that to get the kind of job I wanted in public health, I would need to go to graduate school. So, at the height of the recession, I temped, worked part-time, and attended night classes in public health to get into a graduate program in epidemiology and biostatistics at University of California, Berkeley.
Since earning my Master of Public Health degree, I have worked as an epidemiologist with the City of Berkeley Public Health Division, California Department of Public Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I loved working as an epidemiologist, but felt severely limited by the quality of the data I worked with. I spent most of my time cleaning and deduplicating data, only to have my analyses limited by underlying data accuracy and completeness issues. Most of the issues I observed stemmed from lack of standards: a missed section on a paper form, 20 different spellings and abbreviations of the same word in a free-text field, an accidentally checked box in an electronic form, or a duplicated record in a system without any built-in quality control processes.
These data issues needed to be fixed at the data source, and my familiarity with the issues drove me to work in high-level data governance at Lantana. Lantana influences national policy for standards-based health data exchange. As a public health analyst, I use analysis, quality assurance, and best practices in data governance to ensure that clients report electronic health data in a standardized, structured way. I hope that my efforts will enable others to do more meaningful research and analysis and ultimately improve public health.