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Early Exposure to Public Health Fosters Lifetime Career

When NWCPHP Research Assistant, Claire Rainey was young, her mother, Sarah Rainey, managed the lab at their local health department in Columbia, Missouri.

When NWCPHP Research Assistant, Claire Rainey was young, her mother, Sarah Rainey, managed the lab at their local health department in Columbia, Missouri.

July 5, 2012

The phrase "early life lasts a lifetime" is shorthand for the idea that exposures in early life influence adult health. If the same can be said for careers, NWCPHP Research Assistant Claire Rainey's story exemplifies the concept.

Currently an MPH student in the department of Epidemiology, Claire specializes in sexual behavior and says she has always been interested in communicable diseases. "Unlike most kids, I learned about sexually transmitted infections and foodborne illness at an early age."

When Claire was young, her mother, Sarah Rainey, managed the lab at their local health department in Columbia, Missouri. "She processed the STD clinic samples every Tuesday night," said Claire. Early exposure to the clinical aspects of public health sparked Claire's interest in the field and led her to explore the broad spectrum of career options.

Initially, Claire planned to be an infectious disease doctor, but a service learning class during college changed her path. Through an internship at her hometown health department she shadowed social workers and learned about HIV and teen pregnancy prevention. Said Claire, "I watched them teach classes at the jail and I learned about client services. Through the experience I also began to better understand the social determinants of health."

From then on, one public health job led to another, each adding a new dimension to her skill set. After graduation she worked in Environmental Health issuing citations for overgrown lawns, studied health systems in South Africa, and helped rural counties in central Missouri write their bioterrorism plans.

As an Emergency Management Planning and Training Coordinator in a small hospital, she wrote hazardous materials plans and training policies and learned about hospital administration. "I was only 22 years old and training people twice my age," she said. That same year she also helped write and exercise the pandemic influenza preparedness plans at five rural health departments.

Claire considers herself lucky to have had so many public health jobs early in her career. Although the nature of grant funding meant many were temporary, she sees the broad exposure as an advantage that helped calibrate her career trajectory.

In 2006 she landed her first full-time public health job as an Epidemiology Specialist and Response Planner. This new position married her previous professional experience with her formative and future career interest—communicable disease work. It also brought her closer to her mom who, by that time, was also an Epidemiology Specialist nearby. Said Claire, "My mom worked in the neighboring county and was the most experienced person in the region in that position. She trained me and taught me everything she knew."

Like her mother and most local public health practitioners, Claire learned her duties in the field. She values that on-the-job training and is enhancing it with her graduate work. When she finishes her Master's degree in Epidemiology in December she will officially join the PhD program. After graduation she plans to return to public health practice to apply her new research skills.

Claire says she only knows a life surrounded by friends and family who work in public health. She explains, "My public health training began with my mom teaching me at home and we continue to talk about our work. I'm living the public health life."

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