Ashley Briggs (MPH '16)
Virginia Department of Health - New River Health District Practicum
My practicum project was done under Gary Coggins in the Environmental Health Department at the New River Health District. My role during my time there included learning about how restaurant inspections were conducted, familiarizing myself with the Virginia Food Code and increasing my knowledge of public health as it pertains to food safety. The goal of my project was to analyze the restaurant inspection data for November 2014 to November 2015 to identify weaknesses in food safety practices and compliance across the health district. Once these areas of improvement were identified, I created targeted informational handouts to address each type of food safety violation for specific food and facility types. My deliverables included graphical representation of the data for dissemination to the Environmental Health staff as well as the educational handouts for inspectors to use in the field, which lead into my Capstone where I helped write a grant funded policies and procedures manual for standardizing restaurant inspections and inspectors.
Before applying to the MPH program at Virginia Tech, I was a restaurant manager. I discovered a passion for public health through the daily employee education I conducted on food safety. As an intern, during the summer of 2015 at the Montgomery County Health Department, I discovered a need for this type of data analysis.
The most rewarding part of my practicum was the grant that followed. Using my data, the health department found a need to better standardize their restaurant inspectors in the district and increase our facilities’ food safety.
My practicum gave me exposure to real world applications of the principles of public health from Assessment through Assurance. I learned to use statistical tools including Epi Info 7 and R in a practical manner. Lastly, I gained the confidence to put my public health education into action.
My practicum introduced me to key players in our local public health arena, creating a strong network of connections before seeking employment post-graduation. Additionally, this practicum experience allowed me to explore the different uses for my degree and strengthen my career aspirations.
My advice for a future practicum student is pick a project you are passionate about and the process will not only be educational, but gratifying.