Elizabeth Hepner (DVM/MPH '16)

Maryland Department of Health - Harford County Practicum

My practicum was through the Harford County Department of Health where I worked closely with the Environmental Health Team and Rabies Coordinator. Over the past few years the county had seen a relative increase in the number of rabies positive cases and exposures through wildlife and wanted to investigate possible risk factors for the spread of the disease and for the exposure of domesticated animals and humans. I used Graphic Information Systems (GIS) to map the rabies positive cases in Harford and Baltimore Counties and investigated potential risk factors for transmission and exposure including zoning regulations, human population, proximity to water sources as well as spatial and temporal trends and the relationships between reservoir species. In addition, I wanted to ensure that the low cost vaccination clinics available to pet owners held by each county annually were available to the majority of the county and were serving the areas of most need and risk of exposure. I compiled my findings and conclusions and presented these to the health department as a whole as well as to the Harford County Veterinary Medical Association. In addition, I created a brochure intended to educate the general public and pet owners specifically about rabies, how it is transmitted, the importance of vaccination for pets, what to do if a person or domesticated animal is exposed as well as how to safely trap and exclude bats from homes.

I was really excited about the opportunity to work at the interface of human, animal and environmental health and to explore their impacts on each other. I’ve also always been really interested in zoonotic diseases and rabies is one of special importance in the public health field. As an added bonus, this project was right in my hometown and I was excited to work with people from the area and to help improve their programs implemented in our community.

I really learned so much about the GIS software and it’s many applications for the public health field. I got to meet so many smart and passionate people working to improve the health of their communities and I was able to reach so many different audiences during my time there ranging from pet owners to veterinarians and other public health workers. I enjoyed getting to learn their perspective on rabies in their community and share my findings and recommendations with them.

I learned how to use GIS and how versatile it is. I also learned how to better tailor my health message to different audiences to ensure the best communication of information and recommendations possible.

I think this project really helped me learn and perfect my communication skills with different audiences and to better assess different populations motivators. These skills are vital for effective projects and programs, cannot be taught and can be applied in any field!

When planning your practicum, make sure to set specific goals along the way with definite deadlines and make sure to stick to them as much as possible.  Make sure to remain flexible if these goals aren’t met every time because unforeseen roadblocks can easily pop up. Try to talk with everyone at your project site even if they aren’t directly on your team because you can learn something from everyone.

Elizabeth Hepner
Elizabeth Hepner, DVM, MPH