Interview: Patti Anderson

We interviewed Patti Anderson, Chief of the Division of Environmental Health, to hear her thoughts on mentorships and their value for today’s public health workforce. A big part of Anderson’s job entails protecting Floridians from environmental hazards where they work, live, and play. If pursuing a role in environmental health is of interest to you, then read on to learn more about preparing for success in this field.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “environmental health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviors. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health.” Environmental health specialistics use a broad background of scientific, technical, and behavioral knowledge and skills to investigate, evaluate, and eliminate environmental conditions that may be harmful to people or communities.

Photo Credit: Andrew (aka woowoowoo)

“For a potential employee looking to work in this field, a science background with college degrees (preferably a Master’s) in public health or a related science/field is helpful,” says Anderson, but stresses that “[he or she] must be a good communicator, both orally and written, since we write many technical reports but then have to explain the science to the general public.”

Most people may be surprised at the extent of the education and public health messages put forth by the Division of Environmental Health, in addition to their role as regulators. “The public has to have a basic understanding of the environmental issues in order to make informed decisions about their risks.”

Other skills and characteristics Anderson looks for in potential colleagues or co-workers are: proficiency in the MS Office Suite of programs, some knowledge in HTML language or web page development, self-motivation, effective team work or collaboration, good humor, and a positive outlook. “The people that work in environmental health work hard every day to make a difference in the health of people, so are driven by a passion to make a difference.”

The ‘hot’ topics that concern environmental health professionals include the impact on public health due to:

  • Built environments and their sustainability
  • Severe weather patterns and trends
  • Supply and quality of drinking water
  • Human social behavioral trends (body piercing, tattooing, etc.)
  • Human communication versus risk communication

Unfortunately, we live during a time in public health when organizations and county health departments struggle to keep staff and/or function within smaller budgets. “Mentorships are extremely valuable especially when financial resources are limited,” says Anderson. “Mentors can help instill passion and dedication to current employees as well as potential employees. [They] can also pass along technical knowledge so that the work is of the highest quality even when performed by staff with less time on the job.”

A big thanks to Patti Anderson for her tips and advice. Click here to learn more about Florida’s Division of Environmental Health.

If any OMP participant has questions or other suggestions, post them in the comments sections under this post (online) or email the program coordinator OMP@health.usf.edu.

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