Public Health Consulting
Category : PROspective
One Epidemiologist’s Journey in Consulting
By Cassie Kersten, MPH (GLEPI, 2020)
I want to start this off by congratulating each and every one of you—the strength and resilience that you all have shown as public health students and practitioners during a pandemic is truly inspirational. Whether you’ve been volunteering, working REAL jobs with local institutions, or just completing your thesis and getting ready to join the workforce—you’re doing great.
I also vividly remember how overwhelming the job hunt is from my experience last year. Not only do you need to decide what sector you want to work in, you also need to make back-up plans, and back-up plans for the back-up plans. Yet, it’s also incredibly exciting—you’ll finally have the degree that you worked hard for and you can begin a meaningful, impactful career.
When I was at Rollins, I fell in love with public health preparedness. During my two years, I worked with local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a variety of projects. Many of these experiences occurred during my time on the Student Outbreak and Response Team (SORT). During my tenure as 2019 SORT Co-President, I loved facilitating and maintaining connections with leadership from local organizations, strategizing with the executive board to achieve our goals, and coordinating members and professionals for regular meetings and events. Ultimately, it was one of my absolute favorite student experiences and one that I wanted to mirror in my professional endeavors.
Gathering all my experiences, I was able to start putting together the pieces of my career puzzle. I wanted to find something that would incorporate the aspects that I loved from SORT, make an impact, push me outside of my comfort zone, and allow me to grow and evolve as a professional. After talking with career services and the Rollins alumni that they connected me with, I felt fairly confident that consulting was the path for me.
Adaptability & the Job Search Process
However, the path wasn’t always straightforward. Since I didn’t realize this until my second year of graduate school, I felt like I was behind some of the other students in making those important networking connections and preparing for the consulting application process. I also didn’t realize the importance of referrals when applying to competitive firms. As such, I wasn’t having much luck until the end of April, when I was offered a position with a small firm primarily focused on emergency management. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they ended up having a contract delayed and kept me at part-time through the summer, which was less than ideal for my budget and passion for doing meaningful work.
While at the time I was frustrated to be back on the job hunt mid-summer after graduating, I had begun to dip my toes in the consulting world and felt confident that it was the correct path—I just needed to find somewhere new to continue my journey. I reached back out to a few networking contacts, including an alumnus who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. He put in a referral for me and I was interviewed, had my paperwork processed, and onboarded in less than a month. Since Booz Allen was originally one of my target firms, it felt like things were finally coming together.
Jumping into Work & Making Connections
On my first day, all I knew was that I was hired as a Senior Consultant on the health account, with a team that focused primarily on military health. I didn’t have any details on my project, and quickly realized that it was because I didn’t have a project yet! I was brought on as a “capability hire,” which loosely translates to “someone we know that we want and aligns with projects that we expect to have, but don’t necessarily have yet.” My first task was networking to find a project—which essentially meant talking with employees who have similar interests and seeing if they have any connections who might be onboarding for projects. As someone who loves connecting with others, I scheduled lots of meet and greets and quickly ended up joining a short-term project analyzing chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) policies. During this short-term project, I was still searching for something that would be longer-term and talked with colleagues supporting a wide array of federal agencies. Ultimately, I decided to join a team that supports a comprehensive medical readiness program for Department of Defense clients. As a public health subject-matter expert, I assist in the development of trainings and exercises related to public health, disaster mental health, patient decontamination, and more. Once COVID-19 travel restrictions lift, I will be traveling worldwide with my team to facilitate these trainings and exercises approximately 2 weeks per month. I’m keeping my fingers crossed to start that soon!
Ultimately, I really enjoy working in consulting. Even as the most junior member of my team and as one of the few without a military background, my input is valued and I have begun taking lead on some product development tasks. Additionally, the wide array of project options displayed to me during my project search demonstrated that I have control over my path—I had options within Booz Allen to branch more into policy, data science, emergency management, or continue to work on the COVID-19 response. There are also communities of practice that meet monthly and function similarly to student organizations—one even focuses on health security and biodefense! Also, my team rarely works over 45-hour weeks, which allows me to maintain a strong work-life balance. For my future at the firm, I’m planning to expand my expertise into emergency management by pursuing relevant certifications and attending conferences (which are covered by the firm’s flexible education benefit). I’m excited to continue growing and developing as a public health consultant!
Cassie Kersten, MPH (GLEPI 2020) is currently a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. If any students are interested in connecting with Cassie, please contact her at Kersten_Cassandra [at] bah [dot] com.
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