#InsideAPE: Joel Espinoza and the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

#InsideAPE: Joel Espinoza and the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

Meet Joel Espinoza! He is a second-year student on track to obtain a Master of Science in Public Health in Epidemiology. Joel is using his time at Rollins to obtain two certificates, one in Infectious Disease Epidemiology and the other in Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH). In addition, he shares his experience working in local government in New York City and his second APE with us.

Tell us about your academic history/where you went to school.

I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cell Biology and Public Health. 


What are your primary research interests?

I’m primarily interested in infectious disease surveillance, dynamics, and analysis, mainly sexually transmitted infections (STIs), enteric illnesses, and multi-drug resistant organisms.


Tell us about your APE project.

I have two! The first is a paid position with the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). I was initially recruited to assess the severity of Hepatitis C Virus-related outcomes (cirrhosis, liver transplantation, cancer, etc.) from 2001 to 2019 in New York City; however, my tasks have expanded to generating reports and handling data requests for clinics throughout the city. I also provide analytical support as it relates to the new Monkeypox outbreak.

My second APE is tied to my thesis, where I work with GOJO Industries, which is the maker of Purell. I am creating a database to assess the efficacy of alcohol-based sanitizers versus traditional handwashing in reducing the microbial load on hands among varying age groups and geographies.


How did you find your APE project?

I started with random internet searches around large cities because I knew I wanted local government experience. I had found the Epi Scholars program with the DOHMH on my own, and I started working on the application about a month before I noticed that Rollins had shared it in the newsletter.


When did you start looking for an APE? When did you start working for your APE organization?

I started looking for APEs around late October/November, but I didn’t officially start with DOHMH until June! To be fair, there was a very long application process for this program, and I hadn’t confirmed my position until about mid-April.


Are you pursuing/interested in any certificates? If so, was it difficult to meet your APE requirements?

Yes! Luckily, the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and WASH certificates complement each other well, despite “double-dipping” being prohibited. I had to do two APEs because the Epi Scholars Program/Project was/is not WASH-related. Since my thesis was, I worked with GOJO Industries and my thesis advisor to create another APE that would benefit both GOJO and my academic career.


What has the experience been like so far?

I’d say I really hit the ground running with my current position. Local governments, especially large ones like New York City, are constantly changing and restructuring. This coincidentally left the current bureau I work in with only one data analyst, so they’ve put me to work! I have had some opportunities to network, but many people still operate remotely due to the pandemic. Luckily, I have received an offer to take on a remote contract position as a Research Specialist to continue to assist the department as needed.


Any advice for people looking for an APE?

The most sage advice I received was from Dr. Scott Fridkin: He encouraged me not to pick an APE just because it was “available,” alluding to my current work with the Georgia Emerging Infections Program. He made me realize that the APE serves to expand on our skills and experiences that we haven’t yet had the opportunity to gain within our first year. It gave me the courage to stick it out through the waiting period to hear back instead of settling for another option.


How have you been spending your free time this summer? Anything interesting you’re doing?

I’ve been exploring New York City! My jobs allow me to work remotely at times, so I also try to turn that into opportunities to explore new coffee shops.


What are three fun facts you want people to know about you?
  1. I’ve been a dancer for over eight years.
  2. I can make balloon animals.
  3. My favorite flavor is anything s’more related . . . with maple as a close second.


Thanks for talking with us, Joel! Tune in next week to see who we speak to next!

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