Published: May 2, 2019
The best way to learn about public health is to live it.
As a UNT Health Science Center student working on her master’s and doctoral degrees, Diana Treviño Cervantes, DrPH, MPH, was already actively pursuing a career where she could make a difference in the lives of others.
Dr. Cervantes was employed as a microbiologist for Tarrant County Public Health when she first enrolled at UNTHSC, and then later moved into an epidemiologist position there.
Over the years since graduation, she was appointed Regional Chief Epidemiologist for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Region 2/3, serving 49 North Texas counties for four years before joining Baylor Scott and White All Saints Medical Center, Fort Worth, as Infection Control Manager.
She has also taught courses for the UNTHSC School of Public Health on an adjunct basis since 2012, and now she’s joining the school full time as the new Director of the MPH in Epidemiology program.
“One of the things I’ve always tried to bring to the classes I’ve taught is what it really means to work in public health, in both community and private settings,” Dr. Cervantes said. “In my own experiences of hiring and mentoring staff, I’ve found that the strongest job candidates tend to be those with practical working experience that complements their educational background.”
A big challenge for students, she said, is learning to translate their knowledge into action, whether in public health or most any profession.
“Especially in epidemiology, where you’re working with many different stakeholders, it’s important to break down scholarly research so it translates to all of your audiences,” she said. “Speaking to academic peers is one thing, but if you’re going into a neighborhood or community meeting to talk about a public health concern, you have to be able to make that leap with your message delivery to get others on board.”
Public health professionals may work at the local, state, national or even international level, depending on the issue and its impact, Dr. Cervantes said, citing infectious disease outbreaks like influenza, West Nile and the Ebola virus as examples where a problem is far-reaching.
Another important aspect of the field that Dr. Cervantes stresses to students is responsiveness.
“Public health is a lot about emerging situations and responding to changes as they occur. The current opioid crisis is just one example of a widespread public health problem that requires all of our attention now as researchers, citizens and communities,” she said.
Collaboration and being open minded when exploring solutions and possibilities are an important part of an epidemiology career, Dr. Cervantes said, “as is the ability to balance everyday aspects of the job with the critical research, analysis, writing and reporting that goes into it.”
“In my new role with UNTHSC, I hope to use my own experiences and contacts to provide resources, guidance, case examples from the field and the perspectives of ‘one who has been there’ to help prepare students for the challenges and responsibilities they will be taking on in the future,” she said.
“It’s exciting to come full circle with UNTHSC,” Dr. Cervantes said, “from student to practice and now back on campus directing the MPH Epidemiology program.”