Alumni Spotlight: JB Bertumen
Parkinson alum joins CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service fellowship
By Sam Uhlarik
After working in private practice for two years, JB Bertumen, MD, still wanted a career in public health. He earned his Master of Public Health (MPH) at the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health and following graduation, he achieved a major career goal: acceptance into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) prestigious Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) fellowship program. Learn more about JB’s time at Loyola and how he earned the title of lieutenant commander in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
What is the goal of the Epidemic Intelligence Service?
The CDC’s EIS is a two-year post-doctoral fellowship that is open to a wide variety of professionals, including health care workers (MDs, RNs, pharmacists, etc.), veterinarians, and those with advanced degrees in public health. It provides additional training in applied public health and epidemiology. Officers perform outbreak investigations, complete surveillance and analytical projects, write articles, participate in conferences, and have the opportunity to address the public through various types of media.
Officers can be assigned to any division at the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta, in one of its satellite offices (e.g., in Fort Collins, Colorado), or to a state, county, or city public health department in the U.S. Officers can perform investigations across the country and across the world. The goal is to prepare officers to be leaders in public health, either within the CDC, various public health departments, or academia.
What will your role be in the program?
I have been assigned to the California Department of Public Health, specifically the Division of Communicable Disease Control in the Tuberculosis (TB) Control Branch. The Division works with the state’s 61 health jurisdictions to identify, prevent, and control infections such as TB and other communicable diseases. I likely will work on COVID-19 for the next few months but will have opportunities to analyze TB data from different parts of the state, as well as be involved in outbreak investigations throughout California. Although I am assigned to a state health department, I will have opportunities to travel both nationally and internationally for investigations that the CDC is conducting.
Of note, the CDC partners with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (one of the country’s eight uniformed services), allowing EIS officers also to be enlisted into the Corps, so I have taken advantage of that opportunity. I have been commissioned as a lieutenant commander for the next two years and I will serve the U.S. Public Health Service through the EIS program.
What does it mean to you to be accepted into this program?
For me, being accepted into EIS was a major career goal and dream opportunity. I have been interested in doing this really since my internal medicine residency and I even applied for it at the end of my infectious disease fellowship in 2015. I went into private practice after my fellowship, but never forgot about this program.
If I was serious about pursuing the EIS again, I needed to show that I was truly interested in a career in public health. That was one of the main reasons I enrolled in Parkinson’s MPH program. Around 600 applicants apply for EIS each year, and about 200 are asked to interview to be an officer. I was one of about 75 applicants accepted into this year's class, so I was both honored and excited to be part of such a select group.
I am looking forward to this new chapter in my career and life. It will be my first time working and living on the West Coast, so I am excited for the new experiences and challenges that await me. This program opens so many doors for its officers, so I am excited to see to what lies ahead, whether it is continuing to work for the CDC, working for a public health department, or teaching public health and academic medicine at a university.
LEARN MORE ABOUT PARKINSON'S DATA-DRIVEN RESEARCH PROJECTS THAT SEEK TO IMPROVE HEALTH OUTCOMES AND REDUCE HEALTH INEQUITIES.
After deciding you wanted to pursue a career in public health, why did you choose Loyola?
First and foremost, I chose Loyola because I wanted a program in the Chicago area, since I planned on continuing to work at my private practice, Metro ID Consultants, while I went to school. I also wanted a program that offered both flexibility for working students and in-person classes. There are a number of places that are almost all online, which I was not comfortable with at the time because I felt I needed the structure of an actual classroom to perform well in my courses. While Loyola offered a good mix of in-person and online classes, little did I know that the last half of my MPH would be completed virtually because of the pandemic. I was surprised to find out that the online classes were well-structured and were able to simulate in-person classes in a way that I interacted with my professors and classmates. Lastly, Parkinson allowed me to enroll in the spring semester, so I was able to begin the MPH program earlier, rather than waiting a year.
How important was mentorship during your MPH program?
Associate Professor David Shoham and Assistant Professor Abigail Silva were both incredibly supportive and provided me with recommendations for the EIS program.
Shoham was my primary mentor, including for my capstone project, which evaluated whether the zip code of residence was an independent risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection and death. Silva was my epidemiology track mentor. She took me under her wing and truly made me feel like an epidemiologist who could excel in public health. Her Intro to Epidemiology course helped me build on the foundation of epidemiology I had developed from working in infectious diseases. I learned SAS computer analysis during her course, which I have used throughout my time at Loyola and will continue to use at the CDC.
I was exposed to applied public health through Silva’s Public Health in Action course. I participated in a community health needs assessment for Maywood and assisted Kane County in promoting measles vaccinations through infographics and videos. Silva was always good about finding projects for me where I could apply different skills. That is how I came to be involved in the COVID Equity Response Collaborative: Loyola (CERCL). I used the video skills I learned in her course to create videos to promote different CERCL activities and COVID-19 vaccination. She also allowed me to use my experience on the frontlines of the pandemic as a subject matter expert during various webinars and testing days at the Maywood Rec. Center.
How have your experiences at Loyola impacted your approach to public health?
My time at Parkinson helped introduce me to the social determinants of health as well as the importance of addressing inequities in public health. Parkinson’s focus on equity in public health was evident in both the classroom, as well as in community service activities like CERCL.