Meet The Experts in Public Health

Public health officials work to promote and protect the health of the people in their communities. Public health activities may include promoting wellness and healthy behaviors, conducting scientific research, collecting and publishing biostatistics; tracking disease outbreaks, and setting safety standards that protect workers. The panelists below will share more about how they got interested in their field and provide advice and insight to UNL students looking to break into these fields.

Brad Brake, JD (he/him/his)
Director; Harrison County Public Health

What sparked your interest in this field?
I took a fairly unique path to my current position as I am the only county public health director in Iowa with a JD. I’ve always had a passion for nonprofit/advocacy work going back to undergrad in Minnesota. Later on, my clerkships in law school were all public interest related (ACLU, Civic Nebraska), but I didn’t take a huge interest in public health until I was a few years into my position as a public guardian – seeing the inequity in the many healthcare adjacent systems, seeing the impact of poor public health for vulnerable adults later in life, etc. From there, it was the right place right time scenario that I found Harrison County.

How did you gain experience when you were a student completing your undergraduate degree?
Most of my experience early on in undergrad was volunteer-related. I volunteered at a local elementary school by assisting with various reading programs with the students. From there, I obtained a job at an after-school program for underserved youth in the 5-8 grade range – planning activities, tutoring, mentoring, etc. It was that position that led to me getting accepted into the Teach for America program.

Who is someone that influenced your career and professional development?
I’ve had many mentors over the years, many former supervisors or colleagues, but the three I think of early on in my life are three professors I had in undergrad. Less often now that I’m in my 30s, but we still check in when we can. They really guided me and pushed me when I had them in school as well as in the years post-graduation when I was finding my way in the professional world. They’ve always been available to chat through personal/professional struggles and celebrate the positives as well. It was one of them that led me to Omaha and subsequently Nebraska Law.

What is one important skill you’ve had to acquire and hone as you’ve grown in your career?
Flexibility. It’s easy to get tunnel vision in your 20s about where you want and think life should lead, but you might miss opportunities if you aren’t flexible and open to new possibilities. I wouldn’t have dreamed at age 22 or 25 or even 28 that I’d be running a health department at 33 – and definitely never saw myself leading a county through a pandemic. I’ve had a lot of starts and stops to my career(s), but I remained flexible and kept moving ahead even when I maybe didn’t know what that next step would hold. That’s been a crucial skill to have during our COVID response planning as everything can turn upside down day-to-day.

Caryn Vincent

Caryn Vincent, MPH, CPH (she/her/hers)
Interim Deputy Director and Public Health Strategic Advisor, Division of Public Health | Nebraska Dept. of Health & Human Services

What sparked your interest in this field?

When I started college I thought I wanted to go to medical school, but as I went through undergrad I learned more about public health and realized that public health really was the field for me. I loved that I could have a broader impact and really improve the health of communities.

How did you gain experience when you were a student completing your undergraduate degree?

As an undergrad, I did a lot of volunteering during the school year – a youth mentoring program and the Red Cross come to mind. I filled my summers with various internships and research programs that helped me learn more about public health and social justice and different aspects of the field.

Who is someone that influenced your career and professional development?

A couple of people come to mind – a professor from graduate school who has become a friend. I’m often able to go to them for advice and a helpful ear trying to work through difficult problems. And the person who hired me at Nebraska DHHS – they took a chance on me and that chance has really helped to catapult my career and led to many great opportunities.

What is one important skill you’ve had to acquire and hone as you’ve grown in your career?

Adaptability, for a lot of reasons. Public health in the field is often very different than public health in the classroom, so learning to adapt classroom concepts to something that will actually work in the field is a useful skill. Especially in the time of COVID, you really never know what the days will bring, so I’ve had to learn to roll with the punches and adapt to any number of different things that might happen.

Public Policy, Public Administration, Public Health and Foreign Service/NGO Meet Up

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021, 5:30 PM

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To access the program go to this link

*Check out the outstanding panel of professionals below who will share about how they got started

Foreign Service/NGO 

Public Administration

Public Policy/Legislation

Public Health       

Public Policy/Nonprofit