Volume 10, Issue 3
By Mike Swift
When Should I Apply?
But I’m only an Ole…
CHECK IT OUT!!
By Megan McGovern '12
Ally Smith, an ’03 Ole alum, recently came to St. Olaf and presented to a group of students interested in healthcare careers, which represents a large portion of the science majors at St. Olaf. Ally’s experience earning her Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in International/Global Health at Emory University, in addition to her current enrollment in medical school at Mercer University, made her the perfect person to address these students. Ally’s presentation, titled “Public Health: A Career that Makes a Difference,” focused primarily on her experiences in the public health sector, drawing on them to offer advice to the student audience.
An exemplar of the Olaf ideal of students becoming “global citizens,” Ally’s global interests began at St. Olaf and continued after her graduation. While at Olaf, she participated in study abroad programs in Ecuador and Tanzania and has since continued her travels to Cambodia, Zambia and South Africa. Much of her work in these countries has been with the Center for Disease Control’s Global AIDS program. She has carried out a number of projects through the program, including working with local health agencies to produce data on HIV relevance and training them to carry out their own data analysis in the future. Other work included training interviewers to more effectively offer assistance to people whose spouses were infected with HIV. One really important aspect of her work is that she did more than offer a “band-aid” solution, she armed people with the knowledge to handle the situation on their own in the future, giving them greater autonomy. This type of holistic approach, representative of public health, is one of the factors that steered Ally, a pre-med student while at St. Olaf, to instead pursue a master’s in public health.
The Basics: MPH vs. MD
There are nearly 50 public health schools located across the nation. The core courses of the MPH are biostatistics and epidemiology. An MPH offers a number of concentrations, ranging from healthcare administration to international/global health to maternal and child health. An MPH is the most common public health degree, but Doctors of Public Health are a rising trend, as well as dual degrees. A number of schools offer MD/MPH programs, JD/MPH programs, or MBA/MPH programs. Another option is a Career MPH- adding your MPH later in your profession, to enhance your job performance. There is also a number of interesting job opportunities for people with dual degrees, especially an MD/MPH combo or Physician Assistant/MPH degree. Ally specifically mentioned one position at the CDC, the Epidemic Intelligence Service, which offers high level epidemiological training to prepare participants to serve as first responders to global epidemics and natural disasters.
Planning for the Future: How to Make it Happen
You might be thinking, after all of this awesome work and effort put into public health, why go back to med school? For Ally, being a doctor was a lifelong ambition. During the majority of her time at St. Olaf, she was pre-med, but when it came time to apply, she was discouraged with her MCAT scores. So, she decided to move on to Emory, pursuing a career in public health. Though she was satisfied by her work in public health, she realized that her true passion wasn’t to simply study the diseases and conditions affecting people; she wanted to cure them. Despite her decision to pursue a second post-graduate degree, Ally doesn’t in any way regret her background in public health; she believes it makes her unique relative to her peers at Mercer. Her public health experiences helps her to avoid the tendency to only treat the symptoms or disease, and help her to recognize broader solutions that can not only fix the problem in the short term, but keep the patient from needing to be back in the clinic in a few months. Ally also mentioned that there is a limit to what you can do with an MPH; the high level jobs in public health are filled by PhD/MPH or MD/MPH candidates. So, a combination of these degrees can be especially powerful.
Ally’s plans to use her combination of MD and MPH degrees to continue her international work, this time teaching local doctors in developing countries how to provide high quality care to their patients. Talk about changing the world! It is these ambitions, deep care for the underserved, and ability to turn ideals into actions that earned her St. Olaf’s Graduate of the Last Decade award. Still young, and with plenty of time to have an even greater impact, the St. Olaf community is excited to see what else she will accomplish! Hopefully Ally’s story will inspire you to do great things as well! One thing that is important to remember is that the path to success and really having an impact is neither easy, nor linear. As Ted Johnson says, you may take an off-ramp somewhere and find it’s a really great place to be. And if it’s not that great, remember that the St. Olaf faculty are still there for you, even after graduation!
If you have any questions for Ally, you can email her at email@example.com. She has a wealth of knowledge she is willing to share with you!
By Jon Henn '12
The people who move from Minnesota to Florida, Arizona or California for the winter are likely termed “snowbirds” because of how similar their behavior is to many real birds. The search for warm and sunny weather is something that people and birds have in common, but while people leave the cold for comfort, the birds leave for food. Insects only live and fruit can only grow when the temperatures stay above freezing, which is why the warblers, orioles, hummingbirds, bluebirds, wrens and swallows head south for the winter. When lakes and streams freeze, the fish and aquatic plants that ducks, geese, loons, osprey and bald eagles rely on become inaccessible, spurring their southward journey. Many small rodents are forced into hibernation by cold temperatures, causing many of the hawks, falcons, and owls to hunt for warmer climates where food is more available.
This begs the question of why, if there is more food down south, these birds come back north. The journey from north to south and back again is long and stressful. The main reason birds come north is because of the longer day lengths. When days are longer, birds can spend more time foraging for food, which then lets them support larger clutches, increasing their overall reproductive output. Additionally, during the summer, the north becomes very fertile, producing large amounts of growth in a relatively short time. The tradeoff of the long and stressful journey for greater food availability and more babies seems to be worth it for some birds.
For others, however, this tradeoff isn’t worth it. Our resident chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches, finches, pheasants and cardinals don’t leave because they can find enough seeds, nuts and dormant insects around during the winter. Some birds will avoid or postpone migration if they are fed consistently through the winter.
Hunger isn’t believed to be the main cause of migration among migratory birds though. The urge to move south has been found to be a hormonal response primarily to shortening days. It is thought that many birds can sense light through their thin skulls and once the day length, also known as photoperiod, gets too short, the birds get moving. The trigger for moving back north, however, is more mysterious and scientists have not discovered the reason that birds return when they do.
You may or may not have known a lot of this information already, but bird migration is one of the more amazing natural phenomena. Within the topic of bird migration there are some especially interesting and incredible stories that I would like to share to wrap this up:
By Julie Dahl '12
Students in Professor Steve Freedberg’s Evolution and Diversity course and from last semester’s Vertebrate Biology course have had the opportunity to help Greg Munson, an avid birder at Whitewater State Park, net migrating Northern Saw-whet owls. Munson has been netting and banding these small, elusive owls for the past few years in attempts to gain information on their migratory ranges and general behaviors.
Munson and St. Olaf students set up mist nets at the Nature Conservancy’s Weaver Dunes Field Station. I was fortunate enough to go along with one of these groups. The mist nets were approximately eight feet tall, spanned 20 yards and were positioned in a stand of pine trees near the field station. We set up speakers that projected a Saw-whet owl call with the hope of attracting these migrating owls.
We checked the nets every hour starting at 8pm. Our first check yielded no Saw-whet owls. However, the mist nets had obviously seen animal activity, as there were several new holes in the nets. Munson explained that this could have been from a variety of creatures, including bats, owls, and deer.
Our next several checks of the mist nets gave rise to six total Saw-whet owls. Saw-whet owls are the smallest owls in Minnesota and weigh (at most) 5 ounces. Their defense response is to lie still and not fly, making them relatively easy to handle. Some of the owls we caught, however, decided to go against this norm and were more spirited than others. After carefully untangling them from the nets, we took the owls back to the field station for processing which involved determining the sex, age and weight. To determine the sex, we measured the wing in resting state. Determining the age of the owls was by far my favorite part. Owls have certain pigments in their feathers that fluoresce under UV light. These pigments are very prominent with newly grown feathers, but slowly fade as the feather grows older. Saw-whet owls have very specific molting patterns, allowing us to estimate the age based on the patterns and intensities of the florescent feathers. After aging the owl, we took their weight, banded them, and then released them back into the dark of night.
This was a great experience, and for anybody interested in birding, I highly recommend helping out these wonderful bird-banders. It’s a great way to get out in the field and contribute to wildlife conservation efforts.
Image above by Jon Henn '12 - Using UV light to determine the age of feathers